Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell managed to convince Senate Democrats to vote to fund the government on Monday on the strength of his word. Based on even his recent track record, that word is worth very little.
McConnell said Monday, before a vote to fund the government through February 8, that he would take up legislation to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year. McConnell promised to do so if there wasn’t an agreement reached prior to February 8 and Democrats continued to support future spending bills.
“Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on Feb. 8, so long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief,” he said on the Senate floor.
He also promised a “level playing field” for the bill’s process in exchange for a vote to end the shutdown for another three weeks.
Mitch McConnell promises a "level playing field" and an amendment process fair to all sides for an immigration debate and vote if Democrats agree to reopen government.
— Alex Bolton (@alexanderbolton) January 22, 2018
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the floor two hours later, explained his rationale for accepting McConnell’s deal.
“We will vote today to reopen the government to continue negotiating a global agreement with the commitment that if an agreement isn’t reached by February the 8th, the Senate will immediately proceed to consideration of legislation dealing with DACA,” he said.
So the Senate Democrats agreed to vote for a continuing resolution on Monday to fund the government through February 8th, and possibly another continuing resolution on February 8, for the commitment to consider an unidentified immigration bill.
No immigration agreement was attached to the bill passed on Monday. McConnell’s deputy, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has already cast doubt on the idea of considering an immigration bill before February 8.
So all of this rests on McConnell’s word. Of course even if a reasonable immigration bill were to pass the Senate, there are no guarantees it would be supported in the House, or indeed even the White House.
But McConnell has promised many things in recent months and failed to follow through. Here are a few examples:
McConnell promised a vote on Collins-Nelson, a bill to lower Obamacare premiums, before the end of 2017
Before the passage of the Republican tax bill, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was on the fence. She was very concerned about what repealing the individual mandate would do to state health insurance exchanges, and she wanted to make sure to pass legislation she wrote with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to strengthen the exchanges with reinsurance money to help lower premiums.
McConnell promised Collins that he would support her bill to stabilize Obamacare insurance markets and try to pass it before the end of 2017.
That led Collins to back the bill, tweeting: “After securing significant changes, as well as commitments to pass legislation to help lower health insurance premiums, I will cast my vote in support of the Senate tax reform bill.”
But the promise was broken weeks later, and the Senate did not take up the bill.
Later in December, Collins let McConnell slide on that promise, and she vowed to introduce legislation in 2018, with no specific promise from the majority leader to champion it.
McConnell promised a vote on Alexander-Murray, a bill to stabilize Obamacare markets, before the end of 2017
At the same time he made the promise about Collins-Nelson, McConnell promised Sen. Collins passage of legislation to lower health insurance premiums in exchange for her tax vote. The bill, known as Alexander-Murray, would reimburse insurers for providing key Obamacare subsidies, thus further stabilizing health insurance markets
McConnell also failed to keep this promise, as the legislation did not get added to the tax bill and was not passed separately in 2017.
On Monday, Collins told reporters that she was still optimistic:
In my case, obviously I was very disappointed that the commitment for a vote by the end of the year was not kept. But I am optimistic it is going to be kept. Our negotiations with the house are going very, very well. And the deadline slipped, but the policy is what is important. And you have to remember that the individual mandate repeal does not go into effect until 2019. So we do have a little time here.
She was speaking about both health care bills.
McConnell promised to bring a DACA bill to the Senate floor in January
During the tax bill fight in the Senate last month, McConnell promised Sen. Jeff Flake said he was “pleased that the Majority Leader has committed to bring the bipartisan DACA bill we are currently negotiating to the Senate floor in January.” This commitment was made Flake said, in exchange for Flake’s yes vote on the tax bill.
On Monday, Flake told reporters that he did not necessarily consider the January promise to be broken:
My commitment was to have a vote on immigration by the end of January. We’re getting close. This one will miss it by a week. I can live with that. We got a shutdown that wasn’t anticipated. So we’re getting close on that.
Yet McConnell did not promise to bring the bipartisan DACA bill to the Senate floor — he said it was his intention to begin consideration of a DACA bill long as the government does not shut down on February 8, the date that the new continuing resolution expires.
McConnell promised the Republican tax plan would not raise taxes on anyone in the middle class
McConnell promised Americans that “nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase” in November of last year. A week later, he had to walk back that promise.
“I misspoke on that,” McConnell told the New York Times. “You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments.”
McConnell promised to honor Senate tradition on judicial nominees
When Barack Obama became president, McConnell sent a letter to him, which was shared with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), then chair of the Senate Judicary Committee. Leahy said the letter stated “that the Republican Conference expected the blue slip policy to be observed, ‘even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation.'” Leahy did exactly that, which meant that Republicans, then possessing a small senate minority, could still affect Obama’s judicial nominations by filing a “blue slip” on nominations from their home states, effectively holding the nomination indefinitely. They did so for a dozen nominees.
Yet in 2017, the first year of President Trump’s first term, McConnell did away with the blue slip rule. He told the Weekly Standard that the GOP would now treat blue slips “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball.”
Several senators who voted for the budget resolution spent Monday said they were confident McConnell would keep his promise. Jeff Flake, already burned once, believes he will not be burned again.
Jeff Flake argues Democrats secured the terms of the upcoming DACA debate: "A commitment made this public, with this much fanfare, that's kind of hard to back away from just three weeks from now."
— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) January 22, 2018
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said it would be an “affront” to many of his fellow senators if McConnell broke his pledge. Both Corker and Flake are retiring after this year.
“He’s going to do it. He said he’s going to do it. I’ve never gotten any sense that he’s not going to do it,” Corker says of McConnell addressing DACA, adding that it would be an “affront” to a larger number of his colleagues if he didn’t.
— Lissandra Villa (@LissandraVilla) January 22, 2018
Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats, indicated that McConnell would keep his promise.
Angus King says it would be difficult for McConnell to renege on his commitment.
— 🦅Andrew Desiderio🦅 (@desiderioDC) January 22, 2018
Yet other politicians, on both sides of the issue, with wildly divergent motivations, cast doubts on the idea of a new meaningful promise from McConnell.
Conservative Republicans were skeptical that any new ground had been broken in what McConnell had previously said. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) argued that he didn’t hear anything new in the majority leader’s assurances.
Sen. Tom Cotton says he doesn't hear anything new in what McConnell is assuring on immigration, beyond what he's been saying for weeks.
— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) January 22, 2018
The White House cast doubt on the premise of McConnell’s promise. Even if the compromise legislation passed the Senate, and somehow also passed the House, a White House spokesperson said Trump would not sign it.
Now that Dems have voted to reopen gov w promise of Senate DACA vote, WH spox @RajShah45 on CNN flatly sez POTUS won't sign Graham-Durbin deal
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) January 22, 2018
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) flatly dismissed the idea that McConnell can be trusted on issues like this.
“There has to be a pathway that is nailed down much better because McConnell’s version of regular order — he simply controls the place and does what he wants,” Merkley said on MSNBC the night before the shutdown ended. “There’s very little trust… We haven’t ever seen McConnell stand up for his promises.”
Additional reporting by Danielle McLean.