Chances are Republicans are going to take over the Senate, giving them unified control of Congress. This is a goal Republicans have been working toward for years. And I think it will be a very mixed blessing.
I expect that the deep internal divisions in the party will do to the Senate what they have done to the House: unite them in opposition to Democrats but provide no common ground for action. Thus the GOP can easily vote to Repeal ACA but they have been unable to pass any of the five replacement plans in the House.
They have a public dilemma too.
Appealing to a broad electorate is very different than appeasing an angry and suspicious base. The tension this creates will play out in new ways if and when Republicans take over the Senate.
In Kansas recently, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who’s in a tough race for reelection, made a statement that left me puzzled. “A vote for me is a vote to change the Senate back to a Republican majority, and we’ll get things done,” he said. “And it means a stop to the Obama agenda.”
Which is it—ending the status quo of Washington gridlock? Or ratcheting up the gridlock by obstructing President Obama? You can’t “get things done” in Washington without the president’s signature, and no matter what happens in this year’s elections, he’s not going anywhere for another two years.
Yet these two seemingly contradictory messages are at the heart of Republican Senate campaigns across the country. I’ve heard them from candidate after candidate.
You can dance around this issue on the campaign trail but not in the halls of Congress.
There will be tremendous built-up pressure from conservatives that Sen. Mitch McConnell (assuming he wins his own race and becomes majority leader) will have to satisfy. That means votes on things such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, building border fences, slashing environmental regulations and cutting corporate taxes. Most or all of which will be unpopular and inevitably filibustered by Senate Democrats. McConnell could redo the filibuster rules entirely.
In November 2013, Reid and Democrats changed the Senate rules to eliminate filibusters on some presidential appointments and limit them on others. Though it was called “the nuclear option,” the true nuclear option would apply to legislation, which under current rules the minority is still free to filibuster (as the Republicans do- a lot!). Would McConnell go fully nuclear and get rid of that, too, so the GOP Congress could send bills to the president’s desk?
But why? Obama will veto the bills he does not support and the 2/3 required to overturn a veto is way out of reach. McConnell knows that his time as majority leader would come with a two-year expiration date. In 2016 there will be only 10 Democrat-held seats up for election and these are all very safe seats, while Republicans will be defending 24 seats, many in Democratic states, and they will be doing it in a presidential election year, when the electorate that comes to the polls is far more friendly to Democrats. McConnell won’t be too eager to hand a Senate with no filibusters back to Reid in 2016 and the odds are that this is what he will have to do.
That leaves Republicans with the following dynamic: They pass bills meant to mollify their supporters, the bills are filibustered by Democrats and the bills die. Other than stopping Obama administration appointments (something significant, particularly when it comes to judges, but one that gets a limited amount of attention), Senate Republicans will have little to show their base.
And they will have even less to show the broader public. Obama will decry the do-nothing, radicalized Congress, and to the average voter, that’s exactly what it will look like: a bunch of Washington blowhards having temper tantrums that don’t do anything to improve Americans’ lives.
Not only that, at various times they will have no choice but to make deals with Obama. McConnell, John Boehner and the more sober Republicans know that there’s nothing worse for them politically than forcing government shutdowns and debt defaults. That means they will have to agree to continuing resolutions keeping the government open and making increases in the debt ceiling in order to avoid national and political disaster. And when they do, the tea party base of the GOP will be enraged. “What did we elect a Republican Congress for?” it will shout.
In short, the Republican tension between satisfying the base and appealing to the entire electorate will be made significantly worse if the party controls both houses of Congress. The Republicans will get almost none of the practical things they want, and their political headaches will be multiplied. McConnell is a shrewd operator, but it’s hard to see how even he can find his way out of that dilemma.
Let me add the ULTIMATE headache.
THE IMPEACHMENT OF BARACK H. OBAMA.Oh yes, the House could end up voting articles of impeachment since the Speaker may not be able to stop his own caucus from doing this. Once those bills are passed, the Senate must take it up. The trial will be a political nightmare for the GOP in the same way that it was when Clinton was tried (and worse because Obama’s crimes will come off as so much sour grapes and political bickering) In the end Obama will be found not guilty because the GOP will not have the 2/3 vote to find him guilty. And then comes 2016…..The Clinton trial nearly broke the GOP. What would an Obama trial do?