McConnell: No Retalliation

Olympia Snowe and other wayward Republicans will be subject to strong persuasion but no punishment from the caucus, Senate Republican leaders tell Politico.

Mitch McConnell and his deputies in the Senate Republican leadership are responding very cautiously to Olympia Snowe's decision to become the first GOP vote for a Democratic health care reform bill.  Photo: AP

Mitch McConnell and his deputies in the Senate Republican leadership are responding very cautiously to Olympia Snowe's decision to become the first GOP vote for a Democratic health care reform bill. Photo: AP

Mitch McConnell and his deputies in the Senate Republican leadership are responding very cautiously to Olympia Snowe’s decision to become the first GOP vote for a Democratic health care reform bill.

That’s about all they can do.

“My job as whip is not to twist her arm but to bring all the information that we can bring to bear on the issue and hope that people vote the way we would like to see them vote,” said McConnell’s No. 2, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Kyl said a heavy-handed approach “doesn’t work.”

And indeed, it could backfire — not just with Snowe but with other Republicans who’ve indicated that they could cross over to help Democrats pass some of President Barack Obama’s top domestic policy initiatives.

In an op-ed in The New York Times over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested that he’s open to supporting a Democratic climate change bill. And in an interview published this week in POLITICO, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he was willing to try to find common ground with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on rewriting the rules for Wall Street.

Republican leaders know that if they crack down hard on Snowe, they risk pushing her and other wavering Republicans into the arms of the Democrats. So, instead, they’ll lobby their own intensely in order to keep the GOP united and force the Democrats to find 60 votes by themselves.

Shelby has assured Republicans that he won’t cross over on his own. He told POLITICO on Wednesday that he would “never support something as the lone Republican.”

But the same can’t be said of Snowe or Graham. Snowe was the only Republican on the Senate Finance Committee to vote for the Democrats’ health care bill Tuesday. And over the summer, Graham was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Shelby was twice elected to the Senate as a Democrat, switching parties when the GOP won the majority in 1994.  Still, he and Graham aren’t going anywhere unless pushed very, very hard.  But Northeastern Republicans like Snowe and Susan Collins would likely improve their positions by becoming Democrats, so treading lightly is McConnell’s only sane choice.

Lamar Alexander, who is in charge of the Senate GOP’s message, said that “our conference does not dictate policy to individual senators” and that opinion among Republican senators is “rarely unanimous.”

On Wednesday, Snowe said she’s not worried about being on the receiving end of any backlash within her caucus. And she dismissed reports that supporting a Democratic health care reform bill could cost her a chance at moving up to the top GOP slot on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “I have no reason to believe that,” she said.

Back when Arlen Specter was a nominal Republican instead of the nominal Democrat he recently became, I opposed having him chair the Judiciary Committee.   That wasn’t as punishment –I ‘d have given him another powerful chairmanship — but rather because confirming judges is one of a small handful of issues where party unity truly matters.   Surely, Science, Transportation, and Commerce shouldn’t be divided along party lines on most issues.

We’re a continental country with extraordinary diversity.  Senators from Maine are not going to see eye-to-eye on most issues with their counterparts in Kentucky.  Insisting otherwise is a surefire recipe for minority status.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Eric Florack says:

    Back when Arlen Specter was a nominal Republican instead of the nominal Democrat he recently became, I opposed having him chair the Judiciary Committee. That wasn’t as punishment —I ‘d have given him another powerful chairmanship — but rather because confirming judges is one of a small handful of issues where party unity truly matters

    The trouble there, James is that without ideological unity, Party unity is impossible.

    And frankly, James, I’m far from convinced that party unity across the continental nation is an impossible task. The Democrats don’t seem to view it that way either, if their actions the last few congresses are of any indication. They’re quite willing willing to twist some arms both publicly and privately to get the votes they need to achieve the agenda…. even when they’re in the minority. Their voters seem quite willing to push ‘mavericks’ off the Democrat reservation.
    (Example… Jim Trafficant’s biggest problem wasn’t a any crime committed, but rather than he ran afoul of the Democrat party Agenda. (If the problem was crimes committed, can somebody please explain to me Charlie Rangel and William Jefferson?)

    What we have as a GOP leadership who refuses to stand up and be counted. And that, not calls and actions toward ideological unity within the party is why the GOP was relegated to minority status a year ago. It’s time for the GOP leadership to develop some spine. Alas, I think the task beyond them.