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In chess, a gambit is when a player sacrifices a piece, usually a pawn, early in a game to obtain some larger competitive advantage. We can now say that thewho voted in early November to pass the infrastructure bill pulled off one of the most effective political gambits in recent memory.
When Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., confirmed on Sunday that he is a no vote on the gargantuanbonanza, essentially killing it, it was vindication for the much-pilloried moderate GOP votes for infrastructure.
To be sure, there was much to object to in the infrastructure bill, from, but for all its faults, there was also a lot of hard infrastructure in the legislation. Nineteen Republicans voted for it in the Senate, and it was widely popular with voters. Put another way, politically, sacrificing by conceding on the infrastructure bill was like giving up a pawn.
Build Back Better, on the other hand, was the queen of Biden’s domestic agenda, a bill so far-reaching that it threatened to encroach upon every corner of the chess board of American life. And how did House Republicans topple that queen? Precisely by decoupling the infrastructure bill from Build Back Better.
Let us not forget that throughout the summer and fall House progressive Democrats, most notably the Squad, held the passage of the infrastructure bill, Manchin, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s baby, in the palm of their hands. They demanded that the bills be passed together. It looked as though we were surely headed to some compromise that would pass infrastructure and also pass wide swaths of the social spending package.
It’s hard to overstate what a bullet was just dodged by the nation with the downfall of Build Back Better.
But when infrastructure passed with GOP votes the House progressives were left out in the cold to kick rocks. Their leverage evaporated in an instant. And yet still, at least to hear Speaker Nancy Pelosi. D-Calif., and President Joe Biden talk, it seemed likely some compromise would emerge on Build Back Better. That the president’s domestic agenda just crumbled into dust is the most total victory Republicans could have hoped for.
Electorally, the baker’s dozen of supposed GOP “traitors,” who flanked the Squad and ate their lunch, are all in better positions to hold their mainly purple districts in 2022. One race that is typical is in Staten Island and Brooklyn where Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis will face a rematch against former Congressman Max Rose. A no vote on infrastructure would have been hammered by Rose, as the bill brings a lot of money and jobs to the district. That line of attack is gone now.
It’s hard to overstate what a bullet was just dodged by the nation with the downfall of Build Back Better. As Manchin points out, inflationary concerns alone were a reason to kill it. But let’s be clear, had infrastructure and the social spending leviathan remained coupled, there is every reason to believe that major parts of Build Back Better would have survived.
The chess game is not over. But looking at the board right now, less than a year out from the midterm, GOP leadership has enough material to compete almost everywhere. It’s why you see House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., already running ads for a Republican Congress in the deep blue New York City media market.
For all the sturm und drang and threats of primaries when the 13 Republicans crossed the aisle in November, it has worked out better than Republicans had a right to expect. With a steady hand guiding the Republican pieces, and a willingness of those pieces to work in unity, the Democrats will be well in check, and well on their way to a steep congressional minority.