By Russell Berman - 12/24/13 06:00 AM EST
For the two top-ranking Republicans in Congress, 2013 was about survival above all else.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) found themselves caught between a reelected Democratic president in Barack Obama and a restless cast of conservatives who refused to yield an inch in the year’s legislative battles.
Days after capitulating to the Senate in the fiscal cliff, Boehner overcame an attempt by right-wing House Republicans to oust him from the Speakership. He won few legislative victories in the House and was in effect dragged into a government shutdown by conservatives who refused the leadership’s initial attempt to avert it.
Yet Boehner emerged from the shutdown with a stronger hand internally and scored a late win with the passage of a two-year budget agreement negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). He ended the year by lashing out at the conservative groups who had opposed him, signaling he may try to run a tighter ship in 2014.
McConnell endured just as many peaks and valleys in 2013. He played the role of legislative savior twice, first in striking a deal with Vice President Biden to avert the fiscal cliff on New Year’s morning, and then reaching another accord in October with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
But McConnell suffered politically ahead of his 2014 reelection bid. He drew both a legitimate Democratic opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes and a Tea Party primary challenger in Matt Bevin.
McConnell’s biggest loss, however, might have come when Reid and Senate Democrats deployed the legislative “nuclear option” – a rule change limiting the filibuster against presidential nominations.
Republicans denounced the move and retaliated by trying to stall legislation and nominees in December, but the move left McConnell and the GOP with a weakened hand heading into 2014.