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Republicans tout parts of infrastructure package after voting against the bill

Several House Republicans are praising parts of the recently enacted funding measure they see as beneficial to their districts after they bashed the overall bill as wasteful.
Image: Highway workers clear debris after Hurricane Ida in Destrehan, La., on Aug. 31, 2021.
Highway workers clear debris on Aug. 31 after Hurricane Ida hit Destrehan, La. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., promoted the bipartisan infrastructure package's funding for flood mitigation measures in a statement.Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A growing number of House Republicans who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package last year are now striking a different tone by promoting components of the massive funding measure that they see as beneficial to their constituents.

Money from the $555 billion bill, which was signed into law Nov. 15, is starting to flow into congressional districts across the country, and at least eight GOP lawmakers have touted funds from the legislation to improve local ecosystems, bolster airports and revamp waterways, among other projects. In the past week alone, at least six House Republicans who voted against the measure highlighted such projects.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, on Monday praised an ecosystem restoration plan in his district backed by infrastructure funds. "For many folks in the area, this project revives the area's storied past and deep roots," he said in a statement.

After he voted against the infrastructure package in November, Gonzales blasted the measure, saying that it "will only lead to more spending for the Democrats and this flailing administration" and that "the Democrat path to trillions more in spending will only make matters worse and hold our country back."

Asked about how this week's remarks contrast with his earlier rhetoric, a Gonzales spokesperson said the congressman, alongside other members in neighboring districts, advocated for funding to be directed to this project after the bill had passed the House

"While Congressman Gonzales did not vote for the initial package due to the $1 trillion price tag associated with it, if the money is going to be spent, he is going to advocate that it goes to the district," the spokesperson said.

Gonzales' recent comments are reminiscent of those of some GOP colleagues who last year endorsed parts of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package while calling it a costly boondoggle. Republicans who backed parts of the infrastructure bill but voted against the overall measure have offered similar criticisms of the $555 billion measure.

The actions point to an uncomfortable conflict for GOP lawmakers: They want to deliver for their constituents, but they are also under pressure from House Republican leaders, former President Donald Trump and right-wing media to oppose Biden at every opportunity. Many of those lawmakers feared primary challenges from the right if they voted for the infrastructure bill.

Even top Republicans in the House are promoting parts of the infrastructure package that they opposed. In a news release last week, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, highlighted flood mitigation measures that will get funding under the new law.

A spokesperson said Scalise had long supported the flood protection projects and had backed previous legislation that provided funding for them. "What he did not support is tying necessary infrastructure needs to unrelated, Green New Deal policies Democrats put in their $1.2 trillion dollar bill," the spokesperson said in an email statement.

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., also promoted funding for waterways in his district last week. "While I opposed the infrastructure bill in its totality based on unwavering principle, there are certain elements within the bill that my office fully supports," he said in a statement.

In Iowa, Rep. Ashley Hinson talked up funding from the law that would go toward improving the lock and dam system along the Upper Mississippi River, saying in a statement that she "helped lead a bipartisan group of my colleagues in urging the administration to prioritize funding for these essential upgrades."

"We secured $829 million in federal funding to upgrade locks & dams along the Upper Mississippi River," she wrote on Twitter.

"This is game-changing for Iowa's agriculture industry & our Mississippi River communities!" she added.

Hinson, along with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., sent a letter to the Biden administration in December, after the bill passed, asking officials to prioritize "funding for construction of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program on the Upper Mississippi River System using the $2.5 billion provided in the IIJA for inland waterways infrastructure projects." ("IIJA" is shorthand for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the measure's formal name.)

Unlike Hinson, the letter's other signers all voted for the infrastructure bill.

"Tell the truth @RepAshleyHinson — you didn't vote for this bill," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. "You voted for a dam collapse. If you had your way your neighbors would be underwater."

A spokesperson said in a statement that Hinson "opposed the infrastructure package because it was tied to trillions of other spending in the House."

"Since the bill was signed into law, this money was going to be spent regardless," the spokesperson said. "If there's federal money on the table she is, of course, going to do everything she can to make sure it is reinvested in Iowa."

When the bill made its way through Congress, it won support from just 13 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Soon after it passed, the House Republicans who backed it drew sharp criticism from the party's far-right flank and Trump, who was unable to get infrastructure legislation passed when he was in office. Some of the 13 House lawmakers even received death threats.

Late last year, Trump's political action committee released a Facebook ad targeting "RINOs" — "Republicans in name only" — and "losers" he wants voted out of office, who include several Republicans who supported the infrastructure package.

"If the politics and the polarization in Washington were different, or even if there was another president at the head, if it was the very same bill, I think there would have been a lot more votes for it simply because it is a good bill," Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., who voted for the package, said in November. "I think there was just too much politics surrounding this legislation. And people's decisions were clouded by that."

On the Senate side, McConnell last week highlighted funding for infrastructure projects in his district while taking a jab at his House colleagues.

"Regrettably, I'm the only Republican in the Kentucky delegation who voted for it because it became, in my view, needlessly politicized over in the House," he said Friday at the annual Kentuckians for Better Transportation conference. "So you ended up having very few House Republicans who voted for it."

Among those who recently touted projects backed by the bill they opposed are Rep. Rob Wittman, who on Friday highlighted a $70 million investment in the Port of Virginia in Norfolk, and Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who last week promoted funding for flood control that was provided by the infrastructure package, which she called a "liberal wish list." And Rep. Pete Stauber this month promoted nearly $10 million in grants the bill provided to airports in northeastern Minnesota, even though he said in November that voting for the infrastructure package would pave "a destructive and irreversible path towards socialism."

In a statement, Wittman said he had "worked for almost a decade supporting the Port of Virginia to help it grow with the push for a deeper, wider, and safer passage."

"So while I voted against the infrastructure bill, I am ecstatic that the Port of Virginia received the funding I have worked so hard over the years to secure," he said.

Spokespeople for Granger and Stauber did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Democrats have sought to highlight the Republicans who promoted such projects while they voted against overall infrastructure funding.

"It's a tale as old as time — Republican lawmakers fight against popular legislation that helps the American people, and then try to take credit for it," a Democratic National Committee memo read. "While Republicans are desperate to take credit for President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, they can count on getting called out and held accountable."

Asked about those Republicans on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, "We welcome their support for the president's agenda — an agenda that was supported by some Republicans, not the majority.

"Hopefully they'll take the right vote to support their communities and jobs, job creation, in the future," she added. "Maybe it'll make them think twice."