As Roll Call notes, there was not much drama on the Republican side of the Senate over the leadership elections. Mitch McConnell and his team had just presided over a stunning midterm victory, a near-sweep of every competitive contest, and almost got a huge surprise win in Virginia. Success breeds success — and in this case, unanimity. McConnell and his entire slate got elected by acclamation:
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire nominated McConnell, according to a GOP source inside the room, and Sen.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas gave a seconding speech. He won a voice vote without opposition and was treated to a standing ovation.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was likewise selected, by voice vote without contention, as the party’s whip. He was nominated by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and seconded by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota will reprise his role as conference chairman, also winning a voice vote. He was nominated by Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and seconded by Sen.-elect Cory Gardner of Colorado.
The interesting aspect of this slate is the, er, continuity it displays. The so-called establishment has firm control over Senate leadership, backed in a couple of instances here by grassroots-fueled newcomers like Cotton and Gardner. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and even Marco Rubio have no seats at this table, but that may be by a more beneficent design, too. All three have made some noises as contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination, and a Senate leadership position would likely be an impediment to running a campaign — especially if it meant falling in line for compromises on policies like immigration and budgets.
So call this the “pragmatist” lineup more than anything else. Republicans want to spend the next two years demonstrating that they can govern as effectively as they can act as opposition. This prepares them for the inevitable attacks that will come from an increasingly frustrated White House that will have to issue veto after veto in the twilight of the Barack Obama era. Obama is making their job easier and easier by moving farther and farther to the Left, too. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Obama and his team to claim that any logjams in Washington are the result of Republican extremism with this lineup of Senate leadership.
One case in point, Chris Cillizza notes, may be acute even before Republicans take the field:
Poll after poll has shown support for Keystone is somewhere between very strong and overwhelming. A Pew Research Center survey this month showed support for the project at nearly two-to-one, 59 percent to 31 percent. And that was about the lowest level of support we’ve seen to date. Support has registered as high as two-thirds of Americans.
And as another recent Pew poll showed, it’s not just Republicans and independents driving support for the project. In fact, basically the only group that opposes it is the most liberal of Democrats.
According to Pew’s breakdown from June, three of the four Democratic-leaning groups — including religious Democrats, young Democrats and the most moderate Democratic leaners — all supported the project two-to-one.
Which is a long way of saying that Obama would likely have very few supporters were he to wield his veto pen, as the White House suggests he will following votes by the House and Senate — which by all indications will approve the bill.
The White House, if it does veto the bill, will apparently argue that it can’t approve it before the lengthy State Department review of the project’s environmental impact is complete — along with a Supreme Court case in Nebraska concerning a key part of the pipeline’s route. That’s fine, but it still remains that a strong majority of Americans are pretty keen on getting the pipeline done.
A Keystone veto would put Obama squarely on the fringe even before McConnell begins running the Senate. McConnell couldn’t ask for a bigger gift for Christmas.