By Alexander Bolton - 07/31/14 06:00 AM EDT
Senate Republicans have a message for House Republicans: Don’t screw up before Election Day.
After fumbling primaries in the past, the GOP believes it will win a majority in the upper chamber this fall — as long as the party can avoid self-inflicted wounds.
To do that, Senate Republicans want their colleagues in the lower chamber to play ball and not hand Democrats anything that could turn out the opposition’s base or turn off independent voters.
Senate Republicans have put subtle pressure on House members to avoid a messy fight over the border bill, impeachment or a government shutdown. Democrats have recently used the latter two gleefully for fundraising.
“I think the Democrats are looking for every opportunity to change the subject to something more advantageous for them,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “We have to be smart about how we respond to things that they put forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has warned that Republicans could try to provoke another government shutdown in the fall or impeach President Obama.
Veteran Senate Republicans say GOP colleagues on the other side of the Capitol should not take the bait, nor should firebrands in their own conference.
“They’re saying, ‘Let’s not make any stupid mistakes here.’ That’s the message that moves back and forth, generally. ‘Let’s not undermine our candidates out there,’” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
Senate Republicans think House Republicans keep fueling the fire.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), for example, recently argued that the House should pass legislation to secure the southern border and move to impeach Obama if he failed to enforce it.
“It is a conversation that we shouldn’t even be having. If people are worried about the future of this country, we’ve got a couple of ways to address that. We can start by fixing the Senate, we can start by having a majority in there that is really ready to govern,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said.
Senate Republicans failed to take back the majority in 2010 and 2012, though in both cases they could blame Senate Republican candidates, not House Republicans.
Murkowski acknowledged GOP hopes were dashed by ill-advised comments from Senate candidates backed by the Tea Party in Missouri and Indiana, where Republicans lost seemingly winnable races.
“It was just two years ago that we were hopeful about the Republicans’ opportunities to regain the majority in the Senate, and that didn’t come to fruition because [of] things that were said by candidates who were not the best or most articulate spokesmen, and we lost it,” Murkowski continued.
Senate Republicans in the past have also pointed fingers at one another.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led the effort last fall to use the threat of a government shutdown to end funding for ObamaCare. Republicans ended up in full retreat after that battle, after their approval ratings nosedived.
Cruz is now calling on House Republicans to oppose their leadership’s bill to address the border crisis. He met with 11 rank-and-file House members on Wednesday night.
House GOP leaders would love to see the Senate in Republican hands next year and have sought to contain their conference.
A number of Senate Republicans want the House to pass the bill.
“This whole idea that the president just puts a blank check out there is designed to get Republicans to say no and then paint Republicans as being coldhearted,” said Thune, referring to Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency spending for the southern border.
Thune said Republicans shouldn’t rubber-stamp Obama’s request but argued that the House GOP should pass something to show they want to address the problem.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday tamped down brewing anxiety over impeachment talk when he declared it a nonstarter and a “scam” concocted by Democrats.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the GOP leadership speculated that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has likely reminded Boehner that polarizing action by House conservatives could reverberate in November.
When Congress comes back in September, many Senate Republicans hope the House will reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, to rebut Democratic criticism that the GOP is purely obstructionist.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) urged colleagues at a Republican Senate Steering Committee meeting Wednesday to support the House’s $659 million emergency border bill, according to a GOP source familiar with the meeting.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said it “would be helpful” if the House were to pass a border bill, and also called on the lower chamber to extend Ex-Im, which is due to expire at the end of September.
So did Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
“I think they ought to deal with it,” he said. “I’ll read [the reauthorization] and decide what reforms need to be added to it.”
And Senate Republicans have no interest in any kind of fight over funding the government in September, when Congress will need to move legislation to prevent another shutdown.
“I don’t think anybody in their right mind wants to do that again,” Hatch said of a shutdown.