If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his party regain control of the House this fall, they would take power with one of the worst relationships with a sitting president in recent memory.
President Joe Biden and his party have spent much of this year defaming McCarthy and his fellow Republicans as a threat that would destroy democracy — an attack that is now the centerpiece of Democrats’ efforts to maintain their frayed majorities in Congress. Many of those Republicans, meanwhile, have echoed and amplified unfounded doubts about Biden’s election, while vowing to use their newfound power to investigate the president’s son and potentially remove members of his cabinet.
The worsening polarization in Washington, which has at times turned openly hostile during the Trump administration, could become absolutely flammable in January 2023. And, making matters worse, each side is arguing that the other should make the first offer of peace.
“They’re going to have to overhaul their approach,” said Representative Rick Crawford (R-Ark.). “Unless they’re comfortable with, you know, continuing an adversarial relationship, I think it would be in their best interest to at least establish more of a conciliatory tone and a relationship.”
As of now, few House Republicans expect their supposed GOP leader and the president to become true allies. So far, Republicans say, the White House has made few inroads into the House GOP conference that may well determine whether Biden can get any legislative action in the next two years.
It’s a glaring issue for Biden, who frequently praises his bipartisan laurels, and will need some House Republican cooperation to at least keep the government’s lights on — not to mention make a dent in his list of remaining legislative tasks, ranging from veterans’ health. Cancer Research.
While the president has maintained a better relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the lower house has repeatedly shown he is determined not to give Biden any victory. Biden also spoke on the phone with McCarthy only once during his presidency, according to a person familiar with the discussions. A White House official said the Office of Legislative Affairs has been involved with the Republican leader since the beginning of the Biden administration and continues to do so.
The president also has a painfully short history with most likely GOP lawmakers in the year ahead. No more than 40 percent of next year’s House Republican Party will have served in Congress before 2017 and the start of the Trump era, according to a POLITICO review. That percentage will decline further as the Republican majority rises above 218. Many of the conference’s top bipartisan negotiators such as Representatives Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) are leaving, as is Representative . Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who emerged as a rare ally of Democrats after the Jan. 6 attack.
Among the rest, many say the White House has done little to generate goodwill with Republicans in Congress. POLITICO spoke to 10 House Republicans, ranging from rank and file members to waiting chairs, nearly all of whom described having little or no contact with the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
And it’s hardly just McCarthy. Several House Republicans were hollow when pressed that, if anyone, at their conference had the kind of built-in relationship Biden enjoys not just with McConnell but with other GOP senators, including Maine Senator Susan Collins.
Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, praised Biden’s bipartisan victories and the White House’s outreach to congressional Republicans.
“His legislative team is always in close contact with both parties in Congress, including inviting House Republicans to thousands of briefings and events – because he is always eager to make more bipartisan progress for the country,” Bates said in a statement.
Most critical for Biden, however, is not his own legislative wish list. It’s the federal government’s annual to-do list, which will require buy-in from both parties to avoid high-drama agency closures or debt cliffs. During the years of Barack Obama and John Boehner, the collapse between a Democratic White House and a Republican-controlled House nearly led to fiscal calamity.
“I think that’s the biggest mistake they’ve made in the last year,” said Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has served under four presidents and described Biden’s outreach to his party as anemic. He said Biden and McCarthy could work well together as they are both “natural political animals”.
But Cole warned that McCarthy “was ignored for two years, vilified to a degree … I think they’ll probably learn to regret it.”
A White House official reacted, saying thousands of invitations had been extended to House Republicans over the past 20 months for everything from law-signing ceremonies to events in their home districts and trips abroad. The source added that only 100 of those invitations were accepted by fewer than 60 House Republicans.
They added that since May, and excluding the Congressional picnic, 140 Republicans have been invited to the White House, and fewer than 30 have attended.
Representative Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said there have been “missed opportunities” in the past two years, but that the relationship from January on will depend “on Joe Biden showing up after Election Day. Will it be fighting Joe or will we work together Joe?”
Across the administration more broadly, GOP lawmakers described mixed experiences with Biden’s team. Some recalled requests for information or conversations that were largely fruitless or frustrating, while others noted that some Cabinet officials were more readily available — such as EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, or Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. – even though its ability to influence management decisions was limited.
But not everyone in Biden’s office gets positive marks. Burgess complained that it took “an eternity” to get a call from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – in the end, almost a year. “And even then, the end result was not very satisfying,” he recalled.
The relationship next year will not only depend on Biden, but will also require McCarthy and his conference to play ball after cutting his teeth for the past two years, largely opposing deals negotiated by the White House and Senate Republicans. A majority of House Republicans have opposed the big bipartisan deals that have emerged since early 2021, including the infrastructure bill, weapons security reforms and semiconductor financing.
Many at the conference also questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s victory during the 2020 election, echoing false allegations of fraud made by former President Donald Trump. And House Republicans are set to release their agenda later this month, dubbed the Commitment to America, which aims to position their party for the 2024 election, not what might make it to Biden’s table.
Democrats, meanwhile, have shaped a midterm message around the so-called “Republican MAGA” brand, with Biden himself describing the GOP’s philosophy as “semi-fascism” in his high-profile speech in Philadelphia last week. . In a dueling speech in Biden’s hometown, about 100 miles to the north, McCarthy demanded that Biden apologize for comparing Trump and his supporters to “fascists” — the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the runners since his presidency. Trump and the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
It’s not just at the highest levels that Republicans say relations are frayed or non-existent. It’s on staffing levels too. The White House legislative team, in particular, has struggled to get ahead with House Republicans, a dynamic that has also angered Democrats in particular as the party grapples with historically narrow parliamentary margins.
“There hasn’t been a lot of publicity out of the White House,” said Representative Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), who is set to chair the Natural Resources Committee next year.
A senior member of the GOP House, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, described the agencies’ outreach as “disappointing” and “uncooperative,” an echo of grievances Democrats had during the Trump years.
“They can’t expect to have a positive relationship when they don’t respond to our requests,” the member added. “[Next year] they will have to appear before our committee, we will set the agenda. And maybe it’s a rude awakening for them. I don’t know. But they will be obliged to answer our questions.”