WASHINGTON — Try as they may, there’s no sign that conservatives chirping over the departure of House Speaker John Boehner will be able to claim Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as their next pelt.

Yet to survive, McConnell will have to maneuver through Republican voters’ anti- Washington sentiments and possibly try to pass spending and borrowing bills this fall that infuriate many GOP constituents.

Boehner’s Oct. 30 resignation, which the Ohio Republican abruptly revealed Friday, deflated the pressure he’s long faced from angry conservatives accusing him of cutting deals too willingly with President Barack Obama.

But some GOP presidential candidates, members of Congress and conservative groups are also making McConnell, 73, a primary target. As with Boehner, they accuse the Kentucky Republican of persistently backing away from fights – despite the the fact that Republicans are handcuffed by having just 54 Senate votes, well short of the necessary 60 to end Senate Democratic delaying tactics and the 67 votes it takes to override Obama vetoes.

“Mitch McConnell is infinitely worse as a leader than Boehner. He surrenders at the site of battle every time,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., told reporters last week after Boehner announced his resignation. Salmon said he texted a fellow conservative, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, “and I said the next guy in the crosshairs is probably going to be McConnell.”

Salmon is not alone. Earlier this month, Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said in New Hampshire that McConnell and Boehner “should go” if they don’t pass bills curbing illegal immigration and cutting Planned Parenthood’s federal money.

The conservative Heritage Action for America criticized McConnell’s “betrayal of the American people” this summer for planning a vote on renewing the government’s Export-Import Bank. And persistent McConnell critic Sen. Ted Cruz, RTexas, another presidential contender, has accused McConnell of lying. Cruz complained Friday about leaders “handing control of the agenda over to Democrats.”

Even so, McConnell seems firmly entrenched as majority leader, a post to which his colleagues unanimously voted him last January as he began his fourth Senate decade. McConnell has spoken to numerous GOP senators since Boehner’s announcement and has not encountered opposition, said several Republicans outside Congress who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

“We support Mitch,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate GOP leader. “There’s a high level of frustration out there with what a lot of people perceive to be lack of accomplishment,” but he said voters “ought to be directing their fire at President Obama.”

House members, serving two-year terms, represent computer-drawn districts intended to keep incumbents safe. GOP representatives usually come from heavily Republican districts, so their main re-election threats come from party primaries, where well-organized and, these days, angry tea party voters are influential.


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