But the Arizona Republican thinks the new House GOP majority and his party’s strengthened Senate minority could allow him to whip votes to pass, rather than defeat, major legislation — a role usually reserved for his Democratic counterpart.
“Our effort now is not going to be just defensive, but a lot of it will be offensive — playing off of legislation the House sends to the Senate and trying to push that legislation forward,” Kyl said Friday during a 30-minute conversation in his office in the Hart Senate Office Building. “So it will not only be necessary to get 41 votes, sometimes it will be necessary to get 51 or perhaps even 60.”
Republicans spent much of the past two years with 41 Members, the minimum number required to sustain a filibuster. Whether on President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill of 2009, health care reform, the Wall Street overhaul or other legislation, Kyl’s job was to hold Republicans together in opposition to the Democrats. Although the administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) occasionally picked off a few Republicans, they usually remained united.
Republicans begin 2011 with 47 Senators. And Kyl, entering his fifth year as the Republican Whip, now faces the challenge of corralling a Conference less under siege, more ideologically diverse and composed of 13 freshmen — many of whom could prove fiercely independent from their more established colleagues, even by Senate standards.
Kyl is excited about the growth of his party but acknowledged that unity may be harder to achieve in the wake of the GOP’s power gain. Sen. Roy Blunt, a new member of the Whip team, agreed.
“You do always have the challenge as your Conference grows. People think they have the ability to do whatever they want to do, and their team is still successful because enough other people will do what the team needs done,” the Missouri Republican said. “When you’re looking at 47 Members instead of 41, obviously you can get to the 41 that matters in the Senate with several people still doing what they want to do. And that will be a challenge, but Jon Kyl is a great Whip.”
Indeed, Kyl said that while his Conference may have greater expectations that complicate his job, he also expects less partisanship from Senate Democrats.
“I think it will be hard for the Senate Democrats to bring bills to the floor that are pretty much straight party-line, hard-line Democrat proposals, because of the phenomenon of more moderate Democrats watching out for the next election and knowing that we can block anything with the 47 that we have,” Kyl said. “Almost by definition, they’re going to have to reach across the aisle.”