More of the Same: The New Senate

Sam Donnelly ’17 – Inside Politics Program

Despite finally having the majority he has long sought in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is finding this group extremely hard to control. In an article recently published by CNN, many of the current and future challenges facing the new majority leader are discussed. Senator McConnell had promised to end gridlock and pass more meaningful bipartisan legislation. However, two months in, this new senate appears to be quite similar to the previous one. The only major piece of legislation that Congress has managed to send to President Obama was the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, which was immediately vetoed upon reaching the oval office. The two parties cannot even agree on a sex trafficking bill that has overwhelming bipartisan support because of the partisan issue of abortion. As a result, Obama’s nomination to replace Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch has not yet been voted on. McConnell has stated that he will not bring up the nomination until the trafficking bill passes, which appears unlikely unless different amendments are proposed. Lynch has the support of many republicans as well as democrats, so partisan issues are once again hindering any progress that could be made.

To the credit of McConnell, he has attempted to make some changes to his plan in order to keep his promises thus far. He has allowed more amendments to proceed to bills than his predecessor Harry Reid typically did, which at least creates an environment where it is possible to compromise. He also kept his promise to avoid a government shutdown over the slew of issues surrounding the Department of Homeland Security. However, this promise will be further tested through greater challenges such as passing a budget and negotiating the debt ceiling.

Many republican lawmakers are currently accusing the democrats of jamming up the system to assure that the republican congress is seen as ineffective. Interestingly, this is the very same tactic that the Democrats have been using against the Republican Party for the previous six years. With the tables now turned, the Democrats are arguing that the Republican Party is not able to govern efficiently. Upon further investigation, there may be some merit to this argument, as the Senate was held up four weeks on funding the DHS and is currently unable to pass a simple sex trafficking bill. Despite this, it appears that the democrats are not willing to budge on many issues, so it is certainly not a one way street. In a broader perspective, this is all excellent news for President Obama, as he has faced little to no pressure from the new Republican congress that was expected to make his life difficult to say the least. In the final years of his presidency, Obama will gladly watch congress bicker, preventing the new majority from applying any sort of political pressure on the administration. Conversely, the current situation is potentially detrimental for the Republican chances in the 2016 presidential election. McConnell needs to prove that the Republicans can govern and if he is unable to do so, the democrats will have an advantage going forward.

In addition to democrats, McConnell has also had his hands full with grassroots members of his own party. He has had to subdue the movement to stop funding the DHS to punish President Obama for utilizing executive action to enact immigration reform. Furthermore, there are several likely presidential candidates, namely Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, which may be putting personal interests over the interests of the party. Recently, freshman republican Senator Tom Cotton ignored senate leadership and put together a direct letter to the Iranian government that was signed by 46 other GOP senators. McConnell appears to be on a slippery slope, with much of his own party disorganized and reaching beyond traditional boundaries. Many top-level advisors believe that the actions by the current Republican leadership will most likely not be endorsed by Republican activists and will lead to increased competition in primary campaigns for senior senators. Republican leadership in the senate has a very small margin of error before the 2016 election if they wish to pass any significant legislation and an even smaller window ensure that the party is reelected. With pressure from the left, right, and oval office, it will be intriguing to watch how Mitch McConnell handles his new majority.