Reviews | How Democrats Can Outsmart Mitch McConnell

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Are we entering a new era of bipartisanship? At first glance, the news from Washington looks remarkably encouraging. The Senate is set to pass a $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, with $ 550 billion in new spending on everything from public transit and highways to broadband and internet. climate change mitigation. Political insiders hail the bill as a breakthrough, with the Senate finally on the verge of breaking through the partisan deadlock that has crippled its legislature. Many thought President Biden’s belief that he could get Republican votes was naive, but he kept his word. Surprise, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vote to put the compromise to a vote.

Of course, it’s the same Mitch McConnell who noted Mr. Biden, “100% of our goal is to stop this new administration.” The same Mr. McConnell who ensured that the impeachment of Donald Trump did not lead to a conviction, who obstructed the bipartisan plan of a commission to investigate the violent insurgency from January 6 until to what she deceased, who kept all of his Republican senators in line against the US bailout at the start of the Biden presidency. And the same Mr. McConnell who said he would not confirm a Biden candidate for the Supreme Court if the Republicans took over the Senate in 2022.

So why the turnaround in infrastructure? Why dare Donald Trump’s brickbats after the former president criticized the effort and tried to kill him? Mr. McConnell has one overriding goal: to regain a majority in the Senate in 2022. Republicans must defend 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs next year; there are open offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina; and Senator Ron Johnson, if he runs again, could easily lose his seat in Wisconsin. Trying to block a popular infrastructure bill that will then be passed only by Democrats would give them all the credit. Republicans would end up with the lame defense of bragging about the projects they voted against and tried to block, which was not working at all with the popular US bailout.

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You don’t have to be Machiavellian to understand another reason Mr. McConnell was ready to offer Mr. Biden a victory over infrastructure: by looking reasonable on this popular plane, by claiming a mantle of the type of two-party system that appeals to Democrats like Joe Manchin. and Kyrsten Sinema and appeasing suburban moderate Republicans in key states, Mr McConnell can more easily rally his troops to their goal of obstructing and delaying all other important Democratic priorities, including the reconciliation bill. success, as well as voting rights and electoral reform. .

For Mr. Biden, this bill is a political victory; his working across party lines sets him apart from his Republican predecessor, which should give the president a strong appeal with independents and moderate Republicans. But for Congressional Democrats, despite the real success of persuading 10 Republicans to sign an ambitious infrastructure plan, the road ahead is bumpy, twisty and complicated.

If this bill is enacted, Democrats will still have to face the harsh reality: it will be their last major bipartisan bill.

Of course, there may be other issues below the partisan radar, such as criminal justice reform and mental health reform, that can gain significant Republican support. But thanks to Mr McConnell, everything else will face a wall of obstruction. Since the midterms will divert all attention from policymaking in Congress, Democrats must achieve democratic reforms and continue the rest of their agenda using reconciliation. (Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will also navigate another debt ceiling showdown, but he could perhaps include removing the ceiling in reconciliation, taking it off the table as a hostage once. for all.)

The two key words are discipline and obstruction. Overcoming Mr McConnell’s obstruction will require the 50 Senate Democrats to stick together, swallow hard with the necessary compromises – and of course, the same goes for House Democrats, who cannot afford to lose the votes of even four of their members. Getting anywhere else will require a change in the rules of the Senate. It does not have to be the elimination of filibuster or what Senator Manchin would define as a “weakening” of the rule. It will take a way to put the onus on Mr. McConnell and the minority instead of now, entirely on Mr. Schumer and the majority.

Norman J. Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) is a Distinguished Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book, which he wrote with EJ Dionne and Thomas E. Mann, is “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate and the Not-Yet-Deported”.

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