Last week, Tea Party members of Congress scored a coup at the announcement that Speaker of the House John Boehner would resign, effective at the end of October. Boehner, who long irritated the far right wing of the political body with his insistence that compromise must happen and that maybe grinding the federal government to a halt in order to get one’s way isn’t the best way to run a country, allegedly offered his resignation as an appeasement for getting a clean continuing resolution on the federal budget. But politicos also see the move as a way of avoiding being ousted from the Speakership, and a means of saving face, politically, too. The obvious question being, who is next on the chopping block?
The answer? It very well might be the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
McConnell, a longtime Republican senator from Kentucky, was quite lucky to make it back to Congress in 2014 in the first place. First challenged in a primary by the Tea Party faction, then duking it out in a close and highly contested general, McConnell promised the GOP he would be their champion should he win reelection, especially should the Republicans gain a majority in Senate and he be offered the leadership position.
Republicans got their wish on Election Day, with a majority in the Senate to match their majority in the House, and no doubt looked forward to a chance to push ahead a conservative agenda that would block the progressive policies favored by the White House. Instead, all they have seen so far is a lot of stalemates.
Viewing McConnell as just as much an impediment to true conservative governing as Boehner was, the GOP is now clamoring for the Majority Leader to step down next. The first calling for his resignation? Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, who is a member of the Tea Party House caucus.
“‘Mitch McConnell is infinitely worse as a leader than Boehner,'” Salmon told reporters Friday. “‘He surrenders at the sight of battle every time,'” reports Talking Points Memo. “‘I was texting back and forth with one of my friends on the Senate side, Mike Lee,’ Salmon said, referring to the Utah senator. ‘And I said, the next guy in the crosshairs is probably going to be McConnell.'”
Other GOP activists agree, saying McConnell hurts the Republican brand. “The GOP brand is being damaged. We’re having to work from scratch to do all the groundwork we’ve already done with elections of Republicans to Congress and in the state because everybody is so furious at the leadership,” Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere told the Washington Times. According to Villere, if McConnell truly wanted to help Republicans, he would have refused to allow any Senate confirmations until their demands – defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare – were met.
There is little doubt that McConnell is aware of the growing scrutiny. Prior to the 2014 election, McConnell swore to anti-abortion activists at the National Right to Life convention, which was hosted in his home state, that if made Majority Leader, he would ensure a vote on a federal 20 week abortion ban. Despite the promise, McConnell dragged his feet on scheduling the Senate vote, only eventually acquiescing when it became obvious that the vote may be the only thing that would appease the anti-Planned Parenthood faction of Congress and make them consider not shutting down the government at the end of September.
The vote failed to gain the 60 votes it needed to progress.
“[T]he fact that the anti-McConnell push exists at all is emblematic of the larger story about GOP radicalization,” writes Steve Benen at MSNBC.com. “The rationale behind the far-right campaign against Boehner is that he failed to beat President Obama – as if that were a credible outcome – which put him at odds with Republican expectations. As the bulls eye shifts from one end of Capitol Hill to the other, McConnell faces the same foolish, misguided complaint, his record of confrontation with the White House notwithstanding.”
So is McConnell’s head the next on the block? If so, maybe that will be the price for another clean continuing resolution to keep the government functioning – this time in mid-December. After that, all bets are off.