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GOP Freshmen Seek To Boost Their Profiles

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Mike Lee is one of several new GOP Senators seeking to make a splash on issues such as the debt and foreign policy.

Republicans believe they can use the balanced budget amendment as a rhetorical device to distinguish themselves from Democrats and tout a message of fiscal responsibility, even if it won't pass. The same can be said for the calls to cancel recess, a request often made but rarely fulfilled by lawmakers who enjoy going home.

The Republican freshmen's opportunity to speak out on these issues is in large part because of the foil presented by President Barack Obama. On Wednesday, the president took questions from the media for the first time in four months on issues such the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit, the constitutionality of military involvement in Libya and the war in Afghanistan.

GOP Senators, once energized by a wave election, have been itching for a chance to engage on precisely those issues and more.

"They were coming in at 100 miles per hour, but that has slowed down to about 5 miles per hour in a period of six months. If people want to bring wholesale change to Washington, they have to build larger majorities in the House, win a majority in the Senate, take back the White House," one GOP leadership aide said. "All of that bottled-up energy is going to explode in terms of getting activated for continuing phase two of change that Americans want."

But not every Republican on the Hill is as effusive in characterizing the role of the freshmen. Though many concede their energy has been a boon to the party, they say there's more to being a Senator than just showing up to the game.

Paul, for example, has been highly successful in getting votes on amendments he supports. But those measures rarely pass. A budget proposal he brought to the floor last month received only seven votes, and his Libya resolution garnered only 10 votes.

"It's not just getting a vote, it's building support for your position. It takes work. It takes work in this chamber with people you might not agree with. ... It's great to get a vote, but it's way better to win," another Republican aide said.

Until these Members can score actual legislative wins, they'll just have to settle for helping to drive the GOP agenda which six months in, isn't a terrible place to be.

"Absolutely there is," Lee said about whether there's space for freshmen in this summer's biggest debates. "We have been and are still becoming more a part of the dialogue because we're frustrated."

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