Mitch McConnell Is No John Boehner
Despite the anti-Mitch McConnell chatter on talk radio and elsewhere, don’t look for the Senate majority leader to fold like John A. Boehner — at least not for the foreseeable future. The Kentucky Republican is holding quite a few more cards than his counterpart in the House.
The calls for McConnell to step down have come hard and fast since Boehner, R-Ohio, announced last week his own intentions to lay down his gavel.
“Under Pressure: McConnell Pushed to Resign as Senate Majority Leader,” read a Washington Times headline on Sunday. Last week, Louisiana governor and 2016 presidential GOP hopeful Bobby Jindal told a conservative crowd it was the Kentucky Republican’s “turn.”
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus sounded off as well, firing warning shots at McConnell. Right-wing personalities such as radio host Mark Levin piled on.
Like Boehner, McConnell is a target. But there are differences between the chambers that give McConnell advantages Boehner lacked.
For one, the tea party-fueled wave that reshaped the House Republican Conference has had less of an impact in the Senate.
It wasn’t that long ago that conservative groups such as FreedomWorks for America, the Senate Conservatives Action Fund and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund were spending big to aid Matt Bevin’s attempt to unseat McConnell in the 2014 Kentucky Republican primary. (McConnell won with 60 percent of the vote.)
In 2013, Levin called for McConnell’s defeat. Today, McConnell is on Team Bevin, backing the Kentucky businessman in his bid for the governor’s mansion.
And, while members of the House Freedom Caucus have frequently been critical of McConnell, especially on strategy, no one in the Senate has called for him to step down.
He’s been chosen as Republican leader in five straight elections. Even his most strident GOP critic, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another 2016 hopeful, declined to call for McConnell to step down — and this is a person who, in July, called McConnell a “liar” from the Senate floor.
“There’s 54 of us, we all have these very close personal relationships, with the exception obviously of you know, Ted Cruz and etc.,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who likens McConnell’s success as leader to chess.
“Mitch loves the game,” McCain said. “He likes to move the pieces around the chessboard and he does it very well. I think the only way he’s leaving is feet first.”
McConnell and his allies have pushed back against the meme that the Republican Congress is dysfunctional — GOP senators have routinely touted successes, like passing a budget, since McConnell took the reins in January.
“There’s just no groundswell of opposition toward the current elected leadership in the Senate, in part because the leadership has done a pretty good job,” said Billy Piper, a GOP lobbyist and former McConnell chief of staff, who pointed to the fact that Democratic leaders routinely call McConnell an obstacle.
“Within the structure and rules of the Senate, [Senate Republican leadership] been very effective,” Piper said.
The process for how Boehner and McConnell were chosen is different. Speaker of the House is an open vote of all members, while Senate Republican leader is decided in private by only conference members. While the House has a motion to vacate the chair, which was introduced by Boehner’s caucus, there is no equivalent in the Senate Republican Conference.
“It’s apples and oranges between the House and the Senate,” Republican strategist and former congressional Republican leadership aide Ron Bonjean told CQ Roll Call. “The pressure is really going to be on the new speaker to perform well to satisfy conservatives.”
Bonjean pointed to the McConnell’s success in winning the majority and his widespread support in the conference and added that McConnell “may get more aggressive in tone and posture, but there would have to be serious strategic and tactical blunders during the budget endgame for senators to even think of a change.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
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