D.C. Republicans are seeing the Senate as a roadblock for their agenda
A key issue: The chamber's rule that requires 60 votes for many bills to advance
Some conservatives in the House of Representatives believe they’ve found a way to shield themselves from loss in 2018: run against the US Senate even if it means running against their own GOP colleagues.
Despite controlling the House, Senate and White House, Republicans on Capitol Hill have earned a reputation of doing very little this year after the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare – a signature campaign promise for many Republicans. But, House GOP members say the criticism isn’t fair because they passed a repeal and replacement of Obamacare and they’re prepared to do everything they can to distinguish themselves from the Republican-controlled Senate ahead of the midterms.
“I’ll tell you there has been a movement here in the last two or three months to start drawing that line, and I think it has started resonating across our constituents even among some of the people in the donor circles,” said Rep. Mark Walker, the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “The Senate continues to stall on some major things that we promised the American people.”
In the House, rumblings persist from Republicans that the Senate isn’t doing what it needs to keep up. Many members blame the 60-vote rule known as the filibuster.
Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky and former chairman of the House appropriations committee, said he wanted to see the Senate filibuster eradicated – even though the filibuster wasn’t responsible for taking down the Obamacare repeal bill. In that instance, Republican senators couldn’t even get a simple majority to pass their bill.
“The 60-vote rule has been the problem for years,” Rogers said noting that there were almost 300 bills passed by the House that have gone nowhere in the Senate.
For his part, President Donald Trump, who has also had public fights with multiple members of his own party in the Senate, has also repeatedly called for GOP leaders to change the rules and remove the 60-vote threshold.
House leaders have also started publicly poking fun at the Senate, which returns from a week long recess on Monday. During an event at the Heritage Foundation last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about the future of tax reform in the Senate. He remarked that there were still 273 bills “maybe 274” that have been passed by the House, but are stuck in the Senate.
“But who’s counting?” Ryan said, laughing.
But House Republicans hoping to tout their own accomplishments and distance themselves from GOP senators aren’t the only ones looking to deploy a strategy aimed at attacking the slow-moving chamber.
The anti-Senate strategy is also one being used by outside groups and insurgent candidates who hope they can harness the frustration over the upper chamber to unseat incumbent GOP senators.
Last week, a handful of leaders of outside conservative groups gathered at the FreedomWorks headquarters in Washington to hand reporters a letter they’d sent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP Senate leaders urging them to step down or else face a major barrage of attack against them and their allies in 2018.
“You and the rest of your leadership team were given the majority because you pledged to stop the steady flow of illegal immigration,” the letter said. “You have done nothing. You pledged to reduce the size of this oppressive federal government. You have done nothing. You pledged to reduce and ultimately eliminate the out-of-control deficit spending that is bankrupting America. You have done nothing. You promised to repeal Obamacare, ‘root and branch.’ You have done nothing.”
And already in one race this year, the campaign against the Senate seemed to work well. In Alabama, ultra conservative Roy Moore bested Trump- and McConnell-backed Luther Strange with a barrage of attacks against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Steve Bannon – who campaigned for Moore – has said he will try to replicate Moore’s success in races across the country to unseat Senate incumbents in Arizona, Nevada and even Mississippi.
Rep. Mo Brooks, a conservative hardliner from Alabama, who also ran in the Senate primary in the state, said that he thinks running against the Senate is one of the more effective strategies he’s seen deployed in recent years.
“The United States Senate is dysfunctional. It’s not doing its job and a lot of them need to retire or be beat,” Brooks said. “The House works hard and passes solutions. The President proposes solutions. They go to the Senate and the Senate puts a silly 1800s rule over the importance of America and our future. That ought to get a lot of people mad. … Everyone who is running for the United States Senate should use that as their strategy.”
But some House Republicans warn that the party should be careful to criticize their colleagues in the Senate too much, warning that Republican-on-Republican campaigning is divisive and short sighted.
“Look, I think it’s important for the House to have an honest appraisal. We barely passed health care out of the House. It’s not like it was an overwhelming success and the Senate barely didn’t pass it. They just don’t have enough of a margin to do it,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican from New Jersey who was critical in helping get the House repeal bill over the finish line. “I get the emotional satisfaction of slamming the Senate. but it’s actually not very helpful to that body for us to do it, and I don’t think we should.”
Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, said he’s “resisted engaging” in spars against the Senate “in any kind of serious way. We all kid about the Senate.”
“They have a very difficult job to do and it’s a different job than we have,” Walden said. “It frustrates us in the House. It frustrates a lot of Americans that they don’t seem to be able to come together to get things done, but it’s a different body and it was designed to be a different body.”
Asked to weigh in on the Senate, Rep. Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, offered a blunt assessment: “Mitch McConnell has the toughest job on the planet right now.”