The Republican National Committee has green-lighted funding for the upcoming Alabama special election — a long-delayed move that in recent days had become a point of contention between Senate Republicans and the White House.
On Wednesday, the RNC gave final sign-off for the Senate GOP campaign arm to spend its funds in the race for the seat formerly held by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The approval, which was confirmed by three senior Republicans, is rooted in byzantine campaign finance rules — yet it involved weeks of closed-door talks, inflamed tensions between Senate GOP leaders and the administration, and touched on a central issue: how the insurgent-minded Trump White House will approach party primaries.
The final approval, which came on Wednesday, authorizes the National Republican Senatorial Committee to spend over $350,000 of the RNC’s money on the race. Those funds are expected to be invested on behalf of recently-appointed GOP Sen. Luther Strange, who is facing a crowded field of Republican opponents, including GOP Rep. Mo Brooks and former Alabama Chief Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, in a late summer primary.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given Strange his support, as have two McConnell-allied political groups — the NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund. Both are boosting Strange.
McConnell, who has made the race a personal priority, had spent weeks trying to get the RNC to approve its funding. The drawn-out nature of the talks became such a point of contention that in recent days the majority leader lobbied White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a former RNC head who remains plugged into the committee’s operations, to help get the funds released. Strange himself spoke with the president.
Behind the scenes, McConnell allies wondered whether the hold-up was the result of bureaucratic disorganization — or whether the administration was choosing to stay out of the primary, which would have provided a window into how it planned to handle future GOP skirmishes.
Neither the White House nor the RNC would comment on the decision. Officials familiar with the decision said the reason for the delay was because the committee, uncertain about the perception of wading into a contested primary, was awaiting for final authorization from the White House, which didn’t come until this week.
The Alabama talks were the latest in a series of collisions between strategists guiding the Senate GOP’s 2018 efforts and the administration. Earlier this week, McConnell bristled when a White House-sanctioned outside group aired commercials assailing Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, the GOP’s most vulnerable senator up for reelection in 2018, over his opposition to the Obamacare repeal bill.
Among other flare-ups, the majority leader was also rankled when Trump chose then-Rep. Ryan Zinke, who had long been groomed to run for Senate in Montana, to be his secretary of Interior.