Senator Gridlock Rides to the Rescue, and Possibly Reelection

McConnell’s role as a negotiator undercuts the Democrats’ primary argument against him.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: (L-R) U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) walk from McConnell's office to the Senate Chamber on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. As Democratic and Republican leaders negotiate an end to the shutdown and a way to raise the debt limit, the White House postponed a planned Monday afternoon meeting with Boehner and other Congressional leaders. The government shutdown is currently in its 14th day. 
National Journal
Jill Lawrence
Add to Briefcase
Jill Lawrence
Oct. 15, 2013, 6:17 a.m.

Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s late-break­ing emer­gence at the cen­ter of ne­go­ti­ations to stave off de­fault and re­open the gov­ern­ment is mak­ing life more com­plic­ated for the Demo­crat who wants to oust him.

Ken­tucky Sec­ret­ary of State Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes routinely refers to Mc­Con­nell as Sen­at­or Grid­lock and Demo­crats say she does not in­tend to stop. Her aides were us­ing the derog­at­ory nick­name even as Mc­Con­nell and Harry Re­id were deep in­to dis­cus­sions of how to bring the coun­try back from the brink.

Mc­Con­nell broke last month with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s cru­sade to de­fund Obama­care ““ the Af­ford­able Care Act ““ in a bill to keep the rest of the gov­ern­ment run­ning. That and his talks with Re­id make him seem, at least for the mo­ment, like a prag­mat­ist amid the tea party ab­so­lut­ists on the right. The moves also re­flect his re­l­at­ive free­dom to op­er­ate as he sees fit.

While Mc­Con­nell has a tea party primary chal­lenger, Louis­ville busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, two polls last sum­mer showed he had three times as much sup­port as Bev­in. He is not act­ing like a wor­ried man, nor does he need to. “I don’t think Matt Bev­in is even the slight­est blip on the radar screen. He has ab­so­lutely no clue how to run a cam­paign,” says Re­pub­lic­an Marc Wilson, a Ken­tucky-based strategist-turned-lob­by­ist.

That’s one reas­on. The oth­er is the an­ger and frus­tra­tion of people af­fected by the shut­down or simply fed up with the stale­mate in Wash­ing­ton. “There’s no doubt there’s a polit­ic­al up­side for be­ing part of the solu­tion,” says a strategist close to the Mc­Con­nell cam­paign. “Vir­tu­ally every Amer­ic­an sees the prob­lem as a cata­strophe.”

The up sides are many, in fact. Mc­Con­nell po­s­i­tions him­self as a con­struct­ive force for the gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paign next year against Grimes, and gains a talk­ing point he can use every time she calls him Sen­at­or Grid­lock. He helps put an end to an epis­ode that has been ter­ribly de­struct­ive to his party ““with polls show­ing that three-quar­ters of the coun­try dis­ap­proves of the way the GOP has been hand­ling the budget crisis. And he gets cred­it for be­ing ra­tion­al about what his minor­ity party can and can’t achieve when the Sen­ate and White House are in Demo­crat­ic hands.

The Grimes camp says Mc­Con­nell has a long his­tory of ob­struc­tion­ism in the Sen­ate that has worked against Ken­tucky’s in­terests. The cam­paign is­sued a state­ment this week sug­gest­ing that “Sen­at­or Grid­lock hopes to swoop in for a last-minute back­room deal” be­cause the mar­kets are slid­ing in an­ti­cip­a­tion of de­fault and “Mc­Con­nell be­lieves his own fin­ances will be im­pacted.”

It isn’t the first time Mc­Con­nell has swooped in. The 2012 fisc­al cliff, the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act, the tax deal of 2010 — whenev­er po­lar­iz­a­tion threatens to de­rail the eco­nomy and re­la­tions between the two parties, Mc­Con­nell is in the thick of ne­go­ti­ations. Josh Holmes, a seni­or ad­viser to Mc­Con­nell’s cam­paign, says “Sen­at­or Grid­lock” is a ca­ri­ca­ture that doesn’t hold up. “Vir­tu­ally every time we’ve come to an eco­nom­ic stand­still be­cause of fail­ure in Wash­ing­ton, you’ve got Sen. Mc­Con­nell work­ing with both sides to fix it,” he says.

And yet, Mc­Con­nell has a his­tory of ob­struct­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­ti­at­ives and even the nor­mal work­ings of gov­ern­ment. For in­stance, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans have for six months blocked re­peated Demo­crat­ic at­tempts to hold budget ne­go­ti­ations with the House ““ talks that might have aver­ted the shut­down. “He’s used par­tis­an­ship and the fili­buster more spe­cific­ally to bring Wash­ing­ton to a grind­ing halt and cre­ate the type of cul­ture and cir­cum­stances that led to this mess,” says Matt Canter, a spokes­man for the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. He says that ar­gu­ment re­mains “sa­li­ent, power­ful and ac­cur­ate.”

But Mc­Con­nell will have an equally power­ful counter-ar­gu­ment now that the debt ceil­ing and shut­down crises have con­verged and he is once again com­ing to the res­cue.

If that re­calls the pro­ver­bi­al man who killed his par­ents then begged the court for mercy be­cause he was an orphan, well, maybe so. But that doesn’t make it any easi­er for Grimes. Mc­Con­nell is sound­ing like the voice of reas­on these days in a party that has con­trol of one half of one-third of the gov­ern­ment, and a few dozen people who be­lieve that’s a man­date.

What We're Following See More »
Chef Jose Andres Campaigns With Clinton
0 minute ago
White House Weighs in Against Non-Compete Contracts
46 minutes ago

"The Obama administration on Tuesday called on U.S. states to ban agreements prohibiting many workers from moving to their employers’ rivals, saying it would lead to a more competitive labor market and faster wage growth. The administration said so-called non-compete agreements interfere with worker mobility and states should consider barring companies from requiring low-wage workers and other employees who are not privy to trade secrets or other special circumstances to sign them."

House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
1 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

No Lobbying Clinton’s Transition Team
4 hours ago

Hillary Clinton's transition team has in place strict rules to limit the influence that lobbyists could have "in crafting the nominee’s policy agenda." The move makes it unlikely, at least for now, that Clinton would overturn Obama's executive order limiting the role that lobbyists play in government

Federal Government Employees Giving Money to Clinton
4 hours ago

Federal employees from 14 agencies have given nearly $2 million in campaign donations in the presidential race thus far, and 95 percent of the donations, totaling $1.9 million, have been to the Clinton campaign. Employees at the State Department, which Clinton lead for four years, has given 99 percent of its donations to the Democratic nominee.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.