House Republicans would much rather be in the majority, passing bills and fulfilling President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg: ‘I have more years of government experience under my belt’ than Trump Tucker Carlson says he won’t apologize for comments in resurfaced radio interview Buttigieg calls Pence ‘cheerleader for the porn star presidency’ MORE‘s agenda. But they are quickly realizing that life in the minority can come with some perks — and some easy political victories.
In the opening weeks of the new Congress, Republicans created headaches for Democrats and scored small political wins, using procedural tactics on the floor to divide Democrats on a landmark gun reform bill and force them to reject late-term abortion legislation on a near-daily basis.
Trump and House Republicans sat back and watched last week as Democrats ripped each other apart about whether incendiary comments by freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGabbard defends Omar: I don’t believe she intended ‘to cause any offense’ Trump says he’d poll at 98 percent if he ran to be Israel’s prime minister: report ICE investigating agents for sharing social media posts promoting conspiracy theories about Omar MORE (D-Minn.) were anti-Semitic.
The Omar controversy dominated the news cycle and shifted the spotlight away from what Democrats hoped would be the focus: the For the People Act, the sweeping anti-corruption, good-government package that cleared the House on Friday.
“They are struggling with governing. They are going through some growing pains,” said Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency MORE (R-Ga.), a senior appropriator, told The Hill.
“It’s hard to bring people together and keep people together on a team,” added former Ethics Chairwoman Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP ‘retirements to watch’ for House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 MORE (R-Ind.). Brooks said while Republicans previously wrestled with internal strife in the majority, Democrats’ “divisions seem to be bigger.”
“Theirs seem to be more violent and more extreme,” chimed in Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresRep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman GOP approves rule for Don Young Texas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage MORE (R-Texas), who was standing next to Brooks outside the House chamber.
During eight years of GOP rule — from 2010 to 2018 — headlines chronicled the civil war raging within the Republican party. A Tea Party insurgent, Dave Brat, ousted Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorTop-level turnover sparks questions about Chamber Pelosi warns GOP: Next president could declare national emergency on guns Ousted GOP lawmaker David Brat named dean at Liberty University business school MORE (R-Va.) in his 2014 primary; the very next year, conservatives in the Freedom Caucus forced Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAlaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history The Hill’s Morning Report – Dem investigative blitz ignites impeachment debate The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump heads home after Korea talks collapse MORE (R-Ohio) into an early retirement.
Many of those moderates are no longer in Congress as a result of those legislative fights.
Republicans are adapting to their role in the minority, where messaging — not governing — is now the key focus after Republicans handed over gavels, committee seats and control of the floor to the Democrats. A leaner 197-member GOP conference also means that Republicans have begun to mend some of their rifts and come together as they fight to flip back the House in 2020.
“In the majority, you do more legislative work. In the minority, you do more communication work,” explained Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinDemocrat responds to being told ‘go back to Puerto Rico’ on House floor Liz Cheney wins House GOP leadership post Overnight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop MORE (R-Okla.), a four-term lawmaker who like many of his GOP colleagues never experienced life in the minority before. But he conceded: “Communication isn’t as near as effective at getting the job done.”
The Democratic party’s lurch to the left on key policies has also helped unify the GOP conference. Progressive and centrist Democrats are wrestling with the Green New Deal and Medicare for All single-payer proposals, but conservatives and moderate Republicans alike have united in railing against the policies.
Republicans also have been quick to utilize the few arcane tools available to them. Texas Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertThe 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions Republicans force House subcommittee to adjourn during hearing on climate change MORE, the top Republican on a Natural Resources Committee subpanel, managed to halt a hearing on climate change against the chairman’s will by successfully forcing a motion to adjourn after too few Democrats attended — a victory the GOP was quick to celebrate on social media.
Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history GOP finds new tools to tear at Dem divisions MORE (R-La.) and Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP ‘retirements to watch’ for Scalise, Wagner plan to introduce discharge petition for abortion bill MORE (R-Mo.) are also leading the efforts on a discharge petition, which they plan to file in April, in hopes of forcing a vote on a bill aimed at requiring medical care protections for infants born during an abortion — a move that could potentially deal another blow to Democratic leadership if Republicans manage to sway enough members across the aisle to buck party lines.
GOP leaders also scored two unexpected wins on the floor using motions to recommit (MTR) — a procedural tactic traditionally used for messaging purposes that allows the minority to amend legislation right before final passage.
One of those political victories came when Republicans successfully amended a Democratic bill aimed at strengthening background checks for firearm purchases to include GOP language requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) be alerted if an undocumented immigrant tries to purchase a gun. Twenty-six Democrats, most of them freshmen unfamiliar with the MTR process, broke ranks with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Schumer push back on new Trump demand for wall funding: ‘We hope he learned his lesson’ Five things to watch for in Trump’s 2020 budget Democrats hurting themselves with handling of Ilhan Omar controversy MORE (D-Calif.) and sided with Republicans, distracting from the underlying gun bill.
And while Pelosi has managed to tamp down the number of defectors following that defeat, GOP lawmakers have reveled in the chaos they’ve caused for leaders across the aisle through the procedural gambits.
Democrats cheered on the floor Friday after they defeated Republicans’ latest MTR effort to tweak a sweeping government-reform package, a sign of just how low the bar has fallen for Democrats to claim victory.
“Of course, we always want to be in the majority, but the one thing we show is a very strong minority,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyShuttering of NSA surveillance program emboldens privacy groups The Hill’s 12:30 Report: House Dems pass electoral reform bill after difficult week House passes sweeping electoral reform bill MORE (R-Calif.) told The Hill. “If you watch running the floor, Democrats seem to have a difficult time. But I think you’ll find we’re prepared to be back in the majority.”
But Republicans have not been perfect: When the House voted Thursday on a broad resolution condemning hate in all forms, roughly two dozen Republicans voted no, exposing divisions within the GOP ranks at a moment the media was focusing on cracks in the Democratic party.
Certain Trump priorities, from tariffs to his national emergency declaration to fund his border wall, also have put GOP unity to the test. And with Democrats launching a slew of investigations into the Trump administration, GOP lawmakers will have their hands full playing defense for their ally in the White House.
Flores, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee who previously led the conservative Republican Study Committee, said being in the minority won’t all be about messaging. With Republicans still controlling the White House and Senate, House Republicans will be looking to do small deals with Democrats on things like health care and infrastructure in the coming months.
“Things like Green New Deal — that’s unfixable. But to the extent we can find bite-size policy victories, we will reach out and work with Democrats,” Flores said. “But Democrats also seem to be distracted because of their internal strife. It’s pretty hard to have any kind of productive legislative progress when they are fighting with each other.”