While the race for the Republican presidential nomination is heating up in early primary states, another GOP leadership position was up for grabs Tuesday. Republican Senators voted today on a closely-watched leadership position -- that of vice chairman of the Republican Conference. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper, discusses Senator Roy Blunt's defeate of the Tea Party favorite -- Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
What message does Blunt's victory send about the Republican conference?
Blunt framed his victory as preparation for what Senate Republicans hope to do in 2012 -- recapture the Senate majority. He's someone who has served as a House Republican whip for six years and was technically a House Majority Leader. The Republican leadership is touting him as someone who can help run the majority if they capture it in the near future and can reach across the aisle and work with Democrats.
Conservatives, particularly Tea Party conservatives who supported Ron Johnson, say his victory marks a win for politics as usual, status quo Republican establishment politics. They note that Johnson had a much higher conservative score by the Heritage Action Rating compared to Blunt -- 91 percent to Blunt's 64 percent. So conservatives are disappointed.
"Jim DeMint says he will work harder to elect more conservatives to the Senate next year, and then they'll have a better chance to elect more conservatives to the leaderships," says Bolton.
This is the number 5 leadership position. Why did this race catch the attention of so many conservatives across the country?
It's the only leadership position that is up for grabs in the Senate. Several other positions were uncontested, so this is the one that garnered attention.
"That attention was stoked in part by DeMint who publicly supported Ron Johnson. He's a prominent conservative in the senate. Also, conservative opinion-leaders like Eric Ericson of Redstate.com and Rachel Lowry of National Review also supported Johnson and drew the attention of conservative activists across the country.
Meanwhile, negotiators had been edging closer on a bill to fund the federal government past Friday. What's the latest?
They're very close to a deal. Republicans allege that the only reason Democrats haven't signed off on the bill is that they want to use this omnibus spending bill as leverage in the other major debate --whether to extend the payroll tax holiday. The conflict is over whether to fund this by raising taxes on millionaires or freezing federal pay.
"Democrats say there are a number of issues that need to be worked out. There are riders that would reverse the loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba," says Bolton. "There is another Republican rider that would stop the mandate for the Defense Department to reduce its use of coal. Democrats say that these are the issues that are holding up the deal on the spending measure."