March 27, 2007

Misreading McConnell

The Washington Post reports that Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, appear to have retreated from defending the White House on the supplemental funding bill for the Iraq war. The decision to forego a cloture battle gets analyzed as am increasingly unhappy GOP caucus forcing Bush to fight the battle on mandatory timetables alone:

Unwilling to do the White House's heavy lifting on Iraq, Senate Republicans are prepared to step aside to allow language requiring troop withdrawals to reach President Bush, forcing him to face down Democratic adversaries with his veto pen.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) announced the shift in strategy yesterday, as the chamber took up a $122 billion war spending package that includes a target date of March 31, 2008, for ending most U.S. combat operations in Iraq. The provision, along with a similar House effort, represents the Democrats' boldest challenge on the war, setting the stage for a dramatic showdown with Bush over an otherwise popular bill to keep vital military funds flowing.

Republicans will still attempt to remove the deadline in a Senate vote expected as soon as today, and GOP leaders were reasonably confident they would muster a majority. But the margin is expected to be thin, requiring the presence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had skipped several previous Iraq votes to attend presidential campaign events. McCain canceled a series of fundraisers and meetings in Florida to return to Washington, telling a conservative radio program that he wanted to "beat back this recipe for defeat that the Democrats are trying to foist off on the American people."

No matter the outcome of the Senate vote, McConnell is looking ahead, assuming House Democrats will insist that withdrawal conditions be included when a final bill is sent to Bush. If so, McConnell said, Republicans would forgo the parliamentary tactics they used to block antiwar legislation that had forced Democrats to amass an insurmountable 60 votes to prevail.

As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, "I do not think it means what you think it means." Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman leave two key items out of their analysis, which makes it clear that McConnell's strategy has little to do with capitulation to the Democrats.

First, time is an issue. A filibuster of the bill would undoubtedly stop it from passing, but that will eat up a lot of time -- and the funding of the troops runs out on April 15th. A spending bill has to get passed before then in order to ensure continuity of funding, including salaries, benefits, and so on. The Senate has to try to rewrite the bill so that it has no mandatory timetables for withdrawal, which Bush has made clear he will veto.

Second, the Republicans believe that they can prevail against the House version of the supplemental. Rather than go through the obstructionism of a filibuster, they would much rather beat the bill in a roll-call vote, if necessary. Thad Cochran and John Warner have worked on another version of the bill which would require more reporting from the White House on benchmarks, but would not use them to trigger mandatory withdrawal from Iraq. That has apparently convinced Ben Nelson (D-NE) to support the alternative -- which would also assuredly get Joe Lieberman's vote.

The key will be the conference committee, if McConnell can get the alternative passed instead of the House version. The troops will still need funding very quickly, and the Democrats may use that leverage to push for more restrictive language than Bush will accept. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will control the composition of that panel, and we can expect to see Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, and/or Susan Collins as part of the Republican contingent. McConnell will allow a bad result to get vetoed at that point, not because he wants to give up the debate, but because Congress has to put that bill behind them in order to quickly work on another supplemental.

McConnell has a much more robust strategy than simply waiting for a presidential veto. The Post underestimates his strategy on this bill.


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Comments (16)

Posted by Cousin Dave [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:45 AM

It's probably a good move. If the Democrats don't have the votes to pass their version in a roll-call vote, then why engage in a filibuster? Let the bill come up for an up-or-down vote.

Don't forget that the conference committee's combined bill still has to be voted on again by both houses. If the committee comes back with a bill that contains the House provision or something similar, then there's a good chance that it doesn't pass the Senate. My understanding is that, when a conference committee final version is being voted on, both the House and Senate bring the bill up under procedures that disallow any amendments. So a bill that contains the House provision may not reach the President anyway.

The big losers in this would probably be the porkbusters. Even if the House provision is stripped out, the pork probably remains. And as long as the House provision isn't in there, Bush cannot afford, either politically or administratively, to veto it.

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 10:08 AM

You seem to be going on the assumption the GOP senators might be acting out of principle.

Assumes a fact very much not in evidence, your honor.

The simpler, and thus more likely explanation, is that they believe Bush's veto can't be overridden, so why make people yell at them? Besides, Harry Reid might give them a dollar...

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 11:22 AM

I suppose you could say, Mitch McConnell has a problem. But does he? He's fully aware that Bush is driving his presidency into Jimmy Carter "waters." And, that the man IS NOT POPULAR in DC!

Let alone, not popular with the donks! That's not Mitch McConnell's problem!

But it is his problem to know the White House has squandered GOOD WILL. And, you can't get anywhere in politics just distributing pork. GOOD WILL ACCOUNTS FOR POPULARITY. Even if you know some of these people, personally, and you rate them as "stinkers." One of the "DRESS CODES," is to look nice in front of cameras. So you don't give off "wiffs."

Bush doesn't like disloyalty. He thinks he gives orders. ANd, gets what he wants. So "toilet training" him, anew, at this late date won't work.

All that's left is to stymie the idiot. As he tries to bring "benefits" to his fwends, in the House of Saud.

Well, he took out Saddam. And, by dint of luck this was not a bad move. But it's put us in bed with Tony Baloney Blair; and the cockamamie critters in the UN. Hardly a good place for our military to be.

While the arabs fight it out with each other. Perhaps, you didn't know this? But one reason their brains are back in the 8th Century is that they tend to over-breed. And, then they go and kill each other. Holding grudges generations in. And, generations, out.

Sure. For the Saud's it was very good luck indeed, to have their caravans on top of oil fields. But it's not something they gained through "talent."

And, yes. They're still funding the madrasses. WHich give them untold numbers of suicide bombers. Which was supposed to scare us to death.

While Bush? Oh, he's so happy with his affirmative action incompetents, you'd think the donks would be in 7th heaven. Yet, even here, Bush is just a screw up. Even the elites aren't happy.

And, mainstream America? Hasn't really ever taken to the LBJ "picture" of things at all. LBJ, a much brighter man than this here Bush. Made a mess of his presidency. And, got booted back to Texas. (Seems most Americans never worry much over what's happening down in Texas.)

But back to McConnell. What can you learn from the mess Bush has made? With two more years to go. And, the anger levels "out there" INCREASING? How do you stop the schmuck from causing even more harms?

Okay. You play "military games." Now? We're "doing ship movements" around Iran. But I don't think this is making an impression. And, you just don't know, ahead, what Tony Baloney can ask of Bush, now, do ya?

What if we have to give up the Iranians our military caught in Iraq?

You think you know everything about pressure?

While Bush is plumbing the depths of Jimmy Carter's last two years. We're getting to see this in slow motion. And, it's disgusting.

While McConnell? Wants to save his own ass. He also knows that 2008 is NOT a good year for the GOP. Not only is the White House race "open," whatever the candidate selected to run will be ... You've got to hope you see the man has coattails.

Or there's gonhna be a rout in Congress!

How far back do you have to go to see better work? Probably? Eisenhower. Nominally, a GOPster. But he sat down and had lunch with LBJ every single Friday. He put NOTHING on the president's agenda that LBJ said "wouldn't pass."

That's a cooperative relationship right there.

And, in the senate one of the reasons LBJ had clout was that he was very willing to pull the short hairs off anyone who didn't "take" to his "shoulder hugs."

Those days are gone, now.

It's a pig's pork barrel.

And, the mood of the public has grown ugly.

Who knew Jimmy Carter's lack of skills could be repeated "so deftly" by the current White House occupant. Both men, by the way, don't screw interns. Both men represent happy marriages. So, it's not as if Bush is doing some sort of "hat trick" in this department.

Surrounded by terrible men. And, Condi. And, way too close to the Saud's. Who also tell him what to do to "halp" Tony. That's just the way it is.

For two more years.

Posted by BD [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 12:46 PM


I'm sure there's a point in there - there usually is - but it reads a lot more "free association / primal scream."

McConnell's analysis strikes me as pretty obvious: if Republicans filibuster, the Dems & pressies will blame them for funds, etc. the troops in the field need not getting there. It's much better for him politically to amend the House bill so the deadlines are removed, let the amended bill pass and let Pelosi & Reid try to figure out how to reconcile them in conference.

At that point, Pelosi & Reid are responsible for assembling a conference bill that will pass both houses. While they'll own success if they get it done, they'll also own failure if they don't.

From McConnell's point of view, the Dems have a leadership challenge before them:

Their base wants defeat declared immediately, all our troops withdrawn and Bush impeached / tried for war crimes.

Giving the base what it wants risks turning enough people to cost them elections against them because those voters (a) understand that timetables make the battle easier for our troops' enemies ("just wait us out"); (b) don't believe we've lost; (c) don't want to declare defeat; (d) understand our guys are implementing a new strategy, think they should be given a shot at making it work and know that hasn't happened yet; and (e) will blame the Democrats if funds to the troops run out in May.

For McConnell, the Dems losing this one is both good policy and good politics.

Bush has probably alienated just about everyone he can - there aren't many voters left out there who can still be turned into "Bush=Hitler" types (the nutroots have pretty much harvested them all).

Forcing the Dems to make choices (finally!!!) is a different story:

Do they satisfy the base & alienate the middle or satisfy the middle & alienate the base?

Or do they satisfy the base & alienate the middle; eventually LOSE that fight (in the Senate or by veto); and then get forced to be "responsible" with the next bill because they can't take the heat of hurting the troops, which alienates the base ... without winning any points with the voters disgusted by the initial attempt to satisfy the base?

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 1:55 PM

The refreshing thing about McConell is that he isn't a country-clubber like Miss Frist or more interested in having everything in his state (from airports to parks) named after him like Trent "power-sharing" Lott. Imagine how much better the GOP senate majority may have fared with McConnell having been majority leader instead of the Dole / Lott / Frist milquetoast trilogy.

What McConnell finally brings to the table are goals. Instead of typical Fristesque let's pander to the cocktail party circuit the Senator from Kentucky is showng some spine and party identity. Part of that is likely the realization that self promoting drama queens like Hagel are all bluster and deadweight weathervanes. Change the direction of the winds in Washington and McConnell has realized Hagel and similar opportunists will do a 180 and chime in if they think it gets more camera time.

It will be important for the GOP to address and eventually replace the two in the House who've sold out for pork in this bill. Like jumpin' Jim Jeffords the price tag on their foreheads has become a bit too obvious.

I'm all for vetoing the pathetic bill. Perhaps the administration can illustrate the pork in the bill is more about buying "for" votes than the welfare of our troops. McConnell is already wisely looking beyond wavering Bush to establishing GOP identity for Thompson, Giuliani and other candidates. In a year and a half Bush's successor and the GOP base necessary to maintain the presidency and national defense will be more important than the dramatics of the moment. McConnell is wisely returning the focus to the GOP's traditional strength which is national security and the Dem's Achille's heel which is a tradition of hippie protest and mooching off of others via tax and spend.

Posted by Cousin Dave [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 5:03 PM

Richard Mc: I plead guilty as charged. But I don't think it's too pollyannaish to think that the Democrat bill won't pass in the Senate even if some of the usual RINO suspects turn up. For one thing, the Democrats will also have some losses. We know of three to start -- Lieberman, Nelson, and of course Tim Johnson. I think Hagel is cowed now; it's clear to everyone that he jumped the shark with his campaign non-announcement, and he's no longer the media darling. That just leaves Snowe and Collins, and I'll bet one of them can be pulled in with a "compromise" bill. Remember, they don't have to actually vote nay to the Democrat bill; if they just don't show up, then that in effect is a vote in the Republicans' favor. They could conveniently be absent that day, maintain plausible deniability, and McConnell would probably be happy with that.

The situation with the base voters vs. the swing voters certainly is getting interesting. The generally accepted view today is that the GOP cannot win without the support of its base. Can the Democrats? We really don't know, because this particular base really hasn't been battle tested. Will they actually turn out in 2008, having seen that in the real world, they will get little of what they actually want? And take the opposite view. Who can afford to piss off the swing voters? It doesn't appear that either party can. However, it does appear that the Republicans are in a better position, since they can capture a certain percentage of the swing voters without turning against their base.

Right now, it doesn't appear that the Democrats can do that. They will have to choose one or the other, and it's a real Samson dilemma. The netroots are not large enough in number to elect anyone by themselves. But the Democrats' fundraising is highly concentrated there. If the Dems play to the moderates, they risk losing netroots support i.e. money. On the other hand, the netroots' positions are inflexible, offensive to many swing voters, and in many cases just plain unrealistic in terms of what could ever be implemented in any non-homogenous society.

So the bigger story here is what viking said: McConnell forcing the Democrats to make a choice. The Republicans, if they are smart, aren't going to let the Democrats get away with the have-it-both-ways strategy they used successfully in 2006. What McConnell is saying is, "all right, you are the majority, now you have to make the decisions."

Posted by Lightwave [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 6:05 PM

Well, it's official now, in a 50-48 the Senate has refused to strip the surrender part of the Bleed America's Courageous Kids and Surrender to Terrorists Abroad Bill (BACKSTAB).

Wielding the knife this time: Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith, two mice that need to be excommunicated from the GOP immediately. This time, these two votes were literally the difference between surrender and victory.

The only good news is that the Dems will surely get BACKSTAB to the President's desk quickly so that the President can kill it and force the Dems to craft a supplemental bill free of defeatist provisions. The real bill will be passed soon, as the Democrats will not risk the double-digit plus loss in the poll numbers that allowing funding to expire will bring, much less having to take 100% responsibility for Iraq.

Funding will be restored by the real bill soon, if not before Easter. Expect frantic action over the next two weeks: the Dems will insist on more non-binding garbage, the President will simply issue a signing statement rendering Congressional Dems moot once again.

Oh, and somebody needs to tell Chuck Hagel not to bother to run for President: his career ended today as a traitor to the United States of America.

Posted by Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 6:44 PM

Yes, Chuck Hagel does need to be excommunicated and Joe Lieberman needs to be adopted. I say they should switch places.

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 7:21 PM

Told ya so. I'm so ****ing happy to be right.

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 7:58 PM

You all may be underestimating the perfidy of the Defeatocrats. They really want to cut off funding, but lacked the temerity to do it. But they can enforce a de facto cut-off if the President vetos the Surrender Bill (as he must), and the Congress then stalls and fails to pass a 'clean' funding authorization.

The Defeatocrats can then put the blame for not supporting the troops on the President ("We did send him a bill, but he vetoed it"). It shouldn't work, but the MSM will surely play it that way, as they did "shutting down the government" in Newt Gingrich's Speakership.

Then we will surely see what George W. Bush is made of. He will have to go to the American people directly and threaten to divert all the military and discretionary spending he can to the troops. And he will have to get the people on his side.

Can he do it?

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Count to 10 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:01 PM

Are you absolutely sure the Democrats won't just wait out the clock, not pass the funding without some kind of retreet claus, and then blame Bush?

Posted by AnonymousDrivel [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:19 PM

RE: Mr Lynn (March 27, 2007 07:58 PM)

"The Defeatocrats can then put the blame for not supporting the troops on the President ('We did send him a bill, but he vetoed it'). It shouldn't work, but the MSM will surely play it that way, as they did 'shutting down the government' in Newt Gingrich's Speakership."

Not even the trifecta of the NYTimes, LATimes, and WaPo could pull that off. If there's one thing the world knows, it's that this President supports the troops. It's probably his biggest redeeming value.

As to taking it to the public as his final trump, damn straight! Bush should have an 8:00PM vetoing ceremony for national TV and explain point-by-point what was in the bill and why he is stopping it. Emphasize the pork, the politics of Congressional action on this matter, and the urgency of the need for a clean bill with specific funds for the troops in an improving situation in Iraq. If this isn't the perfect opportunity for using the bully pulpit in primetime, I don't know what is.

He could really put the hurt on the Democrat Party and boost morale both for his troops, for the GOP, for his base, for honest Americans who abhor Congressional gamesmanship with what is at stake, and for our allies who question our resolve.

Were I Bush, I'd be salivating at this point.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:50 PM

Latest poll, 60% of Americans want out of Iraq by Sep 08, Bush is losing support on all fronts, even his own party won't filibuster this bill. All the McConnell spin in the world won't deny the fact that Iraq is a mess of Bush and Rummy's making. So instead of Bush admitting he failed in Iraq, he wants to keep troops there until he's out of office, that way he can pass the mess on to the next president. Mitch better be careful, he might be in a fight for his own seat. Iraq is lose, lose for the gop, but spin away, you've lost the american people, they don't believe your lies anymore, and they think Bush is a doof, surrounded by doofs.

Posted by Peyton [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 9:44 PM

I once swore to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Foreign enemies are hard for me to reach, directly, but I can name about 50 domestic enemies of that constitution. Where to start, where to start......

Posted by Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 9:46 PM

conservative democrat:

Most Americans do not want to see some pork laden bill like this passed which will set arbitray dates and deadlines and put the troops in an impossible position. And most Americans think the war is going better now. I know the idea of winning scares you to death, but it just might happen. I hope so for my country and for the Iraqi people. You obviously just want to hate Bush. Pathetic.

If the Democrats want to cut the funding they should do that, but to put stuff in this silly bill such as who do the troops get to shoot at and who they don't and when they can and can't defend themselves...and where they will go and where they won't is not at all what the American people expect from Congress. I am not even sure it is Constitutional.

BTW, if we pull out of there and have to go back in another few years, who do you think the American people will blame? There is more to this than just putting the screws to Bush. Iknow that Democrats can't see beyond that, but it is not that simple.

And what is more, the American people have shown more support for the war and recently and the number of people who say they think we are winning is by 10% in just one month. If the American people think that Congress is deliberately trying to destroy what chance there is of success for political will come back on them...sooner or later.

And what exactly do they mean by "out" anyway? There say we should leave people there to deal with AlQaidaa...well how many and where will they be? They say they want people there to do other work for the civilian population..well who will provide for their security? Would you want to be one of the last Americans left there when Nancy brings the troops home?

None of this is as simple as the surrender caucas says it is. We all want the war over, but then again I am 55 years old and we have had hundreds of thousands of troops rotate through South Korea in my lifetime. See them coming home anytime soon? But in Iraq, no matter what they come in September 2008. That does not even make sense.

And speaking of lies, I thought Nancy was going to get down the price of gas and do away with earmarks. What a crock that was.

As far as what people think, well, they think more of George Bush than they do this Congress. Imagine that.

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 10:46 PM

Polls are manufactured news for lazy reporters.

The polls had Kerry winning by a landslide so I expect about as much truth in polls as in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. We know who the pollsters are, who pays them and what they would want the people to believe.

I repeat that if the light of truth is shone upon the contents of the bill and the pork therein it will be a much tougher sell. That, and the consequences by election time if enacted. The Dems would be wise that if they're trying to set a time bomb upon their nation the time on that clock is relevant as to whom takes the hit.

With Hagel's sudden call-girl affection for the Left it makes one wonder if his FBI file was waved in front of his face. That he's sold out so completely, so quickly suggests he's a marionette.