How McConnell is maneuvering to keep the Senate in GOP hands — and navigating Trump ~ CNN

By Manu Raju, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent

Updated 8:34 AM ET, Thu September 10, 2020 

(CNN) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was on a mission. It was late February, and two vulnerable Republican senators facing voters this fall were pushing a bill that had generated opposition from conservatives but was important to their states — and their own reelections.

So on the morning of February 27, as Washington was coming to grips with the coronavirus, McConnell took Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana to the White House where they made the case to Trump to get behind a public lands bill. Trump quickly got in line, and quipped to his budget chief, Russell Vought: “Sorry, Russ,” according to sources familiar with the episode.

Four months later, McConnell set aside precious floor time and scheduled votes on the bill even though it was not on the radar for much of Washington, paving the way for its passage — and for Gardner and Daines to cut campaign ads touting the achievement.

“Not only was it the right thing to do from a good government point of view, but sure — it ought to help Cory and Steve, they did a lot of work on it,” McConnell told CNN this week. 

The episode illustrated McConnell’s intense focus at holding onto his perch atop the Senate and keeping the majority in GOP hands, navigating one of the most tumultuous elections of his long political career while finding a way to take advantage of having a Republican in the White House — even one who has a penchant for putting GOP senators in a jam time and again.

Asked if he thinks Trump is a net positive for Senate Republican candidates on the ticket, McConnell would only say: “We’ll find out. That’s something that we’ll only know the day after the election.”Trump signs conservation funding law that will aid national parks

Even as he frequently sidesteps the latest Trump controversy, as he did Wednesday over the President’s stunning admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally played down the coronavirus, McConnell has enlisted Trump’s help in critical ways necessary to holding the Senate, including by privately persuading the President to take a step bolstering the standing of the GOP leader’s preferred candidate in Kansas, a move that helped him win a high-stakes primary last month.

And as he’s faced one of the toughest Senate maps in years, with 23 GOP seats in cycle compared to 12 for Democrats, the Kentucky Republican has tapped into his deep-pocketed donor network to pour millions to his well-funded super PAC and has sought to narrow Democrats’ online fundraising advantage by directing millions more to his vulnerable GOP colleagues. He reviews every ad that hits the airwaves in the key races on a daily basis, providing counsel and advice to his colleagues about the messaging for his party.

And with the power to set the schedule in the Senate, McConnell has taken steps to insulate his vulnerable members from the onslaught of Democratic attacks, culminating with a vote Thursday to take up a GOP economic recovery plan after the Republican leader has privately told his members in conference calls that such a vote is critical for Republican senators hoping to hang onto their seats in November.

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