Democrats have a new best friend. Yup. With apologies to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Addison Mitchell "Mitch" McConnell III is now every Democrat's favorite Republican. For years, Democrats hated the crafty minority leader and one-time Republican majority leader. You know, the guy who refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland because there was an election in 9 months and the people should decide. And then 4 years later rammed Amy Coney Barrett through a week before another election because he could. The guy who cooked up massive tax cut bills in the dead of night and then forced a vote on them even before Republican senators could read them. Yeah, that guy.
Now, at 81, his health is iffy. Maybe he is seriously ill, maybe not. Some people are pre-emptively calling for him to resign. Republican people, that is. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: "I'm very glad to see McConnell back" after the senator returned to the Senate after undergoing some medical testing to try to figure out why he freezes for 20-30 seconds from time to time. Schumer actually meant it, despite his many run-ins with McConnell in past years.
Schumer's reaction is threefold. First, McConnell is de facto the leader of the sane Republicans—that is, the ones who don't worship at the feet of Donald Trump. On issues from avoiding a government shutdown to helping Ukraine fend off Russia to impeaching Joe Biden, McConnell and Schumer are on the same side, usually with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on the other side. So on some of the big issues, McConnell actually agrees with the Democrats and disagrees with many Republicans.
Second, McConnell is very good at herding the cats. When he wants something, Senate Republicans line up behind him, even if they personally don't like it. So Schumer knows that if McConnell makes a deal with him, he will deliver the votes. In contrast, if House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) makes a deal with McCarthy, he knows that McCarthy's word means nothing and he might well weasel out of it if the Freedom Caucus applies pressure to him.
Third, better the devil known than the devil unknown. If McConnell were to resign as minority leader—or resign from the Senate altogether—nobody knows who would get his job. It could be one of the Senate Johns (Barrasso, WY; Cornyn, TX; or Thune, SD) but it could be a wild card like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who would be as bad as McCarthy. Also, a new leader, even a sane one, would not have the authority and gravitas right off the bat to keep all his members in line.
This newfound friendship puts McConnell in a tricky situation. While he is happy to work with Schumer behind the scenes on issues where they agree, he can't be seen as too chummy with Schumer or the far right, which never liked him, will pounce and make his life miserable. He is on the spot and his fragile health doesn't help at all. (V)