McConnell Brushes Off Attacks from the Right
Policy + Politics

McConnell Brushes Off Attacks from the Right

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The conservative furor over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s role in raising the debt ceiling last week has begun to recede, with indications McConnell’s decision to help break a filibuster and pass the unpopular legislation hasn’t hurt the Kentucky Republican’s reelection prospects.

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint said on Sunday that McConnell and other Republican leaders in Congress had little choice but to lift the debt limit to avoid getting blamed by President Obama and others for harming the economy and roiling the markets.  

Related: The ‘New and Improved’ Ted Cruz Infuriates His Colleagues Again

“The Republican leadership has figured out either they give the president all the money and debt he wants, or he’s going to close the government down and blame it on them,” the former Republican senator and Tea Party champion from South Carolina  said on CBS’s Face the Nation.”

Republicans repeatedly have been blamed by voters for past fiscal crises – including a near default by the Treasury in 2011 and last October’s 16-day government shutdown over Obamacare funding – and they don’t want that to happen again with their chances good for taking back control of the Senate while retaining a hold on the House in the November mid-term elections.

Mitch McConnell said during a campaign event in Louisville on Friday that he voted to advance a “clean” debt-ceiling bill because his job is “to protect the country” when he can, according to Associated Press video.  McConnell said that he has long preferred making structural changes to fiscal policy as a condition to raising the debt ceiling, but House Republicans couldn’t agree on an approach and the president refused to allow any amendments on the bill.

“We were confronted with a clean debt ceiling in the Senate or default. I believe I have to act in the best interests of the country, and every time we’ve been confronted with a potential crisis, the guy you’re looking at is the one who stepped up to solve the problem,” McConnell told reporters.

Related: Boehner Under Siege from Conservative Groups

McConnell, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) prompted an uproar among tea party Republicans last week for their roles in passing the bill to raise the debt ceiling for another year. The national debt is currently around $17.2 trillion and rising.

Boehner passed the bill in the House with the support of only 28 Republicans after he repeatedly failed to galvanize the majority Republicans around any measure that would link raising the nation’s borrowing authority to a GOP policy demand – such as eliminating a cut in military pension benefits for some retirees or authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  (The former was passed immediately by the Senate after the debt ceiling bill passed.)

Once the bill reached the Senate, McConnell and Cornyn were forced to vote along with ten other Republicans to clear the bill for a final vote and avert the government’s default on its debt after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded a 60-vote threshold.

Related: The GOP Debt Ceiling Vote: Surrender or Strategy?

McConnell and Cornyn, who both face tea party challengers in their primary elections this year, had worked out an arrangement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to allow the bill to pass by a simple majority – meaning all Democrats would vote for it and all Republicans would vote no. But Cruz wouldn’t let his own party members off the hook and forced some of them to support a higher debt ceiling on a procedural vote.

“The reason there’s a 60-vote rule in the Senate… is it requires some bipartisan working together to pass something,” DeMint said today. “If Ted Cruz hadn’t required the standard procedure, there are several others who would.”

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that McConnell’s vote is having no discernible effect on his reelection efforts, despite the angry assertion of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a Tea Party group that “Kentucky deserves better.”

“Once again, McConnell caves to the left,” declared Matt Bevin, McConnell’s Republican primary challenger, on his Twitter account.

The Post found that even some of McConnell’s biggest critics concede that the debt limit vote is unlikely to prompt a massive shift in support by Kentucky’s Republican primary voters away from the incumbent.

“If you’re looking for a straw that is going to break the camel’s back, the debt ceiling vote won’t be it,” David Adams, a Kentucky Tea Party activists who helped recruit Bevin to run told the Post. “It’s not going to be the big turning point.”

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