Even as Senate Republicans move to target Democrats and exploit national security on the campaign trail, they are stepping cautiously on Capitol Hill as they seek to raise the issue without appearing overtly political.
In the aftermath of the failed Times Square terrorist attack, Senate Republicans have renewed their criticism of President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority on homeland and national security issues on which the GOP believes it holds the political advantage. But in contrast to their handling of health care, financial regulatory reform and other controversial issues, Senate Republicans are making a deliberate effort to keep the focus on the substance of their disagreements and avoid political gamesmanship.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was sharply critical of the Obama administration Wednesday during morning floor remarks, revealing the Republicans focus as they question the effectiveness of White House policies and attempt to undercut Democrats in the midterm elections. But a senior GOP Senate aide said not to expect McConnell to use floor time to repeatedly hammer a prepackaged political message nor does the minority have plans to develop a unified opposition strategy.
Individuals may have their ideas about this. But theres been no coordinated discussion or effort to develop a plan of any kind, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said. I know of no plan to have this discussed in a concerted way among the Republican Conference.
A senior GOP Senate aide said Republicans would focus on asking substantive policy questions regarding the Obama administrations homeland and national security policies and avoid any unwarranted criticism of the White House. But Senate Democrats interpret the Republicans actions and rhetoric differently, and they moved swiftly Wednesday to define the GOP as attempting to play politics with terrorism and national security.
Questions have to be asked. But they begin with the conclusion that the president is wrong, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said during a news conference called in part to accuse Republicans of playing politics with Saturdays failed terrorist attack in New York. This issue of asking questions is absolutely sound. But asking a question implies that youre seriously looking for an answer. I think the Republicans have the answer and they just want to make a point.
I dont even see the logic to that charge, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) countered. I cant see how thats playing politics because we hold fast to a point of view that weve long believed in.
Brown Urges Action
Still, Senate Republicans recognize that the issues of homeland and national security and the administrations handling of the terrorist threat do have a place in the politics of the November elections.
During Tuesdays weekly closed-door Republican Conference lunch, Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), who is emerging as a new voice for the Senate GOP on national security, urged his colleagues to aggressively promote alternatives to the policies offered by Democrats and the Obama administration.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.