COMPASS: McConnell’s Last Stand

March 5th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. 

The House and Senate are both in session. Over the weekend, text was released of the six bill “minibus” designed to finalize passage of the Fiscal Year 2024 spending bills (FY24 ends in September, so the Congress is predictably already behind in passing any semblance of regular order appropriations bills for FY2025). More on this in a moment.

McConnell Out

In news that rocked Capitol Hill last week, longtime Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he would not be pursuing a leadership post next year. Unlike every other leadership position in the Senate GOP conference, the position of Leader is not term limited, so McConnell has held the post since 2006. He has received only one challenge for the position from Sen. Rick Scott in 2022.

McConnell’s departure represents an inflection point for conservatives. McConnell, in many ways, represents a Washington-focused ideology that is out of step with where many within his party – and members of his conference – currently stand. While the hagiographies of McConnell’s tenure attempt to paint him as “Reaganesque,” an unvarnished look at his priorities says otherwise. Chris Bedford unpacks McConnell’s complicated legacy for The Federalist.

But policies aside, a comprehensive take on McConnell’s legacy is remiss if one does not consider how he ran the United States Senate and governed the conference. McConnell receives a lot of credit for judicial confirmations – particularly those of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. 

The reason he was able to confirm so many justices, however, was because he finished the work of former Democratic Leader Harry Reid in dismantling the judicial filibuster. Every judge, from district court to the Supreme Court, in addition to executive branch political nominees including at the Cabinet level, are confirmed at a simple majority vote. McConnell’s legacy is indeed those three Supreme Court seats. He is also responsible for the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and every liberal SCOTUS nominee who will be easily confirmed with 51 votes in a Democratic majority Senate (assuming the judicial filibuster is not reinstated).

More to the point, as I’ve written in previous years, the emphasis on judicial confirmations was binary; in other words, it was exclusive of legislating. Roe has finally fallen thanks to this conservative SCOTUS majority, but the Republican-led legislature was wholly unprepared to do their actual job: addressing what came next. As Sen. Ron Johnson said recently in a radio interview, as far as an agenda goes, Republicans under McConnell have been “rudderless.”

Who replaces McConnell and how the conference will be run will be the focus of the remaining year. Senate conservatives have called a meeting of the Senate GOP conference to discuss some of these issues. Alex Bolton has more at The Hill on what Senate conservatives are planning.

The Johnson-Schumer Spending Deal

Following negotiations with House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democrat and Republican Senate leadership, the text of the six bill “minibus” was released on Sunday night, clocking in at over a thousand pages, $435 billion, and 605 pages of earmarks. And this only covers half of government funding! 

The bill is expected to pass the House on Wednesday under “suspension of the rules,” which bars amendments. Given the higher vote threshold required by using the suspension process, it is possible – and potentially likely – that the bill passes with more Democrat votes than Republican votes (in a Republican-majority House). The bill will then head over to the Senate, where the body will be asked to “concur” with what the House has done. This effectively limits debate and presumably most, if not all, amendments will be blocked. 

Keep in mind that the “topline” number of $435 billion is exclusive of the side deals that were cut between Johnson and Senate Democrats. Those are rumored to be in the neighborhood of $70 billion and not reflected in the overall number.

It is unclear exactly what conservatives can claim as victory in this package. Rep. Andrew Clyde has a good list of conservative requests that were left on the table.

SCOTUS Keeps Trump On The Ballot

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a 9-0 ruling holding that states cannot disqualify former President Donald Trump from the ballot. In the per curiam (“by the court”) opinion, all nine justices agreed that states lack the power to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment against presidential candidates.

Separately, four of the nine justices – Justices Amy Coney Barrett in a separate opinion and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson in a joint opinion – argued that the majority opinion should have simply decided the question of whether states had this power, and nothing further. More from SCOTUSblog and Ed Whelan at National Review.

 The Latest From Around The Conservative Movement

One More Thing…

Friend of the Compass Theo Wold recently gave a lecture at New Saint Andrew’s College entitled Know Thyself: A Radical Manifesto. You can watch it here.