It wasn't easy, but the Senate approved a temporary solution to the Republicans' debt-ceiling crisis last night, offering the country a two-month reprieve. Though GOP leaders acknowledged midday that they were struggling to secure the support needed to pass the idea Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell proposed, in the end, 11 GOP senators grudgingly agreed to allow a vote.
At that point, Democrats approved the deal on their own — with zero Republican votes. The bill now heads to the House, before arriving at the White House for President Joe Biden's signature.
There were, however, two areas of unexpected drama. First, moments before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took Republicans to task for having created this crisis. "In a few moments, the Senate will pass an extension of the debt limit through early December, avoiding a first-ever, Republican-manufactured default on the national debt," the New York Democrat said. He added, "Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinksmanship did not work."
Evidently, this hurt GOP leaders' feelings. NBC News reported:
"I let him have it," said [South Dakota Sen. John Thune], the Senate minority whip, whose support helped pass the bill, in response to Schumer. "I just thought it was incredibly partisan speech after we had just helped them solve a problem."
That, of course, would be the problem Thune and his party created for no good reason.
The South Dakotan wasn't alone. The Washington Post reported that multiple Senate Republicans complained about Schumer's remarks. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Schumer was needlessly "combative." Ohio Sen. Rob Portman complained that Schumer had been "unnecessarily partisan." South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds added that Schumer had been "classless."
Even Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia complained that his own party leader's comments were not "appropriate."
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, everything Schumer said was true. Senate Republicans pushed the nation toward default. Senate Republicans fully intend to do it again in a couple of months. Senate Republicans created a dangerous crisis that deliberately put Americans at risk.
Evidently, however, the Senate majority leader wasn't supposed to repeat these truths because they hurt GOP senators' feelings.
Even by the low standards of contemporary politics, this was genuinely weird. The Republican message for weeks has been painfully straightforward: They were prepared to crash the economy, on purpose, unless their non-negotiable debt-ceiling demands were met. The GOP understood the dangers, but they nevertheless put the global economy at risk in order to advance their interests, effectively holding the world hostage in order to advance their own political interests.
Last night, those same Republicans added a new message: Chuck Schumer ought to be nicer about all of this.
Though he was referring to an entirely different story, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted this morning, "In much of our discourse ... the right's bad faith is simply treated as a natural and inevitable background condition of our politics." There can be no doubt that this applies to the GOP's debt-ceiling crisis perfectly: It's simply a given that Republicans are acting in bad faith and imposing an avoidable crisis on Americans. Democratic leaders are simply supposed to accept this fact and move on.
The problem, we're told, is not with politically violent tactics — it's with those who are rude enough to call attention to politically violent tactics.
As for the other area of drama, there were a few hours yesterday when it was far from clear whether there would be enough Republican votes to advance the Republican plan. Thune told reporters, "[A]s you might expect, this is not an easy one to whip.... Our guys, as you all know, hate debt-limit votes."
Oddly enough, they didn't seem to hate debt-limit votes during the Trump, Bush, and Reagan eras. I wonder why that is.
There is, however, a larger point to keep in mind: If Republican leaders struggled to get 10 Republican votes for Mitch McConnell's own measure — a plan that positions the GOP to get much of what it wants ahead of the December deadline — why do certain centrist Democrats believe it's realistic to get 10 Republican votes for all kinds of Democratic bills?