Mitch breaks shutdown promise: Why McConnell's now eating his words on a key pledge

After the midterms, Mitch McConnell promised "no possibility of a government shutdown." Not anymore

By Simon Maloy
Published February 23, 2015 5:31PM (EST)
Mitch McConnell               (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Mitch McConnell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

In the days following the midterm elections, Mitch McConnell sat down with Time magazine to discuss his plans for running the Senate. He’d spent the weeks leading up to the election sending some mixed messages – in August he’d told Politico that he intended to force budget showdowns with the president, and during his one debate with Alison Lundergan Grimes he described himself as a bipartisan dealmaker. But speaking with Time he made a promise: no government shutdowns on his watch. “There is no possibility of a government shutdown,” McConnell said of his strategy. “Remember me? I’m the guy that gets us out of government shutdowns.”

Well, we’re less than two months into McConnell’s tenure as majority leader and he’s already broken that promise: the possibility that the Department of Homeland Security will shut down at the end of the week is now looking like an inevitability. There are just a few days remaining for Congress to fund the department, and what is McConnell doing? The self-described dealmaker and shutdown-resolver has scheduled yet another doomed-to-fail procedural vote on the House’s legislation tying DHS funding to the rollback of Barack Obama’s immigration orders. The final minutes are ticking off the clock, and McConnell is deliberately wasting them.

To be fair, this situation isn’t entirely McConnell’s fault. Much of what he can accomplish is dictated by the mood of the House GOP, which is rarely open to reason, always itching for conflict, and loath to make any sort of concession to Obama (especially on immigration). He also has to deal with John Boehner, who has little to no power to keep his caucus in line and whose strategy for no-win legislative impasses is to dig in and absorb as much political damage as possible before finally caving. That’s a tough hand for anyone to play.

But that doesn’t change the fact that McConnell is failing to live up to the promises he made to voters both before and after the election. McConnell said that he could use the appropriations process to force Obama to “move to the center” on a variety of issues, and his first stab at doing that is failing miserably. The Democrats and the president are united against the GOP’s efforts to undo Obama’s immigration orders, and the GOP will be blamed if the fight they picked ends up in a shutdown.

While debating Grimes, he shrugged off the suggestion that he’d be committed merely to obstructing Obama’s agenda. McConnell cast himself as a consummate dealmaker with bipartisan bona fides. “I have been prepared to negotiate with the Democrats when we can find areas of agreement,” he said. Well, everyone agrees that DHS should be funded, and more than a few Republican senators agree that the House’s confrontation strategy is self-defeating and not worth pursuing. And yet McConnell keeps forcing vote after vote on the House bill, which accomplishes nothing. What’s his strategy for moving forward when the latest vote fails? No one seems to know; all he’s said publicly thus far is that the House will have to act.

These failures stand out because McConnell – whose was fairly unpopular in Kentucky heading into the last election – won by campaigning as the savvy insider who had amassed power and influence over the years and knew how to use it to benefit his state. “There's a great likelihood that I will be the leader of the majority in the Senate next year,” McConnell argued during the debate. “So one of the basic questions here is who can do the most for Kentucky over the next six years?” He’s now a few weeks into that job and he hasn’t done much of anything beyond help bring about the partial government shutdown he promised wouldn’t happen.

Simon Maloy

MORE FROM Simon MaloyFOLLOW SimonMaloy