Donald Trump has been on a retribution campaign against the House Republicans who voted to impeach him. Now the former President is expanding his revenge tour to include a new crop of members: GOP lawmakers who backed the bipartisan infrastructure law.
This week, Trump inserted himself squarely into the middle of a member-on-member matchup in West Virginia, where two incumbent Republicans who voted different ways on the infrastructure law will be pitted against each other next year because redistricting lumped their districts into one.
Trump endorsed Rep. Alex Mooney after they met at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, a week after Mooney had voted against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. His GOP opponent, Rep. David McKinley, voted for it.
“It seals the deal,” Mooney told CNN, referring to his Trump endorsement.
But McKinley, who has been touting the billions designated for roads and bridges in his state, said on Tuesday that his constituents and county mayors have been clamoring for such a program for years.
“They’ve wanted infrastructure,” McKinley said.
Asked about Trump’s endorsement of Mooney, McKinley said, “I know, I saw that,” and walked into the House chamber.
The infrastructure law has divided the Republican Party, pitting business-minded Republicans like McKinley against Trump and allied outside groups, who haven’t wanted to give President Joe Biden a bipartisan accomplishment as he struggles in the polls.
It has also become the latest proxy war in the battle over Trumpism in the GOP, with Trump and his hardcore supporters vowing revenge against the Republicans who helped turn the measure into law – a victory that eluded Trump during his own presidency.
The bill had split the top Republicans on the Hill, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell among the 19 GOP senators to vote for it, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy actively lobbied his colleagues to try to kill it.
“Seventy-five percent of the American people support infrastructure, unlike the other issues we’re talking about,” McConnell said Tuesday. “From a Kentucky point of view, it was extremely good for our state. I’m proud of my vote.”
A study in contrasts
In West Virginia, the contrasts between the two candidates are sharp.
McKinley, who voted more often with Trump than Mooney, has deeper roots in the state and currently represents a majority of a new district created after the state lost a seat due to its relatively slow population growth.
Meanwhile, Mooney, a member of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, has voted more frequently against President Joe Biden, including against establishing a commission investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which McKinley supported. Mooney objected to the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory, while McKinley did not. Some in the GOP think Mooney is positioning himself to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin when he’s up for reelection in 2024.
It’s unclear whether either man will pull any punches while campaigning against their colleague. In a brief interview, Mooney said he is “just going to run for the position.”
But Trump’s involvement could turbocharge the fight. The political arm for the House Freedom Caucus is officially backing Mooney and took a swipe at McKinley in a statement, calling him a “Beltway moderate who voted to create Nancy Pelosi’s January 6 witch hunt.”
Mooney now enters a 2022 contest against his colleague with much more campaign cash and the backing of the most powerful Republican endorsement, Trump, who received nearly 69% of the West Virginia vote last year. The Club for Growth PAC endorsed Mooney on Tuesday, and other groups are sure to follow.
“Primary them all,” said Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Trump ally, of McKinley and the 12 other House Republicans who backed the infrastructure bill.
McKinley isn’t the only one facing backlash for his infrastructure vote. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, another staunch Trump supporter, tweeted out the phone numbers of the Republicans who supported the measure, which led those offices to receive a flood of angry calls and even death threats. Greene also said those 13 House Republicans should be primaried and booted from their committee assignments.
“For our leadership to say, ‘No, we’re not going to kick them off of committees,’ it’s a complete failure, and the Republican voters are sick of it,” Greene said.
Yet even some of Trump’s closest allies push back against his attacks over the bill.
“I disagree with it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said of Trump’s criticisms.
And some groups are coming to the defense of GOP supporters of the bill, applauding the massive investment in roads, bridges, transit, rail, broadband, airports, ports and waterways across the country.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts estimated that the bill would send roughly $4.4 billion to the Mountain State, roughly the equivalent of its annual state budget, and praised McKinley, who was the only West Virginia member of the House to vote for it.
“This will be a very meaningful vote to us,” he said. “I would have greatly appreciated if our members of Congress had voted in the interests of West Virginians and not in their own political interest.”
An ‘awkward’ situation
After the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, Republican leaders and other West Virginia legislators are now in a tough spot. Unlike Trump, most Republicans are reluctant to get involved in an intraparty battle that could turn messy.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise acknowledged it was an “awkward” scenario to see two incumbents pitted against each other. Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, confirmed that the House GOP’s campaign arm would be staying on the sidelines in the race. GOP Rep. Carol Miller, the only other House member in the West Virginia delegation, bristled at the suggestion she would pick sides in the race, telling CNN: “Of course I won’t get involved!”
West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who voted for the bill alongside Manchin, said: “I don’t appreciate that” when asked about Trump’s attacks against Republicans who backed the bill. She commended McKinley for his vote, calling him an “experienced legislator,” while saying she would stay neutral in the House race.
“David was brave to do it,” said Capito. “He knew what he was getting into when he made that vote because he believed in it. So he’s going to be ready to defend it.”
The primary election between McKinley and Mooney is not until May 10, 2022. But both candidates went on West Virginia’s MetroNews’ “Talkline” show last week to defend their positions. McKinley pointed to US News and World Report ranking his state last in terms of the quality of its transportation, energy and internet systems.
“It’s not the time to play politics,” said McKinley. “It’s a time to do what’s right.”
McKinley also knocked Mooney, a former Maryland state senator, saying, “I don’t know what the infrastructure was like in Maryland.”
Mooney then went on the show and responded that the bill is not fully paid for, pointing out that it would widen the federal budget deficit by $256 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. He said that McKinley’s carpetbagger attack was “unnecessary.”
When host Hoppy Kercheval said the race was already on, Mooney replied, “He started it.”