WASHINGTON - Within hours of solidifying their control of Congress, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner were quietly laying plans for a series of quick votes in January aimed at erasing their obstructionist image ahead of the 2016 elections.
First up: Action on long-stalled bills with bipartisan support, including measures to repeal an unpopular tax on medical devices and approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
After that: Pass a budget through both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2009, followed by the full array of government-funding bills. "There will be no government shutdowns," said McConnell, the Senate majority leader-in-waiting.
Finally: Aim for the big score. Not repealing President Obama's Affordable Care Act, though the conservative campaign to undermine the law will proceed in the background. Instead, Republicans dangled the prospect of fast-track trade agreements and sweeping tax reform.
Even before voters went to the polls Tuesday, McConnell and Boehner began mapping this coordinated strategy in hopes of unifying Republicans, picking up support from some Democratic lawmakers, and putting pressure on Obama to compromise or risk drawing his own charges of obstructionism.
According to three Republicans who requested anonymity to speak freely about the talks, Boehner and McConnell plan to roll that agenda out over the next few weeks.
At the center of these discussions is a desire to avoid the kind of intraparty drama that has roiled Washington since 2011, when Republicans took control of the House with a freshman class dominated by tea party conservatives.
Elated by Tuesday's election results, Republicans remain burdened by the shutdown of the federal government last year, which sullied the party's brand. And they still face the prospect of managing an unruly right flank more interested in challenging Obama than in following leadership's playbook.
Pressure to follow through on the party's most conservative priorities was already building Wednesday. Several tea party leaders gathered at the National Press Club and reiterated their demand that repealing the Affordable Care Act remained the party's priority. In a memo, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) also emphasized the health-care law as a top target.
"Now is the time to go after and do everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare," Cruz said in a speech Tuesday in Texas.
Even the National Review, a magazine popular with the conservative elite, warned McConnell to not forget the activists and grassroots conservatives who lifted him to power.
"With all due respect to the senator and like-minded Republicans, this course of action makes no sense as a political strategy," the editors wrote. Though tax reform and trade are good ideas, they wrote, "voters are not, in fact, waiting anxiously for any of this. Business lobbies are."
After winning a special election, Democrat Alma Adams of North Carolina takes office next week as the 100th female member of Congress. That's the most women the House and Senate have ever had.
It will be a short-lived record. With several races still to be called, the next Congress will have at least 101 female members and perhaps as many
as 106. Still, while it is a milestone, it is only a
small increase from the 99 women in Congress before Tuesday's election.
At least 20 women will be senators, the same number of female senators now, possibly rising to 21 if Mary Landrieu wins an uphill runoff battle.
Also, the next Senate will be younger than the current chamber.