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Blunt a Key Player With Unique Relations

Having just transitioned from the House and only two years removed from GOP leadership, Sen. Roy Blunt could offer his new colleagues unmatched access and insight into the majority on the other side of the Dome. 

The Senate is littered with former House Members on both sides of the aisle. But few equal the freshness of the Missouri Republican’s service, proximity to the current GOP leadership and wealth of personal relationships, including among a few Democrats. This isn’t lost on Senate Republican leaders, who stand to benefit from Blunt’s connections and could use his knowledge to their advantage in dealings with the House.

“He’s very experienced,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who has appointed Blunt to serve on the Republican Whip team. “He is a very thoughtful Member with a lot of experience, can analyze things well. He doesn’t get out and talk about things a lot. He’s able to do his job very effectively but without a lot of fanfare. … He has very good contacts over in the House, both on the R and D side.”

Blunt, who celebrated his 61st birthday last week, was elected in November after a 14-year House tenure that included stints as both Majority and Minority Whip. He served briefly as interim Majority Leader in 2006 but lost a bid for Minority Leader later that year to now-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Blunt is one of two newly installed Senators whom Kyl appointed to serve in the Whip operation; Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) is the other.

In an interview, the Missourian appeared nonchalant about the appointment and his potential role as go-
between for Republican leadership and old friends in the House. But he acknowledged that his skill set makes him well-suited for the job and said he is happy to assist Kyl and lend a hand to his new Conference. As a former Whip, Blunt had an existing relationship with Senate GOP leaders and is accustomed to bicameral negotiating.

“I think I probably come to the Senate with as much experience in dealing with the Senate as any legislator’s ever had, because I was in leadership meetings with the Senate leaders for a decade, virtually every week,” Blunt said two days after being sworn in. “I do know all the Senate leaders and all the House leaders very, very well. A whole bunch of the House leadership staff has worked for me, and sometimes your best sources of information are the staff, not the Members. I’ll keep talking to my friends over there and I’ll be helpful in every way I can.”

“There needs to be as much House-Senate communication as there can be,” Blunt added. “There’s lots of people that can do that now.” Among the 13 new Republican Senators, six are House veterans: Blunt, Portman, and Sens. John Boozman (Ark.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Despite clashing with Boehner when they opposed each other for House Minority Leader, Blunt and the Speaker have long since repaired any damage to their relationship, according to GOP sources. During the 111th Congress, after Blunt had relinquished the Whip position, Boehner included the Missourian in Republican leadership meetings and gave him a role in developing the opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care agenda.

Blunt might not be on friendly terms with all House Republicans, and his historical support for earmarks — although he backed the Senate GOP moratorium — and other policies might be out of vogue. But GOP sources said the Senator remains generally well-liked and respected in the chamber. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) previously served as his Chief Deputy Whip, and he is close with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“Roy is the consummate political professional and works really well with both sides of the aisle,” said a Republican operative who works downtown. “He can work with Cantor and Boehner as a conduit for Kyl” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy agreed, saying that Blunt could be among the Senate Republicans’ most valuable weapons. The California Republican also noted that Blunt’s relationships extend to Democrats — a rarity in the House — and that his knowledge of the GOP runs deep. Blunt, McCarthy added, understands what makes rank-and-file Republicans tick, having traveled to many of their districts personally. The Missourian is also familiar with the new House Republican committee chairmen and understands how they approach major policy issues.

“If used properly, he could help Senate Republicans be stronger,” McCarthy said. “He will be an asset to them.”

Blunt’s political experience extends about 40 years, beginning a few years out of college. And although he was not the only Republican insider to win last cycle, his victory over Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) stood in stark contrast to the host of anti-establishment candidates who were successful in the fall’s GOP wave.

The Senator’s father was a state legislator, and one of his first jobs was working on the 1972 Congressional campaign of former Attorney General John Ashcroft (R). Blunt, a native of the Springfield area in southwest Missouri, was appointed the Greene County clerk a year later by former Senator and then-Gov. Kit Bond (R). His election as Missouri secretary of state in 1984 was his first victory and followed an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1980.

Blunt’s political success is due at least partly to his ability to forge relationships. The Missourian conceded he still has much to learn about the Senate — that it still feels like foreign territory despite his experience in negotiating and strategizing with the chamber’s GOP leaders while he was Whip in the House. But Blunt said his limited experience has already taught him one thing: Relationships matter, more so than they did in the House.

“In the Republican Conference meetings I was in even in November and December in the Senate, there was a lot more interest in your colleagues’ understanding why it was you’d arrived at the position you’d arrived at on whatever the issue was,” Blunt said. “I don’t recall that much introspection or need to express how you felt about something among my House colleagues. They were always ready to go onto the next thing, and I was, too.”