Biden district Republicans see ‘minimal’ to no engagement from White House

May 2, 2023


By Jeremy Diamond

When the slim House Republican majority came into power this year, White House officials said they saw opportunities to work with Biden district Republicans – GOP lawmakers whose districts President Joe Biden carried in 2020.

But nearly four months into the new Congress – and with the debt ceiling showdown now barreling into full crisis mode – many of those Republicans say they’ve received minimal to no engagement from the White House. Other House Republicans with a track record of bipartisanship in the last Congress paint a similar picture.

While the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs conducted initial outreach to many of those Biden district Republicans earlier this year, the White House has largely been content to tout the bipartisan wins of the previous Congress and use the current class of House Republicans as a foil for the president.

Ahead of the new session in January, administration officials told CNN that the unique political incentives and pressures those Biden district Republicans would face could translate into policy alignment and bipartisan legislation.

At the time, White House aides discussed a series of carrots and sticks they could use with those 18 Biden district Republicans to forge compromise or, perhaps more importantly, peel off moderate Republicans to sink the prospects of GOP leadership initiatives.

The carrots – social invitations to the White House, Air Force One rides and Oval Office sit-downs – have been sparse to non-existent. Meanwhile, the sticks have abounded in recent days as the White House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and outside progressive groups begin to hammer those swing-district Republicans for supporting the House Republican bill to slash spending while raising the debt ceiling into next year. Several outside groups have already launched ad campaigns targeting those Republicans with ads accusing them of cutting health care funding and seeking to repeal clean energy tax breaks creating jobs in their districts.

Absent, as of yet, has been a strategy to drive a wedge between those Republicans and GOP leadership to woo them into supporting a no-strings-attached proposal to raise the debt ceiling. Instead, all 18 Biden-district Republicans voted with the majority of the party to pass the leadership bill that would cut spending and slash key planks of Biden’s domestic agenda alongside a debt ceiling increase.

The White House has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling, but beyond public pressure, the White House doesn’t appear to have made a concerted effort to woo those Biden district Republicans to abandon McCarthy and support a clean debt ceiling increase instead.

Rep. Mike Lawler, a freshman Republican from New York, said he came into office assuming the White House would want to engage substantively with members like him whose districts Biden carried in 2020. Instead, he said outreach from the White House has been “minimal.”

“To me, knowing that you have 18 members in districts you carried, I would think you would be trying to do a full court press,” said Lawler, whose district voted for Biden by a 10-point margin. “I haven’t seen any significant outreach on their part to really find pathways forward.”

At Biden’s direction, the White House’s legislative affairs team conducted initial outreach to all of the newly elected House Republicans from Biden districts, establishing a point of contact for each office.

“As I have throughout my career, I’m going to continue to work across the aisle to deliver for the American people. And it’s not always easy, but we did it the first term,” Biden said in his post-midterm election news conference in November, declaring that “the American people want us to work together.”

But many of the Republican lawmakers in question said the engagement did not advance beyond that initial outreach.

“Aside from an initial outreach earlier this year to inquire about Rep. (David) Valadao’s priorities, there’s been no substantive outreach on their part as far as policy or debt ceiling goes,” Valadao spokeswoman Faith Mabry said in an email.

Lawler said his White House liaison has “been great” – engaging on issues like addressing state and local tax deductions, immigration and fentanyl – but he said the conversations have not led anywhere, including to any conversations with senior White House officials.

In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said the White House has had “frequent engagements” with Republicans in Congress, but declined to further detail those engagements or make White House legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell available for an interview.

“The President’s historic record bears out what his team has made clear to every Republican in Congress in our frequent engagements: he’s eager to keep working across the aisle to deliver more progress for American families,” Bates said. “That eagerness and outreach is why infrastructure week is no longer a joke and the country’s being rebuilt,” he added, citing a meeting with Lawler last month as an example.

Lawler said the April meeting came at his request.

The office of Rep. David Schweikert, a Biden-district Republican from Arizona, said he “has not heard from the White House this Congress.”

Rep. Don Bacon, a four-term moderate with a track record of bipartisanship whose Nebraska district Biden won by 6 points, has met with Biden’s Labor secretary and attorney general, but has had limited engagement with the White House.

“We have not received any communications regarding the debt ceiling,” Bacon spokeswoman Danielle Jensen said. “In fact, it has been crickets from the White House on this issue.”

Other House Republicans who supported Biden’s infrastructure bill but don’t hail from districts Biden won in 2020, including New York Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, painted a similar picture. A spokeswoman for her office said the White House “has not engaged with our office on any substantive policy issues since January.”

Only one GOP congressman contacted by CNN touted regular contact with the White House. A spokeswoman for Rep. Brandon Williams, whose district will be home to a $20 billion Micron semiconductor factor facilitated by the CHIPS & Science Act, said Williams’ office has “weekly communication with the White House, finding bipartisan solutions for the betterment of Central New York and the Mohawk Valley,” including on the Micron investment.