House Republicans find silver lining in minority

House Republicans would much rather be in the majority, passing bills and fulfilling President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE's agenda. But they are quickly realizing that life in the minority can come with some perks — and some easy political victories.

In the opening weeks of the new Congress, Republicans created headaches for Democrats and scored small political wins, using procedural tactics on the floor to divide Democrats on a landmark gun reform bill and force them to reject late-term abortion legislation on a near-daily basis.

Trump and House Republicans sat back and watched last week as Democrats ripped each other apart about whether incendiary comments by freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Undocumented aliens should stay away as COVID-19 rages in the US The Southern Poverty Law Center and yesterday's wars MORE (D-Minn.) were anti-Semitic.

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The Omar controversy dominated the news cycle and shifted the spotlight away from what Democrats hoped would be the focus: the For the People Act, the sweeping anti-corruption, good-government package that cleared the House on Friday.

“They are struggling with governing. They are going through some growing pains,” said Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (R-Ga.), a senior appropriator, told The Hill.

“It’s hard to bring people together and keep people together on a team,” added Rep. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksThe rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 Hispanic Democrats endorse Latina for open Indiana seat Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks MORE (R-Ind.), a former chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee. Brooks said while Republicans previously wrestled with internal strife in the majority, Democrats’ “divisions seem to be bigger.”

“Theirs seem to be more violent and more extreme,” chimed in Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresLawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Texas kicks off critical battle for House control Democrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don't add ethanol MORE (R-Texas), who was standing next to Brooks outside the House chamber.

During eight years of GOP rule — from 2010 to 2018 — headlines chronicled the civil war raging within the Republican party. A Tea Party insurgent, Dave Brat, ousted Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Democrats' strategy conundrum: a 'movement' or a coalition? The biggest political upsets of the decade Bottom Line MORE (R-Va.) in his 2014 primary; the very next year, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus forced Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE (R-Ohio) into an early retirement.

In the last Congress, battles between conservatives and centrists played themselves out during the failed attempt to repeal ObamaCare and the successful passage of Trump's tax cuts.

Many of those moderates are no longer in Congress as a result of those legislative fights.  

Republicans are adapting to their role in the minority, where messaging — not governing — is now the key focus after Republicans handed over gavels, committee seats and control of the floor to the Democrats. A leaner 197-member GOP conference also means that Republicans have begun to mend some of their rifts and come together as they fight to flip back the House in 2020.

“In the majority, you do more legislative work. In the minority, you do more communication work,” explained Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinOvernight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans Republicans push back on bipartisan bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners Lawmakers beat Capitol Police in Congressional Football Game MORE (R-Okla.), a four-term lawmaker who like many of his GOP colleagues had never experienced life in the minority before. But he conceded: “Communication isn’t as near as effective at getting the job done.”

The Democratic Party’s lurch to the left on key policies has also helped unify the GOP conference. Progressive and centrist Democrats are wrestling with the Green New Deal and "Medicare for all" single-payer proposals, but conservatives and moderate Republicans alike have united in railing against the policies.  

Republicans also have been quick to utilize the few arcane tools available to them. Texas Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertLysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill's 12:30 Report: What we know about T stimulus deal Democrats eye remote voting options MORE, the top Republican on a Natural Resources Committee subpanel, managed to halt a hearing on climate change against the chairman’s will by successfully forcing a motion to adjourn after too few Democrats attended — a victory the GOP was quick to celebrate on social media.

Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTop GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Pelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid MORE (R-La.) and Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerMembers of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive Wells Fargo chief pledges fresh start for scandal-ridden bank Here are the lawmakers who have self-quarantined as a precaution MORE (R-Mo.) are also leading the efforts on a discharge petition, which they plan to file in April, in hopes of forcing a vote on a bill aimed at requiring medical care protections for infants born during an abortion — a move that could potentially deal another blow to Democratic leadership if Republicans manage to sway enough members across the aisle to buck party lines.

GOP leaders also scored two unexpected wins on the floor using motions to recommit (MTR) — a procedural tactic traditionally used for messaging purposes that allows the minority to amend legislation right before final passage.

One of those political victories came when Republicans successfully amended a Democratic bill aimed at strengthening background checks for firearm purchases to include GOP language requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be alerted if an undocumented immigrant tries to purchase a gun. Twenty-six Democrats, most of them freshmen unfamiliar with the MTR process, broke ranks with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNJ governor calls for assessment of coronavirus response after crisis abates Overnight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus MORE (D-Calif.) and sided with Republicans, distracting from the underlying gun bill.

And while Pelosi has managed to tamp down the number of defectors following that defeat, GOP lawmakers have reveled in the chaos they’ve caused for leaders across the aisle through the procedural gambits.

Democrats cheered on the floor Friday after they defeated Republicans’ latest MTR effort to tweak a sweeping government reform package, a sign of just how low the bar has fallen for Democrats to claim victory.

"Of course, we always want to be in the majority, but the one thing we show is a very strong minority," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Stocks move little after record-breaking unemployment claims MORE (R-Calif.) told The Hill. "If you watch running the floor, Democrats seem to have a difficult time. But I think you'll find we're prepared to be back in the majority."

But Republicans have not been perfect: When the House voted Thursday on a broad resolution condemning hate in all forms, roughly two dozen Republicans voted "no," exposing divisions within the GOP ranks at a moment the media was focusing on cracks in the Democratic Party.

Certain Trump priorities, from tariffs to his national emergency declaration to fund his border wall, also have put GOP unity to the test. And with Democrats launching a slew of investigations into the Trump administration, GOP lawmakers will have their hands full playing defense for their ally in the White House.

Flores, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee who previously led the conservative Republican Study Committee, said being in the minority won’t all be about messaging. With the GOP still controlling the White House and Senate, House Republicans will be looking to do small deals with Democrats on things like health care and infrastructure in the coming months.

“Things like Green New Deal — that’s unfixable. But to the extent we can find bite-size policy victories, we will reach out and work with Democrats,” Flores said. “But Democrats also seem to be distracted because of their internal strife. It’s pretty hard to have any kind of productive legislative progress when they are fighting with each other.”