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
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 »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
35 minutes ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×