McConnell wary of divisive 2016 fights

McConnell wary of divisive 2016 fights
© Cameron Lancaster

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted MORE (R-Ky.), seeking to protect his majority in a tough cycle for Republicans, is leaning toward holding back several measures that have bipartisan support but are divisive in his conference.

McConnell, who will meet in the Oval Office on Tuesday with President Obama and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Missing: Fiscal sanity in Washington On The Money: Latest on border wall fight | Dems prep for long shutdown | Trump finds himself isolated | Stocks sink ahead of Fed meeting, funding deadline | Trump offers new round of farm aid MORE (R-Wis.), is under pressure from some in his conference to take action this year on a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal, criminal justice reform legislation and an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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Others in McConnell’s conference are not keen to tackle any of those issues, however, and Senate GOP sources say McConnell is likely to take the safe route and not advance any bills that divide his ­conference.

“McConnell is smart to wait on issues that divide us until such time as we can achieve a consensus,” said a senior Republican aide. “There’s no question that some members want to turn to some things sooner than others. But McConnell’s duty is to do what’s best for the entire conference. Seems what’s best for the conference is to focus on the things that unite us.”

McConnell’s toughest conundrum may be over what to do about a budget.

He often bashed Democrats for not passing a budget, which is required by law, when they controlled the upper chamber.

Drafting a document that will win 51 GOP votes — a task made more difficult by projections of rising deficit numbers over the next decade — is hard enough. But passing it would require a marathon voting session that would force vulnerable incumbents to vote on politically dangerous ­amendments.

Endangered Republicans such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBipartisan supply chain bill likely punted to next Congress, McCaskill says Overnight Defense: Trump at G-20 | Calls Ukraine 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting | Senate passes resolution condemning Russian actions | Armed Services chairmen warn against defense cuts Senate passes resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine MORE (Wis.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Drug company to offer cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown MORE (Ohio) say passing a budget is not necessary since congressional leaders struck a deal last year setting the top-line spending level for the fiscal 2017 appropriations bills.

McConnell vowed earlier this year that he would make a concerted effort to pass a budget but left himself some wiggle room by stopping short of guaranteeing it.

McConnell is sticking to the safe plan of concentrating on the 12 annual appropriations bills. If he can move them individually and avoid a year-end omnibus spending package, he’ll declare the year a legislative success.

“McConnell has always focused on having the Senate be productive and for it not to get bogged down into a never ending gripe-fest between senators,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and former senior aide to McConnell.

“One of the things he encouraged going into the majority and still encourages is for people to work through their differences in committee and not have extremely divisive issues amongst Republicans come to the Senate floor unless they are must-pass reauthorizations and spending bills, in which case you don’t have any choice,” he added. 

Republicans are also divided over whether to enact filibuster reform and whether to cut a deal on overseas corporate tax reform.

Business groups have ramped up pressure on Congress to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the summer, something that Ryan and other Republicans support. Ryan said in December he wants the House to “move as soon as we can.”

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Hatch walks back remarks that he didn't 'care' if Trump broke the law MORE (R-Utah) has serious concerns with the trade deal because it would limit the exclusive rights of pharmaceutical companies to clinical trial data.

North Carolina Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrMcConnell moves to force vote on Trump's counterterrorism nominee Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Report accuses US tech giants of impeding Senate's Russia probe MORE (R) and Thom Tillis (R) have balked at language that would allow member countries to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The tobacco industry supports 22,000 jobs in their home state.

Criminal justice reform also divides the conference. Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling MORE (Texas) is pushing an overhaul bill that would narrow the scope of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and give judges more discretion to impose penalties. It has the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (R-Iowa) and Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOcasio-Cortez: By Lindsey Graham's 1999 standard for Clinton, Trump should be impeached Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe MORE (S.C.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (Utah).

But conservatives led by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup launches campaign to 'Draft Beto' for 2020 White House bid Look out ‘losers’ — Trump focused on ‘winning’ The Memo: GOP frets as Trump shutdown looms MORE (R-Texas), who is at the front of the pack in the GOP presidential primary, and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThe FIRST STEP Act will make us safer without the Cotton-Kennedy amendments Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill The SEC should listen to Sen. Cotton MORE (R-Ark.) warn it would put thousands of dangerous felons on the streets.

On the ISIS war authorization, GOP Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question MORE (Ariz.), Graham and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell moves to force vote on Trump's counterterrorism nominee Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act MORE (Ky.), who is running for president, want Congress to take action. Other Republicans fear doing so would tie the next president’s hands to order military action.

While McConnell last month put Graham’s proposed AUMF on the fast-track for the Senate calendar, it is not expected to move anytime soon.

Portman, who faces a tough reelection in November, wants to tackle overseas corporate tax reform this year. He and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMake Trump own the shutdown over his ill-advised border wall More than a tantrum McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner MORE (D-N.Y.) unveiled a bipartisan agreement on a detailed set of principles last year, but other Republicans want to postpone the debate until 2017.

McConnell is putting it on the back burner for now. He doesn’t want to sign off on any deal that spends revenue from taxing overseas corporate profits on infrastructure or other programs.