Is Mitch McConnell's iron grip on the Senate starting to weaken?

Despite the midterm elections loss of four compelling Republican Senate candidates, a handful of persistent, emboldened senators have stepped forward to re-establish their authority, thereby creating the beginning of a paradigm shift in the Senate's balance of power.  In addition, on January 3, four new senators, all oriented to America First, will take their seats.

Beginning with the November 16 challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)'s thirty-year reign, ten senators voted to oppose his 2022 reappointment.  Known for unyielding control of the legislative process and repeated dictates to a subservient Republican caucus with nary a peep of resistance, those ten senators stood their ground and did not cave as their opposition failed (37-10).  Their resistance has, however, set the stage for a new energetic between duly elected senators and an overbearing authoritarian "leadership."

On the heels of that challenge, thirteen Republican members of the Senate, in an act of legislative defiance, informed McConnell in a November 30 letter that they will oppose the 4,000-page $858-billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) FY 2023 barring adoption of an amendment that prohibits "involuntary separation" from the U.S. military based solely on COVID vaccination status.  In addition, those service personnel who were separated out could be reinstated with back pay.  More recently, in tacit acknowledgement of COVID as a bio-weapon with significant health impacts, twenty senators coalesced to demand a floor vote on the amendment to eliminate the forced vaccination mandate.

All of this raises the question: if military personnel are exempt from mandatory vaccinations, why are other Americans and their children subject to the mandate?

While a drop in enlistments is considered a national security risk, as it has resulted in a diminished "woke" military, U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin opposes repealing the mandate, as does President Biden, who still believes that "all Americans should be boosted and vaccinated for Covid," according to National Security adviser John Kirby.  This is contrary to Biden's recent comments on Sixty Minutes that "[t]he Pandemic is over. ... No one's wearing masks.  Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. ... [T]he pandemic is over."

On a different yet equally essential matter, Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) initiated another letter to McConnell on November 30.  This one supports a short-term omnibus spending bill during the lame-duck session, which ends on December 16.  As Lee's letter points out, rather than allow the Biden administration to continue its "reckless policies" until the end of the fiscal year in September 2023, establishing spending priorities should be up to the new Congress.

To approve a spending bill that funds ten more months of the Biden administration, which has led to a "$4.8-trillion increase in the national deficit," without congressional oversight would deny Republicans their constitutional responsibility to fully engage in establishing those priorities.  In addition, a short-term Continuing Resolution would allow the Senate's new colleagues to fully participate in the 2023 budget process.  Lee's letter was signed by Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Mike Braun (Ind.).

As Republican senators mull their fiscal options with a $31-trillion debt, the result of unrestrained discretionary spending by an out-of-control, weaponized federal administrative state, interest payments on the debt have zoomed to $1 trillion annually.  The Center for Renewing America has submitted a proposed ten-year balanced budget with no Social Security or Medicare cuts for Senate consideration, including removal of frivolous woke toys.

On December 6, McConnell, who has been working with Democrats to find agreement on a budget deal, responded to Republican opposition with the possibility that a "stopgap" funding mechanism might be necessary to fund the government into January.  Historically, stopgap would maintain funding at current levels, which is anathema to the Democrat social "woke" agenda of additional COVID and climate-related expenses.  If McConnell approves a ten-month C.R., those Senators will not only be prevented from functioning at their full capacity, but lose all ability to influence 2023 budgetary issues and be locked into the Democrats' fiscally bloated social itinerary.

On December 7, six Republican senators sent yet another letter to McConnell repeating their objections to a fully loaded omnibus spending bill, which would approve funding the entire Pelosi-Schumer agenda through the end of the fiscal year, September 2023.  Signatories were Senators Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Braun (Ind.), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Ron Johnson (Wis.).

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, not accustomed to a recalcitrant Republican caucus defending its own position, have upped the stakes by increasing proposed discretionary domestic spending from $1.65 trillion to $1.67 trillion.  Accustomed to getting their way with McConnell, Democrats are threatening to unveil their own domestic spending bill tied to the NDAA that would run to the end of the September fiscal year, thereby cutting out Republican influence on 2023's budget items.

Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ark.), both retiring in January, argue in support of a December omnibus and NDAA passage in order to continue funding Ukraine and share their last grab at the goody bag.  The Dems legislative maneuver would require ten Republican votes to achieve the required fifty votes for final passage.

Not surprisingly, an outstanding question is whether a coalition of twelve RINO senators, who frequently vote in support of the Biden administration — including Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Susan Collins (Maine) — will support its own Republican caucus.  It recently met its sixty-vote filibuster threshold (61-36), with Republicans providing the necessary ten votes for passage of the Marriage Equality Act.

To reiterate, the bottom line is whether Continuing Resolution approval will contain a short-term budget for the remainder of 2022 to be approved by December 16 or whether the Democrats (with some RINO votes) are able to slip in a full, complete 2023 budget by December 16, thereby cutting Republicans out of the legislative process — and whether Leader McConnell will be on the same page as his own caucus.

In an unprecedented challenge to the established routine of how legislative priorities are addressed, McConnell appears to be on the brink of losing unswerving control of his caucus.  NDAA approval and the Continuing Resolution dispute have been politically thorny, publicly revealing how Republican senators had been relegated to a secondary role in the past, allowing McConnell to run the show with minimal participation by those Senate Republicans outside his inner circle.

With a newly focused eye on the Democrat-sponsored federal government's fiscal extravaganzas and domination of its domestic policy, it can reasonably be anticipated that with the upcoming 118th session of Congress, an alliance of Republican senators, even though a minority in the Senate, are no longer willing to provide the deference that Leader McConnell depends on as they confidently reclaim their constitutional authority.

Renee Parsons served on the once prestigious ACLU's Florida State Board of Directors and as president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter.  She has been an elected public official in Colorado, staff in the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, an environmental lobbyist for Friends of the Earth, and a staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

Image: Mitch McConnell.  Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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