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Ethics Vote Could Signal GOP Tensions

For the second time in five weeks, Senate Republican leaders split votes on critical legislation, possibly signaling leadership tensions as Democrats head into an August recess with several legislative victories under their belt.

On today's overwhelming vote approving an ethics and lobbying reform plan, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), the No. 4 GOP leader, voted with the majority in passing legislation that imposes new prohibitions on the senatorial revolving door to K Street and requires greater disclosure for lobbying firms.

But the four other elected Republican leaders, including Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), McConnell's top deputy, joined a small but boisterous conservative bloc of 14 Republicans opposing the measure. Lott and the conservatives, led by junior Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), believe the bill was not strong enough in requiring disclosure of earmark provisions in spending bills, particularly those measures dropped into bills during House-Senate conferences that are sent back to each chamber in a non-amendable fashion.

While divisions are nothing new for either party -- Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lost more than 10 members of his own caucus in late June, helping torpedo immigration reform legislation -- the split among the top leaders of the Republican conference is something of concern among party aides.

Earlier this week, when reporters pressed him on his decision about ethics reform, Lott announced his opposition to the plan and then questioned whether his party had the right leadership to fight it. "After the exhibition I saw on immigration, I don't suspect there's going to be a lot of strength and dynamic leadership here, but we'll see," Lott told CongressDaily.

That was perceived as a direct shot across the bow at McConnell, who in late May agreed to push the controversial immigration reform package that was hammered out in an old-fashioned, bipartisan, back-room deal. As that immigration package unraveled in late June, McConnell changed his support on the plan and ultimately voted against ending debate and moving toward a final vote on the plan. Privately, but not very quietly, GOP aides wondered whether McConnell's vote against immigration was more about protecting his own political standing back home in Kentucky, where the immigration deal was unpopular and McConnell must stand for reelection in 2008.

As they did on today's ethics vote, Lott and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 3 leader as chairman of the Republican Conference, voted on the opposite side of McConnell in favor of the immigration plan that they had been publicly supporting.

Lott has been outwardly loyal for most of 2007 because he's keenly aware that McConnell and other Republicans were wary of placing him back in a leadership after his fall from political grace in December 2002. After his remarks about the late Strom Thurmond punted him into back-bencher status, Lott became something of a maverick, openly criticizing decisions by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and McConnell, who served as Frist's loyal GOP whip before he was elevated to leader in January.

In officially announcing his position on ethics, McConnell was still smarting over DeMint's blockage of a House-Senate conference. That left Reid no option but to negotiate a final compromise with House Democratic leaders on their own, passing it out of the House and then approving the exact same plan today in the Senate. Republicans never had a seat at the final bargaining table - a point McConnell drove him again publicly today.

"This bill isn't nearly as tough as it would have been on earmarks if Republicans had been involved in writing it. But weighing the good and the bad, many provisions are stronger than current law," McConnell said. "I will support its passage."

Here's a breakdown of the top six Senate GOP leaders and how they voted on immigration and the ethics plan:

Immigration/ Ethics

Mitch McConnell (Ky.) No/ Yes

Trent Lott (Miss.) Yes/ No

Jon Kyl (Ariz.) Yes/ No

Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) No/ Yes

John Cornyn (Texas) No/ No

John Ensign (Nev.) No/ No

By Paul Kane  |  August 2, 2007; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , Senate  
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Next: The House Fades into "Blue Screen" as Chaos Reigns


It must be getting closer to the next election. It will be fun to watch the Repugs twist in the wind as they "get religion". It is not very difficult to sort out those up for re-election. Their obvious "flip flpping" and sudden change in priorities showing actual concern for us poor slobs, the voters and taxpayers.

Ethics is a word that doesn't seem to fit in with the culture of corruption in Washington and especially in the Karl Rove, Bush/Cheney legions of deceit and corruption.

I say fire all of them next November! Do not re-elect incumbants. Congress will not impose Term Limits, so the voters must.

America, take back our country. Take out all the garbage and scumbags.

God Bless America

Posted by: Justicein08 | August 2, 2007 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Is ethics reform just for republicans Jefferson ,Fienstien ,Murtha ,Pelosi ,Durbin ,HARIE REID .FLUSH PELOSI FLUSH

Posted by: Imarkex | August 2, 2007 11:37 PM | Report abuse

What about those of us who want to see more bipartisan voting among both the Republicans and the Democrats? The problem is the Washington Post is so desperate for more profits that they tell us we should exaggerate differences and promote blatant partisanship. That is what's called a BLATANT bias in reporting!

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