The liberal national political press is giddy. The liberal state political press, still recovering from the Republican primary for governor, will soon join in.
What could possibly be the source of such glee in the journalistic Left? Rand Paul has caused problems for Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
As the new majority leader McConnell promised to make the Senate work better, as it constitutionally should and historically has. He never said it would be easy, but he has largely fulfilled that promise nonetheless.
Then came the confluence of several big issues in a relatively compact period of time. Foremost among them were trade promotion authority for a new and much-needed trans-Pacific partnership and renewal of the Patriot Act.
McConnell managed to get the first one passed despite attempts to block or overhaul it by Democrats at odds with President Obama. That effort consumed considerable time, which is what happens when the deliberate, minority rights-oriented Senate works as it is supposed to.
But it left less time to deal with the Patriot Act, which is set to expire at the end of the month. Then Paul, who is McConnell's friend, supporter, and Republican colleague from Kentucky, and who is also running for president, was determined to make a point about bulk collection of American phone records.
McConnell thinks the Patriot Act is an important tool to keep American safe from terrorist threats. He makes the often overlooked point that the law does not authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on communications of ordinary Americans, but only the collection of information about the numbers making and receiving calls. Officials can then access those records to “connect the dots” when necessary to prevent attacks.
Paul claims the program constitutes a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that collecting such bulk data should require a warrant issued only upon probable cause. He is also busily using his crusade to raise money for his presidential bid.
First, Paul staged another of his trademark high-profile talk-a-thons, which he called a “filibuster,” but really wasn't. Next, he did everything he could to complicate McConnell's life and prevent even an extremely short extension of the Patriot Act which would have kept America from being entirely without this critical defense at a time when terrorists appear especially determined to hurt us.
The constitutionalist, libertarian Paul is undoubtedly sincere. He is also politically opportunistic.
There is really nothing wrong with Paul's blending of his beliefs and his campaign, but doing so carries potential risk as well as reward. Another big terrorist attack on the homeland between now and the GOP nomination would probably put an end to his presidential prospects.
Whether you call it fidelity to the Constitution or cynical obstructionism, Paul's gambit sent the Senate home for its Memorial Day recess with the issue unresolved. It will have only one day – a rare Sunday session on May 31 – to address the issue after it returns to Washington. Democrats and their media allies are absolutely delighted.
“My colleagues, do we really want this law to expire?” McConnell asked. “We've got a week to discuss it; we'll have one day to do it.”
The rare, indeed unprecedented, scene of McConnell seeming to be procedurally outmaneuvered on the Senate floor sent long-hostile scribblers into spasms of glee.
“McConnell's floor strategy backfires,” trumpeted Politico. “NSA dispute tests political ties of Paul, McConnell,” the Washington Post headlined. “N.S.A. and other matters leave McConnell's Senate in disarray,” claimed the New York Times.
Kentucky's political press has been preoccupied with the extremely close GOP gubernatorial primary in which Matt Bevin, the man McConnell trounced in last year's U.S. Senate primary, appears to have captured the nomination by a mere 83 votes. Some in it have tried to spin the result as some kind of defeat for McConnell even though he did not officially endorse or unofficially support any candidate.
Having taken a holiday vacation, however, some of the state's most ardent purveyors of anti-McConnell “newspinion” will probably turn their attention to piling-on him over the Patriot Act stalemate with Paul. The salient fact that the situation is not merely political sport, but an effort to balance constitutional rights and national security, will probably be overshadowed by the purely political angle.
The celebration on the political left will probably prove premature since McConnell has a week to work the phones, twist some arms, and do the other things that he has used to build his well-deserved reputation as one of the best deal-makers in Senate history. He has successfully walked similar legislative tightropes before, as on budget, debt ceiling, and tax deals, but he was not the majority leader then.
So those gloating now had better enjoy it while they can. The smart money is on McConnell somehow getting the job done once again, and in a way that is good for the country, too.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche)