McConnell silent on immigration, but attacks ‘War on Coal’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate, may be raising Cain today over a White House “War on Coal,” but he didn’t rally his fellow Republican Senators to defeat the far-reaching immigration bill during a critical Monday vote, despite polls showing the bill’s unpopularity among GOP and swing voters.

“I don’t think we had any encouragement to do anything except just vote our consciences, “ Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has managed the floor debate for the GOP, told The Daily Caller.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s didn’t intervene, said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Senator in the GOP’s Senate caucus.

“The [GOP] conference, as you know, is in a lot of places, everybody is doing what makes sense based on where they are on the issue, in many cases where their constituents are,” he told TheDC.

In contrast, McConnell has taken an outspoken role in defense of his state’s coal industry, which is under increased pressure from President Barack Obama since the 2012 election.

“Declaring a ‘War on Coal’ is tantamount to declaring a war on jobs,” McConnell declared in a speech Tuesday. “It’s tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today’s economy.”

McConnell is facing a primary election this year and a Senate election in 2014.

On Monday morning, a few hours before the immigration vote, McConnell’s election campaign got a boost from a leading Democrat in his state, Bruce Lunsford, who lost to McConnell in 2008. “There is really no sitting Democrat that I can think of right now that has the firepower, monetarily, or has enough gravitas to take him on significantly … It’s going to be very hard for Senator McConnell to lose,” Lunsford told ABC June 24.

Many GOP Senators are under pressure from business constituents to back the immigration bill, which will increase the supply of low-skilled and high-skilled labor, and would also offer a multi-staged amnesty to at least 11 million illegal immigrants.

That’s a problem for McConnell, since the GOP’s base strongly opposes the measure.

“Like Obamacare, this bill is too massive, offers special interest kickbacks and perks, has no measurable or enforceable border security, no one has had time to read what’s in it, and the final Senate vote will likely happen under cover of darkness,” said a June 25 statement from Jenny Beth Martin, National Coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, one of the larger Tea Party networks.

Overall, the bill would add roughly 46 million Democratic-leaning immigrants to the United States by 2033. It will also nudge down salaries, average-education and employment-rates for a decade, and tilt more of the nation’s income towards property owners for at least two decade, according to a June 16 report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Prior to June 11, McConnell urged his fellow GOP Senators to support a “cloture vote” needed to begin debate on the immigration bill. Before that first vote, Grassley told TheDC, “there was a great urging on the part of McConnell to go to the bill.”

McConnell wants an immigration bill, Grassley said, “because it is a problem that we have to try to deal with.”

Grassley represents a farming state, where the agricultural business has pushed hard for the immigration bill, which includes several measures providing them with a large flow of workers. “Everybody agrees that the status quo is not tolerable, and you’ve got to do something, you may not like what’s done here [in the Senate], but it’s not done until you get it through the House and get it out of [the joint House-Senate] conference,” he said.

“That’s the bill that goes to the president,” not the Senate bill, he said.

In some media appearances, McConnell has emphasized border security, not the effect the bill will have on Americans’ wages or the long-time impact on the United States or its politics. “The core question here is are we going to have a credible border security provision that has to be met before some kind of legalization path is commenced,” he told radio host Sean Hannity June 20. “That’s the core question … That’s the quest.”

Last week, McConnell did support a proposal by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn that would have delayed citizenship for the 11 million until the border was certified as 90 percent secure.

However, the Democrats’ leadership, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, struck a deal with two GOP Senators that dropped the 90 percent rule. The deal, with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, promise billions of dollars to build some border-fencing and to hire 20,000 border agents.

Fifteen GOP Senators voted for the border amendment on Monday.

The vote also set a time-limit on debate, and will allow the Democratic leadership to schedule a up-or-down vote by Thursday.

The bill will then be sent to the House, where the GOP’s leadership is facing intense pressure from the Democratic-led coalition of labor business and ethnic lobbies. “I believe there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them,” Schumer told TheDC.

The leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House White Kevin McCarthy, are also facing pressure to pass a bill from GOP lobbyists and presidential aspirants, including Gov. Jeb Bush.

Boehner and McConnell are expected to meet with President Barack Obama June 25 to talk about legislative issues for this year, including immigration. Obama has repeatedly said that passage of the immigration bill would be “historic.”

However, some GOP leaders, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, said the GOP will gain politically by opposing the bill, especially among blue-collar and middle-class workers.

“The crony capitalists in D.C. and their corporatist friends on Wall Street might think this amnesty boondoggle is a great idea, but the average American worker in our middle class who’ll soon see lower wages is the one left out in the cold, along with those hard working immigrants who followed the rules and are working here legally,” Palin wrote in a June 23 op-ed.

Obama’s victory in the 2012 election was aided by a drop-off in votes among GOP-leaning, lower-income white voters, and by an upsurge in voting by Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters.

However, Senate leaders didn’t consider the long-term political impact of passing the bill, Thune told TheDC. “I don’t think anybody is making this vote based on what the political considerations,” he said after the Monday vote.

“But I think the CBO report said there would be a downtick in wages, an uptick in unemployment, so the economic arguments… [but] people are taking little pieces of information that’s out there, and using it to buttress their case,” said Thune.

“The best policy is the best politics, not the other way around,” Grassley told TheDC. “This is not political.”

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