GOP se­na­tors’ odd al­liance faces test over NSA rift

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro

WASH­ING­TON — The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Rand Paul and Mitch McCon­nell has al­ways been more a mar­riage of po­lit­i­cal con­ve­nience than heart­felt bro­mance, and it is be­ing tested now as never be­fore.

The two Re­pub­li­can se­na­tors from Ken­tucky rep­re­sent di­ver­gent f lanks of the party, of­ten pulling it in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions — most re­cently over what to do about the na­tion’s do­mes­tic phone records sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

The blue-jeans-wear­ing Paul, 52, is a rene­gade up­start who deftly ma­neu­vered the Se­nate to tem­po­rar­ily shut down the govern­ment’s bulk col­lec­tion of Amer­i­cans’ call records, a lib­er­tar­ian cause he has placed at the cen­ter of his strug­gling pres­i­den­tial bid.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader McCon­nell, 73, prefers starched col­lars and cuff links, and moves so de­lib­er­ately that he has been com­pared to a turtle. The estab­lish­ment el­der fought hard to pre­serve the post-Sept. 11 sur­veil­lance pro­gram, ar­gu­ing it doesn’t vi­o­late Amer­i­cans’ pri­vacy and is vi­tal to catch­ing ter­ror­ists.

This week, both men es­sen­tially lost as Congress gave fi­nal ap­proval to a mea­sure that bans the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency from col­lect­ing and stor­ing bulk tele­phone records, but also gives in­tel­li­gence agen­cies the power to ac­cess the same in­for­ma­tion by re­quest­ing it from tele­phone com­pa­nies.

Paul and McCon­nell, for op­po­site rea­sons, voted

against the com­pro­mise, which Pres­i­dent Obama quickly signed into law.

For now, their po­lit­i­cal bat­tle is over. But the flareup be­tween Paul and McCon­nell over the last week trig­gered such un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally pub­lic dis­plays of hot tem­per and cold stares that it re­mains un­clear whether their match made of ex­pe­di­ency will sur­vive.

Paul, who helped McCon­nell win a tough re­elec­tion fight last year, re­peat­edly and pub­licly de­fied the Se­nate leader re­gard­ing the spy pro­gram dur­ing the last few weeks. First, he seized con­trol of the Se­nate f loor for a 10 1⁄2- hour fil­i­buster-like talk-fest last month, and then he blocked McCon­nell’s last-minute at­tempt to pre­vent the sur­veil­lance au­thor­ity from ex­pir­ing Sun­day night.

McCon­nell, who has en­dorsed Paul in the crowded Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field, re­sponded with bouts of ex­as­per­a­tion and anger. He lashed out at the “dem­a­goguery” and “cam­paign of dis­in­for­ma­tion” be­ing spread about the spy pro­gram.

Even af­ter Tues­day’s vote, there were signs that their un­usual al­liance had frayed. Paul could not help but gloat a lit­tle as his cam- paign re­ceived a f lood of at­ten­tion and do­na­tions. McCon­nell’s stature, mean­while, took a hit.

Long­time po­lit­i­cal ob­server Al Cross in Ken­tucky evoked fi­nan­cial-melt­down lan­guage to de­scribe this mo­ment in the re­la­tion­ship of his home-state se­na­tors.

“I guess Tim Gei­th­ner would say it’s a stress test,” said Cross, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Ru­ral Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­nity Is­sues at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky in Lexington, al­lud­ing to the former Trea­sury sec­re­tary’s mea­sure of banks’ abil­ity to sur­vive a cri­sis.

“These guys are not cut from the same cloth, but they have a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship,” Cross said. “Any po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship only goes so far, and we have seen the lim­its.”

But he pre­dicted the re­la­tion­ship would sur­vive.

“When you think of shot­gun wed­dings, Paul shot him­self into the fam­ily,” Cross said. “It com­pli­cates McCon­nell’s life. But he’s a pro; he can han­dle stuff like this.”

Ad­vi­sors and those who know the se­na­tors down­played the trou­ble in their union, say­ing both men have long rec­og­nized that ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences should not pre­vent them from be­ing pro­duc­tive part­ners in the busi­ness of pol­i­tics.

Five years ago, McCon­nell set a skep­ti­cal gaze on Paul, an oph­thal­mol­o­gist who ran as one of the first tea party can­di­dates for Se­nate.

Af­ter Paul up­ended the leader’s hand­picked can­di­date in the Re­pub­li­can pri­mary for the open seat, McCon­nell swiftly tacked to sup­port Paul’s cam­paign. Rather than fight the new­comer, he show­ered Paul with fund­ing and estab­lish­ment clout to beat the Demo­cratic can­di­date.

Paul re­turned the fa­vor last year, lend­ing McCon­nell tea party cred­i­bil­ity and grass-roots sup­port to help sur­vive a pri­mary chal­lenge and go on to win not only re­elec­tion to a sixth term, but the Se­nate ma­jor­ity lead­er­ship.

“They ac­tu­ally like each other per­son­ally, and they’ve both done so much for each other po­lit­i­cally,” said Jesse Ben­ton, a long­time se­nior ad­vi­sor to Paul, who worked with McCon­nell’s cam­paign and now heads a “su­per PAC” back­ing Paul’s pres­i­den­tial bid.

“Even when [Paul’s] giv­ing him a lit­tle bit of a pain in the rear, there’s a lot of un­der­stand­ing and for­give­ness,” he said. “It’ll be over in a mat­ter of days.”

McCon­nell is of­ten so de­tached from the emo­tional realm of pol­i­tics that not much can in­ter­fere with his abil­ity to con­duct busi­ness — even the bold af­front these last few weeks from Paul, ac­cord­ing to those fa­mil­iar with his think­ing.

Some po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy the­o­rists have spec­u­lated that McCon­nell al­lowed Paul to have this mo­ment in the na­tional spot­light to boost his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, but oth­ers dis­miss such a no­tion.

The two were chat­ting about lo­cal Ken­tucky pol­i­tics Monday on the Se­nate floor. By the time vot­ing was un­der­way Tues­day, there ap­peared to be less in­ter­ac­tion.

“Peo­ple are watch­ing pretty closely,” said John Hodg­son, pres­i­dent of the Louisville Tea Party, who said Paul had the crowd chuck­ling Satur­day night at the state Re­pub­li­can Party’s an­nual Lin­coln Day Din­ner in Lexington.

“He said that he and Mitch main­tain a cor­dial re­la­tion­ship,” Hodg­son said. “He said they haven’t had to go to coun­sel­ing yet.”

If this re­ally is the be­gin­ning of their un­cou­pling, it’s hard to envi­sion who would walk out on whom.

Would the es­tab­lished leader shun the pres­i­den­tial con­tender at a time when Repub­li­cans are still sort­ing out which wing of their party will be dom­i­nant?

Or would the younger rebel part ways with the man who is ar­guably one of the most pow­er­ful elected of­fi­cials in Congress?

Nei­ther seems likely at the mo­ment.

Asked this week about Paul’s ac­tions, McCon­nell re­fused to take the bait.

“Look, I’m not go­ing to start mak­ing — you’re try­ing to get me to make a deroga­tory com­ment about mem­bers of the Se­nate. I’m not go­ing to do that,” he said. “I ad­mire and re­spect them all.”

Ti­mothy D. Easley AP

THE NSA dis­pute was a blow to Sen. Mitch McCon­nell’s stature.

Pete Marovich EPA

SEN. RAND PAUL pub­licly de­fied McCon­nell, the Se­nate leader.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.