Saturday, October 25, 2014

Which McConnell would be Senate majority leader: the hard-line party stalwart or the pragmatic negotiator?

McConnell (Photo by Mark Cornelison)
In an article appearing in Saturday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, Washington Bureau reporter Sean Cockerham of McClatchy Newspapers asks "which version of" Sen. Mitch McConnell will appear if he wins re-election and is promoted to Senate majority leader.

Would it be "the pragmatic deal maker, or the partisan whose feuds the past several years with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have helped define the most dysfunctional Congress of modern times?" Cockerham looks at McConnell’s extensive history in the Senate, but focuses more on his recent leadership of the Republican caucus in opposition to President Obama: "McConnell is known as a skilled tactician and, until the election of Obama at least, as more a pragmatist than a partisan."

That suggests that McConnell has more to gain from his record as a negotiator in 2008 with Reid, and later with Vice President Biden, than as a hard-line party stalwart. However, Cockerham quotes Norman Ornstein, "a centrist scholar on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute," as saying that McConnell's "use of the filibuster as a weapon of mass obstruction" raises doubts about McConnell’s assertion that a Senate led by him would not block amendments in the way Reid has.

"McConnell laid out a more confrontational vision at a private gathering organized by the billionaire Koch brothers in June," Cockerham notes, using "the spending bill" to targeting the Environmental Protection Agency, Obamacare and financial reform, perhaps under budget-reconciliation rules that block filibusters by the minority. "He'd risk a politically damaging government shutdown."

McConnell biographer John David Dyche "believes McConnell as majority leader would want to work with both parties to get things accomplished, but that it would be up to the other Republican senators how much he’d be able to do so," Cockerham reports. "He likely would be running a Senate with just a razor-thin Republican majority, riven by internal divisions between tea party acolytes and centrists over issues such as spending and immigration."

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