A day after House Speaker John Boehner failed to rally Republicans behind his fallback fiscal cliff solution, attention has turned to whether Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, might step in to broker a deal with President Obama and Senate Democrats.
On Fox News Friday afternoon, Chris Wallace said as lawmakers search for a way forward, "I wouldn't look for Mitch McConnell to be on the sidelines in the next week."
And WaPo's Chris Cillizza called McConnell "the most obvious person to step into the power vacuum left by the failure of 'Plan B.'"
There's some precedent to this line of thinking. McConnell was instrumental in brokering an agreement during last year's debt limit fight and the 2010 extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.
But senior House and Senate Republican aides argue that this year is different. Here are three reasons why:
1. Perhaps, most importantly, McConnell's missing his usual dance partner, Vice President Joe Biden. A three-decade veteran of the Senate, Biden speaks McConnell's language and is a deal maker.
But the White House has kept Biden on the sidelines during the negotiations between Boehner and Obama. A Senate GOP aide said Biden and McConnell have not talked during the negotiations. And some Republicans think Biden's absence is a sign that Obama's not serious about closing a deal.
2. McConnell's no longer the top Republican in Washington. It's easy to forgot that when McConnell helped strike a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2010, Boehner had won the House the month before but was not yet wielding the speaker's gavel. McConnell was still the only GOP check on a Congress and White House controlled by Democrats.
3. McConnell has stayed on offense. In fact, on the Senate floor Friday afternoon, McConnell argued that Democrats poisoned the well by declaring Boehner's Plan B dead on arrival and are now responsible for finding a solution that can be signed into law. "We simply cannot solve the problems we face unless and until the President of the United States either finds the will or develops the ability to lead," he said.
And, of course, there's the oft-mentioned fact that McConnell, who faces re-election in 2014, is watching his right flank for primary challengers.
Of course, as Senate Republican leader, McConnell will have some role in an eventual deal, but Republicans aren't expecting him to reprise the role of closer that he played these past two years.
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