The PJ Tatler

Unhappy McConnell Dresses Down Fractious GOP Senators, Then Fobs Them Off

Mighty Mitch, having bamboozled not only Kentuckians but the entire nation into returning him as Senate majority “leader,” is displeased with his caucus:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got his hands on something he believed to be damning: An email from Sen. Mike Lee’s aide to conservative activists plotting to use an Obamacare vote as a political weapon. So McConnell quickly summoned the GOP to a closed-door session in the Senate’s Mansfield Room Monday night. And he made sure his caucus read the email, placing a copy on every Republican senator’s chair before they arrived. A lawmaker in the room described the mood as “combative.”

One GOP senator after another objected to the Lee aide’s tactic and called for GOP unity, including party leaders like John Thune of South Dakota and the retiring Dan Coats of Indiana. Two senators in tough reelection races — Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — were vocal, as was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), sources said. The email, Republican leaders believed, was what they needed to marginalize conservative hardliners who had thrown their plans into disarray the last several days.

Let’s go down the list. Coats is a time-serving non-entity who’s shuffling off to the old folks’ home. Thune had promise, but that seems to have vanished in the windswept wasteland of whichever Dakota he’s from. Johnson of Wisconsin is actually a good guy and a good conservative with a good chance of losing his seat, but Ms. Ayotte flashed her true colors by aligning with the McCain-Graham axis and has disqualified herself from future consideration on a national ticket. In short, who cares what they think?

The sitdown appeared to be an effort by McConnell to impose order in his caucus after days of infighting, initiated by Cruz, who accused McConnell of “lying” in a hard-charging series of floor speeches and public statements. Cruz, along with Lee, have sought to use arcane Senate procedures to force through simple majority votes on a range of conservative causes — to take a hard line on Iran, defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare.

But Lee, extending an olive branch of sorts, decided not to push the matter Monday night. And GOP senators said during the session that using the filibuster-proof reconciliation process remained the best bet to move a repeal of Obamacare this year, attendees said.

Well, no rush, guys. Here’s McConnell’s super-awesome plan to repeal Obamacare with just 51 votes, coincidentally announced after the Monday night -come-to-Jesus Senate confab:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell championed a renewed push to bypass a filibuster and repeal Obamacare with 51 votes on Tuesday, he announced in a joint statement with Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber. “Republicans are united in working to repeal the broken promises of Obamacare,” McConnell said in the statement, adding that the Senate will “continue our effort to use reconciliation … to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents.”

Lee, who has often been at odds with McConnell, has long advocated using Senate procedures to try and kill the president’s health care law. “A Senate vote to repeal Obamacare on a simple majority basis through reconciliation is the best way to pursue that goal,” Lee said in the statement. “The Majority Leader and I are committed to using reconciliation to repeal Obamacare in the 114th Congress.”

Yeah, right. And here’s why it won’t work:

McConnell does not have the authority to decide unilaterally that a given law can be repealed through reconciliation; instead, parliamentarians, the umpires of Senate procedure, interpret the relevant rules and precedents whenever a disagreement arises. Much of Obamacare does not qualify for reconciliation under the Byrd rule, the regulation that governs the process. Some Republicans believe that McConnell has done more to deter colleagues from pushing for a full repeal than he did to convince the parliamentarians that it would be possible under the Byrd rule. “Internally, they’ve been aggressive in terms of, whenever this subject comes up, saying we can only do so much,” says one senior GOP Senate aide.

We’re being played. Again.