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“Congratulations Mitch”: The New Cruzians Are Ready To Make Life Hell For Mitch McConnell

Congratulations, Mitch McConnell! You now have the hardest job in Washington.

That dubious distinction used to belong to belong to House Speaker John Boehner, who has struggled since 2011 to manage a GOP majority so unwieldy he called it everything from “frogs in a wheelbarrow” to the “knucklehead” caucus.

But as the incoming Senate majority leader, it will now fall to McConnell to receive legislation from the House, shepherd it past his 53-member majority, and deliver completed bills to the president, all while keeping the government open for business.

McConnell’s difficult job will be made enormously more complicated by the makeup of his incoming three-seat majority. It includes at least three senators eyeing a run for president (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul), and 11 new Republican members, three of whom have been pegged by grassroots activists as the conservative cavalry riding in as reinforcements for the Cruz wing of the party.

Those senators—Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Ben Sasse from Nebraska—were all breakout stars for activists in the 2014 cycle. They raked in millions of dollars from outside groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, and are the three that conservatives like Steve Deace, the nationally syndicated conservative radio host from Iowa, say they expect the most from.

“What I heard from conservatives I talked to around the country during the election was ‘Who is going to go there and help out Cruz and [Sen. Mike] Lee? Who is going to help out the wacko birds?’” said Deace, referring to the derisive term Sen. John McCain once used to describe Cruz that conservatives now wear as a badge of honor. “Our expectation is that [Ernst, Cotton and Sasse] are going to join the ranks of the wacko birds. That’s our expectation.”

Deace and his listeners won’t be the only ones looking to the trio to for results. So will conservative donors. The Senate Conservatives Fund and its affiliate Senate Conservatives Action, for example, plowed millions into the Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas races. Ernst received nearly $450,000 in bundled contributions and $475,000 in independent expenditures from the groups for her race. Sasse got $487,000 in bundled contributions and more than $835,000 in outside expenditures in his GOP primary. Cotton picked up about $200,000 in bundled SCF money and saw more than $500,000 in outside SCF money in his race against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Another major conservative group, Club for Growth Action, poured more than $800,000 into Cotton’s race against Pryor, about $500,000 against Sasse’s primary opponents, and another $297,151 and $186,587 in bundled donations for Cotton and Sasse, respectively.

The first place conservatives will look to the new freshmen to make their voices heard is on immigration, which Ernst and SCF both call “executive amnesty.” The president has indicated he’ll soon take sweeping unilateral action, a move McConnell said won’t draw him into a government shutdown fight when he takes over the majority.

“There won’t be a government shutdown,” McConnell pledged Thursday, a commitment that left conservatives livid.

“Mitch McConnell is making promises he can’t keep,” Deace said. “Whatever enjoyment McConnell got out of being elected leader, enjoy it. Because from this point forward, power is going to be leaving his hands.”

Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, predicted that McConnell and the Republicans will safely navigate the lame-duck session, but once the new senators are sworn in, “All bets are off.”

“Sen. McConnell has got a whole bunch of people in his caucus, including those up in 2016, who realize the current strategy [of obstruction] is not going to work, and they need to put some legislative points on the scoreboard,” Manley said. “But whether that’s going to play out remains to be seen, in part because there are three Republicans running for president, none of whom care much about the Senate as an institution nor about their other colleagues’ views, quite frankly. And there are a handful of incoming senators who are very, very conservative.”

But Ron Bonjean, who was a senior staffer to Sen. Trent Lott when he was majority leader, said McConnell not only will have to consider the instincts of conservatives during those votes, but also the needs of several Republicans like Pat Toomey, who is up for reelection in 2016 the blue state of Pennsylvania.

“I do think McConnell knows how to manage his caucus,” Bonjean said. “While there will definitely be turbulence because he has more members to deal with, there are also some other dynamics at play for some of these members.”

Bonjean predicted that like Boehner, McConnell will need to have a majority of his majority on board to get a bill to the floor, but also will have to make the bills bipartisan enough to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

“Here’s the problem: Even if McConnell has all 53 Republicans, he’s got to get to 60 votes,” Bonjean said. “That’s very difficult to do, so they’re going to have to go for bipartisan victories to begin with, low-hanging fruit that can move through the Senate to show that they can get the work done.”

But low-hanging, bipartisan bills are exactly what Cruz and the grassroots conservatives backing Ernst, Sasse, and Cotton say they don’t want, especially in the face of an Obama executive order.

“I took an hour of calls yesterday asking what Congress should do if the president acts alone on immigration,” Deace said. “Every call, all over the country, men and women, all said the same thing: Impeach him.”


By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, November 17, 2014

November 18, 2014 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Silver Lining For Liberals”: As Democrats Fall, Minimum Wage Thrives On Election Night

Democrats suffered a series of disastrous defeats on election night, decisively losing their Senate majority and falling short in several gubernatorial races in which they hoped to defeat Republican incumbents. But there was one silver lining for liberals: Tuesday’s elections proved, once again, that the minimum wage is a winning issue.

Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballot in four reliably Republican states. In all four, they passed easily.

Even as Alaskans appeared to boot Democratic senator Mark Begich out of office — he has declined to concede the race — they still overwhelmingly voted to raise their state’s minimum wage to $9.75 per hour. Tellingly, although his future colleagues in the Senate have steadfastly opposed any efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, Republican senator-elect Dan Sullivan announced in September that he would support the state initiative. This was a flip-flop from his position in the Republican primaries, and probably had something to do with polls showing the measure’s overwhelming popularity in the Last Frontier.

Similarly, Republican Tom Cotton’s easy victory over Democratic senator Mark Pryor didn’t stop Arkansans from boosting their minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Like Sullivan, Cotton decided not to oppose the overwhelmingly popular measure. Although he voted against raising the federal minimum wage as a congressman, he announced in September that he would support the state hike “as a citizen.”

In South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds easily defeated Democrat Rick Weiland and Independent Larry Pressler. But voters still raised their state’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Rounds opposed the measure, while his opponents supported it.

And in Nebraska, Republican Ben Sasse defeated Democrat Dave Domina in a landslide, even as voters raised the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour. Although Sasse opposed the measure, he avoided discussing the issue on the campaign trail.

More than half of the states in the nation now have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

Clearly, even in red states, there is broad support for one of the key planks of the Democratic economic agenda. But, just as obviously, it was not a determining factor in how midterm voters cast their ballots. This presents an opportunity for congressional Republicans.

The next round of Senate campaigns will take place in a far more liberal battleground than Tuesday’s elections did — and, if history is a guide, they will feature a more liberal electorate. This will put blue-state Republicans like Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) in jeopardy. One easy way for them to blunt the economic attacks sure to come their way on the campaign trail would be joining with Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage.

While the House of Representatives has refused to consider a minimum-wage hike in the past, they may have a different attitude when the bill is coming from a Republican-controlled Senate. After all, they supposedly want to prove that they can govern. And, as Tuesday’s elections prove, conservative voters are unlikely to punish them for giving working families a boost.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, November 5, 2014

November 8, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Midterm Elections, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Two GOP Establishments”: Two Groups That, In The End, Differ Little On What They Would Do With Power

The language commonly used to describe the battle going on inside the Republican Party is wrong and misleading. The fights this spring are not between “the grass roots” and “the establishment” but between two establishment factions spending vast sums to gain the upper hand.

Their confrontation has little to do with the long-term philosophical direction of the GOP. Very rich ideological donors, along with tea party groups, have been moving the party steadily rightward. Political correctness of an extremely conservative kind now rules.

This explains the indigestion some Republican politicians are experiencing as they are forced to eat old words acknowledging a human role in climate change. It’s why party leaders keep repeating the word “Benghazi” as a quasi-religious incantation, why deal-making with President Obama is verboten and why they stick with their “repeal Obamacare” fixation.

The accounts of Tuesday’s Republican primary in Nebraska for an open U.S. Senate seat are revealing. Ben Sasse, a university president who held a variety of jobs in George W. Bush’s administration, won it handily. His success was broadly taken as a triumph for the tea party, which just a week ago was said to have suffered a defeat in North Carolina. There, Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives and the so-called establishment candidate, faced opponents perceived to be to his right. Yet Tillis will be one of the most right-wing candidates on any ballot this fall.

The more instructive way to look at the Nebraska result was suggested by a Wall Street Journal report on the outcome by Reid Epstein. Sometimes, news stories are like good poems that convey meaning through artful — if not always intentional — juxtaposition.

Epstein noted that Sasse was “backed by more than $2.4 million in ad spending, either praising him or attacking his opponents, from organizations such as the small-government Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which targets Republicans it deems insufficiently conservative.”

Yet in the very next paragraph, Epstein quoted a Facebook post from Sen. Ted Cruz, the tea party hero who supported Sasse. The Texas Republican declared that “Ben Sasse’s decisive victory is a clear indication that the grass roots are rising up to make D.C. listen.”

So, is this really the grass roots speaking to Washington? Or is it more accurately seen as a cadre of conservative groups, largely working out of Washington, rising up with a ton of cash to persuade voters to listen to them? It’s hard to see Nebraska’s primary as a mass revolt. The Nebraska secretary of state’s Web site reported Wednesday morning that primary turnout (in both parties) came to 316,124 out of 1,152,180 registered Nebraskans. Sasse won with around 110,000 votes.

The grass-roots claim becomes more problematic when you consider that Sasse has rather a lot of Washington experience while one of his opponents, former state treasurer Shane Osborn, was the favorite of many Nebraska tea party groups. As Jim Newell noted in an insightful piece in Salon, FreedomWorks, one of the Washington-based operations that latched onto the tea party early, initially endorsed Osborn but switched to Sasse. The stated reason for the turnabout was the support Osborn got from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who, for the time being, is cast by some on the right as an enemy.

Needless to say, the local tea party faithful who preferred Osborn resented the machinations of the big money groups headquartered in the nation’s capital, whose competition resembles nothing so much as a “Game of Thrones” power struggle.

As for Sasse, his victory speech, as the conservative blogger Matt Lewis pointed out, made him sound more like the next Jack Kemp, the late conservative famed for his compassionate inclinations, than the hard-edged Cruz. Sasse’s triumph reflected his skill at bringing the two GOP establishments together — he’s the George W. guy with Harvard and Yale degrees whom Sarah Palin liked. The 42-year-old is on the verge of becoming the GOP’s next new thing.

Thanks to Supreme Court decisions opening the way for unlimited and often anonymous campaign contributions, we are entering a time when “follow the money” is the proper rubric for understanding the internal dynamics of the Republican Party. Washington-based groups tied to various conservative interests and donors will throw their weight around all over the country, always claiming to speak for those “grass roots.” Primary voters will be left with a choice between two establishments that, in the end, differ little on what they would do with power.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 14, 2014

May 20, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , | 1 Comment

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