Doug Jones victory could upend GOP agenda in 2018

The possible election of Doug Jones, a Democrat, in deep-red Alabama would alter the balance of power in the Senate and could dramatically change the GOP’s agenda in 2018.

A Jones win would put more pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Overnight Health Care: McConnell offering bill to raise tobacco-buying age to 21 | NC gov vetoes 'born alive' abortion bill | CMS backs off controversial abortion proposal HR 1 brings successful local, state reforms to the federal level and deserves passage MORE (R-Ky.) to work with Democrats. Most significantly, it could scuttle efforts to replace ObamaCare and reform entitlement programs — a top priority for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty MORE (R-Wis.) in 2018.

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If the Senate Republican majority shrinks by one seat — giving them a razor thin 51-49 majority — it will give more leverage to GOP moderates such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Collins backs having Mueller testify Graham says he's 'not interested' in Mueller testifying MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America MORE (Alaska), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs MORE (Tenn.).

But it will also empower maverick conservatives such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Wis.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulBooker, Harris have missed most Senate votes Trump vetoes measure ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen Bottom line MORE (R-Ky.), who have threatened at times this year to derail the GOP agenda to win concessions.

In other words, a Jones win will make McConnell’s job a lot harder if he sticks to his strategy of passing major bills with party-line Republican support.

Republicans had vowed to return to the health-care debate and legislation sponsored by Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit Menendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJudiciary chairman issues subpoena for full Mueller report The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Barr to allow some lawmakers to review less-redacted Mueller report as soon as next week MORE (R-S.C.) to largely replace ObamaCare with block grants to states.

However, a Jones win would likely snuff that plan out completely. Jones has come out against Republican plans to replace ObamaCare.

A Fox News poll released Monday showed Jones leading Republican candidate Roy Moore, who faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, by 10 points. Other polls have shown Moore ahead.

“It gives more leverage to your outlying members like Collins and Corker if you continue to run the Senate like you have so far, where everything is negotiated out of the public ... put on the floor and pushed through,” said James Wallner, a former longtime Senate Republican aide.

“If the majority shrinks by one, you only need two people to defeat major legislation under reconciliation,” he added, referring to the budget process Republicans used to try to pass health-care reform with 51 votes this year.

Wallner said what he sees as the slim chances of repealing and replacing ObamaCare become even more unlikely.

He said if Republican voters let Jones win in Alabama, it will signal that conservatives are making their peace with the idea of not repealing ObamaCare, and “then you can have a negotiation with these Democrats and moderate Republicans” on how to reform health care.

Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Texas) said in September that if Republicans couldn’t muster 51 votes to repeal ObamaCare they would tackle health care on a bipartisan basis.

McConnell and President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE have already moved in that direction by promising Collins that they will enact legislation negotiated with Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Wash.) to shore up the individual health-care markets by the end of the year.

If the Republican majority shrinks by one, Collins “is really holding the cards there,” said Bill Hoagland, another former senior Senate GOP aide, referring to the health-care debate.

“If a red state, a Republican state, one that Trump won overwhelmingly, if that sends a Democrat to the Senate, I think that makes a big difference,” he added.

“It would highlight the importance of working with thoughtful conservatives such as the McCains and the Flakes,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of 70 members of Congress who describe themselves as the “governing wing of the Republican Party.”

McCain helped kill the Senate health-care bill earlier this year, and Flake, a deficit hawk, almost pressured Republican leaders to shrink the size of the tax-cut package by $350 billion to $400 billion.

After the months of negotiation to repeal and replace ObamaCare with a simple majority vote in the Senate failed this summer, trying to do so again in an election year with a smaller GOP majority strikes many Republicans as a fool’s errand.

The GOP tax bill, which eked its way through the Senate this month with 51 votes, likely won’t be affected by a Jones win as leaders hope to have the legislation on Trump’s desk before the Alabama race is certified and the winner seated.

It has taken two to three weeks to certify and seat the winners of other recent special elections, such as Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Buttigieg to fundraise in DC with major Obama, Clinton bundlers next month: report MORE (D-N.J.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyBen & Jerry's backs Green New Deal: 'We have to act now' Warren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release MORE (D-Mass.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (D-W.Va.).

Empowered moderates, who could see their leverage increase even more, say GOP leaders have already signaled that infrastructure investment, a more bipartisan project, is next on the 2018 agenda, ahead of health care.

Collins told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this month that infrastructure is the next major order of business in the Senate.

There was talk among Republicans earlier this year about using reconciliation to unwind the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, but that has also given way to a more bipartisan approach.

The Senate Banking Committee last week voted to advance legislation to roll back federal regulations on small banks. Four Democrats — including three in tough races next year, Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (Mont.) — voted for the measure.

In some ways, a Jones victory would come almost as a relief to Senate Republican leaders, who have come under enormous pressure from the president and House Republicans to keep their diverse caucus unified.

If Democrats win the Alabama seat, expectations will be lower and McConnell will have a good excuse to work with Democrats on infrastructure, immigration reform and even banking deregulation.

It would also spare Republicans from having to undergo an excruciating deliberation over whether to expel Moore, who has received Trump’s endorsement and has run expressly against the GOP establishment in Washington.

It would save them from the Democratic plan to use Moore to portray the Republican Party as out of touch with the concerns of women.

A new Gallup poll shows the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Republican has dropped from 42 percent to 37 percent, a decline driven by white women walking away from the party.

“Roy Moore will be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. It will define the 2018 election,” Graham told CNN in an interview Monday.

Hoagland said if Moore wins, “it would be as damaging to Republicans as if the Democrat wins.”