Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the author of the Disclose Act that was thwarted by a Republican filibuster in the Senate twice this week, began his post-mortem press conference on a somber note Wednesday morning.
“In some respects the efforts of the last few days were particularly dark days in the history of the Senate,” he said, “in which a great number of our colleagues abandoned positions which they had held very clearly and very publicly for a long time, walked away from the clearly expressed wishes of the American people, and voted to protect something which is virtually indefensible—which is unlimited secret spending in American elections.”
Both Whitehouse and Senator Jeff Merkley expressed optimism that tough campaign finance reform would be passed sooner rather than later, however—and made powerful allegations that many Republican senators are actually on their side, but were strong-armed by minority leader Mitch McConnell this week.
“There is considerable difficulty within the GOP over the position that leader McConnell has obliged them to take,” said Whitehouse. “I’ve been told by colleagues, ‘Look, we know you’re right, but give us a chance to try to work this out within our caucus.’ ”
While Whitehouse didn’t say that Senator Lisa Murkowski made any such remarks, his characterization could accurately explain her bizarre speech on the Senate floor yesterday, in which she endorsed the spirit of the Disclose Act, at times passionately, but then said she couldn’t yet vote for it.
But according to Whitehouse, some Republican senators are increasingly anxious about standing in strong opposition to campaign finance reform. “I’ve been told that Republican senators have spoken to Leader McConnell and said ‘You’re leading us off a cliff here. This is a crazy place for us to be, defending secret unlimited spending, and we’re one scandal away from owning this mess.’”
Senator Merkley echoed those sentiments, and said there was “enormous pressure” from Republican leadership in the Senate to walk the party line and that it was causing “enormous discomfort” among many Republican senators.
Republicans, and most notably former reformer Senator John McCain, say they oppose the Disclose Act because it favors unions. (We explained yesterday why that’s not the case.) Whitehouse and Merkley both expressed frustration towards that argument.