GOP seeks security edge in '16 races

GOP seeks security edge in '16 races
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Senate Republicans are homing in on national security as they fight to defend 24 seats in the 2016 elections.

With security high on Americans list of concerns, and voters increasingly dissatisfied with the government’s response to terrorism, the party is putting a spotlight on the issue as part of their bid to keep control of the upper chamber.

Republicans are linking Democratic hopefuls in key states to President Obama’s policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, the push to close Guantánamo Bay and the plan to accept Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

With only 34  percent of Americans approving of Obama’s foreign policy, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, Republicans think Democrats are in a lose-lose situation: Either support unpopular policies or anger their base by going against Obama.

Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said that heading into the 2016 elections, “Republicans are going to be very, very committed and focused on how we're going to make the country safer.”

GOP lawmakers are increasingly eager to tout their hawkish foreign policy stances on Capitol Hill, arguing that the president — and the Democrats who support him — are out of touch with the American people.

“I think it plays in every campaign. I think it’s now the No. 1 or No. 2 issue,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump informally offered Cohn CIA job before changing his mind: report Schiff: I thought more Republicans would speak out against Trump Trump presses GOP to change Senate rules MORE (R-Ariz.), who is up for reelection this year. “In 2008 there was the dissatisfaction over Iraq and Afghanistan, extended combat … [now] there is fear that America is in danger.”  

Democrats counter that Republicans are “playing politics” with national security in an effort to boost their changes in an election cycle where they can only afford a net loss of five seats.

“Republicans voted to allow suspected terrorists to purchase firearms and would support a presidential nominee who experts have said is a national security risk, all while openly admitting their plans to exploit national fears for political gain,” said Lauren Passalacqua a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “By all means, their already vulnerable incumbents should keep up with this strategy.”

Democrats also point to Senate candidates including Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a veteran who is running in Illinois, and Missouri Democratic hopeful Jason Kander — who has targeted Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSpending talks face new pressure Senate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs MORE's (R-Mon.) national security record and vocally opposes the Iran nuclear deal — as giving them a strong rejoinder to GOP attacks.

At the forefront of the battle with the Obama administration are a handful of Republican senators, including McCain, whose races are expected to determine the control of the Senate.

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan MORE (R-N.H.), one of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents, has emerged as a vocal critic of the nuclear deal with Iran and the Obama administration’s effort to close the Guantánamo Bay prison.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Ayotte pledged to propose new sanctions against Iran and pushed Democrats to “step up" on the issue.

Her campaign has been touting Ayotte’s national security record and suggesting that New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, her likely opponent, is running away from national security questions. They have launched a website titled “Maggie’s MIA” to attack the Democrat on the issue.

Most recently, after Senate Democrats blocked legislation to crack down on the acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Chloe Rockow, a spokeswoman for Ayotte’s campaign, accused Democrats of “playing politics” with national security.

The NRSC has echoed that criticism, suggesting that Hassan, as well as former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Masto Cortez, who is running to replace Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.) in Nevada, have been “silent” on key national security and foreign policy issues.

Hassan sparked a backlash from her own party when she backed a temporary halt to accepting Syrian and Iraqi refugees. 

Ayotte isn’t alone in highlighting her opposition to the Obama administration’s policies. 

Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington Wisconsin Republican would sign on to bill to nullify Trump tariffs MORE (R-Wis.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.), considered the two most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year, have called on their colleagues to bolster visa background checks to include social media and to halt the acceptance of refugees until the administration can verify they aren’t a national security threat.  

Johnson slammed Democrats over refugee vetting, saying that they “once again moved to block a bill that would address a national security vulnerability.”

Meanwhile, the NRSC blasted Johnson's likely Democratic opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold, for praising Obama's foreign policy and saying the Iran nuclear deal "helped us avoid a war." Republicans also suggested Feingold is “weak” on North Korea after the country reported that it tested a hydrogen bomb.

Among Senate Democrats up for reelection, perhaps no one is in a trickier spot than Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Democrats march toward single-payer health care MORE of Colorado.

He defended his vote this week against the House refugee bill, saying that a “blanket prohibition like this doesn’t actually make us safer.” Lawmakers should instead look at the Visa Waiver Program, he said.

Bennet has spent the past year walking a fine line on Obama’s foreign policies, supporting the Iran nuclear deal but distancing himself from Obama’s goal of closing Guantánamo o Bay, especially after the Pentagon looked at his home state as a potential site for detainees.

His vote against the refugee bill drew scorn from Republicans.

Jon Keyser, a former state representative competing to take on Bennet in November, slammed the Democratic senator, saying that voters should “put an end to the dangerous Obama-Bennet foreign policy."

Meanwhile in Washington, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller Senate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed MORE (R-Texas) added that with national security a top issue, Democrats “are sending a message that they simply don’t care or the way things are working now are just perfect.”