Late to the Party: Mitch McConnell Did Not Come Early to Ending the Shutdown

The senator deserves credit for helping to negotiate an end to the standoff — and also bears some responsibility for getting us there.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Oct. 18, 2013, 9:22 a.m.

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 »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

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.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

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.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

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."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

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.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

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."

Source:
×