When Barack Obama was sworn in as president in 2009, Sen. Mitch McConnell had already set out the primary goal of the whole Republican Party as making Obama a “one-term president.” McConnell didn’t succeed in that goal, but he did block the appointment of hundreds of judges, including most notably Merrick Garland. That left Donald Trump with 105 openings to fill on the day he took office.
Since McConnell has now made it absolutely clear that nothing like courtesy, tradition, or rules still exist in the Senate, and preventing any possible success by the upcoming Joe Biden administration has already been nailed into place as Republican strategy, it seems reasonable to expect that McConnell has his circular ready to accept the resume of every possible nominee that Biden sends his way. In fact, McConnell could start the term out extra awfully by simply refusing to consider all the hundreds of other nominees, including cabinet members, necessary to make the government operate. But it’s starting to look like even if he manages to hang onto his role in the Senate, McConnell may have trouble carrying out his obstruction. Because while Trump is trying to stage a coup, a group of Republicans is threatening a revolt.
Susan “finger of concern” Collins is no one’s hero. And having just survived a tight election, she’s ensconced in Maine’s Senate seat for another six years despite having delivered multiple crucial votes for Trump. However, there does seem to be a hint that Collins, along with Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and the increasingly vocal Mitt Romney, are willing to separate themselves from the scheme to drag democracy kicking and screaming into the void.
As Politico reports, Collins, Murkowski, and Romney are signaling they will vote to confirm “most” of President-elect Biden’s Cabinet picks. Those votes mean that no matter what happens in Georgia, Biden will at least get to put some names in seats—assuming that Collins’ shifting topics of concern or Romney’s last-honest-man gig don’t evaporate before then.
However, no one should be looking at this as anything short of a power move. The three “moderate” Republicans seem to be positioning themselves as a swing vote that can extract concessions from either McConnell or Democrats. This is absolutely clear in Murkowski’s statement about Biden. “He’s our president-elect,” said Murkowski. “All presidents have a right to their Cabinet. Our job, our role is to make sure that he selects folks that are … within the mainstream. And are good, qualified credible candidates. And if he does that, sure, I am going to work with him.”
So while the trio may be saying they won’t block Cabinet appointments, they’re also making it clear they hold what amounts to a veto over Biden nominating members who Democrats are too progressive for them to acknowledge as “mainstream.” This language is likely to be not too dissimilar from that used by McConnell once he gets past the point of acknowledging the outcome of the election.
The idea that the “Uneasy Three” will step out to moderate the worst McConnell will do is interesting. It may even be hopeful. However, what’s clear is that it’s a move mostly designed to benefit the senators in question and to make leaving Republicans in charge of the Senate seem just a little bit less awful. This is a long, long way from reaching the point where this splinter group threatens to dislodge McConnell by conferencing with Democrats.
The right answer to this is also the simplest: Take the two Georgia Senate seats, take the Senate, ditch McConnell, and let Susan Collins express her concerns from the minority bench.