Cantor’s approach echoed the “compassionate conservatism” of an earlier Republican era. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he said the House majority would “pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families.”
That ambitious goal ran smack into political reality Wednesday as conservative lawmakers rejected a Republican bill to help Americans with preexisting health conditions gain access to insurance coverage.
Republican leaders had to abruptly yank the bill from consideration because they did not have enough votes from their rank and file to pass it. The episode was another example of the difficulty the Republican Party faces in corralling its unruly majority and finding a common message to attract voters.
Although rebellious lawmakers have bucked their leaders at crucial moments, this was the first time they had rejected part of Cantor’s effort to rebrand the party.
“We’re going to continue to work the bill,” Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said. “We had positive conversations today and made good progress.”
President Barack Obama, now facing the consequences of automatic spending cuts and the complications they raise for his broader domestic agenda, is taking the most specific steps of his administration in an attempt to ensure the election of a Democratic-controlled Congress in two years.
“What I can’t do is force Congress to do the right thing,” Obama said Friday after a fruitless meeting with Republican leaders to avert the country’s latest fiscal crisis, known as the sequester. “The American people may have the capacity to do that.”
Obama and his advisers believe that winning a Democratic majority in the House in 2014 is crucial to the outcome of his second term and to his legacy as president.
He has committed to raising money for fellow Democrats, agreed to help recruit viable candidates and begun a political nonprofit group dedicated to furthering his agenda and that of his congressional allies. The goal is to flip the Republican-held House back to Democratic control, allowing Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy during his final two years in office, according to congressional Democrats, strategists and others familiar with Obama’s thinking.
“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now.”
Democrats would have to gain 17 House seats to win back the majority they lost in 2010, and their challenge involves developing a persuasive argument for why the party deserves another chance controlling both Congress and the presidency. In the last election, American voters reaffirmed the political status quo in Washington, retaining a divided government.
Ian Millhiser:Why Americans Actually Voted for a Democratic House
Based on ThinkProgress’ review of all ballots counted so far, 53,952,240 votes were cast for a Democratic candidate for the House and only 53,402,643 were cast for a Republican — meaning that Democratic votes exceed Republican votes by more than half a million.
The actual partisan breakdown of the 113th Congress will be very different, however. Currently, Republicans enjoy a 233-192 advantage over Democrats, with 10 seats remaining undecided. That means that, in a year when Republicans earned less than half the popular vote, they will control a little under 54 percent of the House even if Democrats run the table on the undecided seats.
There is a simple explanation for how this happened: Republicans won several key state legislatures and governors’ mansions in the election cycle before redistricting, and they gerrymandered those states within an inch of their lives. President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points, but Democrats carried only 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats:
Similar stories played out elsewhere. Obama won Virginia, and Democrats took 3 of 11 House seats. Obama won Ohio, but Democrats carried only 4 of 16 seats in Ohio’s House delegation.