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Eye on infrastructure: White House looks past GOP’s Cheney purge

House GOP vote to oust Liz Cheney will come ahead of bipartisan White House meetings

Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is set to be ousted from leadership, shortly before GOP leaders head to the White House to talk infrastructure with President Joe Biden.
Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is set to be ousted from leadership, shortly before GOP leaders head to the White House to talk infrastructure with President Joe Biden. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Top congressional leaders head to the White House on Wednesday shortly after one of the four oversees booting a member of his own team over her opposition to former President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine democracy.

House Republicans meet Wednesday morning and are expected to vote to remove Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as the Republican Conference chairperson, the No. 3 position in their caucus, for pushing back on Trump’s repeated claims that President Joe Biden is not the rightful winner of the 2020 election.

The White House insists Biden has no intention of getting in the middle of intraparty Republican politics when Speaker Nancy Pelosi joins House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday.

“Here’s what I can assure you: The focus of this meeting is not on the future of the Republican Party,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “They are neither seeking, nor is he offering, his perspective on that.”

During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Psaki stressed areas of potential agreement on infrastructure and job creation, as well as specific bipartisan concerns about a shortage of semiconductor chips, rather than questions like whether Trump critics need not apply for membership in the GOP.

“That won’t be resolved in this meeting. The president knows that you have to work with leaders, [and] with members of both parties you’re going to have disagreements, and maybe you’re going to find some areas of common ground,” Psaki said.

Biden will still face the task of negotiating with someone who supports the narrative that he may not be the rightful winner of the presidency.

Of course, Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have been asked for their thoughts about what the pending removal of Cheney from leadership means for the party.

“I mean, I think what I said before, and I mean this: I don’t think that relitigating the 2020 election is a winning strategy going forward. I think if we’re going to win elections in 2022, we have to be talking about the issues the American people care about,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Tuesday. “Those are the types of issues I think that are going to resonate with voters in 2022, and I hope that all Republicans can start looking forward, not looking backward, but talk about what we’re going to do to try to improve the lives of American people and make an argument for why they ought to put us back in power in the House and Senate [in] 2022.”

But asked whether that focus for 2022 should include Trump, who continues to make false claims about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election that saw Biden win a decisive Electoral College victory, Thune conceded, “I mean, I don’t control what the former president does; nobody does.”

New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, the clear favorite to replace Cheney as conference chair, has already received McCarthy’s endorsement, which came during an interview that aired Sunday on Fox News Channel during which McCarthy highlighted the role as lead messenger going into 2022.

“We are in one of our biggest battles ever for this nation and the direction, whether this next century will be ours,” McCarthy said. “As conference chair, you have one of the most critical jobs as the messenger of going forward. Are we talking about what the Democrats are doing on the border? Are we talking about all the missed jobs [in the employment] report that we just had? Are we building an economy?”

Stefanik argues that despite her voting record, in which she has deviated substantially from Trump and GOP positions, she views the path forward to be an embrace of Trump.

“I am always asked by DC reporters and talking heads (not voters!) about who I believe is in charge of the Republican Party,” the upstate New York congresswoman tweeted from her campaign account Tuesday. “It’s simple- GOP VOTERS are in charge! And GOP VOTERS overwhelmingly support President Trump & want us to advance the working class agenda he spearheaded!”

Stefanik, who opposed the final version of the 2017 tax law that Trump signed into law, citing concerns about the effect of limits on state and local tax deductions on her constituents, may soon be leading a messaging operation supporting the broader Trump tax code changes.

Wyoming’s John Barrasso, the Republican Conference chair in the Senate, has been emphasizing what Republicans view as negative consequences of rolling back tax cuts on upper-income taxpayers and businesses to pay for Biden’s sweeping infrastructure plan — spending that, as envisioned by the White House, would go well beyond roads, rails and bridges.

“We are talking about physical infrastructure. That’s what we are taking to the White House. There is a red line for the Republicans in our proposal to the White House, and that is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” Barrasso said Tuesday. “We will not be touching that, period.”

The ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Barrasso is among the senators invited to a Thursday White House meeting with Biden to try to seek common ground on infrastructure.

Closing the gap between the current GOP offer of around $600 billion and the administration proposal that goes into the trillions of dollars has seemed far-fetched.

That’s even as the White House has been talking up bipartisanship and reserving time on Biden’s schedule for discussions both with Democrats such as Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republicans led by Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who will lead Thursday’s delegation to the White House.

Capito said Tuesday that the focus of the Thursday meeting may be more on finding common ground on infrastructure than on how to pay for it, but she was optimistic about the chance to “have a substantive meeting.”

“That’s what the president is planning too,” Capito said. “It’s not just the ‘Hi, how ya doing?’ type stuff, and see if we can make some real progress on it. I’m still encouraged, very encouraged, because there’s been a lot of outreach.”

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