Could Senate Republicans Work Together as a Majority?

Recent fractures in the House GOP raise questions if the party wins control of the upper chamber.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) shares remarks at Girl Scouts At 100: The Launch of ToGetHerThere at Capitol Hill Cannon House Office Bldg, Caucus Room on February 1, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Girl Scouts of America)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
March 4, 2014, 4:49 p.m.

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.

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