WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump adjusts to life with a Democratic-led House, some Republican members of Congress are also wrestling with their own allegiances and political futures, finding ways to distance themselves from their party’s president as a new era of divided government begins.
Cracks in the GOP ranks have already emerged as skittish Republicans, many of whom face difficult elections in 2020, have begun asserting their independence.
Their actions have ranged from siding with Democrats on efforts to reopen the government to writing a stinging op-ed about the president in just the first week of the new year.
And with a host of Republicans facing re-election in blue or purple states or districts in 2020, Democrats plan to take advantage of the political dynamics to upset the GOP’s agenda.
A handful of House and Senate Republicans have already broken ranks with Trump and GOP leaders on the government shutdown by coming out in support of a Democratic proposal to re-open the government that does not include funding for the president’s border wall — an early indication that some Republicans will have a challenging two years navigating a president who governs toward the base of the party.
“You’re not just walking a tight rope, you’re eating, sleeping, and breathing on it,” said Matt Gorman who was the National Republican Campaign Committee communications director for the 2018 elections.
Gorman noted that while presidential elections have a different dynamic for congressional candidates, it’s not too early for candidates to be concerned. “Unlike 2018,” he said, “2020 will not be a referendum on Trump, it’ll be a choice. However, they need to be thinking about Election Day 2020 now.”
A total of eight House Republicans voted with all Democrats on measures that would have ended the government shutdown Thursday night. And two Senators have said that the Senate should take up the House-passed bills.
The measures would fund six of the seven remaining appropriations bills that had previously gained overwhelming support in the Senate in the last Congress and a measure to extend Department of Homeland Security funding until February 8 to allow more time for party leaders to reach a compromise on the border wall funding. Neither of the bills included funding for the president’s demand for a border wall.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who might have the most difficult race in in 2020 in a state that is edging more Democratic each election, was the first Republican to say that Senate should vote on the House bills to reopen the government.
He acknowledged the perils of opposing Trump but said that the president understands that he has to broaden his support if he’s going to win re-election, which would in turn help him.