The backlash Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (Ky.) received from fellow Republican senators last week is a wake-up call to the GOP leader that he doesn’t have any more political capital to spend on helping Democrats raise the debt limit again, say GOP aides and strategists.
McConnell is still secure in his position as Senate Republican leader, despite regular attacks from former President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE, who has called for him to be replaced.
Yet at the same time, Senate Republican aides and strategists say McConnell’s reputation took a hit last week when he agreed to a two-month increase of the debt ceiling after saying for weeks that Republicans wouldn’t help Democrats on the issue.
McConnell didn’t announce his offer to Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerVoting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-N.Y.) until he released a statement Wednesday, and many Senate Republicans were kept in the dark about it until the statement was made public.
Even at a Senate Republican Steering Committee lunch shortly before the statement came out, McConnell kept his plans close to his vest as fellow Senate Republicans discussed various options for getting out of the stalemate.
What made last week’s internal Republican fight different from previous intrafamily spats was that McConnell heard criticism from allies such as Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (Mo.), a member of his leadership team, and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (S.C.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee who has tried to bury the hatchet between McConnell and Trump.
Even Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team Put partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately Trump remembers former 'Apprentice' contestant Meat Loaf: 'Great guy' MORE (Utah), who has become known as a moderate in the Senate GOP conference, voiced his misgivings.
“I think this was a crisis entirely of McConnell’s making when he decided to announce the caucus’s position this summer. He created drama and thought it would go a lot differently than he expected and then he blinked,” said a Senate Republican aide who requested anonymity to frankly assess McConnell’s standing after the debt limit fight. “He put his caucus into a tough position.”
“He prides himself on protecting the caucus from tough votes and that obviously took a major blow,” the aide added.
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas), a longtime McConnell antagonist, sensed weakness after Thursday’s Senate GOP conference meeting and immediately took to the floor to pounce on his leader.
“I believe Democratic Leader Schumer was on the verge of surrendering and then unfortunately ... Republicans blinked. I think that was a mistake,” he said on the Senate floor.
A Republican strategist allied with McConnell, however, argued that last week’s fight won’t have any lasting effect on the GOP leader.
“In the grand scheme it’s irrelevant, because we’re six weeks away from another showdown,” the strategist said, predicting that public attention will quickly shift to other issues.
“What matters is how the [Senate Republican] members feel” about McConnell, “and the members enthusiastically” support McConnell, the strategist said.
McConnell won’t be able to wrangle 10 Republican votes to help Democrats raise the debt ceiling again, something he told President BidenJoe BidenUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries Headaches intensify for Democrats in Florida US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE in a letter on Friday that was also a message to Republicans.
“I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement,” he wrote. “They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help.”
A second Senate Republican aide said McConnell didn’t have a politically viable exit plan in case Schumer refused to back down in the fight and use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling.
“It hurts him, which is why he sent that letter to Biden saying he wouldn’t do it again. That’s because he can’t do it again. There won’t be 10 Republican votes unless we get something,” the aide said.
“McConnell was calling and begging people to do this,” the source added, describing how tough it was to round up GOP votes just for a two-month extension.
The aide noted that McConnell’s position in the conference has weakened since the last time there was a big internal fight over the debt limit in 2014, because loyal McConnell allies such as former Sens. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsBiden remembers Dole as 'master of the Senate' at National Cathedral Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE (R-Kan.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.) have retired.
Another wave of McConnell allies are due to retire at the end of next year when Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Biden calls Intel's B investment to build chip factories a tool for economic recovery MORE (R-Ohio), Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Negotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (R-Ala.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Pelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks MORE (R-N.C.) and Blunt step down.
All of this is likely to make McConnell’s job even harder, especially as he deals with barbs from Trump, who frequently weighed in publicly on the debt fight.
The next battle will come up toward the end of November as the Senate nears a new debt ceiling deadline.
“This puts McConnell in a box canyon where he has to be tough and fight the debt limit,” said Brian Darling, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide. “He lost face during that debate and now he’s going to have to step up and actually be tougher on the second go on the debt limit and force Democrats to use reconciliation.”
McConnell and the 10 other Republicans who did vote to help raise the debt ceiling were criticized by the former president during a rally in Iowa.
“To think we had 11 Republicans go along with an extension. Headed up by Mitch McConnell, can you believe that?” Trump said before a cheering crowd in Des Moines.
McConnell, three members of his leadership team, moderate Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (R-Alaska), and Portman and Shelby, who are both retiring, were among the 11. That vote could come back to haunt Murkowski and Senate Minority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Watch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office MORE (R-S.D.) in a primary next year, if they decide to run for reelection.