Analysis | McConnell, the Senate’s decider, discovers the limits of his control
His fragile majority allows just one senator to derail the most routine action. And that means he may not be able to suppress a bill protecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Mitch McConnell is correct when he boasts of being the Senate’s decider, the person who determines which bills and nominations get considered.
“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as the majority leader. And we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Tuesday, dismissing a bipartisan bill designed to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Less than 24 hours later, McConnell learned how little control he has of the Senate other than setting the schedule. First, the chamber failed to get enough support to advance a bill updating the Coast Guard. Then, for more than an hour, the roll call remained deadlocked on the confirmation of the new NASA administrator as a lone Republican held out support.
The Coast Guard and NASA? They’re not exactly the most controversial government agencies, but that’s where things stand these days.
The Republicans’ 51-49 majority allows a few senators — or in Wednesday’s case just one, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — to bring the Senate to a halt on what is otherwise pretty routine action. Flake did not even have real objections to the NASA nominee, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), but he has raised concerns about the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state.
So Flake used Bridenstine’s nomination as a hostage to win assurances that he could have more detailed talks with Pompeo, the CIA director. “He has got an issue he wants to talk to Director Pompeo about,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, told reporters afterward, mentioning restrictions on travel to Cuba.