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McConnell's new plan to preserve his power: Flattering moderate Democrats

He hopes that saying nice things about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will convince them to let him block their agenda.

By Josh Israel - April 15, 2021
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a new plan to keep blocking progressive legislation in the Senate: kiss up to two moderate Democrats.

The Kentucky Republican instructed his minority caucus on Tuesday to publicly praise Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Politico reported Thursday, hoping they will “save” the Senate by preserving the filibuster rule.

“What they’ve been very forthright about is protecting the institution against pressures from their own party. I know what that’s like,” McConnell then praised the two senators to the outlet. “Every time I said no. And it’s nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don’t want to destroy the very essence of the Senate.”

Democrats hold a narrow 51-50 majority in the Senate, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. This has enabled Democrats, when unified, to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees and pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without needing any GOP support.

But due to the Senate’s longstanding filibuster rules, most other action requires a 60-vote supermajority.

In the past, McConnell has taken advantage of this to obstruct the Democrats’ agenda. Some Democrats and dozens of progressive groups have proposed getting rid of the legislative filibuster entirely, worried that McConnell and his minority colleagues will thwart popular legislation. Manchin and Sinema have thus far rejected the idea, defending the right of the minority to block the majority’s agenda.

Given wide GOP opposition, keeping the filibuster could allow McConnell to effectively kill action on voting rights, protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as kids, LGBTQ equality, gun background checks, equal pay legislation, cannabis decriminalization, a living wage, and statehood for Washington, D.C.

But while McConnell now is heaping praise on the two Democrats he sees as key to his power to obstruct, the GOP previously did everything possible to defeat their legislative priorities.

In 2018, Sinema won an open seat over Republican Martha McSally. McConnell sent McSally the $10,000 legal maximum contribution and his allies did everything possible to back McSally and smear Sinema. The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent more than $7.7 million on the race.

The same year, Manchin won reelection over Republican Patrick Morrisey. McConnell gave Morrisey a $10,000 contribution as the party committee spent more than $2.8 million for the failed effort to unseat Manchin.

In June 2019, Manchin lashed out at McConnell for blocking votes on miners’ health care and pensions.

“He is the sole person that is blocking a vote on my amendment to the NDAA that would secure coal miners’ healthcare and pensions, even though it has bipartisan support and would better the lives of every West Virginian, Kentuckian and American,” Manchin wrote in a press release. “The American Miners Act has to be attached to a must-pass bill like the NDAA, because Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into a dysfunctional and unproductive body that no longer practices regular order.”

Last April, Sinema forcefully refuted McConnell’s suggestion that Congress simply let states go bankrupt, saying in a statement: “Partisan politics in Washington shouldn’t put responsible states like Arizona — or our cities, towns, or counties that operate on shoestring budgets — at risk of bankruptcy. Declaring bankruptcy would mean cuts to firefighters, police, health services, and job and business opportunities.”

While it is unclear whether McConnell’s new strategy will work, some of his GOP colleagues are already following their leader’s instructions.

“For me right now, they’re almost guardians of democracy because they’re trying to protect us from the loss of the legislative filibuster and everything that would come with that. They’re good people,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune told Politico. “They want to do the right thing.”

“They’ve both taken strong stands against the filibuster,” praised West Virginia Sen. Shelly Moore Capito.

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said the duo has been “been very helpful” in slowing down the Democrats’ “radical ideas.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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