When President Biden signs the infrastructure bill into law on Monday, it will be pitched to the public as a bipartisan accomplishment. In fact, the bill is probably the dying gasp of cross-party cooperation for the foreseeable future.
The hints are already there. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) helped pass the bill, but he will skip the signing ceremony on Monday. The bill might bring some dollars home to Kentucky — and probably averted the destruction of the filibuster — but McConnell won't allow himself to be seen on camera cooperating with a Democratic president. Politics is politics.
But Mitch's absence isn't that big a deal. It's more alarming that House Republicans who voted for the bill are under fierce attack from their conservative colleagues, denounced as traitors. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has received death threats for his "yes" vote. Congressional Republicans are talking about stripping committee assignments from the 13 GOP lawmakers who supported the legislation — or perhaps simply running primary election challenges against them. Some conservatives have even suggested House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should lose his leadership status for allowing the defections.
This isn't a principled attack by Republicans on infrastructure: President Trump tried and failed to pass a similar bill. It's an attack on bipartisanship itself.
And that makes Biden's bipartisan infrastructure victory somewhat less victorious. After all, the point of the bill was never the infrastructure — Democrats simply could have rolled that stuff into the reconciliation bill and passed it without a single GOP vote. The point was the bipartisanship, an effort to make good on Biden's campaign promise to heal "the soul of the nation." If Democrats and Republicans could still come together on legislation the country needs, it would be proof that the American experiment isn't utterly broken, that democracy still has a chance.
"Here on this bill, we've proven that we can still come together to do big things — important things — for the American people," Biden said in August, after the Senate passed its version of the bill.
And it worked. This time. But the aftermath has been brutal, and the Republicans who now find their seats and even their very lives endangered for crossing the aisle probably will be less inclined to repeat their offenses against party orthodoxy anytime soon. You can't have cooperation if one side is dead set against it. Which means Monday's signing ceremony isn't really a celebration of bipartisanship. More likely, it's a funeral.