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Governing Could Be Hard for a GOP-Led Senate

James Brosher/South Bend Tribune/Associated Press
Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who toppled Sen. Dick Lugar in Tuesday’s GOP primary, has repeatedly said that Congressional leadership should be more conservative.

The aide suggested that the best way to avoid internal conflict likely would be to avoid taking on “big, bold initiatives” and to focus instead on smaller bills that not only could bring on Democratic support but also would not divide the Republican Conference from inside. It’s a strategy that Democrats and the White House have been trying to employ this year to secure GOP support for their initiatives.

“On big issues, you can’t bring DeMint and [Sen.] Susan Collins on the same page unless that page is a ‘no,’” the aide said.

Multiple sources conceded that McConnell’s work would be more difficult if the Republicans take the majority and even worse if they do so under President Mitt Romney, who is the presumptive GOP nominee.

Obama’s presence in the White House would pressure Hill Democrats to work with Republicans, especially on issues such as raising the debt ceiling or extending the Bush-era tax cuts at least in part. If the GOP controls both branches of government, then there is more incentive for Democrats to become the new party of “no,” despite years of railing against the GOP for holding that title.

Of course, no one is suggesting that “changing leadership” means ousting
McConnell, although some had interpreted Mourdock’s comments that way.
Mourdock clarified his position Tuesday saying, “We can certainly change the leadership but not necessarily the people.”

Even the most serious challenges to McConnell’s leadership have fizzled out. A Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by DeMint last Election Day, for example, did not seem to move the freshman class to revolt. And McConnell has proved time and again he is not one to be trifled with.

On one occasion, a Republican Senator made comments about McConnell on Fox News that the Minority Leader deemed unflattering. McConnell printed out a transcript, highlighted the offending remarks and handed the papers to that Member on the Senate floor. It was a tacit but stern warning.

Sources also said McConnell is an expert in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer. They predicted that he’d give enough room to committees to make people feel productive but not so much that he wouldn’t have control over their final products — a problem encountered frequently in this Congress by Boehner.

But, despite the buzz surrounding Lugar’s defeat and the death of pragmatic Republicanism, Senators still in Washington, D.C., are standing behind their conservative credentials.

“I have a very conservative voting record,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of the GOP leadership team. Barrasso said he doesn’t see a problem with the tea party and the more establishment factions of the Conference jibing.

“We continue to look for ways, to find things in which we agree, and advance those things,” Barrasso said. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) issued a bit more critical take.

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