Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is showing he can play offense against vulnerable Senate Democrats by forcing them to take tough votes, driving a wedge between red state Democrats up for reelection and the party’s base.
McCarthy put them in a difficult position last week by forcing them to vote on a GOP-sponsored resolution blocking a Biden administration rule encouraging retirement managers to consider environmental, social and corporate governance — or ESG — factors when making investment decisions.
Senate Democrats will take another politically charged vote Wednesday on a House-passed resolution to block a new D.C. crime bill that would lower penalties for carjackings, burglaries and robberies.
The looming vote prompted Biden to tell anxious Senate Democrats at a meeting last week that he would buck his own statement of administration policy and sign the resolution, giving them political cover to vote for it and dodge Republican accusations of being soft on crime.
But it’s still a tough vote for Democrats up for reelection who support D.C. home rule and D.C. statehood, such as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who told reporters last week that he was undecided on what he called a “complicated” issue.
A PAC affiliated with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) quickly pounced on his uncertainty.
“Thousands upon thousands of Virginians work in Washington, D.C., every day …. But Tim Kaine doesn’t take keeping them safe seriously. Kaine refused to give a straight answer when asked if he’d support GOP legislation that would reverse dangerous changes D.C. made to its criminal code,” the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with McConnell, said Monday.
Kaine told reporters Monday that he has decided to vote to block the D.C. crime bill.
He holds one of 23 Democratic seats up for reelection next year.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said McCarthy is helping Senate Republicans put Senate Democrats on the defensive, which could help them win back the majority next year, given the favorable electoral map.
“The House has got off to a great start. … They’re doing their job, they’re helping us,” he said. “It’s calling people out. The [environmental, social, corporate governance bill] last week, this week the crime bill here in D.C.”
“It’s obviously good votes for us,” he added.
McCarthy’s pressure campaign on Senate Democrats is part of an intensifying battle with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who tries to highlight what he calls “MAGA” extremism in the House whenever possible.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), an adviser to the Senate Republican leadership, said McCarthy is defining important differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates for voters.
“I think it demonstrates the different policy choices depending on who would be in charge after the 2024 election. So I think a little definition is helpful,” he said.
Biden gave vulnerable Senate Democrats political cover when he told them he will sign the resolution to block the D.C. crime bill, but he enraged many House Democrats who voted against it after the White House budget office announced on Feb. 6 that the administration opposed the GOP-sponsored measure.
After the Office of Management and Budget called it a “clear” example “of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood,” 173 House Democrats voted against the resolution.
This could become an issue in the Arizona Senate race next year. Rep. Rubin Gallego (D-Ariz.), who plans to challenge Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) if she runs for a second term, was one of the Democrats who voted to uphold the D.C. crime bill.
The House resolution nullifying the D.C. crime bill has even split Democratic progressives.
Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) are two progressive Democrats who say they will vote for it even though they both also support granting statehood to the District of Columbia.
One House Democrat told The Hill last week that the White House flip-flop on the crime bill was “amateur hour” and “heads should roll.”
McCarthy gave Senate Republican candidates more ammo for next year’s races by passing another resolution to disapprove a D.C. bill allowing noncitizens to vote, although that resolution will likely remain “bottled up” in a Senate committee, according to one GOP aide.
If Senate Democrats refuse to let it come to the floor, it will give Republicans another talking point.
“Democrats are twisting themselves into knots trying to defend bills that go easy on violent criminals, allow noncitizens to vote, and enshrine Biden’s radical green energy agenda. It’s been fun to watch,” said Philip Letsou, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The House is working on another resolution to block a Biden expansion of the Waters of the United States rule that would give the Environmental Protection Agency broader jurisdiction over streams and wetlands.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a resolution last week to overturn the Biden water rule and the House is expected to pass it this week.
That means Senate Democrats, especially those up for reelection in farm states, will take another tough vote on a GOP resolution blocking a Biden administration action.
“The idea that you could have the federal government taking over all waterways no matter how small or inconsequential, in some cases the equivalent of a puddle, I think strikes people in rural parts of the country as obnoxious,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.).
He said the issue could come up for a vote next week.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who will take the lead on the resolution in the Senate, said the Biden rule “expands the [federal] jurisdiction on the waters into unnamed waters that are not within their jurisdiction.”
She said that would require more permitting in the agriculture and construction industries.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told The Hill on Monday that he will vote for the Republican resolution to block the expansion of federal authority over streams and wetlands.
Farm-state senators facing potentially competitive reelection race next year include Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kaine, Sinema and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Twenty-four state attorneys general have filed a
lawsuit challenging the EPA’s waters of the United States rule, including
attorneys general from Montana, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.