Emboldened by their successful bid to block a progressive D.C. crime law, House Republicans are ready to keep testing how tightly they can squeeze Democrats.
While the D.C. rollback might seem to affect only voters in the capital’s metro area, it marks an unexpected triumph for Republicans who’ve gotten to revive the attacks on rising crime that helped propel them to the majority. And the House GOP has no plans to back off — it will force more tough votes on the Democratic Party in the near future, including a President Joe Biden rule on water regulations.
“If we don’t pick that fight, we don’t win that fight,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).
Democrats insist the effort turned to their advantage, since plenty of their incumbents welcomed the chance to distance themselves from President Joe Biden. Still, Wednesday’s vote ends weeks of Democratic angst over D.C.’s liberal crime bill, a particularly potent subject after their party’s humiliating losses in deep blue New York that ultimately cost them control of the House last November.
In the initial House vote in February, the vast majority of the House Democrats stuck with Biden — only to have him reverse his position, with Senate Democrats lining up behind him. And even as Senate Democrats emphasize that the circumstances surrounding the D.C. bill are unique, they’re also resigned to the reality that there are more disapproval votes to come.
“Unfortunately, the agenda on the Republican side is to just look for division and have investigations,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the No. 3 Senate Democrat. “I would expect them to continue to look for ways to divide people and play politics.”
They won’t have to wait long. Republicans plan to use the same playbook to symbolically reject other Biden administration moves — including a vote this week on a wonky water rule that would cement broad authority for federal agencies to regulate streams and wetlands, an extremely unpopular policy in farm-heavy states.
For much of the House GOP conference, it’s seen as a win-win: A chance to declare their policy position, while putting vulnerable Senate Democrats on the spot in a campaign cycle that heavily favors the GOP. Unlike most bills, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can’t block GOP-led policy statements from reaching the floor and they require only a simple majority for passage. That means the chamber’s Republicans only need two Democrats to join them to send it to Biden’s desk under full attendance.
On the water rule, for instance, several Republicans have been eagerly predicting they’ll win over Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), two of the most endangered senators up this cycle who both hail from rural states. Manchin, who has not yet said whether he’s running for reelection, has already indicated he’ll support the measure, while Tester said Monday he is undecided.
With Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) out due to a medical issue and Manchin a “yes” vote, it’s expected to pass the Senate next week, assuming full GOP attendance. And this time, Biden has threatened to whip out his veto pen, after declining to do so on the crime bill.
“Our farmers and ranchers will be pissed about that,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). Summing up the GOP approach generally, he added: “It’s an area that we can have some success. I don’t think it can be our only strategy. But we’re happy.”
West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she is optimistic about her chamber passing the water resolution, even if it won’t have the degree of Democratic support that the D.C. crime bill disapproval resolution is expected to garner.
“I would expect Democratic support, I wouldn’t expect it as a lot,” she said.
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And there are more disapproval resolutions in the works. Sens. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) have introduced a resolution that would repeal a recent rule from the Department of Veterans Affairs that offered abortion counseling and services in certain cases. Manchin has already signed onto that effort as well.
Manchin and Tester were also the only two Senate Democrats to support a resolution disapproving of a Biden administration policy that enables managers to consider climate change and social goals in retirement investing decisions. But it’s the D.C. crime bill that has drawn the most ire within the Democratic Party.
Biden’s surprise decision to go along with the GOP’s push infuriated many House Democrats who voted against the repeal, some of whom will almost certainly face soft-on-crime attacks from Republicans in their reelection cycles. And it’s prompted some in the caucus to wonder if they should support future GOP-led measures even if the White House opposes them.
“Like in any house, in any office, and any household, there can always be better communication,” Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) told reporters, though he stressed an otherwise “unified” relationship with the White House. Democrats had to “navigate what is a hostile environment” with Republican control of the House, he added, noting the potential political potency of the legislation undoing Biden administration policy.
Still, it’s clear some are still feeling burned by the White House.
When House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) brought up the Biden administration’s threat to veto the Obama-era water rule measure during a closed-door meeting Wednesday, there were some audible groans in the room, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Across the Capitol, many Senate Democrats largely blame the discord between the D.C. Council and the city’s mayor for the dramatic back-and-forth. Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the measure, only to have the city council override the veto — and then attempt to withdraw its plan earlier this week, in the face of congressional backlash.
“The mayor and the police chief both opposed it, the head of the D.C. Council said, ‘OK guys, don’t vote on it, we’ll go back to the drawing board,’” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “So, unfortunately, the whole process has been flawed.”
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