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Republican Leadership Staggered By Force Of Bunning Opposition

Republicans basically don’t like Jim Bunning to begin with. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, dried up Bunning’s funding in Kentucky so he would have to resign rather than face an uncertain re-election campaign. So it’s amusing to see McConnell have to dodge questions about Bunning’s crusade against the unemployed.

“We’re going to be able to work out the short-term extension in the very new future,” McConnell said at a press conference this afternoon. “As soon as we get it worked out we’ll let you know.”

Reporters pressed, “What’s your opinion” on Bunning’s move?

McConnell responded: “At the risk of being redundant–which I frequently am–we’re working on this issue and hope to have it sorted out in a way that will be satisfactory to all concerned in the very near future.”

Pressed again to answer the question, McConnell was silent.

Every time reporters sought comment from McConnell, he insisted that all will be worked out. You are almost left thinking that Bunning is doing this just to put McConnell in an awkward position, as much as anything else. But of course, without tacit support from at least some Republicans, all of this would have been avoided.

Bunning continued to object to unanimous consent requests today to move forward with a short-term extension of various expiring provisions. The Senator’s hometown newspaper called him callous, while Democrats ramped up their attacks.

Right-wing conservatives compounded the problem by cheering Bunning on and making inartful comments. Jon Kyl, number 3 in the Senate leadership, argued against jobless benefits altogether, calling them a “disincentive for work.” Kentucky Senate candidates to replace Bunning, Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, applauded the effort in an attempt to capture the far-right base. And right-wing media praised Bunning as well. This is starting to look a lot like Newt Gingrich’s 1995 government shutdown, which forced a reconsideration of cruel Republican policies among the public.

If McConnell is so intent on resolving this shortly, and Democrats want it resolved as well, my question would be, why hasn’t it happened? Bunning could be overridden by a cloture vote.

UPDATE: Democrats are really pressing this issue, highlighting all the instances of Republicans offering direct support for Bunning or remaining silent while it continues. From the release, on the flip:

UPDATE II: Just to be clear, the Senator who made the motion for UC on a temporary benefits extension today was Republican Susan Collins. If she supports moving forward, and presumably all 59 Democrats do as well, what’s the holdup?

Corker Defended Bunning, Said Senate Was “Stooping To A Low Level.” On the Senate floor, Senator Corker defended Senator Bunning and said, “I believe we are stooping to a low level. The Senator from Kentucky and I agree on a lot and we disagree on a lot, and I am not here at this moment to debate the merits of either side. What I am saying is this is not the way the Senate functions. Everybody in the country now knows that the Senator from Kentucky has a hold on this bill. That is something that is honored. Not a hold on the bill, but he is objecting to unanimous consent, and that is something that we honor in this body.” [Congressional Record, 2/25/10]

Sessions Defended Bunning, Said He’s Blocking Unemployment Benefits “As A Matter Of Principle.” On the Senate floor, Senator Sessions defending Senator Bunning and said, “I think the Senator from Kentucky is speaking on behalf of the conscience of a lot of Americans, a majority of Americans, if they heard this debate. He is doing it as a matter of principle. I know he has no desire to see people not receive unemployment compensation. He is willing to support that. He simply is saying that enough is enough.” [Congressional Record, 2/25/10]

Sessions Again Defended Bunning, Said He Respects Bunning’s “Courage.” Just yesterday, Senator Sessions again defended Senator Bunning. Sessions spoke about Bunning’s actions on the Senate floor and said, “I respect him for the courage he showed. [Congressional Record, 3/1/10]

Cornyn Admires Bunning’s “Courage.” Senator Cornyn took to the Senate floor, suggested that Senators Bunning and Corker were not afforded the procedural opportunity to explain the GOP filibuster of unemployment benefits and said, “I understand that Senator Durbin retained the floor for the most part and yielded for questions, but basically the procedure denied Senator Bunning and Senator Corker, who I know also weighed in, an opportunity to explain precisely what was going on…. I want to say I admire the courage of the junior Senator from Kentucky, Mr. Bunning.” [Congressional Record, 2/26/10]

Kyl Defended Bunning, Said He “Made A Good Point.” “Bunning got support from Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, who defended his colleagues insistence of paying for the legislation with unused stimulus funds. ‘You can’t say that everything we do around here needs to be offset,’ said Kyl, ‘and then waive the pay go legislation every time you want to do it.’ ‘My colleague from Kentucky made a good point.’” [Politico, 3/1/10]


McConnell Took To The Floor, Didn’t Say A Word About Bunning. This morning, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and didn’t mention Senator Bunning’s actions, or the 1.2 million Americans who are affected by the filibuster on unemployment or the 3,181 Kentuckians who will exhaust their benefits this week ALONE. [Senate floor, 3/2/10,, 3/2/10]

When Asked About Bunning’s Actions, McConnell Dodged. At the Republican stakeout today, McConnell was repeatedly asked about his fellow senator from Kentucky actions. McConnell refused to directly answer the question and said, “We’re in the process of working this out, and hopefully it will be resolved in the near future.” [CQ transcript, Republican stakeout, 3/2/10]

GOP Not “Available For Comment” On Bunning’s Actions. “Representatives of senators in states that have seen furloughs, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), did not respond to inquiries seeking comment about Bunning’s push. Aides to two Republicans running for the Senate — former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) — also did not respond to inquiries seeking comment, and a spokeswoman for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a Senate candidate in Illinois, said the congressman wasn’t available for comment.” [Politico, 3/2/10]

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David Dayen

David Dayen