(Rick Manning) – The past couple of weeks in Washington, D.C. have created a buzz around the question of whether Senate Republican Leader has lost control over the Republican Conference. McConnell’s problems crystallized when Senator John McCain was joined by a few other Senators to cut a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid to not filibuster Obama appointees, giving Reid the sixty votes he needed to ensure confirmation for even the most scurrilous of appointees.
All this provides context to the Senate’s five hour cliff hanger over the nomination of Byron Todd Jones for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The delay was due to the vote being held up due to the absence of North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp from the Chamber.
Heitkamp, it seems, was ill and the vote on whether to close debate by invoking cloture on the nomination was 59-40, awaiting her magical 60th vote to allow the nomination to proceed ahead for a final confirmation vote.
How did this seemingly mundane situation reflect on Leader McConnell?
It was Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who created the drama when she changed her vote from No to Yes a full one hour after she cast it, ensuring the nomination survived. Murkowski was literally surrounded on the Senate Floor by Democrats and some Republicans beseeching her to either support or oppose the nominee.
Senate Republicans desperately need a win on something in the Senate, and Murkowski’s shift denied them and their leader that relevance.
Beyond the politics, this vote should concern the American people as it demonstrates the complete abdication by Senate Republicans of their advice and consent responsibility. Ever since John McCain led a number of Old Guard Republican Senators to give Harry Reid a filibuster proof Senate when it comes to nominations, the rubber stamp has been out, and it has been active.
McCain’s bad bargain will give America a United Nations representative who believes our nation owes the world an apology, an ATF head who is being investigated for threatening legitimate whistleblowers, two National Labor Relations Board members who Obama admitted were hand-picked by AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, a new EPA Administrator who promises to aggressively push the climate change agenda threatening America’s future prosperity, and a Labor Secretary who has a long history of flouting the law.
Personnel is policy is one of the most quoted of Ronald Reagan’s axioms, and Senate Republicans’ abdication of their basic constitutional right and responsibility to provide a check to radical executive branch overreaches will likely prove to be disastrous as the Obama Administration continues to run an out of control administrative state.
This brings us back to putative Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who it should be remembered lost her primary to candidate Joe Miller and then refused to accept those results. She subsequently won re-election as an independent. By changing her vote, she kept the McCain no filibuster deal intact.
The appearance that Harry Reid has effectively re-established a filibuster proof majority through the McCain gang, cuts to the heart of whether Mitch McConnell still leads the Senate Republicans.
Only one of two possibilities can be true. Either McCain and his cohorts are acting on their own in cahoots with Reid, effectively creating a third party within the Senate and McConnell has become inconsequential, or the Republican Leader is complicit in the McCain maneuvering, approving of it with a wink and a nod while voting “right” in an election year.
Meredith Shiner of the Washington, D.C. publication Roll Call shines some light on this question in her report that a contentious debate broke out amongst the Republican Senators last week when McConnell spoke about the McCain brokered filibuster deal writing, “McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process.”
Shiner continued, “Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called ‘bull$&^t’ loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the ‘buyer’s remorse’ among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background.”
As tensions are running higher and higher amongst Senate Republicans, the problem facing McConnell is not all that dissimilar to the one facing House Speaker John Boehner where just a few Republican switchers can effectively seize the floor in conjunction with the Pelosi-led Democrats.
The irony that it is the moderate wing of the elected Republican Party whose main appeal to conservative and tea party voters on election day is that they won’t vote for Pelosi or Reid to lead their respective body may in fact be forming a congressional voting bloc that gives the Democrats a functional majority.
In the past two elections the tea party has been chastening for not succumbing to the will of Karl Rove and his moderate majority leadership plan by defeating candidates like Mike Castle in Delaware and Dick Lugar in Indiana.
The McCain takeover of the Senate and the multiple examples of major legislation passing the reputedly Republican-controlled House in spite of opposition from a majority of Republican members makes these attacks on the non-partisan tea party look all the more hollow.
When Karl Rove and his ilk find that their chosen candidates are defeated by unwashed upstarts in primaries around the nation, these status quo Republicans need to look in the mirror when assigning blame.
Inside the Beltway Republicans own the upcoming wholesale government attacks on non-unionized businesses that are guaranteed by their failure to even question NLRB nominees and allowing Thomas Perez who has demonstrated contempt for congressional oversight to ascend to their respective thrones.
They own all the radical decisions and the war on coal that are coming from the EPA. After all, they refused to vote down Obama’s Administrator, and some Republicans even voted for her confirmation.
When 2014 re-election candidate Mitch McConnell gets asked in Kentucky where he was during the fight to save coal mining, he can only answer that he was impotent to stop the confirmation of the general who is leading the fight against it.
It is reasonable for these voters to ask if the Republican center can’t hold against environmental extremism that destroys their jobs, what good are they at all?
If the Republican Party breaks under this stress it will not be the tea party that is to blame, but instead the McCain gang of moderates whose actions finally opened the people’s eyes that voting Republican is not a vote for limited government. Those election promises have proven to be hollow.
When a rash of Republican primaries break out, blame McCain, Lindsey Graham and those accommodationists who through their actions have destroyed America’s trust that they will fight against Obama’s agenda regardless of political backlash.
That is the unfortunate lesson that is being taught by the collapse of Senate Republicans ability to stop nominations and government growing legislation.
When incumbent Republicans start whining about having to face the music in primaries and general elections (through votes for libertarian candidates), they need to remember that they only have themselves to blame.
(Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the Vice President of Public Policy and Communications for Americans for Limited Government)