Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, for the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama, and dialed back expectations for the 2018 agenda being promoted by some fellow Republicans.
Republicans will hold just 51 seats in the 100-member Senate when the winner of this month’s Alabama special election, Democrat Doug Jones, arrives in early January. That will make winning bipartisan support more critical for major legislation. McConnell laid the blame on Bannon, who plans to back other insurgent Republican candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections in an attempt to oust McConnell and his allies from leadership.
“The political genius on display, throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America, is hard to ignore,” McConnell said Friday at his year-end news conference in Washington.
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Bannon backed Roy Moore, who defeated the McConnell-backed choice in Alabama’s Republican primary before going on to lose to Jones after being accused of preying on teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Jones was the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Alabama since 1992.
McConnell’s 2018 agenda will play out under tougher circumstances for a man who’s led Republicans in the Senate since 2007. In addition to a narrower majority, he faces a caucus that often splits, with clusters of moderates and conservatives regularly threatening to vote against his proposals.
The Kentucky lawmaker, 75, said he’d be meeting with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan in early January to discuss priorities for the year.
Although Ryan has made overhauling the government’s welfare system his major goal for 2018 and other Republicans are still pushing a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, McConnell said both would be tough to accomplish unless they can be negotiated with Democrats, who can block the legislative process in the Senate despite being in the minority.
“There’s not much you can do on a partisan basis in the Senate with 52-48 or at 51-49, which would be the number of us for next year,” he said. “I don’t think most of our Democratic colleagues want to do nothing, and there are areas there I think we can get bipartisan agreement.”