In recent years, I’ve taken note of the many troubles the House Republican whip operation has had, both in securing and counting votes. In theory, no one should have a better sense of whether a bill is going to pass or not than a Majority Whip, and in the GOP-led House, the conference has been caught in a series of embarrassing surprises.
But the HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery raised an interesting point yesterday, noting that the Senate’s whip operation has had troubles of its own, most notably with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) struggling to recognize what’s coming in the fight over health care legislation.
Cornyn said in March to get ready for a repeal vote in early April. That never happened. By June, he predicted a procedural vote later that month and was “absolutely” sure the Senate would repeal Obamacare by late July. That didn’t happen either. Rolling into mid-July, Cornyn said he was “pretty confident” Obamacare repeal would pass and to expect a vote the next week.
He was right on the latter point: The Senate voted the following week on a repeal bill ― and it failed, as Cornyn conceded he had “no idea” that conservatives were going to oppose it.
When GOP leaders teed up a final vote last Thursday on a different, slimmed-down version of Obamacare repeal, Cornyn told reporters he expected it to pass. He even went on a conservative radio show that day and declared he was “quite optimistic” about its chances. Then that bill failed, after three Republican senators opposed it in a stunning late-night vote.
It was an outcome that Cornyn evidently didn’t see coming, though by some measures, it was his job to know.
To be sure, this wasn’t the only area of trouble for the Texas Republican during the debate. Cornyn defended bill-writing secrecy as “open and transparent” – a defense that remains baffling – and dismissed accurate information he found inconvenient as “fake news,” which isn’t generally the sort of cheap rhetoric one expects from a member of the Senate leadership.
But even putting those details aside, Jennifer Bendery’s point is difficult to dispute: at nearly every stage of the health care process, John Cornyn’s public comments about where things stood turned out to be wrong. I know some Capitol Hill observers who started making assumptions about various bills’ fate based on the Texas senator’s assessments: to know what would happen, just believe the opposite of whatever Cornyn said.
This is not to say his position is in any jeopardy. On the contrary, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has faced some intra-party grumbling, Cornyn maintains considerable support among his Republican colleagues. It’s likely he’ll have this job as long as he wants it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this year hasn’t done Cornyn’s reputation any favors.