House Republicans find silver lining in minority

House Republicans would much rather be in the majority, passing bills and fulfilling President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA 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 OmarScaramucci calls Trump tweets 'racist and unacceptable' House Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Black Caucus leader calls Trump's attacks on minority lawmakers 'despicable' 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 GravesGOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Bipartisan bill would enable companies to defend themselves against cyberattacks Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties 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 BrooksRising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems Pelosi announces House resolution to condemn Trump's 'xenophobic tweets' Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker 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 FloresOvernight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter 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 CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (R-Va.) in his 2014 primary; the very next year, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus forced Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAmash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise A cautionary tale for Justin Amash from someone who knows Border funding bill highlights the problem of 'the Senate keyhole' 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 MullinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Inslee presses Trump on climate change in House testimony GOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate 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 GohmertJudiciary issues blitz of subpoenas for Kushner, Sessions, Trump associates Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question Gohmert calls Mueller an 'anal opening' ahead of testimony 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 ScaliseOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings MORE (R-La.) and Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow A true believer in diversity, inclusion GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates 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 PelosiHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Trump: I don't have a racist bone in my body Ocasio-Cortez responds to fresh criticism from Trump 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 McCarthyHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Democrats erupt over Trump attacks Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid 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.”