GOP goes on the attack against Biden relief bill


Republicans are going on the attack against the newly signed $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill as they scramble to find a messaging foothold against Democrats' first big win heading into 2022.

GOP lawmakers, who voted in unison against the legislation, are gambling that they'll be able to tamp down the bill’s popularity in the long run, even as polls have shown it garners broad approval, including from their own voters.

The focus among congressional Republicans is twofold: highlighting provisions they hope will be damaging to Democrats and accusing their political opponents of trying to take credit for an economic recovery Republicans say was set in motion by the Trump administration.

“I’m not surprised that the American public's initial reaction to this, before they know what’s in it, would be positive. The thought of many Americans getting a $1,400 check, why would they not like that?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during an interview with "PBS NewsHour."

“What they do not know is how much of the bill has nothing to do with the pandemic,” McConnell said. “The economy is just going to have a fabulous year. It has nothing to do with this massive Democratic wish list of items.”

Republicans have their work cut out for them.

A poll from Morning Consult and Politico found that 75 percent of registered voters, including 59 percent of Republicans, support the bill.

A Pew Research survey put the support among Republicans lower, at 41 percent, but found a divide within the party with only 30 percent of conservatives saying they support it compared with 61 percent of self-identified moderate or liberal Republicans.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is up for reelection next year, called the polls “a joke.”

“I mean, public polls are only as accurate as the people doing them, the methodology they use and all that stuff. ... There's a lot of, a trillion dollars of non-COVID stuff. When people find out about that, they're going to be outraged,” Rubio added.

The GOP’s political bet comes as the party will need to defend 20 Senate seats in next year’s midterm elections, including two in states won by President Biden: Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Senate Republicans huddled behind closed doors at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) this week for a caucus lunch, where they say Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who oversees the campaign arm, briefed them on the state of the 2022 races and how they could try to weaponize pieces of the coronavirus bill against Democrats.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), asked about the message from Scott, summed it up by saying, “Just that a lot of what's in that package of course feels good, the polling behind it, but when we flesh out exactly the details of it, most people are going to say, ‘What?’”

The NRSC is already running digital ads against Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who are both on the ballot next year, over the COVID-19 relief bill. 

“The $2 trillion stimulus package that President Biden signed into law ... is a historic waste of money that not only puts our economy at risk of inflation but also reflects the increasingly liberal priorities of today’s Democrat Party,” Scott said in a statement. 

The Senate GOP effort comes as former President Trump, who garnered bipartisan criticism for his handling of the pandemic, also took credit for the development of the coronavirus vaccine.

The recent coronavirus bill — the first of the relief measures to pass along party lines — includes a $1,400 stimulus check, extends unemployment payments until early September, aims to curb childhood poverty, and provides more funding for schools and vaccines, all of which are being touted by Democrats.

In a preview of the messaging wars to come, Republicans are pointing to hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments that have seen their tax bases dry up during the pandemic, but most GOP senators consider such funding to be a bailout. 

They are also trying to tie the bill to bigger cultural issues, highlighting Democratic opposition to an amendment from Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) that would have blocked funding for schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in women’s sports and a proposal from from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants.

The bill already included language barring undocumented immigrants from qualifying for checks, but Cruz and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) accused each other of lying in a days-long fight that started when, hours into a marathon voting session, the Texas Republican claimed the stimulus bill would let every undocumented immigrant get a check.

A CNN fact check subsequently declared them both wrong because while most undocumented immigrants won’t qualify, a subset who have Social Security numbers will be eligible.

McConnell, during a press conference with reporters, pledged to keep knocking Democrats over the bill, saying Republicans will “talk repeatedly about the provisions in the bill that the Democrats do not want to discuss.”

Democrats, however, are riding high after netting their first big legislative victory.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Democratic campaign wing, touted the bill as a direct result of Democrats getting control of the Senate majority.

“As our country rebuilds from this crisis, voters will know that Democrats delivered real relief and meaningful results while Republicans put political obstruction first and turned their backs on their states,” he said in a statement after Biden signed the bill into law.

The campaign arm also circulated a list of provisions in the bill Republicans voted against, blasted out local newspaper headlines touting the bill in key 2022 battleground states, and went up with digital ads against Rubio and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Democrats are also keeping a sharp eye out for Republicans trying to take credit for the bill.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) touted funding for restaurants in the bill even though he voted against the overall legislation, sparking criticism from Democrats. Wicker, asked about his tweet, told reporters that “one good provision in a $1.9. trillion bill doesn't mean I have to vote for the whole thing.”

Wicker and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) had previously proposed an amendment to a subsequent budget resolution that paved the way for the coronavirus bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), talking to reporters, predicted that more Republicans will take a similar approach and hinted that Democrats will be ready to call them on it.

“We have a Democratic president. All of a sudden, many of the same features of those other bills, in one size or another, are in this bill. And the Republicans have decided they cannot be for it,” she said. “That's unfortunate. As I said, they'll take some credit for it in their districts. But we'll have more to say about that.”

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