Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

New Senate Offers Fresh Hopes, Big Challenges

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leads a larger GOP Conference in the 112th Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) face fresh challenges as last Congress’ near-filibuster-proof Democratic majority gives way to a more evenly split chamber.

The Senate’s new partisan breakdown stands at 53-47, and a typically reserved McConnell indicated during an interview Tuesday that he expects the Senate to function much differently than it did the previous two years — to the Republicans’ benefit. Specifically, he does not expect his Conference to spend the next two years playing defense.

“Elections have consequences,” McConnell said during a conversation in his Capitol office. “Let’s assume [Senate Democrats] were able to jam something through. Do you think it would go anywhere in the House? It’s completely futile for them to continue the tactics that they used in the last Congress. To what end?”

Immediately following the Nov. 2 elections, Reid moved to put Democrats on more solid political footing in the 112th Congress and prepare for an emboldened Republican minority.

The Nevada Democrat refashioned the majority’s communications operation, tapping message guru and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) to run the new war room, while using the recently concluded lame-duck session to push Democratic priorities independent of what President Barack Obama wanted.

In fact, last month Reid specifically rebuffed the White House on the scheduling of votes on key legislation, and more of this is expected after a two-year period in which Senate Democrats disposed of one White House request after another. Reid expects more cooperation from Republicans as a result of the responsibility to govern that comes with their takeover of the House and strengthened ranks in the Senate.

“Sen. Reid sees the Republicans being a little bit more cooperative than in the past,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said. “The Republicans can’t just say no anymore.”

McConnell also said he believes more bipartisanship is in the offing — but for very different reasons.

Just fewer than two dozen Democrats are up for re-election in 2012, and a handful are running in conservative-leaning states and enter the election cycle potentially vulnerable. A key component of Republicans’ legislative strategy is to force votes on politically tricky issues that otherwise resonate with Republican and conservative voters.

In this manner, McConnell is hoping to go on the offensive and either damage the Democrats’ electoral prospects or cobble together a bipartisan coalition to secure passage of GOP priorities sent over from the House. Essentially, the Minority Leader is hoping to turn the tables and do some jamming of his own.

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