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McCarthy, McConnell find they’re once again not on the same page

On several key points, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy keep pushing in opposite directions. This ... isn't normal.

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The deadline to prevent a government shutdown was Friday. To prevent that outcome, congressional leaders agreed to approve a stopgap spending bill on Thursday that would keep the government’s lights on, and as NBC News reported, it passed the Senate easily.

The Senate voted Thursday to pass a one-week stopgap bill to temporarily avert a government shutdown as congressional leaders finish work on a full-year government funding package. The vote was 71-19, extending the funding deadline to Dec. 23.

A day earlier, the House passed the same bill, which means it’s on its way to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature. This will give officials a little breathing room to complete work next week on an omnibus spending package that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. A framework for the larger bill is complete, and lawmakers appear cautiously optimistic about the end result.

But the votes in the respective chambers were quite different. In the Senate, the stopgap bill — known as a “continuing resolution,” or “CR” — passed easily with bipartisan backing. In fact, 22 Republican senators voted with the majority, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Whip John Thune.

In the House, GOP leaders condemned both the stopgap measure and the negotiations over an omnibus package. Only nine House Republicans ended up voting for the CR — and most of them won’t even be in Congress once the new session starts in a few weeks.

What we have, in other words, is yet another instance in which the top GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate find themselves at odds. The Hill reported yesterday:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is taking public shots at Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) plan to pass an omnibus spending package before Christmas, fueling tensions between Senate and House GOP leaders. McConnell’s Senate allies say that McCarthy’s criticisms are “not helpful” to their efforts to pass a year-end spending package and avoid a government shutdown.

A day earlier, McCarthy appeared on Fox News and insisted that Republicans should create conditions in which he could threaten shutdowns in the new year, and GOP officials who believe otherwise are “wrong.”

When host Laura Ingraham asked, “Does that include McConnell?” McCarthy replied, “Yes.”

A CNN report added McCarthy’s comment “blindsided McConnell, according to multiple senators.” The report added that McCarthy “had signaled privately — including at a White House meeting — that he’d be open to a large spending deal to finish this year’s business.”

That, evidently, was before the House GOP leader took fresh steps to impress his far-right members as part of a desperate campaign for House speaker.

If this dynamic sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. In September, Congress also passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, and at the time, McCarthy’s leadership team directed its members to vote against the measure. McConnell did the opposite.

As regular readers know, this keeps happening. When McCarthy suggested U.S. aid to Ukraine was at risk, McConnell contradicted him. After McCarthy rejected a bipartisan effort to reform the Electoral Count Act and prevent future coup attempts, McConnell extended a surprisingly hearty endorsement to the same bill.

What’s more, over the course of the current Congress, McConnell voted for the bipartisan infrastructure package and the biggest gun reform bill in three decades, while McCarthy opposed both.

Some of their differences extend beyond specific legislation. As a matter of election season strategy, for example, McConnell forcefully rejected the idea of Republicans unveiling a legislative blueprint ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. McCarthy went in the opposite direction, pushing an annoyingly vague “Commitment to America.”

There are also tonal differences. After the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search, for example, McCarthy appeared desperate to impress Donald Trump and condemn federal law enforcement, while McConnell was more circumspect.

Indeed, the two Republican leaders have very little in common when it comes to how they approach Trump: McCarthy has been willing to sacrifice his dignity to stay in the former president’s good graces, while McConnell has earned the former president’s contempt by, among other things, acknowledging the legitimacy of the 2020 election results.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it would be an overstatement to suggest that the two GOP leaders are intraparty opponents. They’re not. We’re talking about two conservative Republicans who agree more than they disagree.

But to think that McCarthy and McConnell are always on the same page would be wrong, too. They differ far more often than leaders from the same party generally do, and in the next Congress, these differences may prove to be quite important.