Come next month, the U.S. Congress will return with some important legislative duties in need of quick and efficient action, notably the passing of spending bills and the raising of the debt ceiling, which maintains America’s credit around the world. Customarily that’s a routine legislative necessity, but Republicans have made a political issue of it in the past, generally to call attention to their own budget priorities. The consequences of standoffs over the debt ceiling or other appropriations disputes (Obamacare caused one shutdown) typically are temporary, but veteran members of Congress, Republican and Democratic, understand the potentially catastrophic risks in, for example, not raising that debt ceiling.
Financial markets would fall into chaos, and the American economy would take a beating worldwide. Global uncertainty would ensue.
Mitch McConnell, the hard-right majority leader of the U.S. Senate, understands these things, which is why he’s tried to reassure the country and the world that the debt ceiling will be raised and normalcy maintained. He is a practical politician when the day is done.
But unfortunately, the Republican in the White House, one Donald J. Trump, is neither practical nor much of a politician. He delights in lighting fires to call attention to himself, and he still loves campaign-type rallies where he can hear the cheers of his most ardent supporters. But he cares not for policy, which is why he doesn’t mind flirting with roiling the government by blasting McConnell publicly and privately. Lately, mainstream news reports have Trump profanely going at McConnell on the phone, unhappy with him for the failure to get a health-care reform passed (in fact, Republicans couldn’t come up with anything that worked) and for not shielding Trump from an investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russia – something McConnell could not have done even if he had wanted to.
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For his part, McConnell is dealing with an off-the-political-grid president who’s freely criticizing incumbent Republicans, the same Republicans McConnell needs to get re-elected to maintain his narrow majority in the Senate. McConnell also is aware of polls showing Trump’s support among Republicans and all voters weakening, except for the core group of 35 percent or so. So he has to wonder if Trump can be an effective leader in the 2018 elections, or if Trump will even be running himself in 2020.
Right now, McConnell’s priority has to be getting the next edition of Congress to do its duty on the most basic budgetary obligations, and to work with House Speaker Paul Ryan – whose support of Trump seems to be quickly weakening – to get the congressional house in order and keep the government running.
Trump still can light those fires in rallies, but when it comes to responding to tragic incidents such as the one in Charlottesville and the ongoing racial tensions nationwide, the president is not up to the task, and McConnell and other congressional leaders understand that a president must step up to the obligations of leadership at such times. If Trump will not, McConnell seems to be standing ready to tell his congressional colleagues that they will have to fill the void.
Which may be why Trump has apparently declared him an enemy.