The failure of Obamacare repeal marks Mitch McConnell’s lowest point as Senate GOP leader.
Despite having a Republican in the White House, full GOP control of Congress and seven years of campaign promises — “pulling out Obamacare root and branch,” as the Kentucky Republican famously declared — McConnell acknowledged this week that he didn’t have the votes to even start debate on replacing the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
It’s a serious defeat for McConnell, and one that leaves deep bitterness among rank-and-file GOP senators, as moderates and conservatives blamed each other over who is at fault for the setback.
It’s also a blow to McConnell’s reputation as a master legislator and raises doubts in the White House about what Senate Republicans can actually deliver for President Donald Trump. McConnell, like Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), finds himself caught between the factions in his own party. And like Ryan, McConnell hasn’t demonstrated that he knows how to resolve the dispute.
“This is an impossible hand,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s closest ally, of the party’s fragile majority.
McConnell announced Tuesday night that the vote to begin the Obamacare debate — which will fail — will occur next week, at Trump’s request. Trump is set to met with Senate Republicans on Wednesday.
The overwhelming majority of GOP senators remain supportive of McConnell, even as he’s faced criticism for largely drafting the bill behind the closed doors of his leadership suite. But some real anger has pierced the typically courteous confines of the Senate.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — who blasted McConnell on Monday for a “breach of trust” over the way the Obamacare debate was handled — even refused to say whether he would support McConnell’s continued tenure as party leader.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward,” Johnson said. “I didn’t develop the process, let’s put it that way.”
When he faced reporters on Tuesday, McConnell bristled when asked about the lack of accomplishments for the GOP-run Senate. He cited Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court as the biggest Republican win, which likely ranks as the high point of McConnell’s tenure atop the GOP conference.