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Capito using her voice in GOP’s infrastructure negotiations

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, right, talk with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito after a meeting of Senate ranking committee members. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Once the lone Republican member of West Virginia’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is in the right place and right time as infrastructure becomes a priority for both political parties.

Described Wednesday by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as a “workhorse,” Capito spent Wednesday heading to votes on the Senate floor and meeting with fellow ranking members and Republican caucus members, while also taking the time to record videos for constituents and sending congratulations to graduates of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Wednesday morning, Capito attended a meeting of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where she is the ranking member. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., might be the senior senator in the West Virginia delegation, but it took 10 years before he became the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he now chairs.

It only took Capito six years to move up to ranking member of a committee, coming to the Senate in 2014 after serving as a congresswoman for the 2nd District since 2001. Capito won election to the Senate seat held by Jay Rockefeller.

“When I ran in 2014, one of the reasons that I left the House to run was that I want a bigger voice and a more powerful voice in a better way to make better impacts,” Capito said during an interview Wednesday in her office.

National press walk with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito as she heads to a floor vote. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

The office is filled with mementos from her political career and reminders of her father’s political legacy, the late Republican Gov. Arch Moore.

“I always aspire to be in a position where I can really be pivotal,” Capito said. “I came in under (former President Barack) Obama then served under (former President Donald) Trump and then now under (President Joe) Biden. You don’t think that’s going to have the impacts on what you do because you think, ‘Oh well, we’re just going to keep doing what we think is right and formulating the policies,’ but it has so much to do with how we react and what kind of leadership roles we have.”

As ranking committee member for the Republican caucus on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Capito questioned Michael Regan, the new secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, who came before the committee to submit his budget for fiscal year 2022.

“An area where I have real concerns … is the direction the agency and the administration is taking with climate,” Capito told Regan on Wednesday. “I do not believe a bipartisan approach to climate regulation is being followed by the EPA so far. I hope you can change that.”

In an address to world leaders last week, Biden proposed cutting U.S. greenhouse emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2030, a move that could see the closure of coal-fired power plants, a reduction of natural gas production and job losses for the communities that rely on those fossil fuels.

Reporters from CNN and NPR ask U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito about the Republican Roadmap infrastructure proposal. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

Capito was a nay vote on Regan’s nomination for EPA secretary in March. Capito also was a nay vote Tuesday on the confirmation of Janet McCabe as deputy EPA director, the architect of the Clean Power Plan in the Obama administration that also sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Capito will have a say in the regulations and laws proposed by the Biden administration to meet his emissions goal through the Environment and Public Works Committee. She will also have a say in how these programs are funded through her role as a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations along with Manchin. Capito saw the downturn in the coal industry due in part to heavy-handed regulations and its effect on miners in West Virginia.

“I see it through a different lens because environmental regulations taken too far, or too steep a deadline, or too drastically can have really negative environmental effects,” Capito said. “When you create poverty in pockets of desperation, such as we know have been created in our state, that is an environmental hazard in and of itself.”

While Capito has opposed some of Biden’s appointees and climate plans, she and Senate Republicans are hoping to find a compromise with the Biden administration on an infrastructure plan. Biden has proposed a very broad plan costing $2.3 trillion and paid for by rolling back Trump-era tax cuts. Biden challenged Republicans to come up with their own plan, a plan that Capito and other Republican committee ranking members crafted.

The Republican Roadmap would cost $568 billion over five years and is focused on traditional infrastructure projects. The plan would be paid for with user fees, extending user fees to owners of electric vehicles and using unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds. The Republican Roadmap includes no tax increases and leaves the 2017 tax cuts put in place by Trump.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, talks with fellow Republican committee member U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

“Whether it’s water or broadband or airports or rail or roads and bridges, every basic person in this country understands exactly what you mean,” Capito said. “When you start throwing in … embellishments and all this other, you’re like, ‘well wait a minute, that’s not really infrastructure.’ So, defining it was a critical part of this.”

While there has been some pushback on the Republican Roadmap, Biden administration officials have been pleased, meeting with several Senate Republicans this week. During his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, Biden gave a shout out to Capito and Senate Republicans.

“I applaud a group of Republican Senators who just put forward their proposal. So, let’s get to work. We welcome ideas,” Biden said.

Capito sees the Republican Roadmap as a starting point, with Republicans willing to negotiate. But the Biden administration will need Republican votes to get to the 60 votes needed. Getting parts of Biden’s American Jobs Plan through the Senate through the reconciliation process , allowing a simple majority on budget-related items, will be a heavy lift.

“I think that the White House has been as engaged as they try to see if we can meet this challenge,” Capito said. “If this can be accomplished, I think there’s a hunger with our Republicans. I’ve talked to a lot of Democrats. They’re interested.”

Because of her up-front role in promoting and crafting the Republican Roadmap, Capito is starting to receive more national attention. She did a sit-down interview Wednesday morning from her office with Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s national news program “The National Desk.” And walking to and from votes and meetings, national media outlets such as Politico, CNN, NPR and others walked with Capito peppering her with questions.

Both Capito and Manchin have received a lot of national press: Manchin for his role of being a swing vote in a 50-50 Senate split between Democrats and Republicans; and Capito for her role on infrastructure. While they come from different parties and don’t always agree, Capito said her and Manchin’s unique roles allow them both to help steer federal support to West Virginia.

“I think West Virginia is in a good spot in the Senate because we are long-time acquaintances and friends.” Capito said of Manchin. “What it will really boils down to more specifically is if it’s going to be for West Virginia, we very rarely separate on that. We can circle the wagons and he can get his coalition and I can get mine. And I think that really helps a state, especially a small state.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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