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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 McConnellGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl 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 ShelbyOn The Money: Sanders: Democrats considering trillion spending package | Weekly jobless claims rise for first time since April Shelby signals GOP can accept Biden's .5T with more for defense Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior 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 StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump 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 CornynThe Senate is where dreams go to die Federal government to observe Juneteenth holiday on Friday Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill 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 Johnson14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Senate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday Jon Stewart: Coronavirus 'more than likely caused by science' 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 CruzWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Ted Cruz says critical race theory is as racist as 'Klansmen in white sheets' Pentagon pulling 'certain forces and capabilities,' including air defenses, from Middle East MORE (Texas).

Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingNewsmax anchor Greg Kelly to host New York radio show Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee Republican Garbarino wins election to replace retiring Rep. Pete King 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 SimpsonRivers, hydropower and climate resilience The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution 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 DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill 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 BluntOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' 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 TillisCentrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? 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 CollinsWhite House reiterates opposition to raising gas tax amid infrastructure debate Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump endorses Murkowski challenger Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (Alaska) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit 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.”