Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, is looking ahead to the Feb. 7 debt-ceiling deadline facing leaders in Washington. To prevent another close call, Schumer is suggesting what’s known around the Capitol as the “McConnell Rule.”
The proposal was introduced by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky during the 2011 fiscal crisis, and it would let the president extend the debt limit but also allow Congress to send along a resolution of disapproval. If the president vetoed it, Congress, of course, could then override the veto.
It’s expected that Schumer would want to take any possible leverage away from Republicans, but it’s also worth pointing out that Schumer’s comment on Sunday’s Meet the Press was the second time Schumer embraced McConnell in public recently.
The first time came in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown and debt-ceiling extension when Schumer heaped praise on McConnell for working out an 11th-hour deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As has been typical for Schumer throughout the shutdown and debt-limit drama, he shared his shrewd political analysis at the same time.
“My hat goes off to Senator McConnell,” Schumer said at the time. “He’s in a very difficult situation politically. And once he saw that Speaker [John] Boehner in the House was tied in a total knot, he knew he had the obligation to step up, even if it might hurt him in his campaign. I respect that. I think every one of my Democratic colleagues respects that. And it’s something that I’ll remember.”
Schumer might have been paying McConnell a compliment, but that’s not the way the comment played in conservative media circles or in McConnell’s GOP primary back home in Kentucky.
“Mitch McConnell is promoted in a positive light by the detestable Chuck Schumer and the media: ‘He’s the adult in the room,’ ” said conservative talk radio show host Mark Levin. “How the hell can I support this guy for anything?”
Levin went on to endorse McConnell’s primary challenger, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
For his part, McConnell has said in interviews since the president signed the agreement he helped broker that his role in sealing the deal illustrates he’s the go-to guy when gridlock strikes in D.C.
“I’ve demonstrated, once again, that when the Congress is in gridlock and the country is at risk, I’m the guy who steps forward and tries to get us out of the ditch,” McConnell said in an interview with National Review.
From his perspective, the deal undercuts his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has painted him as “Senator Gridlock.”
“She’s going to need to find a new rationale,” McConnell said.
Schumer’s flickering embrace of McConnell promotes Senate collegiality but also, shrewdly, dings McConnell with the right-wing of the Republican party, said long-time New York Democratic operative Hank Sheinkopf.
“The two actions fit together. Here’s Schumer who caresses McConnell while at the same time putting a knife in his back at home,” Sheinkopf said. “Schumer is a very smart tactician.”