McConnell has, however, supported less contentious bills — and they have succeeded. He voted for legislation to boost U.S. competitiveness with China, which passed 68-32. He voted for a bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans, which passed 94-1. He voted for a modest upgrade to water systems, which passed 89-2.
Democrats work to tackle multiple issues as negotiations with Republicans continue
JUNE 14, 202101:59
That formula is unlikely to be replicated for Biden’s top priority, passing a multitrillion-dollar economic plan to invest in infrastructure and expand the safety net. Democrats have the option to overhaul spending and tax laws without GOP votes. But that filibuster-proof avenue isn’t available for other priorities, like changing election rules or the immigration system, which are likely to require McConnell’s stamp of approval.
And that has created deep tension within the Democratic Party about whether to preserve or abolish the 60-vote threshold.
On occasion, McConnell wields power to stop his own members. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, learned it the hard way in 2019 when, by his account, McConnell stymied his bipartisan bill to reduce drug prices by asking GOP colleagues not to support it, and the bill faded.
“Oh, yeah, I found that out on drug pricing,” Grassley said Thursday.
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Grassley said that after McConnell stepped in, “too many people in the Republican caucus saw my bill as interfering in the free market.” They were wrong, he said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former top vote counter for McConnell, said his stamp of approval is “pretty significant” when it comes to motivating 10 GOP “yes” votes.
“It can happen without leadership, too, but I think it’s more likely to happen when leadership presents a plan,” Cornyn said. “It does give them a level of comfort.”
‘We stay with him’
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Republicans listen to McConnell.
“We stay with him. He’s a good leader. He’s a good negotiator. He understands the program and the Senate as well as anybody I’ve ever known,” Shelby said, adding that when Republicans stay on his side, McConnell tries to “protect” them from political blowback.
Unlike in previous eras, when both parties included broad ideological spectrums of lawmakers who made way for dealmaking, few members of either party are regularly willing to break ranks. That means the path to winning 10 Republican votes tends to go through McConnell.
“It’s no secret he’s never been interested in getting a background checks bill done. No secret he’s never been interested in getting an infrastructure bill done,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “I don’t foresee us bringing a bill to the floor that isn’t opposed by some parts of the gun lobby, and if that’s the case, then Sen. McConnell obviously could push against it.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., calls it the “McConnell veto.” Progressive activists say it proves the need to eliminate the 60-vote hurdle, which Democrats don’t have the 50 votes to do.
Eli Zupnick, a former Democratic leadership aide and spokesman for a coalition working to end the filibuster, said: “Sen. McConnell’s highest priority is blocking President Biden’s agenda, and the filibuster is the weapon he wields to do that, so why would Senate Democrats continue giving him veto power over promises they made to the voters who put them in power?”
McConnell, who is frequently called an “obstructionist” by Democrats, wears the label as a badge of honor, having dubbed himself the “grim reaper” of progressive legislation in 2019.
Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said during the Jan. 6 commission debate that “Mitch McConnell makes it extremely difficult” to get things done on a bipartisan basis in the Senate. Still, he remains a supporter of the filibuster rule.
Ben Nelson, a former moderate Democratic senator from Nebraska, takes a dim view of McConnell in his coming book, “Death of the Senate,” a copy of which was obtained by NBC News. He warns Biden not to trust McConnell, calling him a “dark knight who lives, breathes and eats to gain political advantage breakfast, lunch, dinner.”
“Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms but they have also bitten off some real problems they’re going to have trouble chewing on,” Mr. Biden said.On the issue of forced labor, the communique said the U.S. and the G-7 nations will “continue to work together including through our own available domestic means and multilateral institutions to protect individuals from forced labour and to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour.” The group also said it will “promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang” and Hong Kong.
“I think we’re in a contest, not with China per se, but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world as to whether democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century,” Mr. Biden said. “And I think how we act and whether we pull together as democracies is going to determine whether our grandkids look back 15 years from now and say, ‘Did they step up? Are democracies as relevant and as powerful as they have been?'”
The G-7 countries backed a 15% global minimum tax on multinational corporations on a “country-by-country basis” to create “a fairer tax system fit for the 21st century, and reversing a 40-year race to the bottom.”
The seven nations, the wealthiest liberal democracies in the world, also pledged to sending 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses around the globe. Half of those will come from the U.S., Mr. Biden said.
“The fact is that we, the U.S. contribution, is the foundation to work out how we’re going to deal with 100 nations that are poor and having trouble finding vaccines and having trouble dealing with reviving their economies,” the president said.
The G-7 allies also called for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based” Phase II study convened by the World Health Organization that examines the origins of COVID-19, including in China.
The president said it’s crucial for the world to know whether the pandemic was a consequence of human contact with infected animals or the result of a leak from a lab in Wuhan, China.
“Lack of transparency might produce another pandemic,” he said. “We have to have access. The world has to have access.”
After Sunday’s press conference, Mr. Biden will have tea with Queen Elizabeth before heading off to Brussels. On Friday, Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden participated in a reception with other leaders and their spouses as well as members of the British royal family.
President Biden on Sunday declared that “America is back to the table” after leaving his first Group of Seven summit, where world leaders vowed to confront China, boost global infrastructure and donate 1 billion vaccine doses to the rest of the world.
“I conveyed to each of my G-7 counterparts the U.S. is going to do our part. America is back to the table,” the president said in a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting with U.S. allies. “The lack of participation in the past and full engagement was noticed significantly, not only by the leaders of those countries but by the people in the G-7 countries.”
Mr. Biden called the meeting, his first with the group since assuming the presidency, “extraordinary collaborative and productive,” and said ending the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring an “equitable and inclusive” global economic recovery were the foremost priorities for the U.S. and its allies.
President Biden takes part in a press conference on the final day of the G-7 summit at Cornwall Airport Newquay on June 13, 2021.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
In a 25-page communique issued on the last day of the three-day meeting, the leaders of the G-7 countries — the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — committed to cracking down on the use of forced labor, fighting ransomware and combating corruption while calling out China and Russia for human rights abuses.
“We know that corruption undermines the trust in government, siphons off public resources, makes economies much less competitive and constitutes a threat to our security,” the president said.
Mr. Biden left the summit Sunday morning and plans to meet with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle on Sunday before heading to Brussels for meetings with NATO and European Union leaders. He will conclude his first trip overseas at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
The president told reporters he agrees with Putin that U.S.-Russia relations are at a “low point,” but acknowledged there are areas in which the two countries can work together.
That carries warnings for President Joe Biden’s agenda, whether it’s infrastructure or overhauling voting laws, as McConnell mobilizes to stymie his biggest ambitions.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said that Republicans elected McConnell as caucus leader “because we trust his judgment” and that he sometimes asks senators to vote with him.
“He will occasionally say, ‘For these reasons, I’m here, and I’m hoping that most of you could be with me.’ So he’ll reference that, but it’s not that often,” Cramer said. “And sometimes that’s a political calculation and it leads to a political decision. He’s nothing if not a master politician.
“He’s not one to squander his influence,” Cramer added. “He doesn’t waste it on things that don’t matter.”
McConnell persuaded Republicans to block an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — just six GOP senators voted for the proposal, which fell short of 60. McConnell also recently led a filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“I don’t necessarily like it, but when he decides to tell his caucus, ‘Don’t support a bipartisan January 6th commission,’ they mostly fall in line. And that’s unfortunate,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “When he tells them, ‘Stick with me,’ they usually do.”