Power & politics: Mitch McConnell’s tough new job

Copy of zachary toillion column headerWith a caucus of 52-54 members, Mitch McConnell will have to walk a tightrope passing legislation in the Senate. If it appears he is betraying conservative principles, the votes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio may be hard to get as the trio try to appeal to 2016 Republican primary voters. Additionally, McConnell will have to contend with ideologically conservative members newly elected in 2014, such as Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner.

At the same time, McConnell will need to protect members of his caucus who are at risk in 2016. These senators were elected in the Republican wave of 2010 with many being from traditionally blue states. Senators like Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman, Richard Burr, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Kelly Ayotte will all being running in an election year where Democratic turnout is much higher and all hail from states that voted for President Obama at least once. Keeping these seats will be critical for the Republican Party to hold onto its Senate majority.

Additionally, ideological moderates in the Republican Party may be unwilling to sign on to controversial legislation, particularly Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins. McConnell may be able to offset potential losses from his caucus by relying on a shrinking number of moderate Democratic senators from red states like North Dakota, Missouri, Montana and Indiana.

The biggest question will be what number of votes it will take to pass legislation. As minority leader, Sen. McConnell filibustered all bills by invoking cloture rules that required 60 votes to pass legislation. As Sen. Harry Reid becomes the new Senate minority leader, the big question remains whether Reid will follow the same procedure. If so, legislation would need to be passed with the entire Republican majority and an additional six to eight Democratic senators.

Presuming the new Senate is able to pass more bills, they would then have to be reconciled with the more ideological conservative House of Representatives in a conference committee where a new bill is crafted to pass both Houses. After that, Obama will have the final say on whether the bill becomes law due to presidential veto. Republicans alone lack the numbers to override a presidential veto, meaning any time a veto is overridden it will require all Republicans to vote unanimously as well as several Democrats.

It was political conventional wisdom that John Boehner had the hardest job in Washington D.C. prior to the 2014 elections since he had to unify the various factions of the Republican Party to pass basic legislation since 2011. Boehner may now have a much easier job, as the Republican majority is much larger than the 110th and 111th Congress. For Mitch McConnell, the trials and tribulations of being Majority Leader has just begun.

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