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Rep. David McKinley: ‘No Qualms’ Over Infrastructure Vote

AP Photo - House Energy and Commerce members Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., left, and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., talk during votes at the Capitol in Washington on Sept. 15. McKinley says he stands by his vote two weeks ago in favor of a hard infrastructure funding bill.

CHARLESTON — Despite his vote Friday against the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better bill, Rep. David McKinley is still taking heat for being one of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives to help pass a hard infrastructure bill.

But McKinley believes most of the vocal voices upset with his vote represent a small minority of opposition and the benefits to improving West Virginia’s crumbling highways and bridges will outlast any of the vitriol being spewed his way.

“I’ve waited 11 years to try to bring back something to West Virginia that will markedly improve our quality of life,” McKinley, R-W.Va., said in a phone interview Friday. “If I wanted to make a political statement, I could have done a ‘no’ vote. That’s not what I did. I voted for West Virginia, and I have no qualms.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, passed the House Nov. 6 in a 228-206 vote, with 13 Republicans, including McKinley, voting for the bill.

The package of hard infrastructure projects represents $1.2 trillion over eight years with $550 billion in new infrastructure spending. Traditional infrastructure projects include a multitude of transportation, water and wastewater, clean energy and broadband expansion projects. The bill is paid for with unused COVID-19 relief dollars and additional fees and revenue sources.

West Virginia is expected to receive as much as $6 billion from BIF over the next five years for highway and bridge projects, water and wastewater infrastructure, flood resiliency, broadband expansion and abandoned mine land cleanup.

“That’s sewer, water lines, dependable roads and bridges, broadband. I could go on and on and on. All of these things were in that bill,” McKinley said. “When we’re ranked worst in the nation and I’m going to vote a political position? No. I’m going to vote for my neighbors, the people all throughout West Virginia. It goes beyond the 1st District obviously.”

The 13 Republican House members who voted for BIF, including McKinley, have come under fire by more conservative elements of the Republican Party for helping give President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats a public policy win. Rep. Alex Mooney of the existing 2nd District, a Republican challenger for McKinley when the two run for the new northern 2nd District in 2022, has all but criticized McKinley in name for his vote.

This week, Mooney received an endorsement from former president Donald Trump for his vote against BIF, even though Trump proposed his own $2 trillion hard infrastructure package in 2020. McKinley also voted for a failed bill creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot that saw Trump supporters, at his urging, march to the U.S. Capitol Building to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election in favor of President Joe Biden.

“Representative Alex Mooney has done an outstanding job as congressman in West Virginia,” Trump said in a statement. “Congressman Alex Mooney has my complete and total endorsement!”

The conservative Club for Growth, which gave an 87% lifetime score to Mooney for voting consistently for its economic policies, also endorsed Mooney this week. McKinley only has a 51% lifetime voting score over his six terms in Congress.

“While McKinley has repeatedly sided with liberals, Mooney has shown he is a consistent conservative that can be trusted, which is why he has the support of Club for Growth PAC as well as conservatives in West Virginia and across America,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth Political Action Committee.

On the other hand, organizations supporting the BIF including the U.S. and West Virginia Chambers of Commerce, the West Virginia Municipal League, the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, among others. Gov. Jim Justice praised passage of the bill last week as well.

“The governor and I talked long and hard before this vote, saying ‘we need this. Let’s get it,'” McKinley said. “Jim didn’t have to convince me. I understand the quality of our infrastructure is deficient. The mayors have come out in favor of what we’ve done. The county commissioners are supportive of it. They understand this should not have been a political football.”

The bill was the result of negotiations between President Joe Biden, a group led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and a separate group that included Sen. Joe Manchin. Both have expressed their support and thanks to McKinley for his vote.

“I am sure Congressman McKinley knows…that this is good for our state, and I am sure that is what he based his vote on,” Capito said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“The people of West Virginia need to thank David McKinley for having the courage to do what he needed to do for our state,” Manchin said after the Nov. 6 vote. “It’s become a political weapon. That’s crazy. And for Mooney to try to use this against David McKinley, I think that’s going to reverse and hurt (Mooney) so bad when people know what he voted against in his area that needed help.”

Multiple media outlets have reported that some members of the House Republican Caucus want to strip the 13 Republican BIF supporters of their committee assignments for supporting the bill. McKinley is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the ranking Republican member on the Subcommittee on Environment.

“What are we doing here if we send our representatives to Washington…to vote for what is in the best interests of their constituents and then when we do that, we threaten to strip their committees or somehow disavow their right as a representative of their district to come in and express their opinion? I don’t think that is what our founders wanted,” Capito said. “I think Congressman McKinley can certainly defend his vote all the way through. I’d rather be standing on Corridor H saying ‘I’m working for the completion of Corridor H.'”

McKinley said it could be months or up to a year before the rules for how the BIF funds will be distributed and projects funded, likely after the 2022 primary in May. But win or lose, McKinley stands by his vote to improve West Virginia’s infrastructure and believes that vote — as well as his no vote on the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better social spending bill Friday.

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