The incoming chairman of the powerful House infrastructure committee has defended his decision to vote in favor of a short-term funding bill to keep the government running.
Sitting on the House floor, Peter DeFazio, a Portland Oregon Democrat, welcomed the prospect of an infrastructure plan, despite its previously uncertain prospects.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” he said in an interview. “You always kind of have that trepidation.”
DeFazio, who was elected in 2016 and who said he plans to chair the committee next year, cast the government funding vote as a continuation of a process that began two years ago.
“I think infrastructure’s just one of those things where we’ve been talking about it for two years now, and we’re going to keep talking about it. But it’s only going to happen if people are willing to vote for it.”
But he said in the aftermath of the spending bill: “I can’t tell you what they’re going to do. You’ve got rightwing extremists within the Republican party who consider their own damn lives.
“Even conservatives I respect, for example, when they’re in charge, will cave a little. I don’t know if they’re going to cave, because I think they’re too good for that, and I don’t know if they’re going to do it because it’s good for them.”
Republicans face both opposition to their $4tn plan and the potential for internal divisions as they navigate a push to overhaul the tax code and move healthcare reform. DeFazio said he has already sent a list of eight amendments that he wants the Republican-controlled committee to consider.
Some measures he would like his colleagues to consider, such as investing in broadband in rural areas and making it easier for immigrants to get citizenship if they work in STEM fields.
But the border wall and a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program – which Trump ended, in which he was criticized by members of his own party – were also on his list.
“Nothing about the wall, I can tell you that,” DeFazio said. “There are bigger priorities to be focused on.”
But last week, DeFazio noted some of the issues that the Senate is struggling with. “We just did look at this in the Senate, they didn’t get this thing done,” he said. “I wonder if that’s going to be sufficient to make up for the hollowing out of the Senate – and the loss of Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform.”
In the interview, DeFazio also said he had previously not been familiar with the bill that passed the House, as only one of the four members of the committee did.
Some on the right said the measure to avert a shutdown should have been placed on the House floor and picked up by Democrats, who have promised to try to make it a priority.
But DeFazio said he thought Republicans had made an important move in the bill, which blocked earmarks.
“I believe it was a good step,” he said. “It’s going to mean cuts in spending, there’s no question about that.”