In their rush to condemn the now-expanded Squad for its apparent apostasy in failing to support the bipartisan bill, many Democrats apparently overlooked a subtle but unmistakable consequence: The votes were obvious trade-offs that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had pocketed in full knowledge that enough Republicans who actually supported its provisions would end up supporting the bill, risking fallout to themselves and their own party in the process.
As reported by Aaron Blake, writing for The Washington Post:
Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed late Friday night and is headed for his signature after months of intense wrangling over the details — particularly whether it would be tied to a larger spending plan that progressives insisted upon passing alongside it. But in the end it wasn’t really those progressives who provided the key votes, but rather the 13 Republicans. The final vote count was 228 to 206, meaning if no Republicans had voted for the bill, it wouldn’t have passed.
The reaction from the vast majority of House Republicans was as predicable as it was vehement; Florida Man Rep. Matt Gaetz was no exception.
Others, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, called the 13 Republican defectors “traitors” to their party. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina declared that he would “primary the hell” out of anyone who voted for the infrastructure legislation. It’s not entirely clear how Cawthorn would carry out his threat, but since many of the defectors—such as Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania—occupy moderate “swing” districts, Democrats are doubtlessly applauding Cawthorn’s stated intentions.
The final vote also proved an embarrassment to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had confidently predicted last week that he expected very few Republicans to vote for it, and that it would most certainly “fail” as a result. Blake quotes the right-wing National Review, which excoriated those Republicans for their “betrayal,” and accused them of “rescu[ing] Biden’s failed agenda.” That publication also suggested that the Republican caucus consider ousting McCarthy for his failure to keep his colleagues in line.
Meanwhile, the Squad can relax in the knowledge that each of its members voted exactly the way they always said they would. It’s not that they didn’t trust President Biden or Speaker Pelosi. It’s the simple fact that the understanding all along was that both infrastructure bills—the so-called “bipartisan” bill as well as the Build Back Better (BBB) bill—were always conceived as being executed in tandem, in order to prevent certain Democratic senators from backing out of the reconciliation package. This suspicion was amply confirmed early on by two Senate Democrats, Joe “Maserati” Manchin and his corporate sidekick, Kyrsten Sinema, both of whom broke faith with the original agreement (with Manchin in particular insisting that the bipartisan bill be voted on first and separately). After months of moving the goalposts at regular intervals, neither of those two erstwhile Democrats has ever committed themselves to the broader “human infrastructure” package, and there is legitimate speculation that both may still abandon it altogether.
Ultimately, with Pelosi’s help, the Squad members are the ones who stood on principle, honoring the original agreement and doing exactly what they’d spent months telling their constituents they would do. They succeeded in bringing 13 Republicans under fire from the rest of the GOP caucus, while carefully allowing enough votes from the rest of the Progressive Caucus for the BiF to pass. In fact, one Republican House member who voted for the BiF expressly said she did it in order to see the Squad “sidelined:”
“I weakened their hand. They have no leverage now,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who had shaped a GOP-friendly spin on her vote by the time she exited the chamber: “I voted against AOC and the squad tonight.”
Uh-huh. Meanwhile, President Biden has a huge win, and the GOP is going berserk at its own membership. If Manchin and Sinema continue to betray the Democrats on BBB, those six Squad members are going to look mighty prescient, and if the two conserva-Dems actually decide to come on board, the House has already extracted commitments from enough members to vote for BBB after the Congressional Budget Office scoring. If anything, the Squad should be getting high fives rather than criticism from the rest of the Democratic caucus.
It was very, very well played.