BALTIMORE — The man in charge of the Senate GOP's campaign arm thinks national security will help turn the tide in his party's favor in November.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker said in an interview with Roll Call at the annual Republican policy retreat that the "umbrella of security" and international unrest could help Republican incumbents in contested races.
"Whether it's border security, terrorism or the need for our military to be taken care of," Wicker said, the focus on threats "helps us everywhere whether it's the Northeast or the Southwest."
The GOP can only afford to lose three or four Senate seats — depending on which party wins the presidential election — if it wants to hold on to the majority in 2017, and the NRSC faces a challenging map.
In the Northeast, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has been among the loudest voices against President Barack Obama's intent to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, recently joining with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to request an Armed Services hearing on the policy.
Their frequent ally, John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services panel, told Roll Call Thursday that he would schedule that hearing for a date in the coming weeks. But the Arizonan, who himself is in the middle of a contested 2016 campaign, said the Obama administration's ongoing transfer of detainees and work without Congress is not helpful to getting any plan adopted on Capitol Hill.
"We still haven't gotten a plan, which they promised, and they continue to act in their imperial way, which does nothing but poison relations and harm the ability of passage of a plan even if they had one," McCain said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier in the week he hoped Republicans would be able to help make sure the prison stays open through Obama's departure from office, a point Wicker echoed Thursday, highlighting the disagreement with Obama.
"It struck me the other night that the president has a soft spot almost about Guantánamo," Wicker said. "He was up there talking about as the president of the United States we've been killing so and so, we're killing them right and left. He all but said that. I think he did say that."
Asked also about the political effects of the debate over a new Authorization for Use of Military Force against Islamic State, Wicker said anything like what Obama has requested would be a "non-starter."
"He already has more power than he's willing to accept under a new authorization. That's the problem. He's got the authorization," Wicker said. "He wants one that ties the hand of the next Republican president. It's without dispute."
"I don't know that either one of those things are going to ... carry any states or lose any states," Wicker said of Guantánamo and the long-stalled AUMF debate. But after being reminded of the emergence of Ebola as a political issue in 2014 in states such as North Carolina, Wicker said that we may not yet know what foreign policy questions may be relevant by November.
"That was an interesting issue," Wicker said. "I would submit you Paul LePage is governor of Maine again because of Ebola. So, who knows what will arise."
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