Rep. John Katko is in at least as much political trouble with Republicans back home in western New York for supporting President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package as he was for voting to impeach President Donald Trump days before he exited the White House.
“I think it’s a jump ball as to what [grassroots Republicans] are angrier about,” said Tom Dadey, a pro-Trump member of the state executive committee of the Conservative Party of New York and a former chairman of the Onondaga County GOP, a key battleground in the 24th Congressional District that Katko represents. In New York, Republicans are permitted to run on the Conservative Party line and covet its endorsement.
In the waning days of Trump’s presidency, Katko and nine additional House Republicans sparked the ire of the GOP base for voting to impeach the outgoing commander in chief for his alleged role in fomenting the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. On Friday, Katko and 12 other Republicans poked the bear again, voting for Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which might have failed in a House floor vote without their support.
Around the country, wealthy GOP donors are apoplectic.
They are holding internal discussions about how they might take punitive action against 10 of the 13 House Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill and are running for reelection or appear on track to do so. They do not want to donate to the National Republican Congressional Committee or the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and find out later that their money helped reelect these 10 Republicans.
“I am fuming at the Republicans that decided to help Pelosi pass the infrastructure package. Yes, we need infrastructure spending, but this is the wrong proposal at the wrong time,” said Dan Eberhart, an energy executive and wealthy Republican financier from Arizona. “They handed Biden a win when he was on the ropes, and they came to the rescue of Speaker Pelosi, which may be worse.”
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Of the 13, Reps. Anthony Gonzales of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are retiring — both voted for impeachment in January. Another congressman in the group, Rep. Tom Reed of New York, also is retiring.
The remaining 10 include Katko and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, both of whom supported Trump’s second impeachment, and Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska, Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith of New Jersey, Andrew Garbarino and Nicole Malliotakis of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, David McKinley of West Virginia, and Don Young of Alaska. All could face tough GOP primaries in 2022 because of this vote, plus a loss of financial support from the party.
But Katko has come under especially intense fire from House Republicans and from Republicans in his Syracuse-area district. They hold him almost singularly responsible for bailing out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and handing Biden a major policy victory, arguing his decision to cast his vote for the infrastructure legislation before enough Democrats voted to push it over the top opened the door for other Republicans to follow suit.
McCarthy always expected some Republicans to support the bill when it hit the floor Friday evening. After all, nearly 20 Republicans backed it in the Senate.
But leadership instructed them to wait during the floor vote and force Pelosi to whip 218 Democratic votes in favor before jumping on board. Katko threw sand in the gears of that strategy, two knowledgeable Republican sources confirmed, by bucking House GOP leadership’s plans. Simultaneously, he extended a lifeline to Biden just as he was reeling from Democratic losses in key off-year elections in Virginia and elsewhere. These details were first reported by Punchbowl News.
“Very reasonable, go-along-to-get-along members are furious,” a senior Republican House aide said. “It’s not just the normal agitators.”
In other words, it’s not just provocative pro-Trump Republicans, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who are criticizing Katko and the rest of the group who supported the infrastructure bill. Internally, rank-and-file House Republicans are upset as well, partly because they are taking heat in their districts for something their colleagues did — even though they opposed the bill. A spokesman for Katko did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Despite the blowback from donors and party activists, some GOP strategists say most of the House Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill may yet survive — if they are not felled by some other backlash against some other vote.
For instance, a Republican insider in Michigan said voters in Upton’s district are used to him supporting bipartisan measures over the wishes of the GOP base and party leadership. “The primary will be all about [the] impeachment vote, I would suspect, and everything else will be rather tertiary,” this insider said. Young, who never voted for impeachment, may ultimately have nothing to fear at all.
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Alaska voters generally tend to appreciate infrastructure spending. So, even if there is grumbling among Republican activists in the state, Young, the dean of the House (and the chamber’s longest-serving member), is likely to be just fine in the midterm elections. “This was a no-brainer vote for members of the Alaska delegation,” a GOP source with ties to the state said.
That could end up being the case for other House Republicans who supported the infrastructure legislation, too. However, said a Republican operative with clients on the ballot in 2022, “if they vote with the Democrats” on Biden’s partisan reconciliation bill that would spend trillions to expand and create new social programs, “that’s another matter.”