Voices: McConnell’s rare outburst on live radio shows he wants Republicans to back off

Anyone who follows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that he is notoriously tight-lipped. Former House speaker John Boehner, a man known for letting the waterworks fly, once said Mr McConnell “holds his feelings, thoughts and emotions in a lockbox so tightly that whenever one of them seeps out, bystanders are silent.”

That was why Washington’s collective jaw-dropped when, on Kentucky radio, Mr McConnell blasted Florida Senator Rick Scott’s proposal to let every government program, including Social Security and Medicare, sunset as “a bad idea”. Mr McConnell twisted the knife even further when he said it would pose a “challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.”

Mr Scott and Mr McConnell have feuded bitterly ever since Mr Scott led the National Republican Senatorial Committee last cycle. Mr Scott not only failed to flip a single Senate seat and lost a seat in Pennsylvania, but also had the audacity to challenge Mr McConnell for leadership after the historic flop.

Mr McConnell responded by punishing Mr Scott earlier this month by taking him off the Senate Commerce Committee. Mr McConnell denied any reprisal, but almost anyone knows that was a means of keeping his fingerprints off it.

Mr Scott should have gotten the hint. But then came the State of the Union, where President Joe Biden said “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” which led to GOP jeers. But Mr Biden added that a majority of Republicans didn’t want that, and that he was “politely not naming them.”

Mr McConnell knew Mr Biden was calling out Mr Scott. Last year, when the multimillionaire former governor served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he released a plan to “Rescue America,” which said “all federal legislation sunsets in five years.” That includes Social Security and Medicare. Mr McConnell shot down the proposal immediately, which began their simmering feud.

Anyone who had been in Washington long enough knew Mr Biden was baiting Mr Scott and on Thursday, Mr Biden continued to reel him in when he visited Florida. And Mr Scott fell for it, immediately putting out two statements defending his plan and going in a painstaking CNN interview with Kaitlan Collins. Politico’s Playbook newsletter delivered a brutal headline when it said “Rick Scott just won’t take the L.”

That was enough for Mr McConnell. To be clear, Florida, which has become deeply Republican in the past decade since Barack Obama was the last Democrat to win the Sunshine State, likely will not turn against Mr Scott, who has never lost a race. The Democratic Party faces an uphill battle in the state.

But Mr McConnell has recognised that Mr Biden had turned Mr Scott into a political liability and has decided to make his objections known publicly.

The sniping continued online when Chris Hartline, who became a flack for the NRSC under Mr Scott’s tenure, tweeted “Rick Scott knows how to win Florida a hell of a lot better than Mitch McConnell does.” In response, Mr McConnell’s former chief of staff Josh Holmes, who often offers a window into what Mr McConnell is thinking, responded by tweeting a GIF of Kris Jenner saying “You’re doing amazing, sweetie.”

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