Robert Costa of National Review, who won praise for his coverage of the fiscal showdown these past few weeks, has a new interview out with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In it McConnell offered up an assessment of where Republicans went wrong in the shutdown standoff and seemed to suggest he was against the GOP’s defunding efforts all along.
“I can tell you when I knew that we’d end up here — July,” McConnell told Costa in the interview published Thursday. “We had extensive discussions in July about how the defund strategy couldn’t possibly succeed.” It was a matter of simple math, he said. There are only 46 Republicans in the senate, and when you add in the president, he knew a defunding effort had no chance of success.
After the interview, Costa, who’s known for his understanding of and empathy for conservatives, tweeted of McConnell:
He’s relieved the “quixotic” effort to make have a big standoff is over, and he reminds me he’s been throwing cold water on it since July— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 17, 2013
History suggests otherwise. As TPM‘s Sahil Kapur reported at the time, the Senate minority leader declined to take a position when pressed by reporters about conservative efforts to block a government-funding resolution unless Obamacare is defunded.
“We’ve had a lot of internal discussions about the way forward this fall, on both the continuing resolution and ultimately the debt ceiling. And those discussions continue,” McConnell said, according to Kapur’s piece, published July 30. “I know they’re going on on the House side as well. There’s no particular announcement at this point, but you all are familiar with the various points of view about how we might go forward later this year.”
We’ll have to take McConnell at his word for what he did behind closed doors, but in not splashing cold water on the idea publicly, he helped create a vacuum in which the movement was allowed to flourish.
By Sept. 17 he still hadn’t taken a position on a strategy for defunding Obamacare through the continuing resolution. As Jonathan Strong reported in National Review, “aides to both Boehner and McConnell actually intervened to ensure that comments both of their bosses made did not actually amount to taking a position. In the resulting vacuum, the push to defund Obamacare continued to gain momentum. And when Cantor finally revealed the House leadership’s plan last week, it was too late — the seeds of dissent had already been planted.”
Polling might offer some insight into his change of heart. McConnell was facing a variety of competing pressures from the beginning, including heat from his 2014 GOP primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who called on him to sign a pledge vowing never to support a continuing resolution if it funds Obamacare. As the political dangers of inciting government shutdown became increasingly apparent, that calculus started to look more and more off — and more and more like a political risk in a potential general-election campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In his interview with Costa, McConnell dismissed the notion that his navigation of the shutdown was driven by poll numbers, calling that “the Mother Jones thesis.” It’s not particularly controversial to suggest politicians are motivated in part by poll numbers, not in an election year. But to look at McConnell’s actions devoid of the larger context misses the point. Republicans have been advocating gridlock and hostage-taking for years. In 2011, for instance, they took the debt ceiling hostage and won major policy concessions, though that likely had more to do with the fact that they’d won the 2010 election and thus its resulting mandate, as Ezra Klein reported in Wonkbook on Thursday. “Going forward, Republicans will be more afraid of this kind of brinksmanship,” Klein predicted, “and Democrats will be far less afraid of it.”
Indeed, the most passed-around line from the interview with Costa underscored Klein’s point. “We’re not going to do this again in connection with the debt ceiling or with a government shutdown,” McConnell said.
McConnell deserves credit for helping to broker a deal at the end, and more generally, for his political savvy. But don’t let him rewrite the history books with how he thwarted the GOP’s big, dumb standoff idea. He didn’t come early to that party.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."