The Mean Girl Senate and the Cuccinelli Nomination

The do-nothing Republican Senate, which cannot repeal Obamacare, secure the border, defund Planned Parenthood, or even take more than one vote to bar infanticide, has proven itself shockingly adept at one thing: going into overdrive to block the Trump nominees they personally dislike.

Witness the long knives that came out against Ken Cuccinelli, currently Trump’s acting head of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, and until Friday, a rumored favorite to fill the top job at the Department of Homeland Security.

On Cuccinelli’s possible nomination, the Mitch McConnell Senate suddenly was roused from its collective sickbed.

But not because of any substantive policy concerns related to Cuccinelli. No, the world’s greatest deliberative body does not have time for thoughtfulness of that caliber.

Rather, “McConnell’s Senate is whipping like crazy,” as one reporter characterized it, “to block Ken Cuccinelli from being appointed DHS Secretary” for one simple reason: McConnell loathes him.

Welcome to Mean Girl Senate, where implementing the president’s top policy priorities by confirming the best man for the job pales in comparison to punishing your political enemies.

Or, in the words of Gretchen Wieners as she was throwing a tantrum in the high school cafeteria because someone had the gall to wear sweatpants on a Monday, “You can’t sit with us!”

The Cuccinelli-McConnell Feud Explained

The Kentucky Republican’s beef with Cuccinelli is as non-substantive as it gets, and distills down to this: the majority leader hates Cuccinelli because the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), a political action committee (PAC) once led by Cuccinelli, supported his primary opponent, Matt Bevin, in McConnell’s 2014 reelection race.

Never mind that Cuccinelli wasn’t even with SCF during the Kentucky primary (and he is, obviously, no longer with the super PAC now). Cuccinelli has been associated with a PAC that, six years ago, crossed McConnell politically. And that is enough to ensure—regardless of Cuccinelli’s bona fides, or the president’s priorities—his nomination will never see the light of day.

As one of McConnell’s longtime advisors said recently, “He [Cuccinelli] has trash-talked, campaigned against, and demanded resignations from every single Republican who is currently in power.”

In other words, for supporting conservative Senate candidates, Cuccinelli has gravely sinned. And he must be punished.

Remember, this is Mean Girl Senate. Positions, substance, and the ability to implement priorities every Republican has run on for years are actually irrelevant here. If you trash talk the popular girls, you’re finished.

As a matter of fact-checking, however, it’s also worth pointing out that SCF either has been directly responsible for, or contributed heavily to the election of more than a dozen Republican senators currently in power as part of McConnell’s Senate majority. It’s also worth noting that, were it not for SCF, the seats currently held by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) would have swung to the Democrats. McConnell backed both Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and former Florida governor Charlie Crist in Florida. How did that work out? Both Specter and Crist later switched parties.

It’s true that Cuccinelli has taken a hard line against both incumbents and candidates whom he did not believe would live up to conservative principles. This included then-candidate Trump, whom Cuccinelli once opposed.

But this is just the thing. Both Trump and Cuccinelli, it seems, have put old disagreements to rest in pursuit of what really matters—implementing sound and principled immigration policy.

Trump, with his infamously long memory, has managed to bury the hatchet.

But for The Plastics of the Senate, that is just a bar too high.

Cuccinelli is the Best Choice for DHS

The opposition to Cuccinelli is all the more embarrassing for Senate Republicans considering how good Cuccinelli would be in the role. No one in the Trump Administration has done more to implement the president’s agenda, or to defend it fearlessly in the media and on Capitol Hill.

And it hasn’t been easy. Cuccinelli has gone to bat for notoriously difficult policies like the public charge rule and enhanced vetting and screening of migrants, never once backing away from the hard fights or sending a subordinate in his place to public briefings.

When it comes to immigration, Cuccinelli is fiercely intelligent, committed to the president’s agenda, and courageous in pursuit of it. Hence why Trump loves him—and possibly another reason why certain members of the Senate GOP hate him.

This last point is worth noting. Consider a recent rumor that a White House whip check uncovered 20 GOP senators who would oppose a Cuccinelli nomination. If those senators aren’t opposing Cuccinelli for nakedly political reasons, then what explains it?

Perhaps it’s that these rumored 20 senators actually oppose the president’s immigration policies, and they’re just hiding behind the political excuses surrounding opposition to Cuccinelli, rather than being honest about it.

Cuccinelli Deserves the Support of Conservatives

The fate of a Cuccinelli nomination in the Senate is important for another reason, however. It’s an education about what happens to conservatives when they take on the establishment. They are blacklisted—taken off party lists, short lists, invite lists, fundraising lists, committee lists, and other “most favored” lists the swamp meticulously keeps to itself. But they are also told that their career in “this town” is over.

Taking on the establishment is hard. It comes with a price. And that is why it is so difficult to get rank-and-file conservatives to do it.

But those who do, deserve support. It’s why more than 100 conservative leaders lined up behind Cuccinelli to applaud the job he’s done at USCIS, and to support his nomination as Homeland Security secretary. I’m proud to count myself among them. On the merits, there is simply no one better qualified than Cuccinelli to implement the priorities of the president’s most important policy agenda.

In the end, petty, childish politics may win, as they often do. But it’s important that the GOP Senate’s actions be exposed for what they are—the antics of spurned high schoolers, hell-bent on settling political scores over implementing the substantive policy gains that their base support.

In other words, a bunch of mean girls, acting exactly as you’d expect.

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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.

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