Boehner vs. McConnell

Yesterday, the House Republicans’ rejection of the McConnell compromise of payroll tax cuts turned from an unspoken repudiation to an all out media proxy war. Even if it didn’t come directly from the mouth of Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, the lines were clearly drawn: Either you were a Republican who thought Mitch McConnell sold out the party, or you were a Republican who thought that John Boehner snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, giving the Democrats an unnecessary PR win on taxes.

It stared with an early morning Politico article — aptly named “Mitch McConnell’s silence leaves John Boehner out on a limb” — in which both sides shot arrows at each other.

“This is a colossal fumble by the House Republicans,” said a senior Senate GOP aide, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about his own party. “Their inability to recognize a win is costing our party our long-held advantage on the key issue of tax relief. It’s time for Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor to look these rookies in the eye and explain how the game is won or lost.”

The rebellion among House Republicans against the Senate has put McConnell in an awkward position as well. He faces criticism from the GOP rank and file for cutting a deal they don’t like and fierce attacks from Senate Democrats for not voicing support for his own proposal. In the meantime, at least a half-dozen members from McConnell’s own conference are publicly voicing concern over the House GOP’s decision to block the Senate plan.

While McConnell has publicly backed Boehner through a spokesman on Sunday, he hasn’t engaged in the full-throated attacks on Democrats — or calls for the Senate to reconvene — that many in the House have. Instead, he’s quietly huddled back home in Louisville, including spending some time at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

Ah, so while the “Senior GOP aide” says that Boehner and Cantor have let the inmates — who don’t know what they are doing — run the asylum, Mitch is sitting back in the River City, staying silent as he takes his ball and literally goes home. More on that “aide” in a second.

But how do those inmates in the asylum feel about Mitch?

Some angry House Republicans lay the blame for the payroll tax standoff directly on McConnell, rather than Boehner, Obama or Democratic congressional leaders.

“He kind of hung us out to dry to be honest with you,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said of McConnell.

Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, who’s running for the Senate in Arizona, said he was surprised by McConnell’s deal-cutting with Reid.

“I just thought they have been saying 12 months all along; this just seemed that he would hew a little closer to what the House wanted,” said Flake, an opponent of extending the Social Security payroll tax break.

The Tea Party taking direct open shots at Mitch McConnell in the media? It’s just like the old days.

Later yesterday afternoon, that darned “anonymous Senate GOP leadership aide” was at it again, firing back.

“The House Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They are on their own,” a Senate GOP leadership aide told CNN.

“This is a lose–lose situation for us. They’ve let the Democrats get the messaging advantage and more specifically we’ve turned one of our key issues on its head. The Republicans look like they are the ones blocking tax relief,” said the Senate GOP leadership aide, who also called it “inexcusable.”

While Mitch was being openly criticized by House Republicans, the establishment had his back, blasting the House GOP in his defense. The Wall Street Journal editorial page was blunt:

GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.

The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

*****

After a year of the tea party House, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years. Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago, and the chances of Mr. McConnell becoming Majority Leader in 2013 are declining.

Sen. John McCain and Karl Rove followed suit, praising the Wall Street Journal editorial and slamming the House GOP.

But at least McConnell — whose entire strategy for the GOP after Obama’s election was to stand in lockstep opposition to anything Democrats wanted, at all costs, which he largely has been able to pull off for three years — wasn’t taking shots, too.

Or was he? While that “Senior GOP Senate aide” was anonymous in the Politico story, the author does seem to be quite fond of and successful at squeezing quotes out of McConnell’s longtime spokesman Don Stewart, especially of late. In fact, Manu Raju has gotten a quote out of Stewart four times in December, and many times over the years. Was it Stewart bashing Boehner? We’ll probably never know, but it’s certainly possible. And Mitch McConnell’s silence… that kind of speaks volumes, as well.

Until Sen. Garbo speaks (on the record), here’s Sister Rachel breaking it all down

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