How and Why McConnell Might Shift on Supreme Court Vacancy

McConnell says the next president should choose the next Supreme Court justice. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Does Mitch McConnell have an escape hatch? Absolutely. Does he need one? Perhaps. Does he want one? Not clear yet.  

Precious little happens by genuine accident or reflexive impulse anywhere at the Capitol, and fewer things still are said on a whim or done as a lark at the congressional leadership level. So it’s a solid presumption the Senate majority leader had considered all his options and knew exactly what he was doing at 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 13, when his office hit the send button on a nuclear gauntlet less than 90 minutes after the first report of  Justice Antonin Scalia's death.  

Senate GOP Newcomers Neither Far Right Nor Extra-Loyal

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton was one of 10 most likely to support the party in floor votes. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

They’re often dubbed “the majority makers,” the nine Republicans who took Senate seats from Democrats in the 2014 election. But what sort of majority have they made for themselves?  

After a year on the job, the group’s collective impact on the senatorial rhythm has proven to be more nuanced than many in either party portray. They have undeniably pushed the Senate hard to the right, but they haven’t started out by being all that much more doctrinaire or combative than their elders in the GOP caucus. Having turned Mitch McConnell into the majority leader, in other words, the freshmen have not been down-the-line conservative or lockstep-easy for the Kentuckian to lead. The contours of the group’s personality come through in the 2015 votes studies, focused on presidential support and party unity, conducted by our newsroom colleagues at CQ.  

Inside the Cruz and Rubio Ambassadorial Proxy War

Cruz and Rubio on Capitol Hill. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio aren’t only taking their campaigns onward to South Carolina. While the next Republican primary commands the public’s attention, both are also running for president by mounting quiet symbolic protests at American embassies around the world.  

A single senator has nearly unilateral ability to block any confirmation, whether he’s in the Capitol or on the hustings hundreds of miles away. The junior senators from Texas and Florida are using their power to place indefinite “holds” on diplomatic nominees, hoping to highlight their own foreign policies and their condemnations of President Barack Obama’s conduct of international affairs. Both campaign rivals have been pursuing the tactic since last year, yet another way they’re using similar approaches to advance their White House quests while leading their Senate lives. (Voting alike far more often than not during their three years together in Congress is the most obvious example of that.)  

Bypassing the Senate, Cummings Has One More Career Fork Ahead

Cummings stays put in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The final career decision Elijah E. Cummings will probably ever make comes as welcome news for both Democrats who could become the next president — and not very comforting news for any of the Republicans who might get the job instead.  

When Cummings announced Tuesday that he would seek to remain as a Baltimore congressman, he ended (at nearly the last possible moment) almost a year of public pondering about running instead for Maryland’s open Senate seat.  

Unnoticed, Grassley Sets Record for Most Time Without a Missed Senate Vote

Grassley, center, has set a Senate record.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When you talk in political circles about an Iowa endurance test, a reference to the presidential caucuses looming in a dozen days is unmistakable. Use the phrase at the Capitol, though, and the meaning may point elsewhere.  

The House's Ideology, in Seven Circles

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, has joined 3 of the GOP's key groups. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In any organization filled with nothing but ambitious and opinionated people, groups with common interests are sure to come together — and Congress is no different.  

Every member’s Hill career begins by winning election to either the House or Senate, of course, and during the 114th Congress all of them are caucusing with either the Republicans or the Democrats. But right below those surfaces, the alliances get much more complex, nuanced — and oftentimes contradictory, as lawmakers subdivide into all manner of smaller clusters. Hawkings-Venn-Diagram-RC-FInal(WEB).jpg Since the nature of the Senate guarantees all members are power centers on their own, the caucuses and other groups to which they belong aren’t all that important. But the ethos is fundamentally different in the House. Since it’s more than four times bigger, and passage of many proposals requires assembling support from many camps, how you’re known and how much leverage you assert has much more to do with which colleagues you hang out with.  

Haley Prompts Ryan to Take Sides in the Fight for GOP's Soul

UNITED STATES - September 2: South Carolina Gov. Nikki R.  Haley's State of the Union address drew praise from Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The passions of the Republican civil war that surfaced because of Gov. Nikki R. Haley’s comments Tuesday night have been trumped by something that for Congress might be even more important:  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who won the House gavel last fall as the consensus choice of both the combative insurgent conservatives and the cooler-headed establishment mainstream, left no doubt which side he stands with now.  

Nikki Haley Can Look to Past Responses for Do's and Don'ts

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Why in the world would any story about this year’s State of the Union ritual start with a reminiscence about Bill Clinton from three decades ago?  

Because love him or loathe him, the shared judgment of the political class is he changed a whole lot of standards for how Washington operates. And one of the first ways he did so was way back in 1985, transforming how the opposition party presents its rebuttal to the president’s address. In the first 20 years after the speech was moved to prime time, the party out of the White House relied exclusively on prominent congressional figures to provide the official televised response. But the Democrats decided to try something different after their drubbing in Ronald Reagan’s re-election. And after Warren Beatty turned them down, they settled on the 39-year-old governor of Arkansas to take the lead in selling a newly moderated message. With Genesis playing in the background, Clinton talked of polices for “building bridges to the 21st century,” a rhetorical theme for a presidency that started just eight years later.  

The Pelosification of Chuck Schumer

Schumer, left, is on his way to being the Republicans' new bogeyman. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

For those whose lives revolve around the Capitol, the year’s final presidential debate offered two notable insights: Bashing the legislative process remains a pungent applause line, and Republicans may have found their newest liberal boogeyman.  

Put another way, all the morning-after assessments of how the candidates performed in Las Vegas overlooked two standouts of particular importance to the congressional class. One of the biggest losers Tuesday night was Congress itself. And one of the biggest winners was, of all people, Charles E. Schumer. The more serious development, if not for the Republican Party than for the future of a functioning democracy, was the way in which several of the second-tier candidates who have positioned themselves as proud outsiders decided it was time to tee-off on their more front-running rivals actually in the business of making federal policy.