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Why McCarthy is staying silent on the bipartisan infrastructure bill

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has been maintaining a deliberate silence about how his caucus should approach the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Why it matters: It passed the Senate last week with the support of 19 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But it faces an uncertain future in the House, with even Democrats divided over what they want.

The intrigue: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has insisted the House won't vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package until the Senate also passes the Democrats' $3.5 trillion bill.

  • But in a "Dear Colleague" to members on Sunday morning, Pelosi announced she has requested the Rules Committee to explore passing a rule to advance both the budget resolution and the bipartisan package. 
  • The move was a nod to moderate Democrats critical of Pelosi's strategy of tying them together. It would give those moderates an opportunity to tell constituents they voted to advance the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill.

What we're hearing: Several House GOP aides, including those in leadership, told Axios that as long as Pelosi continues to tie the bills together, they doubt many, if any, House Republicans will support it.

  • It also means the House will likely not consider the $1.2 trillion bill for several weeks, if not months.
  • The House GOP conference has yet to receive any guidance on messaging for the bipartisan bill. It's targeting all of its messaging on attacking Democrats' parallel discussions of unilaterally enacting a $3.5 trillion spending bill through the budget reconciliation process.
  • McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar told Axios that McCarthy "does not support the bill in its current form" as long as it's tied to the reconciliation process.
  • "He's keeping the focus on the battle we know we can win on messaging," another senior GOP aide told Axios.

Between the lines: Several House conservatives, particularly those on the right, have already come out against the bill.

  • Several House GOP aides told Axios their internal polling shows their base associates the bipartisan bill with Democrats' $3.5 trillion partisan spending bill, an argument that many Senate Republicans also made when opposing the bill.
  • Former President Trump — who McCarthy has continued to cater to after he left office — has issued a series of statements railing against the $1.2 trillion bill, calling out specific GOP members for supporting it — including McConnell.
  • The Republican Study Committee, the largest bloc of House conservatives led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), issued a 10-point memo to members in early August outlining talking points attacking the bill.
  • Minority whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican, has publicly come out against the bill, saying both the bipartisan and partisan bills are "one and the same."

What's next: The House will come back early from its weeks-long recess on Aug. 23 to begin consideration of the $3.5 trillion bill and voting rights legislation.

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