GOP 'centrists' are moving to the right


Fewer and fewer House Republicans are backing bills popular with the American public.

The number of moderate House Republicans backing popular Democratic priorities in the last Congress was tiny. In the current Congress, that number has gotten even smaller.

Fifty-four of the 212 Republicans currently serving in the House of Representatives are listed as members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of self-described "centrist Republicans" who "are dedicated to working across the aisle to enact common-sense legislation on issues such as healthcare, family issues, workforce development, the environment (including clean water), and transportation/infrastructure."

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan House coalition aimed at "finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation," has 28 GOP members.

But as the Democratic majority has passed an array of popular legislative priorities this year, just a handful of their GOP colleagues have crossed the aisle to back them, and many bills that passed in the last Congress, before dying at the hands of a Senate majority headed by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, are seeing even less bipartisan support for their current versions.

On April 15, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill aimed at reducing the discriminatory pay gap between men and women. Though polls consistently show widespread support for legislation to improve pay equity, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was the lone Republican to vote for the bill. Two GOP representatives voted no even though they were listed as co-sponsors of the bill.

When the House passed virtually identical legislation in March 2019, seven Republicans, plus Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), who was a Democrat until December of that year, voted in favor. Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Tom Reed of New York, Mike Simpson of Idaho, Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Van Drew all are still serving, but switched their votes to no this time around.

A similar trend has been evident in voting on other bills this year. While some of the lawmakers who voted for them last time are no longer in Congress, many are and have changed their votes.

The Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people, received eight House GOP votes in favor, plus Van Drew's backing, in May 2019. When the bill passed again in the current Congress on Feb. 25, the number of Republican votes in favor dropped to just three. Diaz-Balart, Van Drew, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York all abandoned their prior support for the bill.

A bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act passed in the House in April 2019 with 33 Republicans and Van Drew voting yes. On March 17 of this year, the number of Republican yes votes dwindled to just 29, including Van Drew. Eight GOP representatives switched from yes to no on the bill aimed at reducing domestic violence: Tim Burchett of Texas, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Mike Turner of Ohio, Ann Wagner of Missouri, Jackie Walorski of Indiana, Mike Waltz of Florida, Roger Williams of Texas, and Lee Zeldin of New York.

In February 2020, five Republicans joined with Democrats to pass a joint resolution on removing the deadline for ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Just 13 months later, the number of Republicans voting in favor dropped to four, with Davis and Van Drew dropping their previous support.

Last June, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, introduced in an effort to address systemic racism and violence in law enforcement, received just three Republican votes. When the House voted on the bill again in March of this year, it received only one vote from a Republican, Texas Rep. Lance Gooden, who then immediately announced he had voted yes by mistake. Fitzpatrick and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton both voted no, despite voting for it nine months earlier.

Even something that is nearly universally popular among voters — expanding background check requirements for gun purchasers — received just eight GOP votes and Van Drew's support in February 2019. On March 11, 2021, it received eight GOP votes, with Diaz-Balart, Upton, Van Drew, and Florida Rep. Brian Mast now opposing the provision supported by 84% of Americans — and 77% of Republican voters.

The only minor exception to this trend was voting on the Dream Act, a bill to provide protections for undocumented Americans brought to the country by their families as kids. It received nine Republican votes on March 18, up from seven plus Van Drew in June 2019. But even on that bill, Van Drew switched his vote from yes to no.

Some legislation doesn't even get that minute level of bipartisan support. Not a single Republican voted for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which provided $1,400 pandemic relief checks to most Americans, gave them an average tax cut of $3,000 for 2021, and provided hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for unemployment insurance, school reopening, and efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

An April 6 report by Roll Call surveyed GOP lawmakers on why they changed their mind on some of these bills. Just one, Van Drew, would even acknowledge doing so, though others cited small differences in the legislation or a changing legal landscape.

But since the 2019-2020 Congress, the public voted to give Democrats control of the White House and Senate and keep the House under a Democratic majority. And a January Monmouth University poll found most Americans want the GOP congressional minority to work with President Joe Biden rather than against him, with 71% of Americans saying they "would rather see Republicans in Congress find ways to work together with Biden" and just 25% preferring that they "focus on keeping Biden in check."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.