GOP Blasted for 'Shameful' Attempts to Claim Credit for COVID Relief

GOP leaders are still rallying opposition to President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed last week, claiming the bill—which passed with no Republican support in either the House or Senate—is too expensive and too broad.

Republicans are also citing the lack of GOP support as evidence that Biden's pledges of unity and bipartisanship are hollow, hoping the message will resonate with voters concerned about Democratic overreach and progressive policies ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

But polls show that Americans of all parties broadly support the relief bill, making the GOP strategy a risky one. Some Republicans have already come under fire for lauding the benefits of coronavirus relief measures while still pushing back on Biden's efforts, showing that even in opposition some lawmakers are well aware of how popular the stimulus package is.

Florida Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, for example, on Saturday lauded Biden's adoption of her bipartisan legislation to extend the deadline for Americans to begin paying back Economic Damage and Disaster Loans, given to support businesses through the economic turmoil of COVID-19. The bill was co-authored with Democratic Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids.

Salazar said on Twitter she was "so proud" that her "bipartisan COVID relief bill" was adopted as part of the Small Business Administration's coronavirus strategy. "This extension is critical so that small business owners who obtained a loan during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic do not have to start making these payments until at least 2022," Salazar said in a statement.

But critics interpreted Salazar's tweet as an attempt to claim credit for the larger coronavirus package passed by Democrats, a package she voted against in the House vote.

MSNBC host Mehdi Hassan, for example, said Salazar's remarks were "Shameful." He explained: "She voted against the bill like every other House and Senate Republican. You'll see more of this in the coming days and weeks."

Fred Guttenberg, a prominent anti-gun activist whose daughter was killed in the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, said on Twitter that Salazar's comments were "pathetic." Guttenberg accused the lawmaker of "bragging about the bill she voted against. Sorry Congresswoman, you do not get any credit for this. You failed!!!"

A spokesperson for Rep. Salazar told Newsweek that the emergency loan bill and the stimulus package "are two separate issues."

The spokesperson said the emergency loan legislation "is a major win for small business owners who are struggling to stay in business during the pandemic. Congresswoman Salazar is focused on finding solutions to help small business owners keep their doors open."

NBC News reporter Sahil Kapur noted that Salazar's efforts might backfire. He noted the representative did not mention in either her tweet or her statement that she voted against both versions of the relief package. "But statements of support like this will, in an odd way, bolster the White House's contention that the package is 'bipartisan' despite the vote tally."

The same could be true of other Republican efforts to align with COVID relief despite voting against Biden's package. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker was criticized last week for celebrating small business relief having voted against the measures.

"Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief," Wicker wrote on Twitter. "This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll."

Wicker dismissed suggestions he was trying to take credit for the Democratic measures. He rejected a query from one reporter on the Hill as a "stupid question," adding: "One good provision in a $1.9 trillion bill doesn't mean I have to vote for the whole thing."

Wicker authored the Restaurants Act, which would provide a $120 billion relief fund to help independent restaurants and small franchises, and has been pushing separately for relief for such businesses.

One of his aide's told reporters: "He was not able to support $2 trillion in poorly targeted spending as was proposed by Congressional Democrats...He will continue working to advance targeted relief for restaurants and other groups that have been hit hard by the pandemic."

The Republican leadership has been clear in its opposition to Biden's measures. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed popular support the measures, adding: "What they do not know is how much of the bill has nothing to do with the pandemic...The economy is just going to have a fabulous year. It has nothing to do with this massive Democratic wish list of items."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was also scathing in his criticism of how broad the legislation is. "This is a waste of money, less than 9 percent is going to COVID," he said. "This is a payoff to [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's political friends."

This article has been updated to include comment from Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar's office.

Capitol building pictured during COVID relief bill
The U.S. Capitol is pictured in the morning on March 10, 2021 in Washington, D.C. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images