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.
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 McCainDrug importation won't save dollars or lives Dem rep Charlie Crist files for divorce Why the GOP cannot sweep its Milo scandal under the rug 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 BluntA guide to the committees: Senate Judiciary Committee wants briefing, documents on Flynn resignation Intel Dem: House GOP now open to investigating Flynn 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 AyotteLewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire NH governor 'not aware’ of major voter fraud Former NH AG: 'Allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless' 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 ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs 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 JohnsonRon JohnsonA guide to the committees: Senate Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs Dems ask for hearings on Russian attempts to attack election infrastructure MORE (R-Wis.) and Mark KirkMark KirkLeaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood GOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 BennetA guide to the committees: Senate Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order 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 CornynCornyn: Border wall 'makes absolutely no sense' in some areas Ryan on border: ‘We will get this done’ Ryan tours Mexican border on horseback 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.”