GOP testing ways to make relief package a burden for battleground Democrats

House moving toward passing $1.9 trillion package by the weekend

A GOP group polled voters in the Virginia district of Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger to test reactions to various potrayals of the $1.9 trillion aid package the House is considering.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A GOP group polled voters in the Virginia district of Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger to test reactions to various potrayals of the $1.9 trillion aid package the House is considering. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 24, 2021 at 5:30am

Republicans tasked with winning back the House majority in 2022 see an opportunity in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that Democrats plan to push through Congress in the coming weeks, most likely without GOP support. 

In an early indication of the attacks to come, the GOP is road-testing messages in battleground districts. A poll obtained by CQ Roll Call and conducted for The American Action Network, a nonprofit group that supports Republicans but does not disclose its donors, focused on whether Congress should pass legislation encouraging schools to safely reopen and the possibility that aid payments could go to undocumented immigrants.  

The poll, by the right-leaning Remington Research Group in Virginia’s swingy 7th District, found pandemic-weary respondents were receptive to Republican messaging surrounding the relief package and other measures that the Biden administration and the Democratic-led Congress have made priorities in its early weeks. For weeks, for example,  Republicans have been working to tie Democrats to virus-related school closings.

Democrats say voters overwhelmingly support the Biden agenda and understand that decisions about school closings are made at a local level. The COVID-19 relief package, which House leaders hope to pass by the end of this week, includes money for a national vaccination program, investments for schools to reopen, relief checks of $1,400 and expanded unemployment benefits. 

“House Republicans are walking the plank by opposing stimulus checks for American families who are hurting, badly needed aid to small businesses, and funding to reopen our schools safely and quickly — all for their own political gain,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Andrew Godinich said. 

Poll: Targeted relief preferred

But Republicans say that Democrats’ early confidence will backfire if voters in 2022 come to see the party in power as beholden to special interests and progressive factions on the left.

The AAN poll found that 65 percent of respondents preferred targeted relief measures focusing, “on only the highest priorities of COVID relief like vaccine distribution and opening schools,” versus 27 percent who said they thought Congress should, “go big and address many priority items for the Biden Administration, like bailing out state governments and extending benefits to illegal immigrants.” The poll surveyed 804 likely 2022 voters and had a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percent. 

Democrats on House committees voted down GOP attempts to bar relief payments from going to undocumented immigrants earlier this month. In two previous rounds of relief payments approved by Congress last year, the first round barred payments to immigrants while the second allowed funds to go to households if one person in it had legal status.

“Just weeks in and already the left has proven that if they can overreach on a major issue to push a liberal political agenda — they will,” said AAN President Dan Conston. “First impressions are really hard to shake and voters already see it for what it is, a liberal partisan political payoff to allies that’s totally out of step with what the country needs, and what Americans want. ”

The poll also surveyed voters’ opinions on COVID-19-related school closures, which Republicans have attempted to tie to Democrats in Congress, and HR 1, a sweeping measure that would overhaul campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The wording of the questions left little room for doubt about the pollster’s positions. The poll presents HR 1, for example, as a bill, “that would allow Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger to spend upwards of $5 million of public funds on things for her campaign like attack ads and luxury hotels.”

The bill provides public financing for candidates who raise at least $50,000 in small donations from at least 1,000 donors, and who agree to accept no more than $1,000 from any donor. The funds would be raised through a surcharge on criminal penalties and corporate settlements.

Spanberger a target

The GOP is already rolling out attacks against the $1.9 trillion relief bill and Democratic incumbents it sees as vulnerable, including Virginia's Spanberger, who has been a GOP target since she flipped the 7th District seat in 2018. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans, sent an email blast Tuesday calling the COVID-19 bill, “a liberal wish list filled with unnecessary spending that mostly benefits Democrat special interest groups, not hard-working American families.” 

The committee also attacked Spanberger directly Tuesday in an email highlighting a woman in her district who said she had to quit working to take care of her children during the pandemic. Schools across Virginia, including in Spanberger’s district, have returned to some in-person learning in recent weeks. 

“Abigail Spanberger, the #1 recipient of teachers union cash, is refusing to follow the science and reopen schools just to please her special interest donors,” NRCC spokeswoman Camille Gallo said in a statement. “Frustrated parents across Virginia’s 7th Congressional District won’t forget Spanberger put campaign donations before their children's well-being and will vote her out in 2022.”

Spanberger’s campaign declined to respond to the attacks. The two major teacher unions donated almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and committees during the 2020 cycle. The National Education Association, for example, donated to 218 Democratic House candidates and just four Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In a campaign in which she raised $8.4 million overall, Spanberger received $11,000 from the NEA, the same as 20 other colleagues.

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