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Stauber touts airport grants funded by infrastructure bill he voted against

The 8th District DFL unit called it “vote-no-and-take-credit hypocrisy.”

File: Pete Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber talks in Duluth in July 2021. Samantha Erkkila / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber announced nearly $9.4 million in federal grants to airports throughout Northeastern Minnesota, even though he voted against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that funded the grants.

In a news release last month, the Republican congressman from Hermantown said he was “happy to announce” 29 airports across the 8th Congressional District would receive grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. Most received amounts between $110,000 and $160,000, but five received at least $1 million each.

“As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I believe strongly in the importance of investing in traditional forms of infrastructure, such as airports,” Stauber said.

The release did not include the source of the funding.

The FAA’s website, which lists the airports and grant amounts , said the funding source is the federal infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November. The law included $15 billion that “can be invested in runways, taxiways, safety and sustainability projects, as well as terminal, airport-transit connections and roadway projects.” Fiscal year 2022 saw $2.89 billion of that made available to the country’s airports.

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On Nov. 5, the House passed the infrastructure bill in a 228-206 vote largely along party lines (just six Democrats voted against it and 13 Republicans voted for it).

That night, Stauber announced his “no” vote in a news release because it was “part of the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar tax-and-spend package” that “is not about real infrastructure,” referring to a separate social spending and climate bill coined the “Build Back Better Act” that, in its most recent form, would would cost $1.75 trillion. It still remains unable to pass the Senate.

File: Range Regional Airport
The terminal at Range Regional Airport in Hibbing is seen in December 2015, not long after it opened. The airport will receive $1.01 million in federal infrastructure bill funding. File / Duluth News Tribune

“I will not be complicit in paving a destructive and irreversible path towards socialism. … Make no mistake; a vote for this ‘infrastructure’ package is a vote for the reckless multi-trillion-dollar tax-and-spend spree. That’s why I voted NO,” Stauber said in the Nov. 5 release.

In a statement to the News Tribune, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s 8th Congressional District unit described Stauber’s announcement of the airport grants as “vote-no-and-take-credit hypocrisy.”

“To the detriment of the 8th District, Stauber voted ‘no’ on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and is now attempting to take credit for the hard work of others (including the work of his fellow Republicans),” the unit said.

Stauber had said in his Nov. 5 release that although he wants a bill to fund “traditional” infrastructure, he couldn’t support something “inextricably linked” to the larger social spending and climate bill.

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The infrastructure bill had been tied to the Build Back Better Act, with Democrats hoping to pass the two together. But disagreements over the cost of the social and climate bill effectively “decoupled” or separated the bills and led to the infrastructure bill becoming law while the other remains in limbo.

When the House voted on the infrastructure bill Nov. 5, it was already moving separately from the Build Back Better bill. That caused six progressive House Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minneapolis, to vote against the infrastructure bill.

“I cannot in good conscience support the infrastructure bill without voting on the President’s transformative agenda first,” Omar said in a news release.

A few hours later, in the early morning of Nov. 6, the Build Back Better Act passed a procedural vote in the House. On Nov. 19, it was officially voted on and passed in the House — four days after Biden signed the infrastructure bill, Nov. 15.

But the Build Back Better Act has not yet been voted on by the Senate; Democrats do not have the votes to pass it.

Stauber’s spokesperson, Eli Mansour, maintained that the bills remained intertwined and were not yet decoupled at the time of the Nov. 5 vote.

“The congressman’s previous statement on infrastructure speaks for itself; two spending bills were not decoupled prior to passage of both in the House of Representatives,” Mansour said. “The congressman will continue to support securing funding for infrastructure projects in the Northland.”

When pressed by the News Tribune, Mansour again said the bills hadn’t been decoupled, and pointed to quotes from Democrats promising an earlier vote on the infrastructure bill would mean swift passage of Build Back Better later.

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“On Nov. 5, the Democrats made it clear that the two bills were still linked together by reaching a deal for a rule vote on Build Back Better, along with the final passage of the infrastructure bill,” Mansour said.

Mansour did not respond to the News Tribune’s questions on whether Stauber’s vote was influenced by the fear of retaliation by the district’s conservative base or other Republican politicians.

The 13 Republican House members who voted for the infrastructure bill have been berated for it by some inside the GOP, including by former President Donald Trump.

In a statement two days after the House infrastructure vote, Trump lashed out at the Republican House members who voted for the bill.

Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport will receive $1.01 million in federal infrastructure funding. File / Forum News Service free

“Very sad that the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in the House and Senate gave Biden and Democrats a victory on the ‘Non-Infrastructure’ Bill. … All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump said.

Just a day after the infrastructure vote, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who is now banned from Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, tweeted out the names and office phone numbers of the 13 GOP members who voted for the infrastructure bill and called them “traitors.”

The members’ offices were flooded with angry phone calls and one member, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, even received a call that wished death to him, his family and his staff, the Associated Press reported . The AP also said U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona and leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told them 10 of the 13 members should be removed from their senior Republican posts in committees and subcommittees.

Through the infrastructure bill grants, the Duluth International Airport will receive Duluth nearly $1.7 million and Duluth Sky Harbor will receive $159,000.

Duluth Airport Authority spokesperson Natalie Peterson said there isn't an exact breakdown of projects yet, but that the funds will go toward pavement, lighting and heavy equipment at the international airport and a ramp at Sky Harbor.

092420.N.PJ.AirportGrantbrief.jpg
The Cloquet Carlton County Airport will receive $159,000 in federal infrastructure funding. Jamey Malcomb / 2019 file / Pine Journal

Other airports in the 8th Congressional District receiving grants include:

  • Aitkin Municipal-Steve Kurtz Field — $159,000

  • Bemidji Regional — $1.02 million

  • Brainerd Lakes Regional — $1.01 million

  • Cambridge Municipal — $159,000

  • Cloquet Carlton County — $159,000

  • Cook Municipal — $110,000

  • Ely Municipal — $159,000

  • Eveleth-Virginia Municipal — $159,000

  • Falls International-Einarson Field — $1.01 million

  • Grand Marais/Cook County — $159,000

  • Grand Rapids/Itasca County Airport-Gordon Newstrom Field — $295,000

  • Little Falls/Morrison County-Lindbergh Field — $159,000

  • Longville Municipal — $110,000

  • Moose Lake Carlton County — $159,000

  • Mora Municipal — $159,000

  • Orr Regional — $110,000

  • Park Rapids Municipal-Konshok Field — $110,000

  • Pine River Regional — $159,000

  • Princeton Municipal — $159,000

  • Range Regional Airport — $1.01 million

  • Richard B Helgeson Airport — $159,000

  • Rush City Regional — $159,000

  • Silver Bay Municipal — $110,000

  • Staples Municipal — $159,000

  • Tower Municipal — $110,000

  • Wadena Municipal — $110,000

  • Walker Municipal — $159,000

News Tribune reporter Peter Passi contributed to this report.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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