Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has himself a problem. Several of them, actually, all stemming from the same source. Somewhere along the line, and for reasons known only to himself, he grabbed a roll of industrial strength duct tape and strapped himself to the keel of the USS Donald Trump. That boat is now charging hard for stormy seas, and Mitch may soon find himself sinking fast once the green water starts shipping over the bow.
Rand Paul, the other Republican senator from Kentucky, announced on Sunday that he would vote in favor of a bill to quash Trump’s contra-constitutional emergency declaration. The bill has already been passed by the House with 13 Republicans joining every Democrat, and Paul’s “Yes” marks the fourth and most vital Senate Republican vote on the measure. Now that he has joined with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), the bill is sure to pass that chamber unless one of them changes their mind or a Democrat goes rogue.
Even that possibility may not kill the bill, according to Paul. “By my count,” he told reporters on Monday, “I’ve had at least 10 people coming up to me saying they will vote to disapprove on this.” One assumes he means “Republicans” when he says “people,” but you can never be sure. That’s a pretty cozy margin right there, if it’s true, which it very well may be. We have seen numerous instances of senators suddenly locating their integrity when a bill’s outcome is already determined, for good or ill. The most famous recent example of this “Be right there!” phenomenon came after deceased Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) killed Trump’s anti-Obamacare bill with a dramatic thumbs-down. Immediately afterward, McCain had himself some company.
Even if no other Republicans join them, “Yes” votes from these four political apostates guarantees the bill will be delivered to Trump for his Richter Scale signature or veto. It is widely assumed the president will issue the first veto of his administration and kick the bill back to Congress. At present, it does not appear that he gives a damn one way or another. “At least for now,” reports Politico, “Trump is doing little to try and dissuade the approximately dozen Republican senators who are considering voting to block his national emergency declaration on the southern border.” This, of course, can change as fast as Trump can open Twitter on his phone.
Imagine the consternation bleeding from the walls in McConnell’s D.C. office. The House is now controlled by Democrats who will spend the next two years clobbering him with hot-button votes on climate change, gun violence, health care, child care, and of course, this emergency declaration. Some 20 GOP senators will be running for re-election in 2020 to the Democrats’ 12, with two Republicans — Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas — heading for the exits. All the candidates will have to run on how they vote on these popular issues, and if they continue to stick with Trump, it will be hard slogging all around.
McConnell has enough on his plate maintaining his party’s slim majority without having to tend to his own electoral fate, which is also shaping up to be a perilous full-time job. The majority leader is himself up for re-election in 2020, and his approval rating in Kentucky stands at a grim 38 percent with a 47 percent disapproval rate. Trump, by contrast, has an approval rating of 53 percent in McConnell’s home state. Rand Paul, McConnell’s colleague, polls at 43 percent approval back home. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is actively recruiting candidates to run against McConnell next year, among them a female fighter pilot named Amy McGrath who flew multiple combat missions over Afghanistan.
It’s a whole barrel of pickles for Mitch, who amply deserves all the trouble that can find him. On one side stands Donald Trump and his emergency declaration, which several members of his own party are apparently about to publicly denounce. The most vocal critic of the declaration is Rand Paul, McConnell’s senatorial partner from Kentucky. McConnell will need active help from both Trump and Paul to keep his seat. By law, he cannot dodge this national emergency vote and spare himself the agony.
McConnell’s path is already fraught with multiple perils, and the fight over the probably inevitable veto is still to come. Overriding a presidential veto in the Senate requires 67 votes; the Democrats have 47 in hand and need 20 more to make the nut, and with as many as 12 senators possibly breaking ranks on the declaration vote, the possibility of actually collecting the necessary 67 override votes, while slim, is no longer in the realm of the absurd. Hovering over it all is the dim view a large majority of voters in his home state have of Mitch already.
We may be bearing witness to Mitch McConnell’s last stand. Win or lose, he has no one but himself to blame. Integrity counts, and the hole left in its absence is large enough for even the biggest man to fall into. Look out below, Mitch.