WASHINGTON – As Mitch McConnell readies for a 2020 re-election campaign, his unwavering support for President Donald Trump’s southern border wall gives the senator an important boost from the Republican Party’s conservative wing — activists who have not always been on his side.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., a McConnell ally, said he had heard “more compliments” about the Senate majority leader last week than ever before from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Last month the caucus pressured Trump to reject a Senate spending bill aimed at averting the shutdown because it didn’t include money for the wall Trump promised as a presidential candidate.
“Conservatives want Trump to have a win on the wall and Mitch McConnell is standing firm with Trump, even though they know probably deep down, ideologically, he would like to compromise and end the shutdown,” Comer said.
McConnell has said consistently for weeks that he won’t entertain any legislation that doesn’t include wall funding. Conservatives “appreciate he’s standing with the president,” Comer said.
McConnell made it clear last month that he didn’t want a shutdown, telling reporters there was “no education in the second kick of a mule.”
But he’s the leader of a caucus with 22 Republicans up for re-election in 2020, including 20 from states that Trump won. None of them want to give an inch to a potential primary challenge.
McConnell himself is up for re-election in a state where Trump is more popular than the six-term senator.
He’s learned lessons.
“The far right wing of the party has kind of been a problem for him in the past, but I think he’s solidified with that wing of the party,” Comer said.
McConnell in 2014 successfully fended off a primary challenge from now-Gov. Matt Bevin, who has said he will run for re-election this year.
By resisting Democratic pressure to hold a vote on House spending bills to reopen the government, McConnell is now protecting his caucus members from casting votes that would put them at odds with Trump, said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the policy chairman in charge of helping shape Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda.
Still, there is some pressure, with some worried about a perception that the Senate is inert while furloughed federal workers go without paychecks and the Democratic-led House keeps passing legislation that would open parts of the government.