WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump may still wield the most political power over the Republican Party, but Mitch McConnell remains master of the Senate GOP.
Despite repeated calls by Trump to oppose the bipartisan infrastructure package, McConnell largely ignored -- and ultimately defied -- the former president by voting for final passage on Tuesday and delivering 18 other Republicans with him.
The final vote for $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, waterways, airports and broadband internet was 69-30. It is a rarity in Washington -- a genuinely significant bipartisan achievement for both parties and President Joe Biden, who anchored his run for the White House on his ability to bring people together.
To seal the deal, the House still needs to approve it.
Even before the final vote, Trump targeted McConnell in a statement, dubbing him “the most overrated man in politics.”
“Nobody will ever understand why Mitch McConnell allowed this non-infrastructure bill to be passed,” Trump said. “He has given up all of his leverage for the big whopper of a bill that will follow.”
Plenty of political pundits and Capitol Hill observers suspect that McConnell climbed aboard the infrastructure train because it allows him to point to real world evidence that the Senate isn’t broken enough for Democrats to scrap the filibuster and pursue a slew of their more liberal policy goals.
The Senate, as clunky and laborious as it is, can still do big things if the majority party partners with his minority, the thinking about his thinking goes.
After the bill passed, Biden personally thanked McConnell and members of the GOP caucus for their support.
“For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage and I want to personally thank you for that. And I’ve called most of you on the phone to do just that,” Biden said during a speech in the White House East Room hours after Senate passage.
There’s also just the plain fact that many of the projects are beneficial to the country and McConnell’s members. Kentucky alone will receive an estimated $4.6 billion for highways and $438 million for bridge replacements over the next five years.
McConnell’s resistance to Trump's pressure also underscores an undervalued emerging truth: While Trump still holds enormous cache when it comes to pure political endorsements, he has much less influence over the nuts and bolts of the GOP’s policy agenda.
Trump’s brand remains fiery and potent, but it’s a cadre of quieter, placid lawmakers who are writing the legislative fine print.
But among Trump’s inner circle, the venom against McConnell still boils from his stinging rebuke of Trump over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
There are also claims of hypocrisy. Trump aides note that McConnell had little appetite for infrastructure when the former president was floating his own $1 trillion plan.
“McConnell is a total fraud,” charged Liz Harrington, a Trump spokeswoman, commenting on a headline showing McConnell opposed the price tag of the former president’s proposal.
In his statement, Trump added that McConnell “is working so hard to give Biden a victory, now they’ll go for the big one, including the biggest tax increases in the history of our country.”
But McConnell has already repeatedly outlined his staunch opposition to the Democrats' next spending proposal: $3.5 trillion that includes everything from childcare to job training to climate change measures.
Shortly after voting for infrastructure, McConnell -- and every other Republican -- voted against proceeding to that Democratic spending resolution.
“What our colleagues are proposing and planning is absolutely jaw-dropping,” McConnell said. “People want to pretend this is just business as usual. Just liberals doing liberal things using Senate procedure. Make no mistake. This reckless taxing and spending spree is like nothing we’ve seen.”