Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Republican Minority Leader, has always fascinated me as a master tactician and manipulator who can and does stop Democratic initiatives behind a façade of stoic, confident resolve.
Now, while still impressed with his legislative magic and taciturn manner, I am disgusted with his not-so-subtle assault on democracy and any scintilla of bipartisanship. Determined to thwart former President Barack Obama at every turn, he has announced he will do the same with his longtime friend, President Joe Biden.
McConnell has one goal: deter the Senate from granting the Democrats any victories that might serve them advantageously in an election. Though the Democrats control the Senate by one—that being a tie-breaking one by Vice President Kamala Harris—McConnell can stop any legislation that requires a filibuster total of 60 votes.
An action that apparently gives him great satisfaction was his successful obstruction of Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Garland did not even receive the courtesy of a Senate Judiciary hearing. Consequently, the empty seat on the court, formerly occupied by the late Antonin Scalia, was filled by President Donald Trump with the nomination of the conservative Neil Gorsuch as an associate justice.
The senior senator from Kentucky accomplished what he wanted: prevent a Democratic president from nominating a liberal or moderate Democrat to the nation’s highest court.
McConnell harbors a longtime obsession with the nation’s justice system, delaying Democratic nominations and expediting Republican ones. His view of democracy is one-sided; he’s proud of his obstruction. It seems a questionable achievement, if not one steeped in a mean-spirited attempt to hijack the democratic process.
Most recently, he blocked consideration of a bill to establish a commission to examine and investigate the heinous January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a group of people incited by Trump and his errant claims of fraud in his losing bid to serve another term as president. In his rigidly partisan perspective, McConnell thought that the commission—with membership evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans—was conceived to shine an unfavorable light on Republicans.
Intent on ensuring the defeat by the Senate of the second attempt to impeach Trump, wrongly reasoning that Trump could not be impeached after leaving office, he then uttered scathing remarks about the former president’s behavior in encouraging an unruly mob to attack our nation’s citadel of democracy. The clever and adroit McConnell executed a win-win for him and the Republican Party: a reprehensible president whom the minority leader dislikes was acquitted, and his loyal, misguided supporters were pleased with the acquittal of their beloved and amoral leader.
As I wrote at the outset, McConnell is shrewd, stolid and focused. Negative opinions are immaterial to him.
I do wonder if Mitch McConnell, cynical and hardened after 34 years in elected office, ever considers the general good in his mental calculus, or does he simply and coldly calculate the impact on ensuring that the Democrats look ineffective in passing legislation and thus enhance the elective chances of Republicans in Congress?
Has he been in Washington too long and shed any shred of idealism?
The McConnells of the world seem to embody the worst in national politics, exhibiting no pretense of wanting to work in a bipartisan manner. And, by his measure, he has been wildly successful in claiming the mantle of chief obstructionist in a legislative body once known for comity and compromise.
The very recent defeat in the U.S. Senate of the voting rights bill, one to counter voter suppression blessed by Republican state legislatures, illustrates Mitch McConnell’s power and muscle.
Two words come to mind: sad and unproductive.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.