Suddenly Congress is abloom with cherry blossoms and compromises on gun control and immigration reform, a vote to break a Senate filibuster and a presidential budget proposal that angered both Republicans and Democrats.
Granted most of the activity was in the Senate, which has stirred from paralysis in response to the 2012 election and fast-moving demographic changes that could reshape the nation's electoral map. Even Congressman Paul Ryan — the chief budget warrior in the GOP-controlled House — signaled the possibility of a deal with President Barack Obama, despite Speaker John Boehner calling it a plan for deficit spending forever.
The political fault lines haven't evaporated, but leading Republicans are eager to seize the moment to repair tattered relations with minority voters, who vote heavily Democratic, and suburban voters, who are emerging as the key swing votes in many states. Both constituencies balk at some of the more extreme GOP positions.
GOP ballot box failures with African-American and Latino voters were highlighted in Obama's victory last fall. But more important are signs that more bedrock red states such as Texas and Arizona are seeing a marked shift toward the political middle or beyond. That has led to a new political pliancy by the likes of Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on immigration.
New conciliation efforts are already influencing posturing by would-be 2016 presidential hopefuls. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has staked out a leadership role on immigration. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul accepted an invitation to speak to students at historically black Howard University — where he faced, and seemingly embraced, sharp questioning about his views on civil rights, voting restrictions and student aid.
The Washington Post published a story describing how growing suburban areas in both blue and red states are pushing politics to the middle. The story contrasted conservative stalwart Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who cut a deal this week on expanded background checks for commercial gun sales, with Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who tried and failed to broker a compromise. The implication is that Toomey had more political room to maneuver because of his suburban constituencies.
Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine estimates 65 percent of his state's voters live in the suburbs and want a balanced, "middle-ground solution" to issues such as gun control. Democratic victories in Virginia and Colorado appear to be influencing Republicans with similar suburban constituencies. GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss told The Washington Post constituent contacts with his office are almost evenly split between gun rights and gun control advocates.
For immigration reform, gun control and a balanced budget proposal to pass in the House, suburban district Republicans probably will have to follow the lead of their GOP Senate counterparts.