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How one Republican-leaning county is welcoming Biden's Covid-19 relief
03:20 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Despite a busy start to Joe Biden’s administration, Republicans are struggling to find effective lines of attack against the new Democratic president.

No Republicans on Capitol Hill supported the Biden-backed Covid stimulus package, but the GOP also did relatively little to marshal public opposition to the bill beyond calling it a “liberal wish list.” That’s not surprising given how popular the bill is, with 61% of adults saying they back it in the latest CNN poll.

Republican senators launched perfunctory critiques against many of Biden’s appointees and first executive orders, while others have begun to focus on the influx of migrants at the border. But so far the GOP has made no sustained argument against the administration.

Instead of taking on Biden directly, Republicans and their conservative-media allies have retreated to the latest culture-war skirmishes, focusing as much on lambasting a “cancel culture” as they are on attacking actual administration policies.

Last week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, released a video of himself reading the children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss after the late author’s publishing company announced it would no longer print six other books the company says contain racist and offensive images.

McCarthy’s criticism of the House Covid relief bill, meanwhile, centered on the bill having too little money allocated for reopening schools. His and other House Republicans’ message tapped into a go-to GOP message against tight Covid restrictions but did not take on the entirety of the proposal.

And at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, speakers got their loudest rounds of applause by going after “Big Tech” firms for supposedly censoring conservatives or toymaker Hasbro for renaming its iconic Mr. Potato Head to a more gender-neutral “Potato Head.”

“Cancel culture is what unites and excites the right at this point,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist. “And Biden has been fairly invisible to date.”

To the extent that Republicans focus on Biden at all, it’s to characterize the 78-year-old President – who, according to the latest CNN poll, has a 51% approval rating – as being dominated by his party’s progressive elements.

Pelosi and Schumer

“When people call my show they are more likely to complain about Pelosi and Schumer than Biden,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative radio talk-show host based in Atlanta.

Unlike his predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Biden has not become a lightning rod for the opposition party. He does not factor into Republican small-dollar fundraising appeals any more than other leaders in the Democratic Party like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, or former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

“I really believe most conservatives think that Biden is the figurehead,” said Erickson. “And what is getting them worked up is all of the culture war stuff. The cancellations, transgender bathrooms, the border situation, the wokes in charge.”

Schumer and, in particular, Pelosi have long been prime bogeymen for Republicans. Both names have been effective in both fundraising and in attack ads during campaign season.

GOP leadership retreat

And as Republicans gear up for the 2022 midterms, that focus is unlikely to change. At a House GOP leadership retreat in Florida last week, pollsters made a presentation on the battleground districts identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee. According to one person who was in the room, the presentation identified that criticizing Pelosi and the House Democratic policy agenda remain a surefire motivator for Republican voters.

“The takeaway is that this socialist agenda that we successfully ran against in 2020 remains a salient issue with voters,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to share party strategy.

In a follow-up memo released to the public, NRCC executive director John Billings blasted Biden and Pelosi for backing House Democrats as they “forced their socialist agenda on the American people.”

A spokesman for the NRCC declined to say whether the party has polled Biden’s support in their targeted battleground districts. But notably, the House GOP-aligned American Action Network did not even name Biden in a statement decrying the House passage of the Covid relief bill as “Pelosi’s liberal stimulus.”

“Liberals’ first act in office is a $1.9 trillion travesty that does far more to fund the left’s socialist transformation of America than it does to deliver the essentials we need to put COVID-19 behind us,” said Dan Conston, president of the non-profit organization.

Focus on the border

So far, however, Republicans have been unable to capitalize on lines of criticism on the Covid law, in part because of its broad popularity.

“Covid relief doesn’t lend a very good target except that it’s too big and is being used as an opportunity to push extraneous progressive priorities,” said Donovan.

Immigration presents a more potent issue for Republicans, as the situation at the southern border is shaping up to be Biden’s first potential crisis. The number of unaccompanied migrant children coming across the southern border is surging, while the number of asylum seekers being detained by the federal government is even higher than at the peak of the 2019 border crisis.

Trump took the opportunity to directly blame Biden for the surge at the border.

“Our border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden,” the former president said in a statement last week.

Other Republicans like Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas also blamed Biden for rolling back immigration enforcement. Hawley on Wednesday called on the Senate to call on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to testify about the administration’s policies.

And House Republicans from border states held a press conference in front of the Capitol Wednesday to take aim at Biden’s immigration policy.

“Our constituents are on the frontlines bearing the brunt of the lawlessness and self-inflicted crisis at the border created by the Biden administration,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas.