Revealed: Senate clerks didn't announce names during debt-ceiling vote so that Republicans could secretly switch

If you’ve ever watched a Senate floor vote on C-SPAN, you know how it goes. The senator’s name is called by the clerk, the senator votes, and then the clerk publicly announces how he or she voted. Basic legislative accountability. But not this time.

Because of the midterms, we’re all going to be in unity mode soon. Here’s a little reminder that that unity is an illusion, papered over periodically as necessary for the greater good of keeping liberals out of power. There are two parties within the GOP and some members of one are represented in Congress by members of the other. And on the toughest votes, legislators will go to unusual lengths to try to obscure that fact. Although not always successfully.

Miffed that they have long been asked to take tough votes when the GOP leaders voted ‘no,’ Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski, privately pressured McConnell and Cornyn to vote to break the filibuster, sources said. Murkowski resisted voting for the measure without the support of her leadership team…

A grim-faced McConnell stood next to the white-haired Cornyn, who quietly discussed a way forward with Murkowski, Collins, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and a handful of other senators. Tension filled the room as the vote was kept open for more than an hour. The clerks were informed not to announce the names of the senators who had voted, allowing the leaders to urge senators to switch their votes…

Forty-five minutes into a vote, which typically takes about 15 minutes, Cornyn and McConnell approached the well of the Senate and simultaneously signaled that they would vote “aye.” The press gallery let out an audible gasp. The two men sent their emissaries into the GOP cloakroom to cajole GOP senators to switch their votes to run up the tally and give them political cover…

McConnell urged several Republicans who planned to vote ‘no’ to ultimately switch their votes, including McCain, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona and two members of the GOP leadership — John Thune of South Dakota and John Barrasso of Wyoming. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas were the two GOP members of McConnell’s leadership team to vote against it.

Why did McConnell need other Republicans to switch their vote to yes if he, Cornyn, Collins, Murkowski, and Corker were willing to provide the five votes Reid needed to get to 60? Simple: He didn’t need them. He wanted them to switch so that no one could be accused of having provided the decisive 60th vote for cloture. The bigger the Republican crowd voting yes was, in theory the easier it would be for each of them to hide in it. In practice, Politico not only picked up on the clerks’ conspicuous silence, they found out the names of the Republicans who switched under pressure. Now, instead of being guilty of voting for a measure that’s unpopular with the base, they’re guilty and they look sneaky. Can’t anybody here play this game?

I’m really surprised Collins et al. wouldn’t give McConnell and Cornyn a pass on the vote, either. DrewM is right that this is ultimately Ted Cruz’s victory in having forced a cloture vote in the first place — it ended up being a gift to Matt Bevin, McConnell’s challenger in Kentucky — but credit the RINO caucus with an assist in demanding that McConnell and Cornyn jump off the cliff with them. For all the squawking centrists do about how the caucus has grown more “extreme,” making McConnell bite the bullet on this one improved the odds that he’ll be replaced with a more conservative senator. Oh well.

To illustrate the “two parties” point I made above, here’s the new ad from the Senate Conservatives Fund attacking McConnell. Byron York has a long critique of it that’s worth your time, including a reminder that McConnell never called anyone a “traitor,” but factual problems matter as much here as Matt Bevin signing that SEC document that endorsed TARP did. At this point, McConnell’s reelection bid is only partially about McConnell. If you’ve already concluded Mitch Must Go — or Stay — nothing’s going to change your mind now.