McManus: The House combat’s actual winner? Sen. Mitch McConnell

The tv cut up display informed the story.

On one facet, Republicans within the House of Representatives labored by way of the fourth of the 15 ballots they wanted throughout 4 days of gridlock to decide on Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

On the opposite facet, Senate Republican chief Mitch McConnell stood beaming with President Biden as they congratulated one another for a bipartisan success: a $1.6-billion deal to switch a crumbling freeway bridge throughout the Ohio River.

On one facet, partisan dysfunction. On the opposite, an old school deal.

Biden seized the second to ladle compliments on his longtime sparring associate — and to drive dwelling a lesson.

“We disagree on a lot of things,” he mentioned of McConnell (R-Ky.). “But here’s what matters: He’s a man of his word. … I believe it sends an important message to the entire country: We can work together. We can get things done.”

McConnell wasn’t daring sufficient to reward Biden, however on the bigger difficulty he responded in sort.

“These are really partisan times,” he mentioned. “But I always feel no matter who gets elected, once it’s all over we ought to look for things we can agree on.”

If there was a winner within the brawl on the House flooring final week, it wasn’t McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). McCarthy acquired the speaker’s job, however gave away a lot energy alongside the way in which that it was most likely a Pyrrhic victory. He nonetheless faces the problem of herding an untamable majority with solely 4 votes to spare, amid in-house critics who would gladly see him fail.

The actual winner was a person who wasn’t there: McConnell, the phlegmatic chief of the nonanarchic Senate GOP.

Sooner or later on this 12 months of divided authorities, Congress will steer right into a disaster — a standoff over the federal debt restrict, maybe, or gridlock over authorities spending. Just one particular person on the Republican facet may have the facility and talent to avert disaster, and it gained’t be McCarthy; it is going to be Biden’s wily, unlovable colleague, McConnell. Due to the dysfunction within the House, he’s now Congress’ indispensable man.

That’s why Biden was doling out compliments beneath the large bridge that connects northern Kentucky to southern Ohio. He is aware of he’s going to want McConnell’s assist.

The infrastructure invoice that handed Congress in 2021 was a high-water mark for bipartisanship on McConnell’s half; he supported it largely as a result of it included the bridge, a undertaking he’s labored on for many years.

However Congress nonetheless must go spending payments to maintain the federal government working. And within the second half of the 12 months the Treasury expects to hit the debt ceiling, the authorized restrict on federal authorities borrowing (at present $31.4 trillion).

At that time, Congress might want to elevate the restrict to avert a default that would crash the monetary markets.

We’ve seen this film earlier than. In 2011, throughout President Obama’s first time period, tea occasion Republicans within the House, the precursors of as we speak’s Freedom Caucus, threatened to let the federal authorities default on its money owed.

The House speaker on the time, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), couldn’t govern his personal majority; White House aides joked that Boehner “couldn’t deliver a pizza.” It took weeks of negotiations between McConnell and Biden, Obama’s vice chairman, to provide a deal that raised the debt ceiling in alternate for long-term deficit discount. (The deficit didn’t keep down for lengthy, however the disaster was averted.)

McConnell has a sound political purpose for working with Democrats: He believes his occasion has broken itself by buying a picture because the occasion of chaos.

The GOP got here agonizingly shut final 12 months to successful a majority within the Senate and restoring McConnell to the job he needs most, majority chief. However voters rejected candidates chosen and endorsed by former President Trump — Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona — and the Senate remained in Democratic arms.

Impartial voters and reasonable Republicans concluded “that we were sort of nasty and tended toward chaos,” McConnell mentioned final 12 months in an interview with NBC.

“They didn’t have enough confidence in us, in several instances, to give us the majority,” he mentioned.

His objective is to detoxify the GOP’s picture by steering towards a extra orderly model of conservatism.

“We have a high bar to get over in asking the American people for governing responsibility again,” Scott Jennings, a former McConnell aide, defined final week. “The independents in the midterm let us know that we haven’t yet met that bar. But we damn well better get there if we hope to win the White House and win back the Senate in 2024.”

McConnell hasn’t changed into a reasonable. After the election, he summed up his agenda in partisan phrases: “We’re going to fight Democrats’ recklessness and promote our common-sense conservative values.”

However like Biden, he is aware of that reducing offers can assist him politically.

The subsequent two years in Congress will see extra collisions than cooperation between the 2 events.

However between McConnell and Biden, it may also embody just a few extra alternatives for bipartisanship — simply when it’s wanted most.