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Washington Watch: What bipartisanship could look like if Republicans take back the House in the midterm elections

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Most House Republicans most likely to buck party leadership and side with Democrats are leaving Congress, raising questions about what bipartisanship will look like in the next Congress.

A MarketWatch analysis of roll call vote data collected by GovTrack found that four of the five House Republicans who have broken off from a Republican majority to side with the majority of Democrats are leaving at the end of their term. 

That includes Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who has broken off from the Republican majority to side with the Democratic majority 72 times this term and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has sided with the Democratic majority against the Republican majority 62 times this term.

Kinzinger, one of ten Republicans to vote for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment, announced his retirement last October and has since launched the political action committee Country First, which aims to put “country over party” and “defeat toxic tribalism.”

“There’s little to no desire to bridge our differences, and unity is no longer a word we use,” Kinzinger said in his announcement. “It has also become increasingly obvious that in order to break the narrative, I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide.”

But that’s not to say there won’t be space for “breakout pragmatic policy” within large bills such as the National Defense Reauthorization Act, says Michele Stockwell, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of BPC Action at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“The end of the day, majorities have to be able to show they can do their basic job and members want to have some deliverables that they can point to,” Stockwell said, adding that some of the key committees would have Republican chairs “coming in who have a history of bipartisan collaboration.”

Stockwell pointed to Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, now the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee, who has had “a fairly good, collaborative relationship” with the current chairman, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone. And there’s Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the top GOP member on the House Financial Services Committee, “who has done some interesting work with a variety of members on the other side of the aisle within that committee, including Maxine Waters on legislation on stablecoin
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Now read: A GOP takeover of the House could be a boon for crypto legislation

Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way, thinks bipartisan work won’t kick off immediately.

​​”Assuming Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress, bipartisanship is going to get off to a rocky start,” Kessler said. He added the second half of the Congress may see more bipartisan work, as the Republican Congress under former President Bill Clinton did, because of the sense that “something needs to get done.”

Kessler said there will likely be bipartisan collaboration on some of the “low hanging fruit” such as workforce training, expanding capital for small businesses, agriculture and possibly on trade and tariffs.

Richard Stafford, a Heinz College Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said that several moderate Republicans’ seats are being filled by candidates who will be “even more outspoken about legislation that’s going to have a hard time being accepted by the president [and] may even have a hard time being accepted by the Senate because the Senate will be a little closer.”

As of Tuesday morning, FiveThirtyEight places Democrats’ odds of keeping majority control of the Senate at 41 in 100 and the party’s odds of keeping the House majority at just 16 in 100.

Read: Republicans have over 70% chance of winning Senate in midterm elections, betting markets say

And see: Democrats likely to lose more than 20 House seats in midterm elections, Cook Political Report editor says

MarketWatch included all roll call votes through Sept. 30 in its analysis, including procedural votes. Some votes included were less controversial and received wider bipartisan support due to Republican leadership not urging members to vote a specific way but fell short of obtaining support from the majority of Republican lawmakers. Others saw only a small handful of lawmakers crossing party lines.

For instance, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, was the sole Republican to vote in favor of ten bills supported by the majority of House Democrats. That includes voting in favor of the Break the Violence Act, which established a grant program for violence intervention programs in communities disproportionately impacted by homicides and violence, and a failed amendment that would have required the State Department to establish and staff climate change officers at U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions.

Fitzpatrick tops the list of House Republicans to most frequently vote in favor of a measure the majority of Democrats supported but the majority of Republicans opposed at 108 times. As the co-chair of the bipartisan-oriented Problem Solvers Caucus, Fitzpatrick is expected to breeze through reelection on Tuesday after winning his primary with more than 65% of the vote.

Stafford called Fitzpatrick “a standout,” noting that he was the only Republican representative from Pennsylvania to not endorse Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano.

“He’s in a district that, in and of itself, is a moderate district and he’s reflecting his constituency,” Stafford said. He added he suspects there will be a lot of Republican voters in Fitzpatrick’s district splitting their vote between him and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro.

But bipartisan work could be stalled by increasing friction within the Republican party. Of the Republican lawmakers to break from the majority of the party in the House, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has bucked her party the most — voting against the majority of the party 149 times, 139 times of which went against the overall majority. Similarly, Texas Rep. Chip Roy and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie have gone against the majority of Congress, and the majority of the Republican party, 137 times this Congress.

“I think it’s safe to say that the extremes in both parties have tended to get harder to deal with, even within their own caucuses,” Stafford said. “Leadership has a harder time, whether it’s the Senate or the House.”

Stafford noted that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become House speaker if the Republicans take back the majority, is going to have a difficult time uniting his party on “divisive issues” like health care
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and climate change.

“Kevin McCarthy is going to have a hard time in his caucus, he may decide it isn’t that much fun to be a leader,” he said.

McCarthy has previously outlined Republicans’ plans for a majority, dubbed the “Commitment to America,” and has reiterated that securing the Southern border would be his first priority. He told CNN his party would also prioritize oversight, including launching possible probes of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read: Kevin McCarthy, other top Republicans vow to scrap IRS hiring plans if they win House majority

And see: Kevin McCarthy vows to restore Marjorie Taylor Greene’s committee assignments, secure border if he becomes House speaker

But a focus on investigations could risk “turning the House into a circus,” Kessler says. 

“They will get a lot of applause for these investigations on Truth Social, but the other 329 million Americans are going to be yawning,” Kessler said, referring to ex-President Trump’s social-media platform. “And, you know, it’s hard to imagine that Americans are going to be riveted on weeks of hearings about COVID right now. So I think for Republicans, they better figure out a way to not just pass things through the House, but get things to the president’s desk and signed, or they’re in danger of having a two year majority.”

Losing the Democratic majority in the House could ultimately help President Joe Biden too, Kessler said, referencing former President Barack Obama and Clinton’s massive midterm losses, followed by presidential wins two years later.

“[They] cruised to reelection, in part because they got to contrast themselves against a Republican dominated Congress,” he said.

TaxWatch: 40% of households will pay no federal income tax this year. Why that’s good news.

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