No one in the Republican Party has done more to push the U.S. Supreme Court to the radical right than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who infamously blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016 before doing everything he could to ram all three of Donald Trump’s nominees through the U.S. Senate: Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. Thanks largely to McConnell, the High Court is way to right of where it was during the 1990s and 2000s.
But with the Court having overturned Roe v. Wade with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, countless Democrats are using the abortion issue to bash Republican candidates — a fact that McConnell is well aware of. And McConnell finds himself butting heads with two prominent members of his caucus: Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. Journalists Alayna Treene and Andrew Solender describe some of those tensions in an article published by Axios on September 14.
McConnell has voiced his displeasure with an anti-abortion bill Graham has proposed, and he has made it clear that he isn’t happy with some of the far-right MAGA candidates Scott has been pushing as chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee (NSCC).
On September 13, Graham unveiled a bill that would ban abortion nationwide not long after a pregnancy’s first trimester. McConnell is anti-abortion, and he supports the Dobbs ruling. But he objected to Graham’s bill, saying that the legality or illegality of abortion should be left up to individual states. Pro-choice Washington Post opinion columnist Jennifer Rubin, who has voted Republican in many presidential elections but is a scathing critic of Trump and the MAGA movement, has described Graham’s bill as a “gift to Democrats” and urged them to use it to bash the Republican Party in the 2022 midterms.
“Two of the highest-profile Republicans in the Senate are publicly defying Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on high-stakes issues vital to the GOP's chances of retaking the majority next year,” Treene and Solender report. “The big picture: In interviews with Axios, GOP senators and party strategists declined to blame McConnell for the antics of Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). They see the ‘freelancing’ — as one source close to the leader described it — as a sign of the Senate as an institution breaking down under modern incentive structures.”
According to Treene and Solender, “Graham admitted to Axios that he did not get permission from McConnell to release the proposal. McConnell, like many GOP senators, has said the abortion question should be left to the states.”
In August, McConnell told a crowd in Kentucky that while he still believes that Republicans will “flip” the U.S. House of Representatives in November, he considers the Senate a toss-up. And he criticized the “quality” of some GOP Senate candidates, much to Scott’s chagrin. McConnell has also been critical of Scott’s “Rescue America” plan for the Senate, especially a proposal to raise taxes on lower income earners — a proposal that Democrats have been vehemently campaigning against.
McConnell also parts company with Graham and Scott when it comes to Trump. Although McConnell avoids talking about Trump, there is clearly bad blood between McConnell and the former president — who McConnell blames for the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. Graham and Scott, however, continue to be strident Trump defenders.
A source described by Treene and Solender as a “Senate GOP leadership aide” and interviewed on condition of anonymity, believes that Graham and Scott’s antics are hurting the Republican Party in the midterms.
That aide told Axios, “Rick Scott’s plan and Graham’s announcement yesterday have sent candidates running for cover and distancing themselves from these proposals — exactly the opposite of what we want right now.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota believes that the environment among Senate Republicans is much different from what it was when the late Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas was serving as Senate majority leader.
Cramer told Axios, “I just think in today's multimedia/24-hour cycle world, it's just different. It's hard to know whether a guy like Bob Dole could have been able to keep everyone in line today."
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