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July 18, 2013 10:11 AM The Stab in the Back

By Ed Kilgore

When a cloture vote for proceeding to Thomas Perez’ nomination barely cleared the threshold of 60 votes yesterday, with Marco Rubio shrieking against the nomination and the “deal” that had supposedly guaranteed an up-or-down vote, I figured it was all Kabuki Theater. Surely the result was organized by Mitch McConnell to give Democrats no more votes than were necessary while giving Rubio a prime opportunity to caper and cavort for the benefit of the conservative activists and Iowa Caucus-goers infuriated by his responsibility for the Senate immigration bill. Right?

Now the proper question is: “Who Knows?” At what must have been a strange Republican Caucus meeting yesterday, McConnell behaved as though he had nothing to do with the “deal,” and indeed, may have been blindsided by John McCain. Here’s how Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner described the meeting:

A meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday grew tense as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told his members he could have gotten a better deal on nominations than the one negotiated by rank-and-file Republicans.
McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called “bullshit” loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the “buyer’s remorse” among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background….
Multiple Republican sources said McConnell appeared to be trying to create space between himself and the deal, given that many GOP members were upset by its outcome, especially in the case of Thomas E. Perez, President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Department of Labor. Perez’s nomination narrowly beat a filibuster attempt Wednesday on a 60-40 vote.

Why does this blame game matter? Well, for one thing, the “deal” may well not survive the seven cloture votes it was supposed to cover if it’s not being backed by the party discipline only McConnell can impose. Perez was by no means the most “controversial” nominee in the eyes of conservatives. The two NLRB nominees, appointed to make an agency conservatives consider fundamentally illegitimate function once again, are much riper targets.

For another, it’s beginning to look like the accepted “narrative” of the filibuster showdown is rapidly changing from “McConnell and Senate Republicans forced into a strategic retreat by Harry Reid” to “Republican Senators ‘stabbed in the back’—or ‘saved from their folly,’ depending on who is telling the story—by McCain and Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Johnny Isakson.

It all seems designed to produce another Great RINO Hunt in the 2014 primaries. If Lindsey Graham gets through this cycle without a serious primary challenge—and none has emerged as of yet—he’s a much more impressive politician than any of us realized. Or maybe he knows he’s tempting fate, which is why he’s now trying to bring back the Cold War.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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