In an epic display of legislative ineptitude, Republican leaders tasked an intermediary with negotiating a bipartisan deal and, after haggling for months to extract Democratic concessions, the very same leaders rejected the deal and hung their negotiator out to dry.
Sound like the work of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top lieutenants on the border deal? Nope. Actually, the maneuver was pioneered by former House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his crackerjack leadership team in May of 2021 after one of McCarthy’s closest allies negotiated a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack.
Republican Rep. John Katko of New York, ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, and panel chair Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson had been tapped by McCarthy and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set the terms for a bipartisan independent commission on Jan. 6. The final proposal included Republican demands for equal representation on the commission and joint approval of subpoenas—two major concessions by Pelosi.
Still, as the vote approached, McCarthy pulled support for the deal and ultimately urged Republicans to vote against it in an effort to appease Trump and the hard-right wing of his conference.
The measure still passed with the help of several dozen GOP defections. But McConnell stepped in to do Trump's bidding in the Senate, blocking the independent commission and leaving Pelosi to cobble together the Jan. 6 committee, co-chaired by former Rep. Liz Cheney. Ultimately, the country benefited from an investigation unfettered by interference from Trump allies, but that didn't make House Republicans' handling of the matter any less ridiculous.
Even as the deal was headed south, Katko championed the proposal he had labored over and the service it would perform for the country, calling it "a solid, fair agreement."
"As the Republican Leader of the Homeland Security Committee, I feel a deep obligation to get the answers U.S. Capitol Police and Americans deserve and ensure an attack on the heart of our democracy never happens again," Katko said in a statement.
This week, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma took the baton from Katko, becoming the first GOP member in the upper chamber to be hung out to dry by his leadership after faithfully executing his charge on a border deal.
As Lankford watched McConnell torch his bipartisan proposal, which read more like a Republican wishlist than a compromise, he chastised his fellow Republicans for abandoning it.
“The key aspect of this, again, is are we, as Republicans, going to have press conferences and complain the border’s bad and then intentionally leave it open after the worst month in American history in December?” Lankford argued Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
Republicans answered Lankford's question with a resounding "yes" on Wednesday as they voted to finally put the border deal out of their misery. And on top of the torturous derision Lankford endured, his Senate seat is also in serious jeopardy, with Trump targeting him directly.
"This is a very bad bill for his career," Trump said Monday about Lankford.
MAGA Republicans are coming after him, something he himself admitted on the Senate floor Wednesday when he revealed a popular commentator told him, "if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you."
Lankford added, "By the way, they have been faithful to their promise."
That's obviously a problem for Lankford, but it's a much bigger problem for the future of the Republican conference, which is exactly why Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska described herself as "pissed off" about this week's turn of events.
“I have a difficult time understanding again how anyone else in the future is going to want to be on that negotiating team — on anything —- if we are going to be against it,” Murkowksi added.
Indeed. McConnell personally asked Lankford to negotiate the bill then sold him out, just like McCarthy sold out Katko several years ago.
If House Republicans serve as a roadmap for the Senate's future, Katko is now a private citizen after opting not to run for reelection in the 2022 midterms.
And McCarthy: Well, he was eventually ousted by a rebellion from the very same faction of right-wingers he had preferenced over Katko—his supposed ally.
In recent years, McConnell has been fond of sometimes distancing his conference from House Republicans, whom he occasionally treated as incompetents. Now he and his conference are jumping on the very same clown car precisely due to his own failures in leadership.
McConnell doesn't seem to have caught on to where this whole debacle ends for him, but his colleagues know exactly how useless he has become.
Leaving the weekly GOP caucus lunch, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana was asked if McConnell is still in charge.
"Um, ask him," Braun responded.