The most ominous development in the congressional showdown over Homeland Security funding and immigration came on Wednesday morning, when Speaker John Boehner made an odd admission to his House Republican troops: He hadn't spoken to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, in more than two weeks.
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires at midnight on Friday, but even as that deadline approached, the two top Republicans in Congress hadn't exchanged a word, much less agreed on a plan to resolve the impasse. A day earlier, McConnell had signaled he would cave to Democratic demands that he bring up a straightforward spending bill for DHS, stripped of the offending House-passed immigration provisions that had caused the standoff in the first place. Boehner's disclosure, made in a private GOP meeting and quickly passed on to reporters, was a way of showing angry House conservatives that he had played no part in McConnell's scheme.
Could it all be an exaggerated, good-cop-bad-cop routine? Sure. Aides to Boehner and McConnell have always insisted they work exceedingly well together, better even than previous GOP leadership pairs (most notably, Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole in the mid-1990s). And when Boehner spoke to reporters on Wednesday, he noted that their staffs had been in contact, so it's not as if the speaker is ignorant of his Senate counterpart's machinations. Politically, the newly-elevated McConnell is in a stronger position within his conference than Boehner, who won re-election despite some two dozen GOP defections last month.