By STEVE PEOPLES, AP National Political Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — With the nation’s financial system on the brink of collapse, all but three Republicans voted against the massive stimulus package designed to protect millions of Americans from financial ruin.
It was early 2009, just weeks after Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president, and the vote marked the beginning of a new era of partisan gridlock in Congress. And for beleaguered Republicans coming off a disastrous election, it was their first step back to political power.
Democrats voted alone to stabilize the economy, and two years later, a Republican Party unified only by its unwavering opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency seized the House majority.
Now, just weeks into the Biden presidency, the GOP is gambling that history will repeat itself.
Early Saturday morning, 210 House Republicans joined two Democrats in voting against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that would send $1,400 checks to most Americans and hundreds of billions more to help open schools, revive struggling businesses and provide financial support to state and local governments. Senate Republicans are expected to oppose a similar measure in the coming weeks, arguing that the bill is not focused enough on the pandemic. But with near-unanimous Democratic support, the measure could still become law.
It’s far too soon to predict the political fallout from the first major legislative fight of the Biden era. But as the nation struggles to recover from the worst health and financial crises in generations, strategists in both parties agree that it’s risky for Republicans to assume their 2009 playbook will lead to the same ballot-box success this time around.
“I think that the Republicans’ misread here is that it is the same, or that they can just oppose it and there’s no ramifications,” said John Anzalone, the Biden campaign’s chief pollster. “It’s a different world.”
Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz said Republicans now bear the burden of clearly articulating their opposition — a task made more difficult by the distraction of former President Donald Trump’s high-profile war against the Republican establishment.
“The definer of the legislation wins this battle,” Luntz said. “This could end up being the most important vote of 2021.”
There are reasons to believe that politics have changed since Republicans last unified against a sweeping stimulus package, not the least of which is Trump’s omnipresence in the party.
At the same time, the scale of the economic devastation and disruption wrought by the coronavirus pandemic dwarfs that of the 2008 financial crisis. At its peak, roughly 9 U.S. million jobs were lost in the Great Recession, compared with 22 million jobs lost to the coronavirus. A year after the pandemic began, nearly 10 million U.S. jobs remain lost, more than 20 million children are out of school, half a million Americans are dead, and roughly 100,000 businesses are feared closed…