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 McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year 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: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday Doug Loverro's job is to restore American spaceflight to the ISS and the moon 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 StrangeState 'certificate of need' laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 CornynLive coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling 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 JohnsonDemocrats seek leverage for trial Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections 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 CruzOvernight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Lies, damned lies and impeachable lies Conservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' MORE (Texas).

Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingDemocrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Retiring lawmaker's 2018 opponent won't run for seat, citing 'difficult' pregnancies 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 SimpsonHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers 'Minor league cities' need new federal partnership Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill 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 DurbinJulián Castro jabs ICE: 'Delete your account' Watchdog: Steele dossier 'had no impact' on opening of 2016 probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani 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 BluntRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans 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 TillisDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' The real US patent 'crisis' 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 CollinsDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPotential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules MORE (Alaska) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat 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.”