On March 13, following the U.S. House of Representatives passage of emergency relief legislation to support those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recessed the Senate so he could fly to Louisville to celebrate the installation of one of his proteges, 37 year old Justin Walker, as a federal judge in Kentucky.
McConnell's cavalier act, at a time when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was warning people against flying, pretty much captures the priorities and the arrogance of a leader who has been in power much too long.
It's impossible to overstate the breadth and depth of the damage that McConnell has done to our country and our democracy.
He rose to power as the leading opponent of campaign finance reform legislation, later becoming the defender of undisclosed "dark money" which has polluted our political system. In 2009, he led the Republican opposition to the economic stimulus desperately needed to bring the country back from the financial crisis then spiraling out of control.
He championed the relentless opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which he was nearly able to repeal with Republican votes alone.
He was the single strongest opponent of Obama’s efforts to combat climate change, mobilizing against the Clean Power Act, and denouncing the Paris Climate Agreement.
Of course, McConnell broke all precedent to block Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for nearly a year.
He spearheaded the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and remade the federal judiciary, by expediting the confirmation of Trump nominees, who now hold nearly one-third of all federal judgeships.
McConnell rammed through the 2017 Trump tax cut, heavily weighted to benefit corporations and the richest Americans, on a straight party vote.
He has opposed every gun control measure, and even delayed criminal justice reform legislation which won the support of 90 senators. He turned the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump into a disgraceful farce by blocking witnesses and documents.
McConnell prevented a bipartisan statement acknowledging Russian interference in 2016 and legislative measures to prevent interference in the 2020 election, earning his nickname "Moscow Mitch."
If power is the ability to achieve your objectives and prevent your opponents from achieving theirs, no one has been more powerful than Mitch McConnell.
While Trump dominates the political landscape, we are living in McConnell’s America, where healthcare benefits are never secure, corporate tax cuts are never deep enough; guns are never restricted; environmental regulations are gutted; and the integrity of our national elections is not safe from foreign manipulation.
With his success has come great arrogance. He is increasingly Trump-like in expressing contempt for his opponents. Exulting after the confirmation of Kavanaugh, McConnell labeled those who opposed the nomination as "the mob."
He memorably promised to block any progressive programs, calling himself "the grim reaper," and bragging, "None of that stuff is going to pass."
Recently, in a characteristic display of audacity and disingenuousness, McConnell declared, "I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut . . . I think it's a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you."
We have come to expect this sort of Trump-surrogate behavior from McConnell.
As the fatalities from COVID-19 mounted and the economic damage ravaged our country necessitating federal support for the states, McConnell condemned "blue state bailouts," declaring, "I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route."
In the face of withering criticism, he later stepped back from that position.
More recently, he was forced to apologize, admitting that he was wrong in saying that the Obama administration had not left a pandemic playbook for the Trump team.
It's said that as people age, they become more themselves, and in McConnell’s case, that likely means more arrogant, more cynical, and even more ruthless in clinging to power.
McConnell would shed few tears if Trump were defeated; he doesn’t relish playing golf with Trump the way Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul do.
What matters to him is winning a seventh, six-year term and maintaining the Republicans majority in the Senate.
Being known as "the grim reaper"during a pandemic is probably not the path to re-election.
Consequently, McConnell will bob and weave, throw red meat to the Republican base while claiming credit for relief legislation forced upon him by the emergency and Democrats. Of course, that type of positioning is fair game in politics.
But no one should be under any illusions about what McConnell will do if re-elected.
His long record shows that he is only interested in maintaining his power and pleasing the Republican donor base.
Kentuckians, like millions of other Americans, need economic opportunity and security, and healthcare they can count on, rather than McConnell's agenda of tax cuts for the rich and extreme, right wing judges on the federal bench for life.
Ira Shapiro is a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade official, is the author of " Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?" and “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” You can follow them on Twitter: @ShapiroGlobal and @richarenberg
Richard A. Arenberg is a Visiting Professor of the Practice of Political Science and a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He worked for Sens. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, for 34 years. He served on the Senate Iran-Contra Committee in 1987. Arenberg is the author of "Congressional Procedure: A Practical Guide to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress" which won the Benjamin Franklin Book Award in Political & Current Events for 2019. He is co-author of the award-winning "Defending the Filibuster: Soul of the Senate" named "Book of the Year in Political Science" by Foreword Reviews in 2012. A 2nd edition was published in 2014. The U.S. Senate Historical Office published "Richard A. Arenberg: Oral History Interviews" in 2011. He serves on the Board of Directors of Social Security Works and the Social Security Education Fund. He is an affiliate at the Taubman Center for American Politics & Policy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Providence Journal, and The Boston Globe. He is a Contributor at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter: @richarenberg. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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