Sigh. Just when I’m about to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the benefit of the doubt, he opens his mouth. On Wednesday, McConnell threw cold water on Obamacare repeal by saying that he didn’t see how the Senate was going to do it.
It was clear during the fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch that McConnell handles political strategy the way Mayor Bill de Blasio handles police controversies. When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-People’s Republic of China) threatened to filibuster Gorsuch, McConnell should have responded by threatening to nuke the filibuster for all laws and nominations. This might have gotten Schumer to back down. Instead, McConnell did the equivalent of shaking his head at Schumer and saying, “That’s not very nice.”
To be fair, McConnell did override the filibuster to confirm Gorsuch. He also held firm for a year, refusing to consider any nominee until after the 2016 election. We now have a solid jurist replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, and McConnell deserves a big share of the credit.
Alas, his strategic incompetence reasserts itself. This week in an interview with Reuters he said, “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment. But that’s the goal. And exactly what the composition of that [bill] is I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose.”
Let’s count the ways that remark is foolish.
First, it sends a signal to RINOs in the Senate like Bill Cassidy (R-Gutless) and Susan Collins (R-Weak Knees) that McConnell isn’t going to fight very hard to repeal Obamacare. Thus, they can be obstinate in their demands, knowing that McConnell will eventually give in.
Finally, it discourages the Republican base. How many times has McConnell said repealing Obamacare was a top priority? In 2012, McConnell insisted he would repeal Obamacare if he became Senate Majority Leader. He reiterated those sentiments the following year when he told CPAC that Obamacare should be repealed “root and branch.” About a month after Trump won the election, McConnell said the “Obamacare repeal resolution will be the first item up in the New Year.” Now he is, in effect, saying, “Gosh, this is too hard.” That sends the message to the Republican base that he was never serious about Obamacare repeal to begin with. It’s not a good idea going into the 2018 election with Republican voters thinking, “Yep, Senate Republicans sold us out again.”
There is nothing wrong with admitting that repealing Obamacare is going to be difficult. You’d have to be sprinkling something pretty potent on your breakfast cereal to think otherwise. But McConnell needed to do so in such a way that rallies the base, lets RINOs know that they won’t have much leeway, and puts Democrats on the defensive.
He should have said, “This is going to be a tough slog, but we are going to get there. We promised the voters that we’d repeal Obamacare, and that’s what we are going to do. We also owe it to the people who are now struggling under Obamacare. It seems like every other day another insurance company is dropping out of the exchanges, leaving thousands without insurance. Some places, like Iowa, won’t have any insurers at all next year. We need to pass a bill that gives states the ability to fix their health insurance markets so that people have coverage they can afford.”
Is that too much to hope for? Apparently, as long as McConnell is in charge, it will be.