Republicans relieved by Moore loss in Alabama

Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief after GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore’s defeat Tuesday in Alabama.

Moore’s loss will cut Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBudowsky: Pelosi can break shutdown stalemate GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight On The Money: Shutdown Day 32 | Senate to vote on dueling funding measures | GOP looks to change narrative | Dems press Trump on recalled workers | Kudlow predicts economy will 'snap back' after shutdown MORE’s (R-Ky.) already narrow two-seat majority down to just one next year.

That razor-thin 51-49 margin will leave GOP leadership with no room for error on top GOP agenda items — potentially including another run at repealing ObamaCare — and could put more pressure on them to negotiate with Democrats on run-of-the-mill bills and to break filibusters.

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But GOP senators said the slimmer majority is a small trade-off for avoiding long-term damage to the party caused if Moore had won Tuesday night’s special election and brought his sexual misconduct allegations and penchant for controversy to the Senate.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s new immigration plan faces uphill battle in Senate Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (R-Ala.), who didn’t support Moore, said he and other Republicans were “relieved” after the former judge lost.

“I think it helps the Republicans in the long run that we won’t have someone who will be so radioactive, so controversial,” he said. 

Shelby — speaking to a gaggle of reporters with Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeDomestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Five things to watch in Mississippi Senate race MORE (R-Ala.) — added he was “conflicted” as he watched the election results because while Republicans would lose a Senate seat, he also felt “proud” that voters picked “principle over politics.”

Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy The Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel MORE (R-Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (R-Ariz.), both of whom are retiring after 2018, agreed that Moore’s loss was good for the long-term health of the party.

Flake — who tweeted out that “decency wins” in the immediate wake of the election results — added on Wednesday that it was a “good night.”

“You never like to lose a Republican seat here, but it never would have been worth the cost,” he said.

Corker said Moore’s loss was a “short-term setback” but added that the conservative candidate represented a “bridge too far” for the party.

“Was I happy for our nation? Yes. ... Ultimately this is probably really good for the Republican Party too,” he said.

Republicans have publicly grappled for weeks about what to do with Moore after several women came forward to accuse him of pursuing relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

In a bombshell Washington Post report, Leigh Corfman said Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old and he was 32.

Senate Republicans, who were already lukewarm on Moore before the allegations, abandoned him in droves after the report and demanded that he drop out of the race.

But Moore, who has denied wrongdoing, remained defiant and lashed out against McConnell. The back-and-forth set up a showdown with GOP leadership that was expected to dominate the Capitol if he made it to Washington.

Underscoring their concerns, Republicans were expected to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss a potential Ethics Committee investigation and if they would allow Moore to participate in Senate committees.

It’s not the first time McConnell has battled anti-establishment candidates. The GOP leader and his allies have been eager to prevent a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak Tea Party candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in primaries, only to lose general elections.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (R-Texas) said the GOP loss in the deep red state should be a “wake-up call to everybody to make sure we nominate electable people”

“It’s nothing new. We’ve had this problem where people try to hijack the primary process and nominate people who can’t get elected in November,” he said.

GOP lawmakers were quick to knock Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, over his support for Moore and antagonism of establishment Republicans.

“Hopefully for Steve Bannon, he’ll realize that good candidates matter,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE (R-Wis.).

Asked what Tuesday night meant for Bannon’s influence, Shelby added: “I don’t think Steve Bannon had a good night.”

Republicans believe they are facing a good Senate map in 2018 as Democrats try to defend 26 seats, including 10 in states that Trump won in the presidential election. But Bannon, now the head of Breitbart News, has loomed over the midterm by threatening to primary every sitting GOP senator except Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (Texas).

Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingHouse passes bills to fund Transportation Dept., HUD, Agriculture GOP emphasizes unity ahead of new shutdown votes Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law MORE (N.Y.) said it was time for the GOP to “dump” Bannon, adding that he “does not belong on the national stage.”

“He looks like some disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage,” King told CNN’s “New Day.”

And Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonShutdown looms as Trump, GOP dig in on wall GOP seeks to ram through Trump’s B wall demand Overnight Energy: Trump reportedly set to weaken methane rule | Exxon appeals climate case to Supreme Court | California commits to 100 percent clean energy | Tribes sue over Keystone XL pipeline MORE (R-Idaho), while saying Moore’s loss was better for his party, estimated that there’s a “50-50” chance that his party could be in the House minority next year.

“It feels like 2006 and a little bit like 2010. I say that because I look at retirements. And you saw the same thing in 2006, and you saw the same thing in 2010,” Simpson said.

Democrats immediately seized on the win in Alabama to demand that Republicans delay a vote on their tax bill until Jones is sworn in later this month or in early January.

But there’s no sign Republicans will acquiesce to the demand, or that Democrats will be able to win over the three GOP senators needed to kill or delay the tax bill.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to hold drug pricing hearing Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Blagojevich's wife 'speechless' that officer's sentence less than half of husband's MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he hoped, more broadly, that Senate Republicans would show “more independence” starting in 2018 after watching a candidate Trump supported lose.

“There’s nothing that concentrates the mind more than the thought that you might lose the next election,” he said.

But Republicans were quick to downplay the impact of losing the Alabama Senate seat, disputing the idea that it marked the death knell for the GOP agenda.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell: Senate won't override Trump veto on shutdown fight Senate immigration talks fall apart Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP MORE (R-Mo.) claimed that slimmer majorities could be easier to manage.

“When I was the whip in the House, the easiest whipping we ever had was when we had the smallest majority we ever had,” Blunt said.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering MORE (R-N.C.) added that the agenda “doesn’t really change” and that having 51 instead of 52 seats would only “be material” for a handful of nominations or if Republicans again used reconciliation to pass bills.

To overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle on legislation, Republicans already need help from at least eight Democrats, if their own caucus remains united. And under reconciliation, the budget rules that allow them to avoid a filibuster, Republicans have to walk a narrow path that empowers a small fraction of senators.

“The Republican caucus … is more entrepreneurial, OK? I mean, every now and then we have a free-range chicken that kind of goes out on its own. And before, we could lose two of those chickens and now we can only lose one,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.).

Kennedy added that “it will make it harder, but it’s not like it was easier before.”

Republicans have struggled to score legislative victories despite having the first unified GOP government in roughly a decade.

The push to repeal ObamaCare in July was killed after GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiNew momentum for Equal Rights Amendment Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World MORE (Alaska) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall MORE (Ariz.) joined together to kill the “skinny” repeal legislation.

“I give the Alabama voters a lot credit for rejecting Roy Moore’s candidacy,” Collins said on Wednesday.

Asked if the 51-49 margin will empower moderates, Collins said: “Let’s hope so.”