Respect for the party line trumps voter deliverables for many Congressional Republicans today

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) – The century-old, 81-year-old Davenport Bridge over the Mississippi River cracks under the weight of tens of thousands of cars and trucks every day. Rust shows through its chipped silver paint, exposing the steel that needs to be replaced.

This town’s aging monument is one of more than 1,000 structurally deficient bridges in the region. The tally gives Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District the dubious distinction of having the second most struggling bridges in the country.

So, it seemed strange to some Iowa residents when District Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks voted against a bill that would pay more than $ 100 million in federal money to repair and replace bridges in southwestern Iowa. Miller-Meeks opposed the management of the bill by majority Democrats, without ever mentioning its content, a common refrain from the minority who overwhelmingly opposed it.

If anyone in Iowa was surprised the Republican objected to money for a blatant local priority, few in Washington were. Strategists and former party leaders note that it has become so common for lawmakers to prioritize their party line over the needs of the district it is barely mentioned.

“The old axiom that all politics is local has been dramatically overshadowed by the one that says all politics is national,” said Tom Kahn, a 33-year veteran of Capitol Hill staff who teaches congressional strategy at American University.

Democrats are banking on voters’ reaction to this trend. As they continue to press, alongside a series of priority voting measures in early 2022, for the passage of a nearly $ 2 trillion social safety net, following the $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, they hope voters punish lawmakers like Miller-Meeks for opposing major new investments in healthcare, climate change mitigation and child care.

Related (May 2021): Kevin McCarthy, Elise Stefanik and even Madison Cawthorn are among the Republican members of the House bragging about the benefits of Biden’s pandemic relief program for voters

But even vulnerable lawmakers like Miller-Meeks – who was elected in 2020 with a margin of victory of just six votes – don’t seem worried about paying a price.

In New Mexico, Representative Yvette Herrell, a first-year GOP student, voted against the infrastructure bill and its $ 100 million per state to improve broadband Internet access. A quarter of homes in the rural district of Herrell did not have internet access in 2019.

In the Central Valley of California, Representative David Valadao could have told families of 194,000 children that he supported expanding a tax credit for middle-income to lower-income children in the spending bill. ‘Biden administration. The agricultural district of Valadao has more children whose parents qualify for the monthly $ 300 per child than any Republican targeted by Democrats.

Valadao voted against the bill, which was passed by the House before it stalled in the Senate when Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin stunned many in his caucus by announcing last month that he would not support the bill as is.

Miller-Meeks’ office did not respond to requests to discuss his vote.

In her written statement released after the vote, she said she would have supported an infrastructure bill that was not tied to a bigger spending package as Democrats worked for months to push them forward. tandem.

Miller-Meeks and others offer the procedural explanation, when in reality they are following the national trend of party loyalty, demonstrating the shift from the time-honored policy of bringing the bacon home, the GOP observers.

Aaron Tennant walks past vehicles in the parking lot of his trucking and transportation company in Colona, ​​Ill., Last month. Tennant owns trucking and shipping companies on the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River. This month, after six years of construction, a new bridge was opened connecting the city of Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois, on Interstate 74. But delays last summer took a toll on Tennant’s productivity. . This frustrated commuters and added additional stress to older bridges.

AP / Charlie Neibergall

“It’s a business line, as I would call it. I’ve seen this through others, ”said former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, former chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee.

“Things have changed. Previously, it was ‘I brought a number of things for my district.’ Now, more Republican lawmakers are bragging about having stood their ground in the face of opposition.

This is in part due to former President Donald Trump’s still strong influence over the Republican Party. Trump called for major challenges for the 13 GOP House members who backed the infrastructure bill, just as he sought to end the careers of Republicans who voted to convict him in his impeachment trials or joined the bipartisan select committee investigating the attack on Capitol Hill last January 6, by Trump supporters seeking to disrupt Congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

Defectors who joined Democrats to vote for the infrastructure bill have been called “traitors” and “socialists” by some GOP colleagues in the House, such as right-wing Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene .

See: It’s not just these 13 House Republicans who are facing backlash for breaking through the party ranks with votes on infrastructure. These New York Democrats are also in their ears.

Michigan Republican Representative Fred Upton received a voicemail message wishing him, his family and staff.

“There is probably still room for people to make their case on local issues,” said John Ashbrook, former aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. “But there is so much national pressure shaping your image if you are a member of the House. Your fate is in the hands of the national mood.

Miller-Meeks had previously requested money to improve infrastructure on the Mississippi River. She was one of 38 members of the Mississippi State House who wrote to the US Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 9 asking it to prioritize $ 2.5 billion for lock and dam upgrades.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association has diagnosed 1,064 of the bridges – 20% – in Iowa’s 2nd Agricultural and Industrial District as structurally deficient. That is, provisionally safe but with chronic repair needs.

Two of them, including Davenport’s Centennial, cross the Mississippi into the Quad Cities, a mid-sized industrial metropolitan area of ​​about 475,000 people. The bridges connect Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, a national crossroads for river, rail and road trade that struggles to maintain its status as a hub for agricultural machinery.

Behind Centennial, the most heavily trafficked structurally deficient bridge is the 50-year-old Mississippi Crossing on Interstate 280, a Davenport bypass that connects Interstate 80, one of the nation’s busiest freight routes.

Paul Rumler, president of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, lobbied Miller-Meeks to support the infrastructure bill. Trade slows down considerably during annual repairs to several bridges, he said.

In June, the Interstate 280 bridge and the 55-year-old Interstate 80 bridge up the river near Davenport were partially closed for repairs, pushing westbound traffic back to Illinois for miles.

“Having long-term predictable federal funding is helpful so that we can get out of that daily talk and think about long-term needs,” Rumler said. “And the Quad Cities are definitely one of those places that have long term needs.”

Planners are considering a new bridge over the Mississippi River on Interstate 80, a 3,000-mile femoral artery connecting the New York subway to San Francisco.

Aaron Tennant owns trucking and shipping companies on the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi. This month, after six years of construction, a new bridge was opened connecting the city of Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois, on Interstate 74. But delays last summer took a toll on Tennant’s productivity. . This frustrated commuters and added additional stress to older bridges such as Centennial.

The Republican, who describes himself as “very conservative,” says he voted for Trump twice, knows Miller-Meeks well and “she did a good job.” But he doesn’t understand why she voted against the infrastructure bill.

While the larger set of social spending “confuses” it a bit, “infrastructure funding is unique because it is a room I have no objection to money being spent on. because it directly creates jobs. “

Tennant said he “should have a conversation with the MP to better understand her position.”

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