Republicans, fearing midterm disaster, seek course correction

A growing number of Republicans say a course correction is needed to prevent their party from losing the House, Senate or both given strong political headwinds that one veteran lawmaker likened to a “hurricane.”

GOP calls to work more with Democrats next year are becoming more common as Republicans look for ways to win over swing voters.

“One thing you can say about this year is that it was pretty partisan,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters on Friday at a year-end press conference.

“We’re going to be looking for areas of bipartisan agreement because that’s the way the Senate is.”


Republicans spent much of 2017 plowing ahead with a mostly futile effort to repeal ObamaCare before turning to tax cuts in the fall.

The successful tax-cut bill, beyond lowering the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, also repeals the ObamaCare mandate that most individuals have health insurance, an important victory for President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE.

Yet polls show weak public support for the tax bill, and Democrats are working hard to cast it as a handout to the wealthy. The ObamaCare repeal effort also was decidedly unpopular in polls, and was seen as playing a role in decisive defeats for Republicans in Virginia’s off-year elections in November.

Public support for the health-care bill dropped as low as 17 percent, and a recent NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll showed that only 24 percent of Americans though the Republican tax plan was a good idea.

Recent polls show that Democrats have their biggest lead over Republicans on the generic ballot question since 2006, when Democrats captured control of the Senate and House.

McConnell has expressed concern to allies that the GOP could lose both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, according to a recent report in Politico.

All of that has Republicans feeling nervous going into 2018 and next fall’s midterms.

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeFight over Trump's wall raises odds of 'continuous' stopgap measures Senate spending talks go off the rails as soon as they begin Social determinants of health — health care isn't just bugs and bacteria MORE (R-Okla.), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said polls show the House “majority is very much at risk.”

Trump’s approval rating stands at 35 percent, according to a recent CNN poll. That’s a dire number for lawmakers running under the Republican banner.

“They’re running with the wind in their face and it’s not a normal breeze,” Cole said of GOP candidates. “It’s a hurricane-force wind.”

Even as he signed the tax bill on Friday, Trump signaled he’d like 2018 to have more of a bipartisan edge. Trump repeatedly talked of his desire to work on an infrastructure package that many Democrats have suggested could be a point of convergence.

But that could be tough sledding for a number of reasons — including signals from Democrats that they want to run against Trump in 2018.

Another issue is the call from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) to work on welfare reform next year, which is likely to be a non-starter for Democrats.

In the Senate, immigration is high on the priority list for Republicans.

Trump in September rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows certain young people who entered the country illegally to work and go to school in the United States. People covered by DACA will begin to lose their status in March, setting up an early deadline for Congress to take action.

“I think we’ll start with the DACA fix,” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrying to kick tobacco again This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (Texas) said Wednesday.

“I would like to see us get back to some regular functioning where we do things on a bipartisan basis,” he added.

Talks on a legislative fix are already underway, with discussions centered on including certain border security provisions in the mix.

Polling shows that 70 percent of Americans favor stronger border security and 70 percent don’t want so-called Dreamers, the young immigrants at issue, to get booted out.

“Seventy percent of Americans really are sympathetic to these kids and 70 percent of Americans want better border security,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey Graham opens door to calling Hunter Biden to testify MORE (R-S.C.) noted in an interview earlier this year.

McConnell on Wednesday played up possible action next year on immigration and infrastructure and downplayed the likelihood of taking up entitlement reform.

“I hope we can go forward on infrastructure,” McConnell said at an event sponsored by Axios. “I think there's a lot of interest in infrastructure.”

“I think it's pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans,” he added.

Taking action on immigration might help with the center, but it risks blowback from the right.

Republicans say they hope they can avoid a furious fire by touting the partisan accomplishments of 2017: a $1.5 trillion tax cut, the roll back of 14 Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Some in the GOP acknowledge they’re only now beginning to pay close attention to the coming political winds, which have been shaping for months.

“We were so focused on passing tax reform, but people will now turn to this,” said one Republican senator of his party’s weak poll numbers. “People are nervous. Virginia was a real wake-up call.”

Republicans also lost a special Senate election in Alabama in December, though the GOP candidate, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreMontgomery, Ala., elects first African American mayor GOP Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville says Trump has 'put a noose' around farmers' necks with trade war Sen. Doug Jones launches reelection bid in Alabama MORE, was a weak one given the allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

“If you need a wake up call after Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, you are really deep asleep,” Cole told reporters earlier this week, referring to a string of recent Republican election losses.

Polls repeatedly show that frustrated voters want Republicans and Democrats to put aside their partisan differences and work on solving the country’s problems.

An NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll in September showed that 70 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s deals with Democratic leaders to fund hurricane relief and to fund the government for three months, averting a possible shutdown.

One senior senator said the leadership should pursue legislative initiatives with more bipartisan support.

“In an election year, we probably need to be more focused on things that don’t require the vice president to break tie votes,” the lawmaker said.