As Election Looms, GOP Leaders Rein In Conservative Hill Shenanigans

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2015 file photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walk on Capitol Hill in Washington. A government report released Tuesday estimates that... FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2015 file photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walk on Capitol Hill in Washington. A government report released Tuesday estimates that this year's budget deficit will rise to $544 billion, an increase over prior estimates that can be attributed largely to tax cuts and spending increases passed by Congress last month. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) MORE LESS
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Do no harm.

That appears to be the mantra of GOP leaders as they barrel toward the November election –still optimistic they can hold onto their Senate majority and preserve their historic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives– even as their nominee Donald Trump remains an unpredictable force at the top of their ticket.

As Republican lawmakers return to Washington this week, there are few items they must actually complete before returning home to campaign for their re-elections. At the top of the list? Avoid a government shutdown and pass a funding bill that keeps the government’s lights on after Sept. 30.

After an awkward spring and summer of having to answer for every one of Trump’s inflammatory statements, flubs and stumbles, Republican leaders aren’t interested in keeping their members in Washington longer than they have to. On Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Senate Republicans would push for a three-month continuing resolution that would fund the government until Dec. 9 and give lawmakers a chance to come back in the lame duck and pass a fuller spending package. But McConnell’s announcement was met with resistance from some House conservatives.

“[Paul] Ryan is learning the old Washington adage, the other party is the opposition, the Senate is the real enemy,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

McConnell’s plan could put Republican leaders in the House back up against the wall. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus have been very clear with House Speaker Paul Ryan that they aren’t interested in a short-term CR, arguing that coming back in the lame duck and rushing out a fuller spending bill right before the holidays does nothing but incentivize back door deal making and irresponsible spending.

“I don’t like lame duck sessions, I don’t think lame duck sessions are any good. I don’t think you should have them, because there’s a lot of people who vote in a lame duck session who aren’t really accountable to anyone,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) told TPM.

“I don’t want to set us up to put our neck in the chopping block,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told TPM. “We want to bring this into the next year. We don’t want to set this up for the leverage that would come in lame duck.”

House GOP leaders, however, are limited in what they can do to avert a shutdown ahead of the election. They have pledged they will hear their members out during a Friday meeting, but avoiding a government shutdown will be key.

Some conservatives are eyeing an opportunity to rein in Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S. by tying it to the spending bill, something that Democrats and the Obama administration would likely consider a deal breaker. Putting poison pills in the spending bill could be too risky a gamble ahead of the election considering Republican leaders will likely have to lean on Democrats for votes to push spending bills across the finish line.

The funding bill, however, is not the only place where conservatives may make their leadership squirm ahead of the election. Some of the House’s most conservative members are also pushing to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen through a special motion that could force a vote on it later this month.

Republican leaders have tried to find a way to avoid such a high-stakes vote ahead of November with concerns that Koskinen’s actions don’t quite meet the precedent for impeachment. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told Politico impeachment isn’t welcome.

“That doesn’t have even the slightest chance over here,” he said.

Ryan announced Wednesday that Republicans would meet to hammer out the next steps on the impeachment next week, but it is another sign that leaders are tying their hardest to keep high-drama from overshadowing their re-election message.

After a tough few months with Trump, Republican senators also seemed to have a new strategy for handling the unpredictability at the top of their ticket. On Tuesday evening, several members quickly pivoted to Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities when asked to respond to a comment by their nominee.

“I look forward to Hillary Clinton continuing to implode in front of the American people in terms of how trustworthy she is,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) responded when TPM asked about Trump’s immigration speech last week.

Pressed further about Trump’s speech, Gardner referred TPM to his press office.

Wednesday, instead of holding their traditional Senate lunches in the Capitol where large scrums of reporters are common, Republican senators held their first lunch meeting back at a campaign building a few blocks from the Capitol. Many senators were driven to the property, leaving mere seconds for the smaller group of reporters to ask their questions.

Asked about the Senate’s plan for the CR, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) walked past a small group of reporters, up the stairs where reporters were not allowed to follow and shouted his response before slipping away behind the glass doors.

“Just call our press office,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said as he dashed from his car into the campaign building.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) slowed down long enough to answer a question about the continuing resolution, but kept walking as reporters continued peppering him with questions about whether Republicans could hold the Senate in such a difficult election season.

“Who knows,” he said as he walked.

One thing is for sure. With a more controlled message and tighter leash on rogue members, Republicans are certainly trying everything they can to ensure they come back to Washington in the lame duck with their majorities still intact.

Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.

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Notable Replies

  1. Good idea. Leave the teenage aides alone – for a change.

  2. Rein in.

  3. I don’t think they’ll be able to put the pack of wild dogs back in the fence willingly.
    Serves them right though; Boehner hem and hawwed, placating the TeaBag members because they were all so afraid of being primaried, needed votes to get in office and hated Pres. Obama so much That worked short term, sure, but the problem now is these people have no sense or care for governing and all seem more interested in grandstanding on their principles.

    Which was a perfect breeding ground for a candidate like Trump.

    They built this.And I hope they will continue to have to deal with this mess they made.

  4. Rain in. Hey, why not? They all sound the same, and our spell checker says they’re all godd.

  5. With automatic spell checkers running unleashed over what we compose, our era is that of correctly spelled typos.
    — Neil deGrasse Tyson

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