WASHINGTON – Following a decisive victory in the mid-term elections, congressional Republicans have to make a decision about the approach they’ll take with their new Senate control and their strengthened House majority. They can either use their power to govern or they can spend their time confronting President Barack Obama.
This decision will be tested almost immediately, as President Obama will initiate his executive action on immigration later today, then formally present it in Las Vegas on Friday.
One of their newly elected leaders, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said the party should look to Indiana for guidance, where the GOP has occupied the governor’s mansion since 2004 and has increased its control of the state House and Senate to super majorities.
“What we need more of in Washington is what we’ve seen in Indiana,” said Messer, who last week was elected chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. “Republicans have proven that they’re a party that can govern in Indiana. They’re a party that is principled and delivers results. If what we do in Washington is follow the Indiana roadmap, we’ll be just fine.”
Washington Republicans may hit the first bump in the governance road this week, when Obama is expected to announce an executive order that would implement immigration reforms that Congress hasn’t been able to pass.
Some conservatives are urging the GOP to retaliate against Obama by shutting down the
government. It’s unclear whether party leadership will go in that direction. Last week, Messer tried to thread the needle between governance and confrontation on immigration.
“His first problem is going to be with the American people, if he does administrative amnesty,” Messer said of Obama. “And Congress in response to that groundswell will be standing up against him.”
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats said on Wedneday of President Obama’s pending plan to allow up to five million illegal immigrants stay, “President Obama’s role is to faithfully execute the law, not alter or ignore it as he sees fit. If the president changes existing immigration law via executive order, he will exceed his Constitutional authority and ignore the wishes of the American people. Taking this action would be a disservice to everyone who followed the law to legally immigrate to the United States. I am working with my colleagues to explore all options – legislative and legal – to stop the president’s blatant disregard for our nation’s system of checks and balances.”
The danger for Republicans is that if there is an uprising, a good part of it will come from immigrants and other advocates who are cheering Obama on, saying it is about time that he acted. These are the voters that Republicans will need in 2016 to cement their 2014 gains and add the White House to their column.
On another potential issue of confrontation, health care reform, Indiana Republicans are willing to chip away at the law rather than trash it.
“The whole repeal rhetoric is just politics,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD. “It’s not realistic for what’s going to happen. We shouldn’t be focused on repealing it. We should be focused on fixing it.”
That approach bodes well for a bill written by Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, that would define as a full-time employee requiring health benefits someone who works 40 hours a week. Under the health care law, employers must cover anyone who works 30 hours or more, a situation that critics say is leading companies to cut back work hours.
His bill is part of an effort to “repeal portions of Obamacare that don’t make sense and replace them with better provisions,” Young said.
Another potential tweak to the health care law that would benefit Indiana is repeal of the medical device tax. That is among “the issues that enjoy bipartisan support and can set the tone for a productive and meaningful 114th Congress,” Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD, said in a statement.
As the health care law is whittled down with “common-sense fixes,” Republicans will have to show voters that they have their own health reform ideas, Messer said.
“Any effort to repeal the law is going to have to include an effort to put forward a meaningful replacement,” Messer said.
Working through the political process this way, Indiana congressional Republicans will be acting like the person who is perhaps the best Hoosier politician in Washington, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.
When he had a chance to cast the fifth vote to declare health care reform unconstitutional, Roberts stepped back and recognized that the law was passed by the political will of Congress acting on behalf of the American people that at the time put strong Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.
Roberts didn’t force a confrontation with the White House. He ensured that governance carried the day. It’s a move that the lawmakers in the current Congress should emulate. That doesn’t mean acquiescing to Obama. But it does mean working with him in a way that would give the GOP credibility from the public.
Young recognizes the party can’t get everything it wants. “There’s a mandate to advance our agenda,” Young said. “We’re also practical. We realize the limits to what can become law as long as President Obama is in the White House.”
Hoosier Republicans also are quick to assert that Obama must work with a GOP-led Congress. “We’re willing to sit and talk,” Stutzman said. “He’s got to be willing to sit down and negotiate.”
For now, they’re optimistic about the Washington political environment.
“I fervently hope that Republicans and Democrats come together for the good of the American people to get the economy moving faster and increase personal income,” Young said. “That’s been lacking for the last six years.”

Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.