Why two dozen in House GOP supported CHIPS despite last-minute whip

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House Republicans sent a last-minute notice Thursday that they were whipping against a bill to strengthen domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing and scientific research, but two dozen Republicans bucked the party to vote for it anyway.

The GOP yes votes said they put concern about supply chains and domestic manufacturing over leadership’s stated worries about inflation and frustration with Senate Democrats announcing a reconciliation deal on a separate tax, climate and health care bill shortly after the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) bill passed the Senate.

Among those who voted for the CHIPS and Science Act were powerful committee ranking members Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) of the Rules Committee, and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) on the House Appropriations Committee. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee ranking member, who is leaving Congress at the end of this year, also voted for the bill.

“It’s a no-brainer that more Republicans should have voted for it. Politics got in the way,” Katko said after the vote. “I think it was unfortunate that [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer had reconciliation right afterwards. It seemed almost mean-spirited, in a way.”

Republicans in favor of the bill cited its importance to national and economic security.

“Taiwan has 90 percent of semiconductor manufacturing in the world. If China invades Taiwan, they will … control the global market. That’s why this bill is so important,” McCaul told reporters.

Many Republicans have been working on measures in the bill for more than a year.

“I’ve been a proponent of passing something that’s more narrowly tailored on semiconductors, on research and development … also around supply chains,” said Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.). “It’s ungodly frustrating that for 18 months, instead of just having things in a more narrow way, Pelosi tried to do the America COMPETES garbage and all this other stuff.”

“I don’t like what the Senate is doing right now, but I’m not going to let their game stand in the way of a bill that I think is important for our future competitiveness,” Meijer added.

The House GOP dynamic on the CHIPS bill echoed that of when the House passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in November, when 13 House Republicans voted for the bill despite the chamber’s GOP leadership whipping against the legislation.

Though the infrastructure bill had already passed in the Senate with bipartisan support, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held up the bill for months in an attempt to use it as leverage to get agreement on Democrats’ larger $2.2 trillion Build Back Better. House Republicans argued that the infrastructure legislation was a “Trojan horse” for the reconciliation deal that they opposed.

The Build Back Better bill later passed in the House, but collapsed in the Senate after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed concerns about inflation and said he could not support it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to derail the CHIPS legislation if Senate Democrats again resumed pursuing a reconciliation deal, which requires support from all 50 of the party’s senators in order to avoid a Republican filibuster.

The CHIPS bill passed in the Senate on Wednesday with support from 17 Republicans. Hours later, Manchin and Schumer (D-N.Y.) revealed a new reconciliation package deal that would invest $369 billion in energy-focused climate programs over the next 10 years and $300 billion to reduce the deficit, among other provisions.

Republicans were enraged. Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called on Republicans to vote against the CHIPS bill, even if they supported it, as retribution for Democrats reviving a reconciliation deal.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had expressed opposition to the Senate version of the bill, but had indicated that they would not formally whip votes against the legislation.

That changed late Wednesday night when a whip notice went out to members, citing Senate Democrats’ reconciliation efforts as well as concerns about inflation and spending.

The CHIPS bill, though, was different from the infrastructure saga in that Pelosi had not linked it to a reconciliation bill, and did not face serious Democratic opposition. Every House Democrat voted for the CHIPS bill except Rep. Sara Jacobs (Calif.), whose grandfather founded the semiconductor company Qualcomm, voting present. When the infrastructure vote was held, six Democrats voted against it, and Republican votes were necessary to pass the bill.

“The text of the bill hasn’t changed, has it?” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said when asked about how the reconciliation bill factored into his plan to vote for the bill. “Then my vote’s not changing.”

Before the whip notice, Fitzpatrick had predicted that at least 30 House Republicans would support the bill.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) noted that Democrats had the votes to pass the CHIPS bill in the House regardless of what Republicans did.

“It’s in the best interest of our country, I believe, because of national security. And CHIPS, obviously, is huge development in Ohio, with the investments that are being made,” Joyce said.

Some House Republicans, though, said that the Manchin-Schumer reconciliation announcement factored in their decision on voting against the bill.

“I was keeping an open mind, but it’s just — things that happened over the last 24 hours, it just spends an awful lot of money,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said about his no vote, adding that the reconciliation deal was “part of the calculation.”

“I supported the concept originally, but in this case, it was they added too much to the bill in the Senate. Pelosi buying stocks really tainted the entire process. And the reconciliation is also something,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who also voted no.

Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, this week dumped up to $5 million worth of shares of chipmaker Nvidia that he purchased last month, as the House prepared to vote on the semiconductor bill, reportedly to avoid further backlash.

Katko said he thought it was the Senate deal announcement that prompted leadership to whip against the bill after indicating all week that they would not.

“I don’t think it made a difference with that many. We still had several dozen Republicans vote for it, so I’m thrilled with that,” Katko said.

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