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How Mitch McConnell got the Senate working again

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Andrew Harnik/AP

(Read caption) Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Later that day, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Loretta Lynch as the next US attorney general by a vote of 56 to 43.

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I wouldn’t want to play Texas hold-em with Mitch McConnell.

To win at the iconic poker game, featured often on ESPN and the Discovery Channel, you have to have patience.

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You have to strike when you have favorable cards, bluff when you don’t, and put all the chips on the table when you are confident of victory.

Nobody is better at this than the Senate majority leader from Kentucky. 

Time and time again, Mr. McConnell has made a virtue out of his patience.

The deal to confirm Loretta Lynch perfectly exemplified this virtue.

No Republican wanted Eric Holder to stay in his current position any longer than necessary, but Lynch proved to be a good bargaining chip in a struggle to pass a human trafficking bill.

Passing that bill should have been a no-brainer, but Democrats, desperate to paint Republicans as anti-abortion extremists for political reasons, manufactured an objection to a long-agreed-to compromise, named for former Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for abortions.

McConnell didn’t buckle, kept his team together, and forced a compromise to move both Lynch and the Human Trafficking bill together.

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The newly minted Republican leader has a history of waiting patiently to play his cards.

When the House passed a compromise to finally fix permanently a flaw in the formula to pay doctors in the Medicare program, McConnell took his time in having the Senate consider it, making certain that his colleagues had a chance to have their amendments considered.

When Congress failed to pass a terrorism risk insurance bill at the end of last year, McConnell didn’t panic. Instead he waited until the new majority was firmly in place, and he calmly passed it as one of the first business items.

When the Senate considered a Keystone pipeline bill after TRIA passed, he was happy to allow for an open process, so open that the Senate considered more amendments in one day that it did in a year under the previous regime.

That patience also manifested itself when McConnell was in the minority. He was the one who staved off the fiscal cliff and cut a deal with the vice president that made permanent 98% of the Bush tax cuts, a victory that doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

While McConnell has been patient, he has also been relentless in pushing for regular order, which is why the Senate passed a budget resolution in March and is expected to pass a conference report before the Memorial Day recess.

It may be a surprise to the general public, but it is no surprise to Mitch McConnell that the Senate is working again, they way it is supposed to work. In McConnell’s mind, it just takes a little patience.

John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at http://www.thefeeherytheory.com/.