GOP feels pressure to deliver after election rout

Greg Nash

The Democratic sweep in Tuesday’s elections has raised the pressure on Republicans to make good on their campaign promises.

Republican senators downplayed any setback to their tax-reform push from the elections, but said the results drove home the need to deliver legislative wins before votes are cast in 2018. 

“I do think, however, that it does speak to the need for us to get accomplishments. … I think right now there’s a general frustration in the country that even though we’ve gotten some things done on our agenda, that some of the big ticket items remain incomplete,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told reporters. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he “predicted” the rough election night and that the party needs to make changes quickly before the midterms arrive. 

“Unless we get our act together, we’re going to lose heavily,” he said.

Asked if Tuesday’s elections showed the need for a “course correction,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has emerged as one of Trump’s loudest critics, smirked before adding, “maybe that’s potentially self-evident.” 

“I’ve certainly made some observations, but I’ll keep them to myself,” he said. 

Democrats won victories up and down the ballot on Tuesday night, their first major election wins since the devastating results of 2016. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Mark Warner (Va.) took a victory lap on Wednesday, holding a press conference with reporters to talk about the election and tax reform.  

“The combination of the embrace of policies that are so far away from where America is … the fact that President Trump is not leading but tweeting, and the fact that our Republican colleagues … are afraid to change course, when you put that all together, a wave, where Democrats are going to do really well in the House and Senate, is shaping up,” Schumer said. 

Schumer added that when he took over the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2005 he was “smelling a wave” for 2006 and “I’m getting the same feelings now.” 

Democrats on Tuesday held onto the Virginia governor’s mansion and made significant gains at the state legislature, with control of the House of Delegates still up for grabs, pending recounts.

Taking stock of the results, Republicans broadly agreed that voters are dissatisfied with what they’ve accomplished in Congress this year.

“We’ve got to be RINOs — Republicans in Need of Outcomes,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters, asked about Tuesday night’s elections.  

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), appearing to point to exit polling, said it was “significant” that so many voters in Virginia named health care as a key issue.  

“I think that it shows that Republicans need to put forth constructive legislation … when it comes to health care. Rather than trying to completely repeal the [Affordable Care Act], we should be focusing on trying to fix its flaws,” Collins said.  

Collins was one of three GOP senators who opposed the ObamaCare effort in July. She also helped sink legislation from GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) that would have turned ObamaCare’s mandates and exchanges into block grants to the states.  

NBC News exit polling showed that 37 percent of voters in Virginia — more than one in every three — said health care was the most important issue to them. 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said the message to his colleagues is “more than just tax reform, more than just repeal and replace. We need to be working on issues that affect American citizens day in and day out.”

“We ought to be paying attention to what transpired in Virginia. It’s nothing that Republicans can say, it’s irrelevant, it didn’t matter. There is a message out there and we need to take some time and discern what that is,” Moran told CNN. 

Republicans have struggled to make good on their years-long campaign pledges despite having the first unified GOP government in a decade.  

But not every senator appeared convinced that Tuesday’s election results should be cause for alarm. 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said that he didn’t think there were a lot of “big surprises.” 

“Virginia has always been sort of a blue state to begin with,” he said. “Traditionally, after you have a change in the White House, it’s been very difficult for the elections after that to follow with the president’s party necessarily winning.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that Republicans were already feeling “significant pressure” on taxes and “midterm elections are always tough for the party in power.”

“Certainly not in the 10 states that he carried that [Senate] Democrats are running for reelection in,” Cornyn said when asked if he was worried about a broad Trump backlash. “He’s still enormously popular in some of those places and that’s how the Senate outcome is going to be determined.” 

Tags Bill Cassidy Bob Corker Charles Schumer Jerry Moran John Cornyn John McCain John Thune Lindsey Graham Mark Warner Mike Rounds Susan Collins Thom Tillis Tim Kaine

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