WASHINGTON – Freshman Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat, has begun turning to an unusual source when trying to decide whether he wants to work with a Republican he thinks makes a good point during committee hearings: Google.
The Massachusetts lawmaker says he knows his constituents want him to work across the aisle, but he’s drawing “a sharp red line” at working with Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College results as part of then-President Donald Trump’s failed bid to overturn his election defeat.
If a quick search produces evidence that one of his Republican colleagues refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s win, he said, “I kind of throw cold water on the whole thing,” adding that while he doesn’t like political litmus tests, “insurrection against the United States government qualifies.”
Auchincloss is not alone.
Democratic lawmakers are each drawing their own lines, and some are finding that it means there are colleagues whom they once worked with to craft bipartisan legislation but with whom they now are unable, or unwilling, to collaborate.
The Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol set off an impeachment proceeding and hundreds of criminal cases, but it’s also having a lasting impact on Congress to get even some of the most basic and mundane tasks completed.
The public tends to pay close attention when Congress does things like pass $2 trillion spending bills. But it’s the day-to-day activities that get little attention and keep the place buzzing.
Democrats say, for the time being, it’s about Republicans not sharing a fundamental belief in democracy and elections.
Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., objected to a routine House task of naming a post office because it was proposed by Republican Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., whom Democrats accuse of supporting the protest Jan. 6 and who also voted to overturn the Electoral College vote in two states.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., has a basic requirement before he can work with a Republican: “At the fundamental level, I need an affirmative statement that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States and the 2020 election was an honest and fair election.”
Schneider, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that is known for reaching across the aisle, said that in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, he has had to cut off previous working relationships.
He and Republican Rep. Jody Hice, of Georgia, were working together on a task force the two co-founded on ethylene oxide, a toxic carcinogen that is particularly problematic in the Chicago and the Atlanta areas.
But he told Hice he couldn’t work with him after the Republican continued to claim the election was affected by fraud, most recently saying at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, that Trump only lost Georgia because of “the horrible” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican.
“It’s hard to envision going into an administration with a partner who doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of that administration or is showing a commitment to the truth,” Schneider said.
Schneider also told Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., that he could no longer sponsor a bill that the two have worked on together since 2017 that provides Family and Medical Leave Act protections to parents who lost a child. Gosar has been one of the most vocal supporters of false claims that the election was stolen.
“If I want to try to move this bill forward, I’ve got to have the credibility on both sides. And (he) makes it a little bit more difficult,” Schneider said.
Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa, tweeted Jan. 25 about her desire to secure bipartisan accomplishments.
But the next day, Republican Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri responded — posting an image of an email between their offices. The subject line of the Jan. 11 email appeared to ask if Axne wanted to co-sponsor a bill on “kidney insurance.”
A staff member in Axne’s office appeared to reply, “I hope you are ok and managing. Our office is declining to work with your office at this time given your boss’s position on the election.”
In sharing the email correspondence, Smith asked, “Are you no longer kicking Republicans off your bills?”
Axne refiled the bill Tuesday, unveiling it with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who voted to impeach Trump.
Democrats are also calling out their Republican colleagues. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the chair of the House Administration Committee, released a nearly 2,000 page “social media review” of Republican members in the lead-up to January 6. The report is intended to create a compilation of members’ public comments that could be used going forward.
The slowdown isn’t one-sided.
A small number of Republicans are blocking the quick passage of typically noncontroversial, bipartisan bills in the House known as suspension bills because of frustration with Democrats for not allowing amendments on legislation.
“Suspensions are, frankly, the one item that we have left that we have dealt with on a bipartisan basis,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said she will only work with Republicans who “recognize the lawful election of Joe Biden.”
Kuster says she asked her staff to look at Republicans’ social media feeds to determine if they meet her standards, calling it “painful” when a Republican she worked with over her eight years in Congress is someone she can no longer work with.
“If you don’t recognize our democracy at this point in time, then I don’t think you’re going to be helpful to successful legislation,” she said.