Senate Republicans believe their chances of retaking the upper chamber have never looked better, as the favorable electoral map has steadily improved.
Yet if they do win in November, Senate Republicans must confront a significant question: Will the same divisions that racked the House Republican majority befall them?
Indeed, Senate Republicans have had their share of divisions. From the shutdown to the debt ceiling, disagreements among members have spilled into the open. As one GOP Senate aide put it, could a majority that contains Susan Collins of Maine and Ted Cruz of Texas come together on key legislation?
Of course it’s early still, and the benefits of having a majority are indisputable. But some House Republicans say that if the GOP takes the Senate, the new majority will have to learn from the bruising intraparty fights that culminated during the shutdown — or suffer the consequences.
“If you’re the majority and you’re not on the same page, you’re handing your majority over to the minority, and you’re stronger when you stick together and that’s been the case throughout,” said Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio.
For Senate Republicans to take the majority, they have to net six seats, an uphill climb for sure. But they’re defending 15 seats to the Democrats’ 21, seven of which are in states that Mitt Romney won in 2012.
One of those states is West Virginia, where Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring, opening up the possibility for Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Though culturally conservative, West Virginia still has Democratic voters, a reality that Capito says makes her willing to work across the aisle. Should she win, that willingness may stand in stark contrast to more-conservative members who have less interest in bipartisan coalitions.
“I can only speak for myself, and I’ve always been of a mind that working together is more beneficial for West Virginians that would elect me than taking a philosophical stand that’s gonna result in a stalemate,” she said.
The key for Republicans will be preventing that kind of stalemate from happening within their own ranks, while forcing President Obama to play defense.
“I think it’s always good to have that voice because the Republican Party is extremely diverse,” said Rep. Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican. “To have everybody be a part of that narrative is extremely important, but if we have the opportunity to start placing these bills that would fundamentally fix a lot of the problems the American people are dealing with, Republicans will join hands and do that and make sure it’s the president that is taking the blame.”
Placing the president in a difficult position has all but eluded congressional Republicans. “It’s not easy, obviously,” Tiberi said. “We haven’t seen that it’s easy here.”
They made it harder for themselves by disagreeing internally over tactics. In the Senate, Cruz clashed recently with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over a procedural vote on the debt ceiling, for instance. The result has been a victory for Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House.
“Right now we’re rendered somewhat ineffective in that we have a couple hundred bills that are sitting in the Senate that they’re not going to take up,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican.
But will taking over the Senate result in a more effective Republican majority?
“It changes the dynamic significantly with a Republican Senate,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia. “We can put bills on the president’s desk, and he will have to veto them instead of just saying he doesn’t like them.”
Whether Republican divisions will allow them to do that remains an open question, but Price suggested if the choice is working with a Democratic Senate or a fractious Republican majority, the preference is clear.
“It will certainly be easier than with Harry Reid,” he said.