Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is playing offense by putting early pressure on Senate Democrats running for reelection in red states to back proposals being passed out of the GOP-controlled House.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) must decide how much political cover to give members of his caucus running for reelection in states such as West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, with control of the chamber on the line in 2024.
Schumer has taken shots at McCarthy and House Republicans in recent days, accusing them of pushing an “extreme” agenda. But McCarthy is punching back, hitting Democrats in states that former President Trump carried in 2016 and 2020.
“We’ve got a number of bills coming up in the future: securing our border, producing more energy, stopping this COVID emergency across America so we can all get back to work,” McCarthy told Fox News over the weekend, citing bills that House Republicans plan to move along with legislation that passed last week to prohibit the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China.
McCarthy called on Democrats up for reelection such as Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) to press Schumer to bring the oil export ban and other House-passed legislation up for a vote in the Senate. Trump carried West Virginia with 69 percent of the vote, Montana with 57 percent and Ohio with 53 percent.
“Manchin, Sherrod Brown, Tester and others who say they’re moderates and that they want to work together, here’s an example that 113 Democrats [in the House] voted for,” he said of stopping the export of oil reserves to China.
Republican strategists and aides say they expect McCarthy to also ramp up pressure on these Democrats to consider legislation passed by the new House GOP majority last week to rescind more than $70 billion in funding for the Internal Revenue Service. That money was included in the Inflation Reduction Act to beef up the agency’s auditing power.
“Now that he’s the Speaker, he can go on offense. It took everything for McCarthy to become Speaker, and now that he has the gavel, he can go completely on offense, drive messaging and help House Republicans put points on the board,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former House leadership aide.
“With divided government, Republicans now have a chance to show how they will run the House differently and it sets the stage for the next presidential election,” he said, adding that McCarthy’s moves now will help “define the national media environment” heading into the 2024 election.
“You’ll start seeing a drumbeat coming out of the Republican leadership consistently,” he said. “Republicans are going to be taking it to Democrats, especially in the Senate, to say, ‘Why aren’t you moving our agenda?’”
Vin Weber, a GOP strategist and former member of the House GOP leadership, said McCarthy can “put real pressure” on Senate GOP incumbents in red states.
“They’re all in relatively swing or conservative states,” he noted of several senators, including Manchin, Tester, Brown, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), adding that McCarthy can “put in stark relief their positions on cutting-edge issues.”
Brown has announced he plans to run for reelection in 2024, but Manchin, Tester and Sinema have stayed silent on their plans to run for another term. Rosen is expected to run for reelection.
Weber said growing pressure from the House to act on hot-button issues such as border security and American energy independence could weigh on Manchin’s and Tester’s decisions to run again in GOP-leaning states.
“This is the best way to get those guys to decide not to run again — to immediately start putting them in a difficult position on issues that would affect their reelection,” he said, pointing out that Republican candidates would be favored to win in West Virginia and Montana if Manchin and Tester retire.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) followed up on McCarthy’s comments over the weekend by hitting Manchin, Tester and Brown for not embracing what Republicans say are popular elements of the House GOP agenda.
“Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown like to talk a big game to voters back home, but when it matters most they are reliable votes for Joe Biden’s radical agenda in Washington. Whether it’s shipping American oil reserves to the Chinese Communist Party or doubling the size of the IRS to audit working Americans, they will always back the Biden-Schumer agenda instead of standing up for their constituents,” said NRSC spokesman Philip Letsou.
Schumer has deflected Republican attacks by insisting that Senate Democrats are ready to work together with House Republicans to enact sensible legislation, but he says McCarthy is looking at policies that would undercut women’s access to quality health care and cut Medicare and Social Security benefits.
“I want to work with Speaker McCarthy to get things done, but so far, House Republicans have been focused on delivering for wealthy special interests and the extreme wing of their party,” Schumer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated to fellow Senate Democrats on Friday.
A Democratic aide said Senate centrists are happy to work with House Republicans on bills that help everyday Americans, such as legislation to speed the construction of transmission lines to get wind- and solar-generated energy to market but argued that McCarthy seems more interested in scoring political points.
Schumer on Tuesday sought to shift attention to the upcoming clash between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over raising the debt limit and warned McCarthy against holding the issue hostage to get Democrats to agree to fiscal reforms.
“It’s reckless for Speaker McCarthy and MAGA Republicans to try and use the full faith and credit of the United States as a political bargaining chip. A default would be catastrophic for America’s working families and lead to higher costs,” he said in a statement.
Schumer bent over backward last month to protect vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents from an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to cut funding for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s office unless the Biden administration reinstated former President Trump’s Title 42 border policy.
Schumer scrambled to help set up a vote on an alternative amendment sponsored by Sinema to extend Title 42, giving Democratic colleagues political cover to vote against Lee’s proposal.
He will be likely faced with similar challenges over the next two years as Senate Republicans try to force Democratic colleagues to vote on various House-passed bills.
Schumer, who controls the Senate floor agenda, could simply refuse to schedule votes on House GOP bills, but Republican strategists and conservative activists say they will take to television and radio to ramp up pressure on the Senate to act.
“You can go on talk radio and say, ‘If this guy had any guts, he could insist on this vote,’” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, of what tactics GOP lawmakers and activists could use to pressure Manchin and Tester to push for the consideration of House bills.
Norquist said there’s already an effort to coordinate with the Republican-controlled state legislatures in Montana, Ohio and Arizona to instruct their Democratic and Independent senators to support House-passed tax legislation.
We’re “getting state legislatures to pass resolutions instructing their senators … to vote for the bill on the IRS. It’s being introduced in Arizona and we’re going to introduce it in Montana and Ohio,” he said.
He said there’s also a push to instruct Democratic senators to support the continuation of the Trump-era tax cuts that will focus on its most popular elements, such as the doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 per child.