McConnell And The Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had a rough go since July, and Tuesday may have been his worst day of 2017.

McConnell faced defeat at nearly every turn in 2017, but Tuesday was arguably the worst smackdown that the majority leader has experienced all year. McConnell was met with the preliminary defeat of his party’s latest push to upend the American health care system, the announcement of his colleague’s retirement and the double-digit defeat of his candidate in the Alabama special senatorial election.

Repealing Obamacare is becoming an unending thorn in McConnell’s side, who was unable to shepherd a single version of health care reform through the Senate in late July, and who tabled the party’s most recent bill Tuesday afternoon after it became all but certain that it would fail on the Senate floor.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, along with Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, tried for two weeks to jam the party’s 11th hour proposal to upend Obamacare through the Senate before budget reconciliation rules expire Sept. 30. After the fourth Republican senator — Susan Collins of Maine — came out against the bill Monday evening, McConnell and leadership decided it was best to table the legislation for the time being.

The president reportedly said that McConnell was “weak” for not passing health care reform and for not changing Senate rules to require only 51 “yes” votes under regular order.

“We haven’t given up on changing the American health care system,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol. “We aren’t going to be able to do it this week, but it still lies ahead of us, and we haven’t given up on that.”

Only a few hours after McConnell announced that he would not put his party’s health care bill up for a vote this week, his colleague and friend in leadership, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, revealed that he will vacate his seat at the end of his second term in the Senate in 2018.

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” the two-term lawmaker said in a statement.

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me,” Corker said.

“Bob has been an integral member of our team and confidant of mine during his time in the Senate. His leadership on important issues has helped guide our Conference and had a real impact at home and abroad,” McConnell said in a statement released to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I know he looks forward to being a part of the important agenda items we have in front of us for the remainder of this Congress.”

The majority leader backed Luther Strange of Alabama in the state’s special Senate election against former Alabama state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Strange lost decidedly to Moore Tuesday evening, losing by roughly 12 percentage points and dealing a marked blow to McConnell. The Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC with close ties to McConnell, spent $9 million in Alabama to ensure Strange’s victory, an effort that failed in the most public fashion.

The majority leader is now directing his efforts entirely to tax reform, according to comments he made to reporters Tuesday afternoon. Leadership appears to be feeling a sense of urgency to score some legislative victory before December, when the party will face a number of congressional reelection campaigns.

“We have to deliver on tax reform,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said at the Capitol. “I don’t think failure is an option.”

The 32-year veteran senator has had some successes this year. McConnell notably blocked a Democratic filibuster of now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in April, helping Trump secure the first major victory of his presidency.

McConnell and Trump could still notch a victory with tax reform.

Democrats in both the U.S. House and Senate are reaching across the aisle to work with Trump and Republican leadership to pass a tax reform bill.

Three Democratic senators and at least eight House members are actively engaged in ongoing negotiations with Trump and members of his administration to accomplish the first major legislative achievement of the president’s first term in office.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana dined with the president at the White House Sept. 12 to discuss how to reach a bipartisan solution to tax reform that would provide relief for the middle class and bolster economic growth. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, along with committee members Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, all Republicans, also attended the dinner.

The president also met with a bipartisan group of House Ways and Means Committee members Tuesday, which notably includes Democratic Reps. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Brian Higgins of New York, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, John Larson of Connecticut, Linda Sanchez of California, Terri Sewell of Alabama and Mike Thompson of California.

“The president and his team have been engaging with members on both sides of the aisle on tax reform from the beginning,” White House Assistant Press Secretary Natalie Strom told TheDCNF. Administration officials have met with the bipartisan group of Ways and Means Committee members before Tuesday’s meeting, as well as the House Blue Dogs, a group of Democrats committed to “pursuing fiscally-responsible policies,” Strom added.

The president is expected to give a speech in Indiana Wednesday, where he will unveil the administration’s plans for tax reform.

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