A number of GOP senators, such as Conservative Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin argued that the McConnell Agreement – while far from ideal – should be allowed to pass with only 51 votes, so Democrats could vote for it and Republicans could vote against it. But Cruz – along with his two allies, sens. Mike Lee from Utah and Rand Paul from Kentucky, who were not at the meeting – showed no sign of giving up.
The divisions over strategy and politics undermine the GOP leader’s long-appreciated efforts to maintain unity among high-profile battles with Democrats. And it comes as Republicans openly question his move, which he has privately defended as necessary to ensure Democrats do not take steps to weaken Senate filibuster rules that give the minority party the power to destroy the majority agenda.
Louisiana Senator John Kennedy said he was “very disappointed” with McConnell’s decision to allow Democrats to pursue a short-term debt ceiling increase under normal procedures. Cruz called the strategy a “serious mistake” and said he thinks “Democratic threats to destroy the filibuster made him give in.” And Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina complained that “we had a plan and he threw it over.”
“Why the hell would I make it easier for them to raise the debt ceiling through regular order?” Graham added in a statement.
McConnell has defended his approach both in public and behind closed doors, signaling to members that the future of Senate rules may have been at stake.
A Republican senator defended McConnell, saying “you will have to ask McConnell more about the talks he had with (moderate Democratic Sens.) Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. I just believe in his estimation, it’s about saving the institution. in the Senate. “
McConnell had also argued that helping Democrats reach the debt crisis is now undermining Democrats’ argument that they do not have enough time to use the complex budget process called reconciliation to lift the country’s borrowing limit. And McConnell pointed out that Democrats, as part of the deal, have to name a fixed dollar amount to raise the debt ceiling — and they’ll have to own that number.
But not everyone at his conference agreed. And the palpable anxiety among Republicans questioned whether an increase in the debt ceiling could quickly pass the chamber. It was about rounding up 10 Republicans to allow the debt limit vote to continue, even though Democrats still had to raise the ceiling on their own. GOP leaders had wanted their members to allow a quick up or down vote, but some Republicans had signaled they would object to forcing the 60-vote threshold.
GOP senators who came out of the closed-door 90-minute meeting Thursday night had said it was unclear whether there would be 10 senators to break a filibuster on the short-term debt ceiling increase.
“There are disagreements within the conference, which is not surprising,” Cruz said as he left the meeting. “Two days ago, the Republicans were united. We were all on the same page … Schumer was on the verge of surrendering. And unfortunately, the agreement that was put on the table was a lifeline for Schumer, and I disagree with that. decision. “
GOP leaders continued to insist they would find a way forward.
“Ultimately, we’re there, but it’s going to be a painful birth process,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s GOP whip, said ahead of the vote.
Inside McConnell’s shift
McConnell had warned Democrats for several months that they would have to deal with it alone on an increase in the debt ceiling. Therefore, it surprised some GOP members on Wednesday when the Republican in Kentucky announced that he would offer the Democrats a short-term ramp to fiscal policy.
One member described it as a “whiplash”, while an aide confided that the discussion in the closed-door conference was a bit “messy”.
“Some people think that having this delay is a sign of weakness,” said Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana. “I do not think.”
One of the reasons for McConnell’s thinking, according to several lawmakers: preserving the filibuster. When Republicans insisted the Democrats themselves raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, and the Democrats refused to go that route, there were serious talks inside the Democratic assembly this week about creating a cut to get around the filibuster to deal with the debt ceiling.
McConnell said during a closed-door lunch this week that he was concerned about the pressure on Manchin and Sinema to change Senate rules, according to sources, although they showed no signs of budding.
“Let’s save the institution in the Senate, and let’s not test Joe Manchin’s determination,” said Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, describing the thinking inside the Senate GOP.
McConnell’s conversion resonates beyond the Senate Republican conference.
The Conservative rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a former Cruz employee, blew up McConnell on Twitter, accusing Republicans of collapsing because they would not miss a fundraiser hosted by the Senate GOP’s campaign arm next week.
And former President Donald Trump, who has made Bash McConnell a habit, also accused the GOP leader of caves.
“It looks like Mitch McConnell is folding for the Democrats again,” Trump said in a statement. “He has all the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them ruin our country!” In a statement ahead of the procedural vote Thursday, Trump urged GOP senators not to vote “for this awful deal to be pressured by the fold of Mitch McConnell.”
Other Republicans, however, came to McConnell’s defense, pointing out that he was consistent in not letting the nation default on his debt, arguing that Democrats would still have to address the debt ceiling – as well as state funding – in December, a messy scenario just before the holidays.
Cramer called the McConnell deal an “elegant solution” and said, “Mitch is nothing if not effective.” But he acknowledged that some of his Republican colleagues did not share that view.
“It’s been a lot more fun to watch Democrats-against-Democrats than it’s to participate in Republican-against-Republican,” Cramer said.
This story has been updated with the Senate voting to extend the debt limit.
Jessica Dean and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.