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Mitch McConnell Lays It On the Line at CPAC

As for those senators who left the fold both on D.C. voting rights and the stimulus bill, he rebuffed invitations to criticize them. The D.C. issue, he argued, will ultimately be decided by the courts, where the plain language of the Constitution will result in the legislation being struck down. And he had no patience for Michael Steele's comment that he might not support certain incumbent senators. Without identifying Senator Arlen Specter by name, McConnell declared that he will be supporting the only one of the three up for re-election -- whom he stated would stick with the Republicans on the budget and other key votes.

On the government's deal with Citibank, McConnell diagnosed himself as suffering from "bailout fatigue." He noted that while he -- along with the Wall Street Journal, National Review and both presidential candidates -- supported the original TARP because of the threat of a financial meltdown, it is "now being used as precedent for unlimited infusions of cash" into financial institutions. He warned banks that when they take the government as a "partner" they may come to regret it. His advice: "Get rid of your new partner as soon as you can."

I asked him about card check and its prospects in the Senate. His eyes lit up and he chose his words with great care and emphasis, as if this was at or near the top of his "to do" (or rather, "to prevent") list. He said he was "somewhat optimistic" on card check and that he "will have everyone" in the conference to filibuster a vote. Card check, he explained, "is one of the surest ways to Europeanize America." If card check is passed, when coupled with excessive spending, "we turn this into France." And he had a warning for Democrats in right to work states: "Voting for this may not be good for your political health."

I pressed him on whether the Democrats might achieve some grand compromise -- keeping secret ballots in place but enacting mandatory arbitration that would allow a government official to put in place a two year contract if the parties could not agree on a union deal. He was blunt: "No part of this bill is acceptable." And would he have all 41 senators to oppose this portion of the bill? "We are working it very hard," he answered. He then declared flatly that at a minimum two of the senators lost on the stimulus vote "will be with us" on this.

The bottom line: McConnell understands the stakes for the GOP and for conservatives more broadly. With fewer troops he nevertheless is in fighting form, trying to beat back an aggressive and ultra-liberal Democratic agenda. The degree to which he succeeds and is able to recruit more foot soldiers in the U.S. Senate will, to a large extent, determine the future course of the Obama agenda and the prospects for a conservative revival.