US Republicans under pressure to govern

2015-01-24 07:34

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Washington - Conservative Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have gotten used to getting their way in recent years. That may be starting to change.

With the new Republican-run Congress three weeks old, a group of more pragmatic lawmakers are serving notice they will no longer keep quiet as their more ideological colleagues push legislation to the right, demand votes on social issues, or court government shut-downs to try to block President Barack Obama.

The moderates defected on an immigration vote last week, and this week forced Republican leaders to tamp down abortion legislation. The faction was boosted by dramatic Republican gains in the November midterm elections, when the party widened its House majority and captured the Senate from Democrats.

Some new moderate members, like Representative Carlos Curbelo, were elected in districts Obama previously won.

"We should be focused on the agenda of the American people and not on taking an infinite amount of symbolic votes that aren't going to get anything done," Curbelo said.

Most of these lawmakers describe themselves as conservatives, but with a practical, business-friendly approach, and without the uncompromising purity of some on the right. They are looking at running for re-election in 2016 in a presidential election year when turnout of Democrats could be higher.

Now they are behind a new dynamic in the House after years of conservative dominance, going back to 2010, when a wave of candidates backed by the anti-tax tea party movement rode to victory. Republican leaders had been forced into one embarrassing retreat after another on legislation, and the federal government had been propelled into a partial 16-day shutdown in 2013 in a failed attempt to shut down Obama's health law.

Some Republicans say the stakes are now higher, because both chambers of Congress under Republican control, House-passed legislation actually has a shot at making it to Obama's desk.

Indeed the House in 2013 passed an abortion bill nearly identical to the one that leadership was forced to scuttle this time around, which would have banned nearly all abortions after 20 weeks. Instead the bill that passed on Thursday, timed to coincide with an annual march against abortion in Washington, would ban all federal funding for abortion, something that's already mostly in place anyway.

Deep unease

As the new Congress got under way at the beginning of this month, conservatives appeared poised to continue throwing their weight around. But divisions soon erupted.

Two dozen conservatives voted against House Speaker John Boehner in his leadership election, failing to oust him but boasting historically high defections.

Then, as Republicans sought to use a Department of Homeland Security spending bill to oppose executive actions by Obama on immigration, conservatives pushed for language to unravel protections Obama had granted to immigrants brought illegally to the country as children - exposing those young people to eventual deportation.

The amendment on immigrant kids passed last week, but it did so by a narrow margin as 26 Republicans opposed it, exposing deep unease among some lawmakers over the direction House Republicans were taking in the new Congress' opening days.

On Wednesday, those concerns burst into the open as lawmakers rebelled against the initial version of the abortion bill, forcing House leaders to beat a retreat and setting up a new, ongoing challenge for a leadership that's previously worried mostly about its right flank.

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