Republicans in Disarray

There is dissension brewing between GOP senators and their leaders.

Republicans who aren’t completely delusional can read the polls as well as I can. They know that if the election were held today, Biden would win and the Senate GOP majority would be threatened. That is leading to signs of dissension among the ranks of some Republicans.

As an example, Majority Leader McConnell had previously resisted any attempt to help states cope with a serious reduction in revenue as a result of the coronavirus crisis. He even went so far as to suggest that individual states should consider the possibility of filing for bankruptcy.

But there is a contingent among Republican senators that is parting ways with their leadership.

In an interview, [Senator Josh] Hawley warned of potentially severe economic costs of failing to spend now to ensure Americans keep their jobs — even as his vision runs counter to the tinker-around-the-edges perspective of his leadership…

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has been advocating for a $500 billion proposal, written with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), that would pour federal aid into state and local governments to help them maintain essential services and to bolster their public health capacities…

Portman, who served as White House budget director during the George W. Bush administration, has similarly pushed for additional funding so municipalities can pay public-safety workers, firefighters and emergency personnel…

“My initial thought honestly was, I didn’t agree with [McConnell’s] approach,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who has been speaking regularly with her governor. She warned of the “devastating impact” if states and local governments were forced into mass layoffs.

That probably explains why McConnell has changed his tune just a bit since he talked to Hugh Hewitt a week ago.

In an interview on Monday, the Senate majority leader said it’s “highly likely” the next coronavirus response bill will aid local governments whose budgets have been decimated by lockdowns and now face spiraling deficits. But to unlock that money, McConnell said he will “insist” Congress limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners and employees from lawsuits as they reopen in the coming weeks and months.

Dan Pfeiffer suggested an appropriate name for McConnell’s plan to limit the liability of businesses from law suits related to COVID-19: “The Freedom to Injure Workers Act.” The question will be whether McConnell can rally his troops to “insist” that a measure like that be included in the next coronavirus response bill.

Meanwhile, it has become increasingly clear that Senator Tom Cotton is making a play to be his party’s presidential nominee in 2024. His strategy has been to mount a campaign against China as the country responsible for the global pandemic—even going so far as to suggest that they deliberately allowed the virus to spread outside their borders in order to wreck global economic havoc. As I wrote previously, the president has been a bit wobbly when it comes to joining that campaign, perhaps because of his financial interests in China.

That is the backdrop for the news from POLITICO that the National Republican Senatorial Committee distributed a memo urging candidates to aggressively attack China. Included was this advice: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.” It is worth noting that the memo was written by a political consulting firm that has advised Senator Cotton.

Of course, the Trump campaign was furious.

On Monday — just days after POLITICO first reported the existence of the memo — Trump political adviser Justin Clark told NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin that any Republican candidate who followed the memo’s advice shouldn’t expect the active support of the reelection campaign and risked losing the support of Republican voters…

Clark said in a statement that Republican candidates “who want to win will be running with the president.”

“Candidates will listen to the bad advice in this memo at their own peril,” he added. “President Trump enjoys unprecedented support among Republican voters and everyone on the ballot in November will want to tap into that enthusiasm.

The NRSC would like us all to believe that there is no daylight between them and Trump on this one, saying that “Senate Republicans have worked hand in glove with the Trump administration to ensure a highly effective federal response to Covid-19.”

But we all know that if the shoe was on the other foot, there would be countless stories in the media about how Democrats are in disarray. So turnabout is fair play, right?

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.