A regular target of conservatives, Mitch McConnell often takes flak for political hesitancy and his willingness to cut bipartisan deals in the Senate.
But Tuesday night, the Senate majority leader won high praise from leaders of the House Freedom Caucus for promising to block the confirmation of any new nominees to the Supreme Court until after the 2016 election.
“We told him that was great news,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said of McConnell’s decision not to budge.
McConnell and the eight board members of the conservative caucus huddled behind closed doors for about 45 minutes, sources familiar with the conversation told The Daily Signal.
The discussion was notable because the looming budget battle didn’t come up.
In both chambers, GOP leadership remains eager to begin the appropriations process using spending levels negotiated under former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Obama last October. Though that’s anathema to most conservatives, the topic wasn’t on the agenda at the McConnell meeting.
Instead, Freedom Caucus brass chose to discuss the controversy over who will fill the Supreme Court seat vacated Feb. 13 by Justice Antonin Scalia.
“We never mentioned the budget to McConnell,” Freedom Caucus board member Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said the Kentucky Republican followed up on an earlier meeting he had with the Freedom Caucus last January and again “extended a hand of friendship” and demonstrated a “gesture of real humility.”
Tuesday’s meeting demonstrates a new willingness from GOP leadership to engage with the upstart conservative organization that was in its infancy just a year ago.
McConnell’s visit did much to soothe festering skepticism from conservatives, Meadows said. Many of the caucus members have feared that House-passed appropriations bills will/ again be dead on arrival when they reach the upper chamber.
“McConnell understands [that] the Senate has gotten the blame for not moving legislation,” Meadows said, “and because this is the one factor he has control of, he says he’s going to act.”
The North Carolina Republican, whose move to oust Boehner last year led to that speaker’s retirement, said he has more faith in McConnell. “I got the impression from him that he’s going to do his dead level best to make sure we move the appropriations process and stick to regular order.”