WASHINGTON — Republicans eyeing possible White House bids in 2016 largely opposed a bill in Congress to avert a default and end a 16-day partial government shutdown, rejecting a measure that could shape upcoming elections. The vote split a group of GOP House members plotting Senate bids.
A majority of Republicans in the Senate supported the bill Wednesday, but nearly two-thirds of the Republicans in the House opposed it, putting them at odds with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Opponents of the bill heeded the warnings of Republican groups threatening to work for their defeat if they supported it, but the vote opened them to criticism from Democrats that they were willing to allow a national default.
Democrats in the House and Senate supported the bill in lockstep, backing President Barack Obama's call for an end to the stalemate that furloughed government workers, jumbled the financial markets, and could ripple through next year's midterm elections and beyond.
In the Senate, Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida opposed the plan, which could help them with primary voters if they run for president. But the three lawmakers navigated the shutdown in different ways.
Cruz took center stage during the fight. Before the shutdown, he used a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor to promote ways of weakening Obama's health care law and repeatedly urged majority Republicans in the House to hold the line. Deep into the shutdown, he gathered a group of House conservatives in the basement of Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill restaurant, for a late-night strategy session.
Rubio came to Cruz's aid during the Texan's lengthy floor speech and warned that a clunky rollout of the health care law was just the beginning and would sock Americans with higher costs. The Florida senator's support of immigration reform has drawn suspicion in conservative circles this year, so his opposition to the health care law could help him in the party.
Paul was more circumspect. He avoided criticism of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell while his Kentucky colleague negotiated a deal that many conservatives found unpalatable. While Paul opposed the bill, he convened a "bipartisan coffee" on the Capitol steps early in the process and kept his focus on the nation's debt.
After the vote, Paul said in a brief statement that the country faced "a problem bigger than any deadline: a $17 trillion debt. I am disappointed that Democrats would not compromise to avoid the looming debt debacle."
Democrats pounced on the votes, blasting out a fundraising email identifying the three senators as potential presidential candidates in 2016. "And they just voted for default," the email said.
In the House, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate last year, opposed the bill after floating a proposal during the shutdown that did not address Obama's health care law but would have achieved a number of fiscal goals sought by Republicans. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is considering a presidential campaign, supported the bill Wednesday night after warning that Republicans had been hurt by the shutdown.
Republicans were squeezed by conflicting demands. Groups like the Club for Growth that have poured money into primaries urged lawmakers to vote against the congressional measure, while business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pressed lawmakers to pass the bill.
In the Senate, Republicans need to pick up six seats to take the majority during Obama's final two years.
Democrats have targeted McConnell's seat in Kentucky, but the GOP leader must first deal with a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin, who has picked up support from outside GOP groups. Before any votes were cast, Bevin charged McConnell with negotiating "the GOP surrender" to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Three House Republicans expected to compete for key Senate seats voted in support of the plan: Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana.
Cotton is expected to face Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, whom Republicans consider the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, while Capito and Daines are viewed as strong contenders for seats being vacated by Democrats.
In Louisiana, another major GOP target, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, opposed the bill, putting him at odds with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. In Georgia, three Republican House members who are running for an open Senate seat — Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey — voted against the bill. Democrats have recruited Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, for the race.
Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company