Homeland funding fight shows GOP leaders’ diverging interests

The fight over funding the Department of Homeland Security has put the odd-couple relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on display.

The gregarious Boehner’s 57-seat House majority is safe, but he constantly has to worry about a leadership challenge from the right.

{mosads}The more taciturn McConnell faces no leadership challenge but has to worry about protecting the majority he just won in his chamber, given the 24 GOP seats up for grabs there next year.

Boehner’s relative silence Wednesday about McConnell’s decision to move forward with a clean bill funding the agency spoke volumes about their diverging interests.

McConnell’s move made it clear his first priority was to prevent a Saturday shutdown of the Homeland Security agency, despite fire from the right.

Boehner’s words showcased his desire to get as much distance as possible from McConnell’s plans.

The leaders’ offices are connected by a private hallway, and they frequently update each other on the machinations of their respective chambers. 

But Boehner on Wednesday said he hasn’t talked to McConnell in two weeks. And he said refused to say how the House would respond to the Senate’s latest actions.

“Until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” he said.

Colleagues argue that, despite their different styles, McConnell and Boehner work well together.

“Mitch is more disciplined than anybody I know in terms of keeping his cards close to the vest. He’s willing to say something no matter how many times, until he gets the response that he wants,” said a GOP colleague who has served in both chambers. “Boehner is more emotional, more responsive. He’s more spontaneous.”

The deeply tanned Boehner is famous for crying at the slightest provocation. He was a waterworks when he took the Speaker’s gavel in 2011.

McConnell is bookish and reserved, and didn’t shed a single tear when he achieved his career-long dream of becoming Senate majority leader.

In this month’s funding fight, McConnell has been methodical, scheduling four votes on a House-passed bill funding Homeland Security and repealing President Obama’s immigration actions to showcase his chamber’s seriousness to the House.

He gave no indication that he would move a clean funding bill until the last moment — at which point most of his Senate GOP colleagues were happy to oblige.

McConnell’s signature method of operation is to carefully use surrogates to push his agenda in caucus meetings while sitting back and trying to avoid becoming embroiled in the fray, say GOP senators. By using subtle nudges, colleagues say, he starts setting the direction of the caucus early in the debate, like a tugboat setting the course of a barge with a well-timed push.

Boehner has taken a more emotional approach. “Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something?” he fumed at a press conference earlier this month.

His preference is to let his fractious caucus vent its disagreements and frustrations fully and tire itself out before stepping in to lead it out of a mess, such as at the end of 2012, with the looming expiration of the Bush-era tax rates.

Boehner appears to face the tougher job between the two.

Once the Senate approves the clean funding bill, he’ll have to decide whether to bring it to the House floor.

McConnell’s approach could give him some cover, however, depending on how many GOP senators back the clean bill.

While Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, acknowledges the differences between the two leaders, he says they are united in their vision for leading the party.

“Boehner and Sen. McConnell have different styles and lead different institutions, but they share the same goal: enacting as much good, conservative public policy as possible,” he said.

“They’re the perfect fit for the bodies they serve in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who served with Boehner in the House before winning election to the Senate.

“John is the right guy to ride herd over a Republican majority that is fractured and Mitch has the disposition and institutional knowledge to give our majority the best chance of succeeding. He’s very calm, understand how the Senate works and understands the political moment,” he said.

Tags John Boehner Mitch McConnell
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