McConnell’s next job: 2016 traffic cop

McConnell’s next job: 2016 traffic cop
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Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (Ky.) should be prepared to play role of traffic cop ahead of 2016. 

As colleagues with White House hopes jockey for their legislative priorities, it could create tension in the GOP caucus if there’s any whiff of favoritism.

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Within McConnell’s conference, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE (R-Texas) are weighing presidential runs most aggressively, followed by Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE (R-Fla.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Reddit hires first lobbyists Senate panel approves bill compelling researchers to ‘hack’ DHS MORE (R-Ohio), who both represent pivotal presidential battleground states.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Tenn.), who’s slated to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, isn’t ruling out a bid either. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (S.D.), who has $9.4 million in his campaign account, is another potential White House contender. 

“I think everybody in the Senate believes they should be president and this is certainly not Sen. McConnell’s first time overseeing an ambitious conference,” said John Weaver, a veteran strategist who advised both of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential runs.

“He’ll have a little bit of a trick because of his already public support of Rand Paul, which he came out pretty early on, and how that might be viewed by Ted Cruz or others,” he added.

Paul helped McConnell with his own tough reelection this year, McConnell told the Lexington Herald Leader earlier this month that “"Whatever [Paul] decides to do...he'll be able to count on me."

The GOP leader has a short window to bask in the spotlight before his colleagues running for president begin to dominate the media’s attention. 

“More or less, McConnell has about six months to be the primary spokesman for Senate Republicans and then he’s going to have substantial competition,” said Steven S. Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied Senate and the presidential nominating process.

This brief honeymoon period epitomizes the challenges facing McConnell as he tries to balance the responsibilities of governing with the competing agenda of White House hopefuls within his conference. 

“If the Senate Republicans focus too much on who’s going to sit in the Oval Office too early, many of their legislative efforts are going to wind up in the quicksand,” said Ron Bonjean, a former Senate Republican leadership aide. 

“Each one of these senators is going to focus on a variety of issues from immigration to spending and they’re going to stake out there claims,” he said. “It’s going to be very obvious and transparent that they’re running for 2016.”

A Republican senator who spoke on condition of anonymity said McConnell is likely to suffer more headaches dealing with colleagues with 2016 hopes than the new batch of conservative freshmen senators who want to shake up business as usual in Congress.

“More of a problem than them,” the senator said of incoming conservatives, “are the guys looking at running for president. Their decisions are going to be governed by what best sets them up to win the nomination.”

But the senator said Republicans are likely to control 54 seats next year, giving McConnell an ample cushion to suffer GOP defections on some high-profile votes. 

Paul is pressing McConnell to move legislation in January — the prime time for action in the next Congress — allowing companies to repatriate profits held overseas.

“I think we should do something big in January. One big thing we could do is invite all that American profit overseas to come home,” Paul told The Hill in an interview before Election Day.

“I will push hard to get repatriation passed in January,” he said, predicting it would attract Democratic votes. 

He has also called for passing a budget that balances within a few years, an ambitious goal that might give some moderates heartburn. 

“I think the budget should balance within a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “Every Republican voted for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that requires five years [and then] balance. I think that should be our goal.”

Forty-seven Senate Republicans voted in December of 2011 for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that would have taken effect five years after ratification. 

McConnell’s biggest worry may be Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who has already challenged his leadership about the wisdom of trying to pass a slew of bills in the lame-duck session.

McConnell wants to start off 2015 with a clean legislative slate but Cruz argues non-emergency bills should wait until the newly elected GOP freshman class gets sworn in and Republicans has more leverage to negotiate.

Cruz is trying to kill the Marketplace Fairness Act, which Democrats want to approve as a condition for extending the moratorium on Internet access taxes, a top Republican priority. This threatens the chances of doing anything quickly in the truncated December session. 

Cruz clashed with GOP leaders last year when he led a conservative revolt against ObamaCare that led to a 16-day government shutdown.

McConnell is sending a stern message that he won’t let that happen again or risk a standoff over raising the debt limit.

“We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt,” he told reporters Thursday.

A big question is whether Cruz will try to hold the year-end government funding bill hostage to prevent Obama from using executive power to shield as many as three million illegal immigrants from deportation. In August, he said the White House was the main source fanning fears of another shutdown.

“The real lesson here is jockeying for position in 2016 doesn’t mesh with governing in the here and now, which McConnell is trying to project,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. 

Rubio is another White House hopeful with an ambitious agenda and a media megaphone to drive it.

He is trying to distinguish himself from Cruz by working on a plan to respond to Obama’s impending action on immigration without shuttering the government.

"My sense is that the vast majority of us want to do everything we can to stop it, but also want to avoid outcomes that would prove bad for the country as a whole," he told the Associated Press Thursday. 

He has a multi-pronged plan to spur economic growth. It includes legislation to safeguard the Internet as an even playing field, a bill to increase the wireless access and affordability, and a proposal to encourage government partnerships with the private sector to foster basic research.

More controversially, Rubio has a bill that would prevent the government from bailing out insurance companies that lose money as a result of participating in ObamaCare. This measure doesn’t sit well with some GOP colleagues who count major insurance companies among their constituents.

Of the likely GOP candidates, Portman’s agenda of trade promotion legislation, corporate tax reform and bipartisan regulatory reforms dovetails most snugly with McConnell’s agenda.

One bill the Ohioan co-sponsored with Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Las Vegas highlights Islamist terrorism is not America's greatest domestic threat MORE (D-Mo.) would streamline the federal permitting process, while another with Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate panel approves bill to speed up driverless cars Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump proclaims 'Cybersecurity Awareness Month' | Equifax missed chance to patch security flaw | Lawmakers await ex-CEO's testimony | SEC hack exposed personal data MORE (D-Fla.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: EPA aims to work more closely with industry Overnight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE (D-W.Va.) would strengthen cost-benefit analyses at federal agencies of new regulations. These are the types of bills McConnell wants to move to show the GOP can govern.