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McConnell’s Secret Weapon

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“We’re prepared to kick West Virginia 500 bucks in opioid treatment funding. Grace, Grace…put me on the flight to Houston and…annualy? We are not communists!…Hello?” [slams phone] “FUCKIN’ LEADS ARE WEAK! HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE A LIVING ON THESE DEADBEATS?”

As a couple commenters have noted, one reason to be optimistic about BCRA crashing and burning is that McConnell has sent Ted “I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz” Cruz to whip votes. As Brian Beutler observes, this does not suggest a robust commitment to passing BCRA on McConnell’s part:

The good news is these last-ditch efforts to muscle the GOP health care bill into law are beginning to flag and work against each other. The same Post story notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will task Cruz himself with pitching his amendment to the rest of the GOP conference. It will be up to Cruz in some sense, then, to stop Republicans from breaking ranks. The Post notes that Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins have been in contact with Democrats “to see whether they might be more willing partners in fixing the health-care system.”

The importance of these developments can’t be overstated. Cruz is one of the most hated members of the Senate, even within the GOP conference. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate,” Republican Lindsey Graham once said, “and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” Cruz is the worst possible salesman for any piece of legislation, let alone a hideously unpopular one that will gut pre-existing conditions protections. If the linchpin of the Trumpcare blitz is the persuasive powers of Cruz, Obamacare supporters have something to celebrate.

Because if the Cruz amendment fails, and bipartisan backchannels expand, the process will freeze up. The hope is that a combination of Cruz’s toxicity, public pressure, and Democratic outreach will draw at least one more Republican into league with Collins and Murkowski. On Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said the plan he drafted with Collins earlier this year—one that would leave the ACA’s taxes and coverage goals in place—“is the only way we can go forward.” On that basis, he could be the third apostate, but any Republican would do.

We should pause here and thank the fine people of New Hampshire* for ejecting Kelly Ayotte, because every golden ticket McConnell can’t give out counts.

BCRA isn’t dead, and we should remember that AHCA looked dead too, so be careful and keep the pressure up. But making Cruz his point man definitely suggests that McConnell thinks it’s more important to set up a fall guy everyone will be happy to blame than to optimize the chances of passing BCRA.

*In related news, 2016 was not a year in which the Pennsylvania electorate covered itself in glory.

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