WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sought to navigate the delicate GOP divisions over the new infrastructure law, making the case Tuesday that Republicans should focus on criticizing Democrats instead of one another.
At a closed-door House Republican caucus meeting, McCarthy called on lawmakers to stay unified and not to attack their Republican colleagues, two sources familiar with the meeting said. McCarthy suggested that they should focus their fire on Democrats' Build Back Better bill, one of the sources said.
Some far-right members who are closely aligned with former President Donald Trump have begun attacking fellow Republicans who voted for the $550 billion infrastructure package. Publicly, McCarthy, who has been one of Trump's loudest defenders, has struggled to hold together a caucus that has publicly feuded over the former president.
Trump has threatened to work to unseat the Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure law, which was a key piece of President Joe Biden's legislative agenda.
Trump issued a flurry of statements blasting the law as a "Non-Infrastructure" bill and complaining that it "gives Biden and the Democrats a victory just as they were falling off the cliff." Some of the lawmakers who voted for the bill have gotten death threats, including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
In the House, 13 Republicans voted for the proposal this month, helping push it across the finish line despite defections from a small group of progressive Democrats. In the Senate, 19 Republicans voted for it in August after a group of 10 senators, evenly split between the parties, crafted the bill.
Trump's opposition has largely been about the politics, not the policy — he argued that it gave Biden a win that he can now tout to voters.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a moderate whom Trump is trying to defeat next year, responded to his attacks by saying there had been an "unfortunate backlash" by some who put politics above good governance.
"To deny good policy just because you don't want to give the occupant of the White House a win penalizes the whole country," she said in an interview.
Republicans who voted for the bill pushed back against Trump's attacks and pointed to his own efforts to strike an infrastructure deal with Congress — making the case that the policy enjoyed his support as recently as last year.
"I don't appreciate that. I think that we're all working to try to do what's good. This is good for the country," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Tuesday after a White House signing ceremony for the bill. Trump "wanted an infrastructure package, and this reflects a lot of probably what he would have wanted in his. So it's good for us. So I don't appreciate that."
Capito said it was "obviously a big investment in roads and bridges and highways" for West Virginia, as well as broadband, which she said "we're still lagging" in.
When he was president, Trump called for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, a topline that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to in 2019, but the negotiations collapsed after Trump demanded that Democrats stop investigating his administration before he was willing to proceed.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a Trump adversary, also bristled at his efforts.
"I have given up trying to ascribe motives to the former president or to explain his posture," Romney said.
Trump has repeatedly criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for backing the bill and giving members of his caucus the green light to craft it with Democrats. McConnell, without responding directly to Trump, has praised the bill as a "godsend for Kentucky."
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a conservative who supported the law, defended his vote.
"I think spending money on roads, bridges, airports, seaports, lake control, broadband is good policy," he said Tuesday. "Our infrastructure is crumbling."
Asked why he believes there's so much animosity over a bipartisan transportation bill, Wicker said, "I haven't really spent much time considering that question.
"I just think it's a good bill," he said.