At a recent meeting of the House Republican leadership, members of the new minority party looked around and realized they were entering unfamiliar territory: Only one of them — Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio — had ever served as a member of the minority party on Capitol Hill.
“We’re all still finding our way,” said Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the Republican Conference vice chairman.
The power shift has created its own internal struggle among Republicans.
The younger pit bulls want to go after the Democrats quickly and without remorse. Some of the older Republican stalwarts prefer sitting back and allowing new Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party members to have their moment in the sun and govern accordingly.
“It’s in flux right now as to kind of what direction we take and how we operate now that we’re in the minority,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina.
“There is a group of us who think we have to throw down the gauntlet and be on the offensive from the very beginning in battles from Day One,” he said. “That’s the only way we are going to get back in the majority. Then there are others who say we need to let them have their time.”
Several Republicans confirmed privately that more than two-thirds of House Republicans are favoring a slow approach, while a minority of members think the attacks on Democrats should come rapid-fire.
Already, some say the opposition has been too quiet in allowing Democrats to pass key elements of their initial agenda.
There have been four major votes on Democratic bills since Congress convened under the new majority earlier this month. Of those, 24 Republicans crossed the line to support changes to Medicare, 37 voted with Democrats to expand funding for embryonic stem-cell research, 68 voted to implement more recommendations of the September 11 commission, and 82 Republicans voted for increasing the minimum wage.
Some Republicans privately fumed at these votes and noted that Democrats in the last Congress were far more united against the Republican majority’s bills.
“It’s the beginning of a long process,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. “This is their majority, and they have the right, even though I think a lot of their policies have more political utility than practicability.”
“We’ve shown we can work together with Democrats on some issues, but our differences will become progressively clearer,” he said.
There is agreement among Republicans that they should focus on the promise of fiscal conservatism that brought them to power in 1994.
“We ought to draw the line in the sand on some of these policy issues,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. “Some of us tried to do that last week, but it will really start when we have the ability to offer amendments and have a full debate.”
Mr. Flake added he thinks “partisanship” has a bad reputation.