Government & Politics

A Republican Senate would give more clout to Kansas, shift it in Missouri

Independent candidate Greg Orman, left, shakes hands with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., following their debate on Oct. 15 in Wichita. If the Republicans win back the Senate in November, the winner of the Roberts-Orman race could reap big benefits.
Independent candidate Greg Orman, left, shakes hands with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., following their debate on Oct. 15 in Wichita. If the Republicans win back the Senate in November, the winner of the Roberts-Orman race could reap big benefits. AP/The Wichita Eagle

A Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate would both strengthen and weaken Missouri’s clout on Capitol Hill.

For Kansas, taking away the chamber from Democratic control would seem only to deliver more power to its senators, with a catch. Kansans might still benefit if they send an independent free to side with either party.

But polls increasingly point to Republicans winning enough seats on Nov. 4 (or in subsequent run-offs in some states) that the Senate — indeed, both houses of Congress — will rest in their hands.

In Missouri, that would propel Republican Sen. Roy Blunt into a more prominent leadership role in his own party. It would also weaken the clout of Missouri’s Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill. She’d lose the powerful platform of her committee chairmanships.

The party that holds the majority in the Senate determines control of committees, hearings and the timing of votes.

In Kansas, Republican senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts are poised to benefit in a big way if Republicans recapture the Senate. But so is Roberts’ challenger, independent candidate Greg Orman.

If re-elected, Roberts would enter his fourth term as senator. His seniority puts him in line for chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

A victorious Orman also could wield outsized influence in a Republican Senate.

Orman has said he would ally with whichever party is in the majority. If control of the Senate hinges on his vote, he’d be in a prime position to negotiate with Republican leadership, not only for a seat on the Agriculture Committee, but also for a spot on a more powerful Senate panel such as the Appropriations Committee, which doles out federal funds.

Kansas

Perhaps the biggest winner would be Moran, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate.

As a first-term senator, Moran doesn’t have the seniority to claim the chairmanship of any committee by default. But his grateful colleagues could tap him for a leadership position as a reward for helping deliver the Senate to Republicans for the first time since 2007.

“Jerry Moran can pretty much pick what he would like in terms of committee chairmanships or roles,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. “This would complete his rise, not just to statewide but national prominence.”

Moran now is a member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations Committee, where he is the top Republican on a panel that oversees funding for the Labor Department, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies. That subcommittee might be his best chance for a chairmanship.

The senator said in an interview that he expects to remain on those committees and that he might take on additional assignments or leadership positions within the committees.

Senate rules prevent him from remaining as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Moran said he doesn’t see that job as a steppingstone to a committee or to any kind of leadership position in the Senate.

“What I do see is my ability to go to the Senate floor and advance issues I believe in,” Moran said. “If we’re successful, if Republicans win the majority, I see this as an opportunity to fulfill the job I’ve already been given.”

Missouri

Blunt, who serves in the Senate’s minority leadership as vice chairman of the Republican conference, would be poised to take on an even greater role in a majority GOP Senate.

Blunt also is well positioned to negotiate for plum committee assignments.

He currently is the top Republican on a Commerce subcommittee and on a Senate panel that oversees federal funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rural development, and the Food and Drug Administration. The chairmanship of that subcommittee would be a particularly attractive prize, given that agriculture is Missouri’s number one industry.

McCaskill has a lot riding on the outcome of elections in November, too.

If Democrats hang on to their majority — a possibility looking increasingly unlikely — McCaskill would be in line for a possible chairmanship of the Special Committee on Aging and would rise to at least the third most senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

The second-term senator also could be tapped to head the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a panel that has jurisdiction to conduct probes on federal waste, fraud and abuse, corporate crime, corruption and national security. McCaskill, a former prosecutor and state auditor, has said she’d love that job.

A Republican seizure of the Senate would nix that. And McCaskill would be bumped from her chairmanships of subcommittees on financial and contracting oversight and consumer protection.

McCaskill has never served in a legislative minority either in the U.S. Senate or in the Missouri General Assembly, so it would be uncharted territory for her.

“It’s a different experience all together, just even in terms of the tactics that you deploy when you’re always playing defense and looking for small procedural wins to sort of make your day rather than passing legislation,” said John Hancock, a Missouri Republican strategist. “Some legislators are good in that minority environment and others aren’t. We don’t have any history to look at with Senator McCaskill.”

The fallout could prompt McCaskill to consider her next political move: Should she leave an unfriendly Senate to seek a post in the Obama administration or to run for governor in Missouri in 2016?

In addition to the governorship, McCaskill’s name is being floated as a possible replacement for Attorney Gen. Eric Holder or as a Democratic vice presidential candidate.

Hancock, for one, wouldn’t be shocked if McCaskill decided to throw her hat into the Missouri gubernatorial race. She ran unsuccessfully for the state’s governorship in 2004.

“I think deep down she really wants to be governor,” Hancock said. “I bet you that starts looking better all the time once she starts serving in the minority.”

In the end, given that Missouri’s Senate delegation is split between a Republican and Democrat, the net effect of a switch in party control would be modest at best, said Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“There’s something that goes with being in the majority party in the Senate, but it’s not a whole lot,” he said. “A minority of senators are in a position to filibuster. The Senate is a pretty egalitarian institution and in spite of the deep partisanship, the truth is that a lot of individual senators get along on a personal basis just fine, and they work pretty hard at relationships across the aisle.”

There is one wild card at play, with potentially big implications for Missouri politics: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could lose his bid for re-election in Kentucky.

If the Republicans still manage to win the majority despite a McConnell loss, Blunt would almost certainly be a candidate for the next majority leader of the Senate, analysts say.

“What happens to Blunt turns a little bit on what happens to McConnell,” Smith said. “There might be an open competition for Republican leader. Senator Blunt would be very tempted to make a run at it himself, and he’d make a very strong case based on the fact that he had a parallel leadership role in the House.”

Blunt served as both majority and minority whip in the House of Representatives and mounted an unsuccessful bid for House majority leader before his election to the Senate in 2010.

Among his colleagues on Capitol Hill, Blunt has a reputation as a solid conservative and an effective spokesman for the GOP, Smith said.

“He also has this non-radical kind of moderate temperament, and there are quite a few Republicans around who think they need that kind of spokesman for the party,” he said.

But a Missouri senator as majority leader could be a two-edged sword for the state and for Blunt, who would have to balance roles as a representative of Missourians and as leader of his party.

“On the one hand, you have a senator who can demand the attention of anyone in government anywhere if he chooses to do so,” Smith said. “On the other hand, he’s also the leader of a national party, really, and his attention is taken up by leadership duties. So it becomes a bit of a challenge.”

To reach Lindsay Wise, call 202-383-6007 or send email to lwise@mcclatchydc.com.

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