Fifty days before the midterm elections, Republican leaders are getting their troops in line as the GOP eyes something it hasn’t had in eight years: Control of both chambers of Congress.
On Capitol Hill, Tea Party insurgents who forced a government shutdown last year are playing nice with GOP leadership in the campaign’s home stretch in a bid to keep the heat on President Obama and off a sometimes-divided GOP caucus.
“This isn’t a fight that seems to be the most important fight right now, to quibble over a little here and there when [Senate Majority Leader] Harry ReidHarry ReidIf Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief Democrats declare victory after Puzder bows out MORE won’t [negotiate] at all,” Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast Ex-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE (R-Minn.), generally a thorn in the side of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerFormer House leader Bob Michel, a person and politician for the ages Former House GOP leader Bob Michel dies at 93 Keystone pipeline builder signs lobbyist MORE (R-Ohio), said of the stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown by Oct. 1.
GOP leaders say the rank and file is well aware of what’s at stake this November. They have their eyes on the prize.
If Republicans grow their majority in the House as well as picking up the six seats they need to take control of the Senate, they will be able to dominate the legislative agenda and dictate what gets sent to Obama’s desk.
“There is an understanding in the House, as well as the Senate, that if you had majorities that are in agreement in spending priorities, then the spending strategy really makes a difference,” Missouri Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntJudiciary Committee wants briefing, documents on Flynn resignation Intel Dem: House GOP now open to investigating Flynn Dems: 'Crazy' to trust GOP to investigate Flynn MORE, a member of the GOP leadership team and a former House majority whip, told The Hill.
“You can slow down things, you can stop things, impact things in ways you can’t when the House and Senate are divided on what you can put on the president’s desk,” he added.
Examples of Republicans embracing the team concept abound.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) has put his efforts to kill the Export-Import Bank on hold — for now.
Neither did Republicans put up much of a fight over Obama’s request for $88 million in extra funding to combat the Ebola virus in West Africa.
And House allies of Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump to interview four candidates for national security adviser Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at CPAC Reports: Petraeus off the list, Trump down to three candidates to replace Flynn MORE (R-Texas) have launched a campaign that is halfhearted at best to try to extend the must-pass funding bill or continuing resolution into 2015, when they argue the party could be in a stronger position to cut spending.
The only real hiccup in the march to approve a new spending bill has been the president’s surprise request for authority to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But many Republicans are calling for leaders to hold separate votes this week — one on the Syria provision and the other on the funding bill — to ensure both measures get passed promptly.
In an interview, Bachmann called for the House to send Reid “a continuing resolution and get that done and move on.”
Added Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonWestern Republicans seek new federal appeals court Arts groups gear up for fight over NEA What gun groups want from Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), another staunch conservative: “I don’t want to see a government shutdown, at all. In fact, none of us want to see a government shutdown.”
A GOP leadership aide called last year’s shutdown a “disaster.” To repeat the mistake would not be a “winning ticket to capturing the Senate in November,” the staffer said.
Many had expected a showdown between House leadership and Hensarling over the Ex-Im reauthorization, which has pitted allies of big business against conservatives who deride the bank as a form of “corporate welfare.”
But in a speech last week, Hensarling pledged, albeit reluctantly, to support leadership’s short-term extension of the bank’s charter, which expires at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Lawmakers from both parties say the chairman would be in a much better position to eliminate the bank if he waits until next year, with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate. Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyHouse Dems ask Oversight to investigate Trump security practices Lawmakers debate allowing cameras in courtrooms Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate takes a hard line on Russia | Dems want hearings on Trump's cyber issues MORE (D-Va.) said this would be a “very Machiavellian move.”
At the same time, Republicans are opening up leads in key races that will be critical to winning the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcCain hopes Americans can be confident GOP-controlled Congress can investigate president GOP Congress unnerved by Trump bumps Top Dem: GOP is terrified of Trump MORE (R-Ky.) is leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by as many as 4-8 points, according to recent independent polls.
Most polls show GOP Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonKoch-backed group stepping up advocacy against border tax GOP senator: 'Serious concerns' about House border tax plan GOP senators to Trump: We support 'maintaining and expanding' Gitmo MORE leading incumbent Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE, the Arkansas Democrat, and Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senator argues for Gitmo expansion: ‘It ain’t Martha Stewart' being put there Overnight Defense: VA nominee set for confirmation | Dems pounce on Flynn | Military judge knocks Trump's 'disturbing' Bergdahl comments MORE (R-Colo.) is also keeping things competitive in his campaign to oust Democratic Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallElection autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed Live coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State The rise and possible fall of the ‘Card’ in politics MORE.
Polls have shown Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) inching ahead of Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.), though the two are expected to battle to a December runoff. The House gave Cassidy a boost last week when it passed his bill allowing Americans to keep their insurance plans under ObamaCare.
Republican candidates, aware of how quickly an isolated gaffe can end a Senate race, are acting cautiously around the media.
Asked why Republicans have managed to avoid a big fight over a stopgap funding bill this year, both Cotton and Gardner demurred.
“You know what, if you want to have a long conversation, call my office,” Gardner said.
“No comment,” added Cotton. “You should be an enterprising reporter and go dig up a source who will comment.”
Defending the Senate, Democrats have been praying for a Todd Akin moment. In 2012, the GOP Senate hopeful’s “legitimate rape” remark crushed his chances of defeating vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDem senator: I may face 2018 primary from Tea Party-esque progressives Dems ask for hearings on Russian attempts to attack election infrastructure House bill would prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions MORE (D-Mo.) and helped derail the party’s quest to capture the upper chamber that year.
Polls suggest the GOP has already come back from last year’s shutdown debacle.
The public blamed Republicans for the shutdown more than Obama and the Democrats, 53 percent to 31 percent, according to a poll at the time from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Of those surveyed, 47 percent said they wanted a Congress controlled by Democrats, but only 39 percent wanted it controlled by Republicans.
The numbers are much different today. Forty-five percent of Americans now favor a Congress led by the GOP, and 43 percent want it led by Democrats, a September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed.
Democrats are daring Cruz to lead Republicans on another crusade to shut down the government. But they say even conservative hardliners in the House have probably learned their lesson.
“Generally people who put their hands on hot stoves learn from the experience,” Connolly quipped.