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RNC splits on deals as Congress weighs compromises

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THOMAS BEAUMONT | April 12, 2013 06:55 PM EST | AP

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LOS ANGELES — With bipartisan deals emerging on President Barack Obama's top priorities, the GOP's most devout activists are deeply divided over potential compromises in Congress – only the latest fissure for a party struggling to regain its footing.

Some Republicans worry that across-the-aisle agreements could end up trapping them in the long run.

"It's a trust factor," said Janet Beihoffer of Minnesota, among the Republican National Committee members gathered this week at a Hollywood hotel. She argued that Obama has used his office to bait Republicans with what appear to be concessions only to walk away and accuse the GOP of obstruction. "The president has the bully pulpit. And it's an unenviable situation for Republicans."

Others at the meeting to hash out a way forward for the party after tough November elections see the idea of congressional accords on gun control and immigration as timely opportunities to demonstrate seriousness at a time when the public has low regard both for its leaders in Congress and the GOP itself.

"People in this country are tired of a national government that can't get anything done," said committeeman Bill Palatucci of New Jersey. "No one gets everything they want."

The split over how Republicans more than 2,000 miles away in Washington should proceed reflects a larger divide in the GOP. Establishment and moderate Republicans generally advocate for the party to be more inclusive, while many conservatives and tea partyers insist the party adhere closely to its ideological principles at any cost.

A spotlight has shone on the divide in the month since RNC Chairman Reince Priebus released a report he commissioned from a panel of national GOP strategists about how the party can rebound.

Some Republicans at the meeting complain the report seems to advocate a shift in position on immigration, gay marriage and other issues by proposing, for example, greater outreach to gay voters. Priebus and others dispute that, and the RNC voted Friday in favor of a resolution reaffirming its platform plank opposing gay marriage, in hopes of assuaging those concerns.

Others have generally welcomed the proposals, which call for updating technology in the party's state networks, beefing up outreach in urban Democratic strongholds and establishing strategies for reaching minorities.

As a majority of the RNC's 168 members held three days of strategy sessions about what went wrong in November and how to rebound, most of the political action was on Capitol Hill.

_A bipartisan Senate group agreed, despite outcry from some conservative Republicans, on an immigration proposal to allow those who arrived in the U.S. illegally before 2012 to apply for legal status and ultimately citizenship, provided they meet other criteria.

_A separate group of Senate Republicans and Democrats voted to allow debate on a measure that would subject more gun buyers to background checks, beating back an effort by conservative Republicans and the National Rifle Association to thwart the legislation.

_Obama released a budget proposal that includes provisions to slow the growth of spending for Social Security and Medicare, cuts Republicans have long advocated, in return for raising taxes on upper incomes, extending an olive branch of sorts to the GOP.

All that had some GOP activists at the gathering fretting that such deal-making is exacerbating a credibility problem within the party's rank and file. These Republicans worry that the party already has ceded too much to Obama. They cited Republicans voting in Obama's first term to authorize increasing the nation's debt ceiling, and the "fiscal cliff" debate in which a minority of House Republicans agreed to Obama's demand for income tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.

"People saw us as the compromise party that kept on buckling," Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker said. "It sends the message that people cannot trust us on our principles."

The RNC chairman is among those showing little willingness to budge.

"When it comes to compromise, I think our party has done its fair share, and it doesn't seem like we get a whole lot in return," Priebus told The Associated Press this week. "The president has proven to be a person that generally does things for political purposes and gain ... in order to make the greater point that somehow the Republicans aren't coming on board."

But Saul Anuzis, a former RNC committeeman from Michigan, said Republicans in Congress need to appear to be serious about the nation's problems and said they have a duty to be thoughtful about solving them.

"We can't not look at these compromises," Anuzis said. "Republicans owe the country the opportunity to look at them."

For Vicki Drummond of Alabama, bipartisanship is welcome – with conditions: "I'm for compromise, but not on principle. We want low taxes. And if what they accept is something that breaks with that principle, it's dishonesty."