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Analysis: Ignore Lisa Murkowski. There's only one senator you need to watch in the shutdown fight.


And he ain't budging

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Media outlets were abuzz last night with the news that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had called for the partial government shutdown to end, wall or no wall. By this morning, the rumor mill had begun to speculate that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) were also grumbling behind the scenes about wanting the shutdown to end, regardless of whether the funding package includes money for the border wall or not.

This is all public posturing for votes and should be ignored. Some senators in blue or purple states will feel the need to leak to the media that they are not on board with the shutdown for political purposes. However, only one senator's voice really matters in this fight: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

See, McConnell knows that Trump has willingly become the face of this particular shutdown. Recent polling shows that voters — to the extent they care — split the blame for the current shutdown between President Donald Trump and the Democrats in Congress. Right now, Republicans in the Senate are taking almost none of the public blame, which allows McConnell to wait this out more or less indefinitely.

A recent Politico poll, for example, showed Trump taking 47 percent of the blame for the shutdown, compared to 33 percent for congressional Democrats. Congressional Republicans are taking only 5 percent of the current public pressure.

McConnell knows two things: 1) The shutdown is broadly unpopular (although probably not an election game-changer, based on past experience), and 2) any senator who votes to override a Trump veto will face a brutal blowback from Trump's supporters. In other words, as long as President Trump insists on the wall funding, there is no vote a Republican senator can cast that won't cost them politically.

But that's OK, because McConnell has a simple fix for this problem: He simply won't schedule one. There is no reason for McConnell to put members of his caucus on record with a vote that places them between the Scylla of Trump's base and the Charybdis of moderate general election voters, so he won't.

As long as Trump maintains his public position, expect McConnell to just remain hunkered down, not doing much of anything and definitely not scheduling a vote. In order to override a Trump veto, Democrats would have to pick off 20 Republican senators, which appears nowhere near close to happening, and convince McConnell to allow the floor vote in the first place, which he probably won't do until more than half the caucus wants one. And that seems like an extremely unlikely result in the current political climate; Republican senators have learned, after all, that they cross Trump and his rabid voter base at their peril.

Unless and until the list of public defectors reaches 20, the chances of a Senate vote happening remain close to zero, and thus the public posturing of Murkowski et al should be ignored as the backside-covering gestures that they are.

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