For an institution that cherishes its reputation as the worlds most deliberative body, change can be hard to swallow particularly for Senate Republicans.
But change has come to the Republican Conference, where Sen. John Thunes (S.D.) rise to chairman of the Policy Committee and Sen. Lisa Murkowskis (Alaska) election as vice chairwoman of the Conference have marked a sudden shift to a younger generation of leaders.
Thune, 48, and Murkowski, 52, are at the vanguard of a mini-youth movement within Senate Republican ranks that includes Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) as chief deputy Minority Whip and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), among others. Burr is 53 and Corker is 56.
I think its a reflection of the generational change of the Senate, Burr said. I think its a good thing. ... You saw the same thing happen in the House [GOP] last year. And six months later, its happening in the Senate.
When I was a Senate staffer 25 years ago, I observed a similar kind of shift, Thune said Tuesday. Then it was [former Sen.] Don Nickles [Okla.], now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and others are coming of age in the Senate, he said.
But Thune and Murkowski could also represent an important shift in how Republicans present their ideas, away from the confrontational approach leaders often took during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Instead, Republicans anticipate a more diverse, policy-oriented approach to the debates of the day.
Murkowski said the presence of lawmakers in leadership who do not hail from the South is particularly important, since the fact of the matter is, we have Republicans all over this country. She added that it is important to ensure that Republicans all over the country feel that they are represented in the Senate.
Murkowski also said her ascension into leadership is a reflection of the times. It is an issue of age. It is an issue of gender. I do believe we do a better job of representing Americans when there is a diversity of ages, races and genders in leadership, she said.
Eric Ueland, who worked as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said that while the rise of Murkowski and Thune represents a more generational than philosophical change for the party, the two lawmakers share the ability to express GOP principles in a way that does not alienate moderates and Democrats.
Given the shifts in the political landscape over the past several years, with new voters and motivated populations you need to be prepared to deal with that and be able to talk to them in this day and age rather than simply focus on traditional base constituencies, Ueland said.
Ueland and other Republicans pointed out that for the better part of two decades, Republicans have spent most of their time either in open combat with Congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration or acting as backup for an agenda driven by former President George W. Bush. During that time, leadership in both chambers became adept at pursuing base-driven agendas and messages, since cooperation and to a large degree even outreach to moderates was unnecessary for their political goals.
But over the past few years, that dynamic has changed, and McConnell, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) have openly pushed their Members to adapt.
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