McConnell already did it once, when he believed he had Trump’s blessing. Before the holidays he allowed a vote to keep the government running until Feb. 8, to avoid a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate Trump’s demand for border wall funding. It passed easily.
But then Trump bowed to pressure from his base, House Republicans dared not challenge him, and the parts of the government that had not yet been funded were shut down.
Now it’s 21 days later and we’re teetering toward the longest government shutdown in American history, with no sense of how it will end. Many federal workers are missing their first paycheck Friday and are resorting to crowdfunding, side jobs and even selling their belongings to pay their bills. A advocate for veterans sounded a dire warning that financial insecurity is a leading cause of suicide. The FBI agents union said not paying agents amounts to a national security threat.
When Senate Democrats tried this week to bring up a House-passed bill to open parts of the government unrelated to border security, like the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Agriculture, McConnell batted it down, saying, “The last thing we need to do right now is to trade absolutely pointless show votes back and forth across the aisle.”
That from a politician who in December was saying confidently that Congress was going to avoid a shutdown.
Meanwhile, McConnell has left the shutdown public relations to other Republicans, skipping news conferences and keeping a low profile. He maintains the position that he won’t fracture the party and bring up a bill that Trump won’t sign, so he can argue this is a problem for Trump and House Democrats to figure out.
Public polling shows 51 percent of American adults blame Trump for the shutdown, 41 percent blame Democrats and 35 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to a HuffPost-YouGov poll released this week. But while Republicans may not be blamed for the shutdown, Americans are unimpressed with how they’ve handled it.
Congressional Republicans are also starting to grow weary of this drawn-out fight. Already some GOP senators up for election in 2020, such as Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Susan Collins (Maine), are defecting, calling for an end to the shutdown regardless of the border wall money.
Meanwhile, in McConnell’s home state, there’s an effort to draw more attention to his lack of effort to intervene in the standoff. Federal workers protested outside of his office, a Democratic group is putting up a billboard to pressure McConnell, and an opinion writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal penned a column titled: “McConnell, stop sitting on your hands. End this government shutdown.”
“The guy who is arguably the most skilled legislator in the history of the United States — at least since Henry Clay wore homespun suits — is sitting out of the contentious debate over President Donald Trump’s partial shutdown of the government,” it said.
Maybe McConnell doesn’t want his members to have to choose between bucking Trump and opening the government, given Trump still enjoys high approval rating within the party. Or maybe McConnell simply doesn’t feel like using up his own political capital on this one.
As McConnell’s former chief of staff, Josh Holmes, noted on Twitter, the majority leader isn’t easily swayed by outside pressure.
“Libs aren’t taking my advice but the ‘pressure McConnell’ strategy on the shutdown is hilarious to me,” Holmes tweeted. “Perhaps there is a politician who gives fewer fs about pressure press coverage, but in 20 years I haven’t met him/her yet.”