In a private 90-minute meeting Thursday night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz strongly disagreed with McConnell’s strategy – and insisted he would impose a 60-vote threshold on the GOP leader’s plan to avoid payment default until early December. That means 10 Republicans would be forced to break a GOP-led obstruction in order to allow the debt ceiling increase to go forward.
A number of GOP senators, such as Conservative Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have argued that the McConnell deal – though far from ideal – should be cleared with just 51 votes, allowing Democrats to vote for it. and Republicans to vote against. But Cruz – as well as his two allies, the Senses. Mike Lee from Utah and Rand Paul from Kentucky, who were not at the meeting – showed no signs of relenting.
Divisions over strategy and politics have undermined the GOP leader’s long-standing efforts to maintain unity amid high-profile clashes with the Democrats. And it comes as Republicans openly question his decision, which he privately defended as necessary to ensure Democrats don’t take action to weaken Senate obstruction rules that give the minority party the power to scuttle the agenda of the majority.
“Why the hell would I make it easier for them to raise the debt ceiling through a regular order?” Graham added in a statement.
McConnell defended his approach both in public and in camera, warning members that the future of Senate rules may have been at stake.
A Republican senator defended McConnell, saying that “you should ask McConnell more about the conversations he’s had with (moderate Democratic sense) Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.” I just believe in his estimate, it is a matter of saving the institution of the Senate. . “
McConnell also argued that helping Democrats overcome the debt ceiling crisis now undermines the Democrats’ argument that they don’t have enough time to use the complex budget process known as reconciliation to lift. the country’s borrowing limit. And McConnell also pointed out that, as part of the deal, Democrats must name a fixed dollar amount to raise the debt ceiling – and they will need to own that number.
But not everyone in his conference agrees. And palpable angst among Republicans now begs the question of whether an increase in the debt ceiling can quickly pass the chamber. The problem is getting 10 Republicans together to allow the debt limit vote, although Democrats would still have to raise the limit themselves. GOP leaders had wanted their members to allow a quick up or down vote, but some Republicans had signaled they would oppose in order to force the 60-vote threshold.
Coming out of the 90-minute closed-door meeting on Thursday night, GOP senators said it was still not clear whether there would be 10 senators to break an obstruction on raising the debt ceiling to short term. The procedural vote is scheduled for later Thursday evening.
“There are disagreements within the conference, which is not surprising,” said Cruz leaving the meeting. “Two days ago the Republicans were united. We were all on the same page. … Schumer was about to surrender. And, unfortunately, the deal that was put on the table was a lifeline for Schumer, and I don’t agree with that decision. “
GOP leaders continue to insist that they will find a way forward.
“In the end, we’ll be there, but it will be a painful childbirth process,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, GOP Senate Whip.
In the McConnell team
For months, McConnell has warned Democrats that they will have to go it alone to raise the debt ceiling. That’s why he surprised some GOP members on Wednesday when the Kentucky Republican announced he was going to offer Democrats a near-term exit from the budget crisis.
One member described it as a “boost”, while an aide said the discussion at the closed-door conference was a bit “heckled”.
“Some people think that having this delay is a sign of weakness,” said Senator Mike Braun of Indiana. ” I do not think so. ”
One of the reasons for McConnell’s change in mentality, according to several lawmakers: to preserve filibuster. As Republicans insisted that Democrats themselves raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation and Democrats refused to go that route, there were serious conversations within the Democratic caucus this week about the issue. creation of an exception to bypass the obstruction in order to face 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, sources said, even though they showed no signs of changing.
“Save the institution of the Senate and do not test Joe Manchin’s resolve,” said Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, describing the thinking within the Senate GOP.
McConnell’s overthrow reverberated beyond the Republican Senate conference.
Conservative Representative Chip Roy of Texas, a former Cruz staffer, lambasted McConnell on Twitter and accused Republicans of pulling back because they didn’t want to miss a fundraiser hosted by the Senate GOP campaign arm next week.
And former President Donald Trump, who has made bashing McConnell a regular habit, has also accused the GOP leader of caving.
“Looks like Mitch McConnell is bowing to Democrats yet again,” Trump said in a statement. “He’s got all the cards in his hand with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country! “
Other Republicans, however, came to McConnell’s defense, stressing that he was consistent in not wanting to let the nation default on its debts and arguing that Democrats will still have to grapple with the debt ceiling. – as well as government funding – in December, a messy scenario just before the holidays.
Cramer called the McConnell deal an “elegant solution.” But he also admitted that some of his Republican colleagues did not share this point of view.
“It’s been a lot more fun watching Democrat versus Democrat than it is doing Republican versus Republican,” Cramer said.
Jessica Dean and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.