Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may be wildly unpopular with Trump supporters and much of the Republican base. But he is loved and respected by almost all GOP senators.
To understand McConnell’s leadership dynamic you have to look at the rules and traditions of the Senate. McConnell’s popularity is based on his desire to accommodate the concerns, large and small, of the Republican caucus. Not all of those concerns are political. Many are personal or professional. McConnell’s undoubted popularity with Republican senators flows from his power to grant favors and dispense justice.
McConnell, a master parliamentarian, has run rings around Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor. He has frustrated, flummoxed, and frazzled Democrats through his intricate knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He has played the obstructionist with far more skill than Schumer did during the Trump years.
Now, McConnell is playing the long game and looking to obstruct the Democrats’ GOP/Trump hatefest they are calling the January 6 Commission. McConnell is making the unusual personal request of GOP senators that they uphold the filibuster and block the commission as a personal favor to him.
One of those Republicans told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as “a personal favor” to him.
“No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission,” said the Republican.
A McConnell aide told CNN that he was not aware of all of McConnell’s private conversations but said that what the Kentucky Republican says privately is no different than what he says publicly.
Three GOP senators, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, have expressed support for the Democrats’ idea of a bipartisan commission. Democrats need seven more Republicans to break with McConnell to get the bill establishing the commission to the floor.
McConnell’s personal appeal means that there are several Republicans wavering. It’s understandable. The pressure is coming from the media — national and local — as well as prominent constituents and ordinary folk. All the home folks know is that the media is telling them the commission will be bipartisan. They have no clue that Democrats have no interest in discovering the causes of political violence that led to the riot. If they did, they would have examined the riots and unrest of the previous summer.
Senator Susan Collins hasn’t given up trying to find a compromise. She thinks she can get an amendment passes that addresses many of McConnell’s concerns.
“My hope is that we can get, with this amendment, a sufficient number of Republicans to pass the bill. We owe it to the brave men and women who defended our lives that day. And in some cases did so at the cost of their lives. And that’s why I feel so strongly about that,” she said.
That’s a forlorn hope. McConnell isn’t interested in seating a commission, no matter what shape it takes, any more than Schumer is interested in getting at the truth.
According to one Republican on Capitol Hill, McConnell sent an email to the rest of the GOP conference highlighting and recommending Burr’s statement.
But despite those overt signals, Republicans say the Kentucky senator has been even more insistent this week as the debate on the January 6 bill in the Senate approached. According to the other Republican familiar with the effort, McConnell made an impassioned case against the commission to a group of GOP senators behind closed doors this week.
“I’ve made my position pretty clear,” McConnell told CNN’s Manu Raju when asked if he was lobbying his colleagues hard on this.
McConnell has pointed out in the past that the major failings on January 6 are already being investigated by several House and Senate committees. They’ve already held hearings, heard witnesses, and are busy writing up recommendations for reform. Any commission formed by the Democrats would simply be duplicating their work.
But Democrats think they need the circus of nationally televised hearings to stave off Republicans in 2022 from a takeover of Congress. They may be right. But McConnell will probably prevail and prevent the circus from performing.