Republicans go into survival mode

Republicans “are operating under survival instincts,” a Republican congressional leader said on Tuesday in acknowledging public discontent with his party before November’s election.

Democrats hope to recapture the Senate and House of Representatives amid mounting opposition to the Iraq war and scandals that have rocked the Republican-led Congress.

“To be honest, the Republicans in the House and the Senate, we are operating under survival instincts right now,” Rep. Charles Pickering, the assistant Republican whip, told a luncheon of communications lawyers and executives.

“The best way to survive is to accomplish,” said Pickering of Mississippi.

An April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 65 percent of Americans surveyed disapproved of the job Congress was doing while only 22 percent approved.

Making life more difficult for congressional Republicans is President George W. Bush’s falling approval ratings, now at all-time lows. Democrats are invigorated at the prospect of taking control of Congress and have suggested plans for a range of investigations into pre-war intelligence and gas prices.

However, the Democrats’ task is not easy. They need to gain 15 seats in the 435-member House where only a few dozen races are expected to be competitive. In the 100-member Senate, Democrats need to pick up at least six seats to take control.

Still, it has been an especially tough time for Republicans in Congress.

Rep. Tom DeLay stepped aside as House Republican leader last year after he was indicted in his home state of Texas and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the sale of stock.

Several former congressional aides have pleaded guilty in an expanding probe involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff while some Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate bucked Bush on federal spending and issues like whether to allow a Dubai company to run terminals in U.S. ports.

Republicans are also bracing for the possibility that voters could hold skyrocketing gasoline prices against them as well as the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Pickering suggested that Republicans could benefit in the election if they can reach agreements on issues like immigration, energy and communications legislation aimed at boosting competition for cable television.

“You start at this point in the process throwing everything overboard as quickly as possible until you pare something down that can actually move, so that we can have accomplishments, so that we can continue in the majority,” he said.

“And I think we are at that place in time.”

© Reuters 2006