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Critics From All Sides Hammer McConnell

Politicians and pundits criticize majority leader’s legislative tactics

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellhas come under criticism from all sides after he was forced to scuttle the GOP repeal-and-replace bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellhas come under criticism from all sides after he was forced to scuttle the GOP repeal-and-replace bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing mounting criticism from politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle after the collapse of his chamber’s Republican health care legislation.

Before the bill was pulled Monday night, Sen. Ron Johnson told a local newspaper that McConnell’s conflicting statements to different members of his caucus were a “significant breach of trust.”

The Wisconsin Republican was referring to alleged remarks by McConnell to some GOP moderates that Medicaid cuts wouldn’t happen under the overhaul bill.

Other Republican senators are calling for a new way forward on replacing the 2010 health care law. Sen. Jerry Moran, one of four GOP senators whose decision to oppose the health care legislation contributed to its dismantling, criticized the “closed-door process” that McConnell used to draft the bill.

“We must now start fresh with an open legislative process,” the Kansas Republican said in a statement Monday night.

Sen. John McCain, who is home in Arizona recovering from surgery, said the Senate should “return to regular order” following the collapse of the bill. The longtime GOP senator warned his colleagues not to repeat the mistakes Democrats made during the passage of the 2010 law.

“One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote,” McCain said in a statement. He added that Congress must now “hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors.”

Conservative pundits took their swings at McConnell in more direct terms. Erick Erickson, who runs the blog The Resurgent, suggested that it it might be time for President Donald Trump to “send McConnell to the pasture.”

“McConnell, again and again, stacks the deck against conservatives, setting them up to be the fall guy for his own failures,” Erickson wrote Tuesday morning.

The Kentucky Republican repeatedly faced difficulty bridging the gap between the conservative and moderate factions of his conference.

Amanda Carpenter, a CNN contributor and former communications director for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, mocked McConnell on Twitter, saying he has accomplished “nothing at all,” while maintaining a reputation as a “legislative mastermind.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats dismissed Trump’s claim that they would join efforts to start from a clean slate. California Rep. Adam B. Schiff said Democrats would not “bail” Republicans out of their health care crisis.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, however, struck a different tone.

“The door to bipartisanship is open right now,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Republicans only need to walk through it.”

Adam Jentleson, a onetime deputy chief of staff to retired Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, slammed McConnell for his leadership style. In a series of tweets Monday night, he suggested Republicans were launching a “coordinated rebellion” against the majority leader.

Jentleson, now a strategic adviser at the Center for American Progress, said this was the result of McConnell’s “scorched-Earth tactics.” He contrasted the leadership style of his former boss with the current majority leader’s, saying Reid’s status was “based on a mixture of love & respect,” but McConnell’s was “only on respect.”

He added that Reid used “dramatic tactics” but also empowered senators and produced results. Jentleson said this is where McConnell has failed to strike a balance.

For all of his critics, McConnell has several allies on his side.

Vice President Mike Pence said he and the president “fully support” McConnell’s plan to focus on repealing the 2010 health care law first.

“Inaction is not an option,” Pence added in a speech Tuesday morning. “Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he’d like to see the Senate pass something, adding that House Republicans “are proud of the [health care] bill that we passed” in May.

“The Senate’s got to pass a bill for us to even move the process forward,” Ryan said. “That’s the next step. So, we’re hoping that they can achieve that next step so that we can bring real relief.”

The conservative Club for Growth applauded McConnell’s plan to vote again on a repeal-only bill that the Senate passed in 2015 and President Barack Obama vetoed.

“While short of perfection — the 2015 legislation leaves several Obamacare regulations in place — it is the best option Republicans currently have to begin to repeal Obamacare,” David McIntosh, the club’s president, said in a statement. “And this should be a slam dunk. After all, Senate Republicans already passed this legislation once.”

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