Republicans’ Problem in Attacking Biden: They Helped Pass His Economic Bills

President Biden isn’t the only one doing a full summer embrace of federal spending on infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing — so are some of the Republicans aiming to remove him from office next year.

The White House has labeled the president’s new economic campaign Bidenomics, a portmanteau that until now has been a pejorative used by Republicans and conservative news outlets primarily to underscore inflation.

But in a speech on Wednesday in Chicago about the economy, Mr. Biden latched on, with a renewed focus on the two most significant bipartisan legislative accomplishments of his term, the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS and Science Act. He hopes these measures will help brand him as the cross-aisle deal maker he sold to voters in 2020, appeal to political moderates who formed a core of his winning electoral coalition and impress upon tuned-out voters what he has done in office.

One significant benefit for Mr. Biden: Republicans helped pass those bills.

While G.O.P. presidential candidates and the Republican National Committee continue to paint Mr. Biden’s economic stewardship as a rolling disaster, Republican senators who helped shape the legislation say they anticipated that those accomplishments would accrue to Mr. Biden’s political advantage — as well as to their own.

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican who helped write the enormous bill aimed at revitalizing the domestic semiconductor industry, said the work on a law that he called “off-the-charts popular” had started with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, during President Donald J. Trump’s administration.

“The Biden administration deserves credit for advancing the proposal and, irrespective of the timing of its origin, helping it become law,” Mr. Young said.

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, more grudgingly acknowledged the president’s role in securing a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that had eluded the past two administrations.

“When senators from different parties come together to work on solutions to our nation’s problems and then the president jumps in front of the parade, it does not mean he’s the grand marshal,” Mr. Cassidy said.

Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill won votes from 19 Republican senators and 13 Republican House members. Sixteen Senate Republicans and 24 Republicans in the House voted for the semiconductor legislation.

It will be difficult for Republicans to land criticism when they themselves are taking credit for the same achievements. The White House on Wednesday highlighted praise for the Biden administration’s broadband spending from Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Republicans who both voted against the infrastructure legislation that funded it, along with Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

But perhaps no Republican acclaim for the infrastructure legislation brought Mr. Biden more joy than a tweet from Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama that said it was “great to see Alabama receive crucial funds.”

“To no one’s surprise, it’s bringing along some converts,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday of his bipartisan legislation. “There’s a guy named Tuberville from Alabama, a senator from Alabama, who announced that he strongly opposed the legislation. Now he’s hailing its passage.” Mr. Biden then dryly drew the sign of the cross on his chest.

Steven Stafford, a spokesman for Mr. Tuberville, said that Mr. Biden and his allies had “twisted” the senator’s words. “Now that the bill is law of the land, the people of Alabama deserve their fair share,” he said.

And even as Mr. Biden on Monday played up the $42 billion of broadband spending in the infrastructure law, another Republican senator who did vote for it, Susan Collins of Maine, was trumpeting the $272 million from it that is going to her state.

Of course, the White House’s celebration of Republican plaudits for legislation Mr. Biden signed will matter little unless the president can persuade voters that these achievements are improving their material well-being.

Mr. Biden’s defenders have long maintained that the economic policies he is highlighting in the Bidenomics rebrand are very popular with voters. The problem, these allies say, is that few people connect them with Mr. Biden.

And Wednesday’s speech came at a moment when Mr. Biden’s approval ratings on the economy are in dangerous territory.

An Associated Press/NORC poll released Wednesday found that just 34 percent of adults approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy. Among Democrats, only 60 percent — and a mere 47 percent of those 45 years old or younger — approved of his economic stewardship.

The millstone is inflation, which has tempered sharply from its peak last year but remains above the norm. Whether inflation is at 9 percent or 4 percent, prices remain high, which may be why the president speaks less about the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, which passed early in his tenure and has been blamed even by the Federal Reserve for part of the surge of inflation. It is also why Republicans continue to mock what they call the inaptly named Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in 2022 on strictly Democratic votes.

“It makes sense for him to emphasize the bipartisan bills that passed that should have economic impact as opposed to the totally partisan bills that drove inflation,” said former Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who voted for both the infrastructure and semiconductor bills before his retirement early this year.

Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, made clear that his party intended to lump all of the achievements being promoted by Mr. Biden into the inflationary maw, including the infrastructure and semiconductor legislation.

“Both of those bills caused inflation, which is Biden’s biggest albatross in the upcoming election,” he said, “so I don’t think they did him any favors,” referring to Republicans who helped pass the measures.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that the pandemic relief plan had driven unemployment down from above 6 percent to below 4 percent. He suggested that his economic leadership would achieve an even broader goal he placed at the center of his 2020 campaign: restoring the soul of America.

“It’s going to help lessen the division in this country by bringing us back together,” Mr. Biden said. “It makes it awful hard to demagogue something when it’s working.”

The Republicans aiming to unseat Mr. Biden weren’t buying the economic kumbaya. The Trump campaign on Wednesday said “Bidenomics has created the worst economic decline since the Great Depression.” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, in a Fox News appearance, said Mr. Biden’s policies mean “everybody pays more for basic staples of life.”

Republicans are loath to concede that the passage of two major bills makes Mr. Biden a bipartisan statesman. Those bills are “not only not emblematic, it’s the exception,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime political adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who voted for the infrastructure bill.

In truth, more bills than those passed with bipartisan support in the last Congress. Mr. Biden enters the 2024 election cycle as the beneficiary of an extraordinary bout of productivity that included a modest gun control law, a legal codification of same-sex marriage, and a revamping of procedures for counting Electoral College votes after Mr. Trump tried to hijack that obscure process.

Senators from both parties put aside their tendency to push for only the legislation they want or pocket the issue for the next election.

“We can’t get in a place in the country where you don’t vote for something you believe needs to pass because you think it might help the other side,” Mr. Blunt said.

Democrats point to the circumstances that Mr. Biden inherited in 2021 — the attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters determined to overturn the election results.

“There was a sizable group of Senate Republicans who looked the death of democracy in the eye on Jan. 6 and decided to try to show people that democracy could still work,” said Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

But Mr. Murphy also credited the legislative skills of Mr. Biden, honed over 36 years in the Senate.

“A lot of my progressive friends were angry he wasn’t punching Republicans in the mouth so much,” Mr. Murphy said, “but he kept the door open for Republicans to work with us on infrastructure, guns and industrial policy.”

Cecilia Kang contributed reporting.

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