GOP Leaders Could Make Senate Life for Todd Akin Tough
If Rep. Todd Akin doesn’t heed GOP leadership calls to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race and still manages to oust Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, Republicans have an assortment of ways to make his Senate life less pleasant.
Party leaders have pushed Akin to resign his nomination since he made widely criticized comments about “legitimate rape” that aired over the weekend on a St. Louis television station.
Though the National Republican Senatorial Committee, helmed by Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), has pledged not to give Akin any financial help and Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he believes “this campaign for him has no future,” Akin would probably not be blocked from joining his colleagues in the Senate GOP Conference if he beats the odds and wins.
Republican aides would not comment specifically on what might happen if Akin beats McCaskill. But in a Senate that will likely have a razor-thin party divide, McConnell could ill afford to completely shun Akin, and other Senators who have run afoul of leadership have been allowed to caucus with the party.
If committee assignments were decided strictly by seniority, Akin would be among the first freshmen to pick next year since he has six terms as a Member of the House.
McConnell, however, would have the opportunity to recommend Akin receive somewhat less favorable committee assignments. After the 2004 presidential election, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) assumed additional power to name Senators to certain committees.
There are numerous precedents for penalizing Senators in the committee assignment process for behavior that interferes with the party message.
For instance, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) lost his three ranking member positions after pleading guilty to a disorderly conduct charge related to a Minneapolis airport bathroom sex sting.
There are a host of other ways McConnell could conceivably stunt Akin’s legislative priorities, from declining to fight for votes on his amendments to ignoring his cloakroom requests to place holds on other Senators’ legislation.
Though excluding Akin from the Republican Conference is less likely, it is not impossible.
After running for president as a progressive in 1924, Republican Sen. Robert La Follette Sr. (Wis.) was on track to be thrown out of his party conference along with Sen. Edwin Ladd (N.D.). However, the Senate historical office says the GOP never had a need to follow through with the threat because Ladd and La Follette died before the Senate returned to session.
The Akin case would present a new challenge to GOP leaders. The past two instances in which a Senator faced the risk of retribution over an electoral matter involved incumbent Senators with a degree of goodwill within their respective caucuses.
Last cycle, Joe Miller defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in a Republican Senate primary, but Murkowski beat Miller and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams as a write-in candidate. The NRSC backed Miller in the general election after the party infrastructure supported Murkowski in the primary.
While there was early chatter about stripping Murkowski of her seat as ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Republican Conference opted against the punitive action. She was, however, forced to resign her seat at the GOP leadership table, where she served as the Conference vice chairwoman.
Similarly, the Democratic caucus offered a mild rebuke of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) for his endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election.
Lieberman took the extraordinary step of speaking in support of McCain – one of his closest friends – at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Despite that, Senate Democrats agreed to a deal brokered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), under which Lieberman gave up a seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee but held onto his gavel of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. At the time, one Democratic Senator called that arrangement “basically a plea bargain.”