GOP finds risky form of unity in opposing COVID relief bill: The Note

United Republican opposition to COVID-19 aid doesn't align with public polling.

February 25, 2021, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The Republican Party is both less divided and more divided than it seems at the moment -- and not in ways that glide along the easiest political paths.

On the question of former President Donald Trump, the GOP is less divided than a colorful House leadership news conference might make it seem. The party still belongs primarily to Trump, as the CPAC gathering that begins Thursday in Florida will demonstrate.

On the question of President Joe Biden's agenda, there's actually more GOP dissension than meets the eye. The first floor votes on Biden's COVID-19 package are coming Friday in the House, yet united Republican opposition in Congress doesn't align with public polling on the topic.

Among the public at large, Biden and his COVID plans are considerably more popular than Trump and opposing COVID relief, at least for now. But Republican lawmakers appear to fear more political blowback in opposing Trump than voting "no" on COVID bills.

PHOTO: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticizes the the Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill during comments to reporters as Congress preps for its first votes on the measure, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2021.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticizes the the Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill during comments to reporters as Congress preps for its first votes on the measure, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republicans are putting faith in their ability to define the COVID bill -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is calling it "waste" and "a wish list from the progressives" -- up against the Biden White House's ability to do the same.

Party unity is often easier to achieve in opposition to a president, and huge price tags help. But it still carries potential costs of its own.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

The fallout from the Texas weather crisis may have put the state's infrastructure problems under sharp scrutiny, but the political aftermath is still somewhat of a question mark.

In an interview with a local radio show last month, former congressman and former 2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said he was thinking about a possible 2022 run for governor. O'Rourke then essentially laid out his platform against Gov. Greg Abbott in a series of tweets, after Abbott said O'Rourke's stance on the second amendment wouldn't "sell well" in a gubernatorial contest.

PHOTO: Volunteers load cases of water and emergency food boxes into a truck at the Houston Food Bank on Feb. 20, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Volunteers load cases of water and emergency food boxes into a truck at the Houston Food Bank on Feb. 20, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Now, O'Rourke's reentry into the political sphere as a local humanitarian presents a dramatic contrast to the endless headlines about his former rival, Sen. Ted Cruz's, Cancun vacation misstep. Some Texas Democrats see the split screen as an opportunity to mobilize around the moment in their quest to flip the state over the course of the decade. But at least one veteran Democratic strategist says the party could aim for a closer goalpost and thinks there could be a better political fit for O'Rourke along the way.

"The people at the Texas Democratic Party that are saying (it could take a decade to flip the state) have never run and won an election," Colin Strother, who worked on Rep. Henry Cuellar's 2020 campaign, told ABC News.

Strother also acknowledges that despite O'Rourke's political star power and "servant's heart," he could be better suited for political organizing, rather than seeking office. "What may be the best for Texas, is Beto in a Stacey Abrams-type role, doing what Beto does best -- raising money, organizing, getting people wound up, expressing our values well, and rather than focusing on one race, help us focus on moving Texas closer towards the blue column," he said.

The TIP with Kendall Karson

For Sen. Rick Scott, the GOP civil war is "cancelled." Or at least, it has to be. As Republicans continue to wrestle with clear divisions within their ranks over Trump's role in the party, Scott is imploring the GOP to move past their internal strife and unite before next year's midterms.

"The radical extremists running the Biden administration are spending us into oblivion," he says in a video released one day after the National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a memo titled: "REPUBLICAN CIVIL WAR HAS BEEN CANCELLED."

PHOTO: Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration committees joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 23, 2021, to examine the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration committees joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 23, 2021, to examine the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
Erin Scott/Pool via Reuters

Though the Trump ally, who took the helm of the NRSC as chair this cycle, faced some backlash after voting against certifying Pennsylvania's electors for Biden, his strategy to lead Senate Republicans back to the majority includes -- in part -- Trump. In the memo, he touts the former president's success for broadening the party's base and calls for the GOP to build on Trump's coalition that turned out "74 million votes" in 2020. Scott has also spoken with Trump about the 2022 elections and his possible role in their efforts, a NRSC spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

"We can easily add to our numbers if we work together," he wrote in the memo.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Sony Salzman, who tells us what we need to know about Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. ABC News' Lucien Bruggeman tells us why the Postal Service is still under fire for delivery delays and more. And FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine examines how players from the Negro Leagues compare to modern players ahead of their incorporation into MLB statistics.http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he believes President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general could look into conspiracy charges surrounding former President Donald Trump's potential involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. "Certainly we know that the activities of this group, this mob, this insurrection are being held to account by the Department of Justice, over 200 have been arrested and 500 under investigation," Durbin told Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein. https://bit.ly/3oMKdUP

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events