A bill under consideration in the House would, among other things, expand the child tax credit to the benefit of parents earning $40,000 a year or less.
In the 2022 General Social Survey, over two-thirds of people who fell into that category identified themselves as Republicans or independents. About a quarter of them lived in the census region including Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma — all red states.
But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) isn’t sure about the legislation. After all, he said on Wednesday, “passing a tax bill that makes the president look good — mailing out checks before the election — means he could be reelected, and then we won’t extend the 2017 tax cuts.”
Never mind that the mailing-out-checks thing is explicitly prohibited in the bill’s language. As for that explicit admission from Grassley that a (short-term!) benefit to low-income parents isn’t worth it if it might mean another four years of President Biden? That’s 15 years of Republican strategy, said out loud.
In 2012, with President Barack Obama’s reelection looming, Time magazine published an excerpt of a book by its reporter Michael Grunwald (who is now at Politico). It documented how Republican leaders in Congress moved quickly in the wake of the 2008 election to develop a strategy that would bring the party back to power, even if it meant not passing legislation that improved the lives of Americans.
Grunwald described a Republican retreat in early 2009.
Over on the Senate side, a familiar name — Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — had a similar plan.
Obama’s vice president, of course, was Joe Biden. Grunwald spoke with him for the book, too.
“Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes,” Grunwald reported. “‘I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, “Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,”’ he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance.”
Grunwald called this the “Party of No” approach. In 2016, after Donald Trump unexpectedly won the White House, Grunwald declared in a Politico piece that the Party of No had won. The obstructive strategy, he argued, “helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016.”
Grunwald makes the convincing argument that McConnell’s aggressive decision to block Obama from filling a vacant Supreme Court seat might have pulled enough Republicans to the polls that year to make the difference.
But the Party of No approach also overlapped with the party base’s increasing hostility to the establishment itself. Even in the run-up to the 2010 midterms, Republican leaders (including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the future House speaker) were trying to take the anti-establishment energy embodied in the tea party and co-opt it toward the party’s familiar economic messaging.
This failed. The GOP was changing from a party that stood on the House floor and voted “no” on Obama policy proposals to a party that stood at Trump campaign rallies and screamed “no” at perceived changes in American culture. Trump won in part because McConnell cleared the path and because the party had helped hobble Obama’s policies but mostly because the Republican base was looking for an outsider eager to destroy the system entirely.
Last week, reports emerged indicating that McConnell was endorsing a Grassley-like approach to immigration legislation: do nothing rather than help Biden in November — or, more specifically, rather than hurt Trump. McConnell later suggested that this wasn’t his intent, though we might justifiably be cautious about accepting that walk-back given his history. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted, though, others have been willing to build that electoral wall explicitly.
“I will not help the Democrats try to improve [Biden’s] dismal approval ratings,” Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.) said to CNN, referring to immigration legislation. “I’m not going to do it. Why would I?”
Well, theoretically because your party is making immigration a central issue during the election because of the immediate risks it purportedly poses to the country. But, as with Grassley, this is simply a recognition, however tacit, that a big chunk of the GOP base is either fine with being politically obstructive or willing to vote for Republicans anyway.
In October, CNN released polling that showed most Americans think both parties in Congress should work across the aisle to pass legislation. But there was an outlier: Among Republicans, views were much more split between seeking compromise or holding a hard line, even if it meant that nothing got done.
And that was about legislation. If the question were whether Republicans would rather pass legislation aiding American families — and theoretically Biden — or rejecting that legislation and maybe boosting Trump? It’s safe to assume the “work together” side probably wouldn’t gain much ground.
This is perhaps a natural evolution given our highly polarized, nationalized politics. It is the worldview articulated by Sessions: that having limited power doesn’t mean trying to make the majority’s bills less problematic but, instead, using that limited power to build more power in the future. It’s an approach that many Republicans have embraced — including members of the hard-right minority of the party that booted McCarthy from the speakership.
Grassley has been around a while, and his comments are easily dismissible as being focused solely on the issue of checks being sent (something Trump did amid the 2020 election campaign, of course). But it is nonetheless revealing. The private, devious Republican effort to block Obama-Biden before 2012 is now often an open, explicit effort to block Biden-Harris.