Mitch McConnell (Getty/Drew Angerer)

Senate Republicans are floating bipartisanship because they have to

Facing an even smaller Senate majority in 2018, Republicans will soon be disappointing their base


Matthew Sheffield
December 22, 2017 5:39PM (UTC)

In light of Roy Moore's loss in the Alabama special election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his allies are having to confront the uncomfortable realities brought on by the fact that they'll have a mere two-seat majority in 2018 — and a possible wave against them in November.

The party's tiny margin in the chamber will make muscling through complex and wide-ranging legislation effectively impossible, McConnell acknowledged in an interview with NPR. One of the casualties, he said, was going to be the Republicans' repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, former president Barack Obama's top domestic policy achievement.

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"Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate," McConnell said. "We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues."

Not every Republican in the chamber agreed with this strategy, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who blasted McConnell's NPR remarks on Twitter.

"To those who believe – including Senate Republican leadership – that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare -- well you are sadly mistaken," he wrote.

McConnell is also going to have to make good on some promises he made to some of his caucus members to get their votes on tax cuts. Among them was his vow to Maine Sen. Susan Collins to promote discussion of Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative for children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States while they were minors. Congressional Republicans have been highly divided on the issue even as the program remains popular among voters of both parties.

President Trump's former top lieutenant Steve Bannon, the once-and-future chairman of Breitbart News, has warned Republicans against providing any form of legal status to these unwilling immigrants.

"Trust me, the guys on the far right, the guys on the conservative side, are not happy with this," he told CBS News in September. Radio talk show host. Fox News pundit Sean Hannity has repeatedly told Trump that his voters would view making DACA permanent would be considered a betrayal. The program, which was originally implemented via an executive order by Obama, is set to expire in March after Trump repealed it, stating that only Congress had the authority to make such major immigration policy changes.

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Congressional Republicans will have to make other votes in January that are sure to upset their voter base, including a vote on raising the nation's debt limit, something that far-right conservatives have long opposed. They will also have to do something with the federal budget for 2018. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly procrastinated this thorny topic by passing "continuing resolutions" with Democratic support.

Some Republicans have taken to calling the month of January a "s**t sandwich," according to Politico .

On Thursday evening, the Senate approved a House-generated measure which would keep the federal government open through Jan. 19. It was a defeat for Democratic leaders in the chamber who had opposed the stopgap bill for not including any measures about DACA authorization. Nonetheless, 17 Democrats voted for it. More conservative members of both houses also were disappointed since they wanted a much smaller spending bill.

In January, a different dynamic will be in place, however, and both parties risk being unable to get what they want from the next battle over continuing resolutions. DACA legalization supporters are vowing a much bigger fight then.

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"Leader Schumer promised he'd urge the majority of senators to vote no, as many as possible, and if we can't get it done now, we will lay it all on the line on the 19th, when we come back in January, based upon the caps,"  Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Florida told CNN.


Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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