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Sen. Mitch McConnell has stiff-armed Donald Trump at every turn since the former president exited the White House, ignoring his policy demands and disregarding attempts to oust him as the minority leader.
This week, the Kentucky Republican engineered a deal with Senate Democrats to temporarily lift the debt ceiling over Trump’s objections and calls for his replacement as the chamber’s top Republican, a perch he has occupied for almost 15 years. It is part of a pattern that has repeated itself since the former president’s defeat last November. Trump insists McConnell support or oppose some policy or take some course of action, and the minority leader demurs.
Trump lately has escalated his feud with McConnell by advocating for his removal as the Senate minority leader. “Mitch is not the guy, not the right guy, he’s not doing the job,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. McConnell’s reaction has been the same — no reaction; and not the slightest hint of altering his leadership strategy to satisfy a former president who happens to maintain a great deal of support among grassroots Republican voters.
“McConnell has one goal: helping Republicans regain control of the Senate for the purpose of enacting Republican policy goals and stifling the Democratic agenda,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican operative in Louisville and longtime McConnell adviser. “Trump lurches from one public relations [gambit] to the next; McConnell plays a longer game where there are actual political and policy goals at the end of a journey.”
McConnell and Trump tangled periodically during the 45th president’s tenure but usually found common ground on major legislation and appointments to the executive branch and the federal judiciary. But their relationship grew acrimonious since Trump lost his bid for a second term to President Joe Biden and McConnell refused to join his fanciful claims that the 2020 election was stolen and recognized the incoming administration. They have only become more estranged from each since then.
In the waning days of Trump’s presidency, McConnell became an outspoken critic of his leadership, although he voted against convicting him on a single article of impeachment alleging he fomented the ransacking of the United States Capitol by his grassroots supporters on Jan. 6. In the ensuing months, as Trump issued scathing statements criticizing McConnell and giving him marching orders on how to handle the Biden agenda, the Kentuckian gave him the cold shoulder.
McConnell, 79, has not acquiesced, nor has he responded to the 75-year-old former president’s provocations.
That approach — whether spurning Trump to lead nearly 20 Republicans in joining with Senate Democrats to support Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package or agreeing to provide enough GOP votes to pass a two-month, $480 billion increase in the debt ceiling — has helped the seventh-term senator maintain the confidence and support of the 49 Republicans he manages, some of whom are strong Trump supporters. Others present themselves that way publicly because they are mulling a 2024 presidential bid.
“Obviously, Mitch made the calculation, I think correctly, that the right way to handle Trump was to turn the page,” a Republican senator said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “The idea of someone challenging Mitch is far-fetched.”
To explain an important aspect of why Trump’s calls to eject McConnell from leadership have gone unheeded, this Republican compared the minority leader to Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has emerged as a fierce critic of the former president since Jan. 6 and lost her No. 3 ranking post as House GOP conference chairman because of that. In other words, McConnell has not made his quarrel with Trump a problem for his members.
“He probably feels just as strongly about Trump, if not more so than Cheney, but realizes the prudent course of action is not to comment,” the senator said. “Mitch is just much more disciplined. When you’re in leadership, you don’t want to be the story.”
McConnell occasionally comes under friendly fire for his decisions and did so again after he brokered an accord with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York to allow for the short-term hike in the debt limit. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, complained that McConnell had backed down under pressure after saying since mid-summer there would be no GOP votes to extend the U.S. Treasury’s ability to borrow money.
“Here’s our problem as Republicans: We said for two months we’re going do one thing, at the end we’ve done another,” the South Carolina Republican said in remarks on the Senate floor. “I think it matters to the people who listen to us — and have some faith in us.”
But over the years, albeit amid some exceptions, McConnell tends not to act or chart a path forward without first discussing matters with individual Republican senators taking their concerns and recommendations into account. That means, regardless of how the GOP votes shake out on a particular piece of legislation or arcane parliamentary procedure, it is likely that McConnell’s strategy has been blessed by the vast majority of his conference.
“He’s not dragging people kicking and screaming to something,” a Republican lobbyist said. “He’s making decisions based on lots of conversations. That’s an important key.”
Ironically, one high-profile issue in recent years on which McConnell did not first quiz his members for their preference was his decision to block Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by then-President Barack Obama.
Immediately upon the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016, McConnell announced that Garland, now the U.S. attorney general, would not even receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, let alone a vote on the Senate floor. Rather, McConnell said the voters should decide who gets to appoint his successor according to their choice for president between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton the following November.
That freelance move by McConnell, then the majority leader, turned out quite popular with Senate Republicans. Ultimately, it also was a big boost to Trump’s prospects.
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Original Author: David M. Drucker
Original Location: Mitch McConnell stiff-arms Trump as ex-president calls for his demotion