After tensions flared up behind closed doors, and on the brink of a nasty intra-GOP floor fight, Mitch McConnell and Mike Lee cut a deal to move the highway bill forward and queue up an Obamacare repeal that could make it to the President's desk.
The 1st bit of background:
The Senate is currently debating the highway bill, with a measure to revive the Export-Import Bank attached to it. Democrats on Sunday successfully filibustered an amendment to repeal Obamacare. Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative and regular thorn in Mitch McConnell's side, pointed out last Friday that the GOP could on Monday night circumvent the 60-vote threshold for their Obamacare repeal provision. Lee explained the basic parliamentary details in an announcement.
Attaching Obamacare repeal to the highway bill wouldn't result in Obamacare going away, but it would bring down the highway bill — and thus keep Ex-Im dead.
The other bit of background: the Budget resolution Congress passed earlier this year included repeal of Obamacare. That means Republicans could use budget reconciliation to repeal Obamacare — requiring only 51 votes, and thus sending a repeal bill to Obama's desk.
So tonight was supposed to be when Lee or Ted Cruz would cause a ruckus, objecting to the chair's ruling that Obamacare repeal was non-germane. This would put McConnell in a tough spot where he would probably have to help bring down the repeal provision that he had introduced.
But after some unexpected unpleasantness between Lee and McConnell erupted this evening, Lee offered a deal: he would stand down on the floor fight if McConnell would pledge a floor vote — with a 51-vote threshold — on Obamacare repeal.
Lee walked up to McConnell on the Senate floor tonight at around 10:30, the two spoke briefly, and Lee walked back to the corner of the floor where he was huddling with Ted Cruz and a couple of staffers for most of tonight's proceedings. Then when they had the chance, Cruz and Lee didn't raise an objection.
So instead of an Obamacare repeal vote that could bring down a highway bill and the Export-Import Bank in the Senate, we'll get an Obamacare repeal vote that President Obama will have to veto.