Mitch McConnell’s Lame-Duck Sellout

Barely one week after redoubling his commitment to build President Trump’s southern border wall in the upcoming lame-duck session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has given in.

McConnell on October 10 told the Associated Press he was “committed to helping the president get wall funding.” The next day, he told  the Washington Examiner that he would “try really hard” to get $5 billion in wall funding.

This week, however, he hedged his commitment with the caveat that a partial government shutdown is off the table. Given that Democrats have already signaled their intent to vote against any legislation containing wall funding, McConnell has removed any real effort from his “try[ing] really hard” for wall funding. Democrats now know that McConnell has a line he will not cross, so that if they just stand firm on the issue, eventually he will acquiesce.

The substance of what he predictably will concede to is, of course, the obvious concern. Immigration hawks across Capitol Hill are raising alarm bells about the possibility of an amnesty deal in exchange for wall funding.

Suffice to say, the practical impact of such a deal would appear schizophrenic. Congress would begin construction on a wall to stop illegal immigration while simultaneously passing a policy that would only encourage it. But that hasn’t stopped members of Congress from advocating such a deal.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump favorite and newly minted luminary of owning the libs, has returned to form and is once again promoting wall funding in exchange for DACA—the Obama-era program granting temporary legal status to immigrants brought here illegally as children. And the inevitability of some kind of deal in the lame duck seems to be growing. U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus recently said it “would not surprise me to see some kind of wall-DACA deal.”

Adding to the growing feeling of inevitable betrayal are McConnell’s recent comments on a host of topics, suggesting he believes he has done enough for the conservative base; that while they may be irritated when he blows them off, ultimately they will not hold him accountable.

On Obamacare, for example, McConnell urged the Senate GOP to “move on” from this signature promise a year ago, and has not returned to it since. He openly speculated about revisiting it after November—but only if the GOP has “enough” votes. (No telling exactly how many votes McConnell requires to justify him moving on the issue.) Moreover, it’s unclear if full repeal is even under discussion. Current Republican plans involve bailing out insurance companies or keeping the federal structure of the law entirely in place.

In a recent speech to the Heritage Foundation, McConnell seemed to indicate that what this Congress has already done has been everything the country desired. Describing the current body as the “best Congress in the last three decades,” McConnell listed  the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices, tax reform, regulatory reform, a partial repeal of Dodd-Frank, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, and “on and on and on and on.” McConnell also took sole credit for reforming the courts.

I am not one to quibble with the importance of confirming two Supreme Court justices, reforming the courts, or reshaping the tax code. However, I would point out that confirming Supreme Court justices at a majority threshold, rather than at 60 votes, has lowered the hurdle. I’d also point out that, according to the White House, this current Senate has confirmed the fewest nominees compared to the four previous administrations.

Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House. What about the basic promises that have comprised the GOP platform for years?

Republicans ran on repealing Obamacare, enhancing border security, undoing DACA, defunding Planned Parenthood and a host of other promises. To see those commitments fulfilled, Republican leaders argued, we just needed to give them the House. And then the Senate. And then, just give them the White House, and everything would be solved. The voters did. We did. And we’re still waiting.

We can applaud McConnell for what this Senate has done. But it would be a mistake to think his list represents the ceiling of what this unified government is able to do. Like the believers C. S. Lewis so gently chides, congressional Republicans remain half-hearted creatures, far too easily pleased.

The upcoming lame-duck session is the last chance for Republicans to keep any of their promises; that is, what they’ve been telling us they would do—in the GOP platform, no less—for years. An amnesty sell-out, even if it nets partial funding of the border wall, would not fulfill the requirements of a voter base whose opposition to amnesty remains high, and for whom immigration remains a top issue. Neither will full funding of Planned Parenthood, or a bill that sets higher spending caps, or a 2,000-page piece of legislation that slips a myriad other issues past the electorate in one midnight vote.

Even as McConnell takes his deserved victory lap for Brett Kavanaugh’s successful confirmation to the Supreme Court, Republicans should continue to hold him, and the rest of the GOP leadership, to account for the promises they’ve made—and for those they continue to dodge.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.