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McConnell's Senate influence debated in filibuster deal

McConnell's Senate influence debated in filibuster deal

by Joe Arnold


Posted on July 18, 2013 at 10:14 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Two weeks after U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters that his considerable influence as Republican Leader of the Senate is a main issue in his bid for a sixth term in 2014, Democrats are chortling amid conflicting reports whether McConnell was undercut by other Republicans in a deal regarding Senate rules and the confirmation of executive branch nominees.

Roll Call reports that McConnell told his caucus he could have brokered a better deal than the one announced in part by Sen. John McCain (R-Az):

McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called “bullshit” loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the “buyer’s remorse” among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background.

In exchange for Republicans agreeing to end the filibusters of seven Obama nominees, Democrats agreed to replace two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) and not change Senate rules on current filibusters to a simple majority vote, the "nuclear option," rather than the 60 vote threshold which protects the influence of the minority party.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal's Corey Boles, the NLRB portion of the compromise was originally McConnell's idea:

Mr. McConnell sought to emphasize the role he played over the course of several months in trying to resolve the nominations impasse. He said he suggested to President Barack Obama in January that he send up two new nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to replace those he had recess appointed last year. And he said he said the same thing to Vice President Joe Biden a few weeks ago, when the two began talking about how to end the dispute.

He seemed to play down the role played by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) during the weekend negotiations, saying a number of senators on his side of the aisle got involved over the weekend.

Yet, the New York Times' David Firestone wrote on Tuesday that McConnell was trying to save face:

"The senator is a master at putting an untroubled face on an embarrassing situation. This afternoon, after voting against the deal, he told reporters how terrific it all was. We’re pleased, he said, that Democrats decided not to change the Senate rules and ban the nominations filibuster. He called it “a constructive outcome and an opportunity to get back to normal.”

And he insisted that Republicans gave up none of their rights. “We still will be dealing with controversial nominees in a way that the controversial nominees inevitably produce, a great debate,” he said. “And all the options available to the minority remain intact.”

In fact, Mr. McConnell lost quite a bit of power today. His caucus was forced to kneel to the Democrats, and for all his insistence that the filibuster remains a real weapon, he was unable to stop 17 Republicans from setting the weapon down. If these Republicans continue to allow votes on nominees, Mr. McConnell will not be able to block other people President Obama wants on his team. (Of course, that remains a big if, and Mr. McConnell will undoubtedly encourage obstruction.)

Democrat and Republican operatives are anxiously shopping contrasting narratives of McConnell's role in the talks, both aware of its importance as McConnell has emphasized his outsized role as a Kentucky senator compared to the role 34-year old Alison Lundergan Grimes would play in the Senate.

"On the influence side, Kentucky would lose dramatically by trading in the leader of one of the two parties in the Senate for a rookie," McConnell told reporters on July 3.

"Do we really want to lose the influence that's been acquired over the years?" McConnell asked.  "I don't think Kentuckians want to go back to the back bench when they have a seat on the front bench."