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The Battle for the GOP

‘I do look at them in a different light:’ Tensions are high in Congress as Democrats want consequences for election-denying Republicans

Many Democrats believe Republicans who opposed certifying the election were essentially cheering on the Capitol mob.
Many Democrats believe Republicans who opposed certifying the election were essentially cheering on the Capitol mob.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Radicalized GOP label

An ongoing series examining the growth and impact of radicalization in the Republican Party

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WASHINGTON — A post office in a small Mississippi city this week became the latest battleground between Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election and Democrats still furious over that effort.

Representative Sean Casten of Illinois, a Democrat, refused to allow Representative Trent Kelly, a Mississippi Republican who objected to the election results, to rename the post office through the usual, streamlined procedure for such uncontroversial bills on Tuesday night, saying he was unwilling to work with someone who did not support “democracy.”

“The willingness to collaborate can only extend so far and to those that also hold the core value of upholding democracy,” Casten’s office said in an e-mail.

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Instead, Casten forced a roll call vote — the first time the full House had to vote on a post office renaming that anyone could remember. “This is a joke,” one Republican lawmaker mumbled as he walked onto the floor.

The measure passed easily, with just 15 Democrats ultimately opposing the new name for the Tupelo post office. But the procedural kerfuffle revealed the depth of the anger some House Democrats still feel at their 139 Republican colleagues who voted against certifying President Biden’s win on Jan. 6, just hours after a violent mob attacked the building to stop that tally.

Many Democrats believe that the Republicans who voted against certifying the election were essentially cheering on the mob’s effort to kill them, and are wondering what “bipartisanship” even looks like in the wake of that. The result is an atmosphere more tense and distrustful than anyone can remember.

“Our concerns are not speculative — we all lived through the siege, which was an act of domestic terrorism instigated by Donald Trump,” said Representative Ritchie Torres, a freshman Democrat from New York. “If you reject democracy and if you reject the peaceful transfer of power upon which democracy depends, then there’s no common ground on which you can build.”

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez colorfully summed up that sentiment on Twitter last month when Senator Ted Cruz offered to work with her on an inquiry into Wall Street’s GameStop controversy.

“I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out,” she wrote.

Post-insurrection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “the enemy is within” the House, and installed metal detectors at every entrance to the House floor to prevent members from bringing in guns. Some Republicans have loudly objected to the security measure: One attempted to bring a gun on the floor, and another allegedly manhandled an officer after he set off the machine, which is only escalating Democrats’ disgust. A new GOP member, Representative Lauren Boebert, Zoomed into a routine committee meeting last week with several weapons arrayed behind her, derailing the agenda with her demands to carry guns into the hearing room in the future.

Representative Lauren Boebert with weapons arrayed behind her during a virtual meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 18.
Representative Lauren Boebert with weapons arrayed behind her during a virtual meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 18. House Natural Resources Committee/Handout

And only 11 Republicans voted to remove GOP Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments, due to her engaging with social media posts endorsing executing prominent Democrats and endorsement of QAnon conspiracy theories.

The events have Democrats looking at Republican members they were friendly with before in a new light.

“A lot of relationships are strained and there are folks that are just in the penalty box,” said Representative Lori Trahan of Westford, a Democrat. “And it’s not something where it’s spoken or explicit, it’s just, I think we’re going to need some time before we’re all walking down the halls saying, ‘Hey how are you?’ or giving each other a slap on the back.”

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Just a couple of weeks after the Senate acquitted Trump of the impeachment charge of inciting the mob, Democrats are still wrestling with whether they should try to impose their own consequences on Republicans who aided his effort to hang onto power. The question remains salient as many Republicans still refuse to admit the election was legitimate, including the second-ranking House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Torres said he asks one simple question when he receives opportunities to work across the aisle.

“There was a Republican who had reached out to my office to coauthor a letter, and the first question I asked my legislative director was, ‘Did that Republican vote to overturn the results of the election?’ ” said Torres. When he found out the member had voted to object, Torres told his staffer he was not interested in collaborating, regardless of the merit of the cause.

“I’m hardly alone in taking that approach,” he said.

House Republicans, who on average have stuck closely to Trump and resisted efforts to censure their more extreme members, are criticizing Democrats for the stance.

“The premise that I’m not going to work with anybody because of a vote that they took, even if we agree [on an issue] and it would help the American people — that is the pinnacle of juvenile behavior,” said Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas who did not object to the election results.

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The Democratic caucus as a whole hasn’t had any formal discussion about the efforts to shut out members who voted against certifying the election, according to one member. Some Democrats are crafting their own policies — only shunning members who are still actively spreading the lie that Trump really won, for example, instead of any member who voted against certifying. But the concerns among Democrats are near universal, spanning the progressive “Squad” to the moderate Blue Dogs.

“Watching my colleagues undermine our democracy was deeply disappointing to me and I do look at them in a different light than I did before,” said Representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida, a Blue Dog Democrat.

Murphy said that she still wants to work with any member who wants to help, but that she has trouble imagining being able to collaborate with those who have pushed conspiracy theories.

“You can’t work on policies that help the American people if your partner in this doesn’t believe in the same set of facts,” Murphy said.

The state of affairs has made the 65 or so Republicans who did not object to the election more popular with House Democrats who are looking to reach across the aisle on legislation.

“I think they’re appreciated for at least standing up for the rule of law,” said Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas who voted against the post office renaming on Tuesday. “There is a certain respect that even though we have deep political disagreements, they’re willing on some level to call a spade a spade.”

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For now, the tensions haven’t slowed the Democrats’ agenda, which they can pass with party-line votes on the strength of their slim majority. The pieces of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill are expected to begin passing at the end of this week, and some Democrats say they are more interested in pushing forward with that agenda than in pondering any consequences for Republicans.

“This is the culmination of decades of work and I am not going to let anything get in the way of me passing that bill on Friday,” said Representative Richard Neal of Springfield, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which is approving billions in aid this week.


Liz Goodwin can be reached at elizabeth.goodwin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizcgoodwin.