Mitch McConnell speaking
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

He was doing a bob-and-weave with reporters — seek­ing not to repeat sup­port­ive remarks he made about Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Liz Cheney last win­ter — when Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McConnell spoke unset­tling words, four times in a row:

“One hun­dred per­cent of my focus is on stop­ping this new admin­is­tra­tion… I think the best way to look at what this new admin­is­tra­tion – the pres­i­dent may have won the nom­i­na­tion, but Bernie Sanders won the argument.”

The words were eeri­ly rem­i­nis­cent of what McConnell told the Nation­al Jour­nal in a 2010 inter­view: “The sin­gle most impor­tant thing we want to achieve is for Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to be a one-term president.”

McConnell is not about gov­ern­ing. He evinces no inter­est in tak­ing the hand dealt by America’s vot­ers and try­ing to solve or get a jump on the nation’s prob­lems.  He is instead about pow­er, hang­ing onto his posi­tion as a top Repub­li­can, main­tain­ing (now regain­ing) a Repub­li­can major­i­ty in the Sen­ate, and block­ing the oth­er side’s ini­tia­tives… even in time of nation­al crisis.

One of the best pres­i­dents Amer­i­ca nev­er had, two-time Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Adlai Steven­son, put it suc­cinct­ly when he said: “The abil­i­ty to gov­ern is the acid test of pol­i­tics, the acid, final test.”

An exam­ple of fail­ing the test: On Wednes­day, Amer­i­cans marked the Nation­al Day of Aware­ness for Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women.

The day came and went as House passed leg­is­la­tion, renew­ing the 1994 Vio­lence Against Women Act – authored by then-Sen­a­tor Joe Biden – con­tin­ues to lan­guish in the Unit­ed States Senate.

Sen­ate Repub­li­cans allowed VAWA’s autho­riza­tion to expire two years ago.

Mitch McConnell speaking
Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell of Ken­tucky speak­ing at the 2013 Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence (CPAC) in Nation­al Har­bor, Mary­land (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

They object­ed to pro­vi­sions of a bipar­ti­san House bill that extend­ed pro­tec­tion to LGBTQ+ and Native Amer­i­can vic­tims and con­tained a “boyfriend pro­vi­sion” pro­hibit­ing firearms own­er­ship by a per­son con­vict­ed of assault­ing a woman he was dating.

As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again in 2021.

The House has passed leg­is­la­tion, again on a bipar­ti­san vote.

It lan­guish­es in the Sen­ate. As in 2019, Repub­li­cans say they are com­ing up with an alter­na­tive, but no such alter­na­tive has surfaced.

The House bill again con­tains a strength­en­ing pro­vi­sion, a pro­hi­bi­tion against dis­trib­ut­ing sex­u­al­ly explic­it images with­out a woman’s consent.

With con­trol of his cau­cus, McConnell could have worked out a pro­pos­al, tak­en it to the Democ­rats – Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, D‑Washington, is active on the issue – gone into con­fer­ence with House Democ­rats, and reau­tho­rized an impor­tant, work­able piece of leg­is­la­tion… one that works to shield poor and Indige­nous women. In the McConnell world­view, how­ev­er, there’s noth­ing in it for him.

The Repub­li­cans’ strat­e­gy in 2009, large­ly arrived at dur­ing a din­ner on Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion day, was of obstruc­tion, broad­ly deployed.

Oba­ma had promised: “We have a chance to bring the coun­try togeth­er in a new major­i­ty.” Sen­ate Repub­li­cans would have none of it.

In his can­did and telling book – one ex-president’s mem­oir writ­ten by the ex-pres­i­dent – Oba­ma explained at length how his admin­is­tra­tion was snookered.

He scaled back the Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act of 2009 (ARRA), but suc­ceed­ed in har­vest­ing just two Repub­li­can Sen­ate votes. In turn, ben­e­fits from the ARRA recov­ery pack­age were slow to kick in and the Reces­sion last­ed past the 2010 mid-term elec­tions, which gave Democ­rats a “shel­lack­ing.”

Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee Chair Max Bau­cus wast­ed months try­ing to com­pro­mise with Repub­li­cans on health­care. As described by Oba­ma, the scene was a polit­i­cal equiv­a­lent of the “Peanuts” sketch in which Lucy promised to hold the foot­ball, then jerked it in the air as Linus tried to kick.

The House passed ener­gy reform leg­is­la­tion – then-Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jay Inslee helped round up Rust Belt sup­port – only to see a repeat performance.

Sen­a­tor John Ker­ry tried to work out bipar­ti­san accord with a slip­pery Sen­a­tor Lind­say Gra­ham, R‑South Car­oli­na, only to be thwarted.

Block­age and bait-and-switch tac­tics, deployed by McConnell, have hurt the coun­try. Cli­mate dam­age is not just melt­ing polar ice caps and caus­ing sea lev­els to rise, but inflict­ing severe weath­er on the Amer­i­can south­east, droughts and fire on the Amer­i­can West.  In an era of ris­ing income inequal­i­ty, the Great Reces­sion and COVID-19 pan­dem­ic have hit hard at poor and low­er-mid­dle class Americans.

A lot of them live in Kentucky.

Again, how­ev­er, McConnell’s self-inter­ests lie elsewhere.

He is wealthy, hav­ing mar­ried money.

The Repub­li­cans’ 2017 tax leg­is­la­tion, which he mas­ter­mind­ed, yield­ed nine­ty per­cent of its ben­e­fits to the upper ten per­cent of income earn­ers. Its cor­po­rate tax cuts enriched donors to McConnell’s polit­i­cal action com­mit­tees. Being the dis­trib­u­tor of cam­paign cash is a key to his longevi­ty as Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader.

As a young man, McConnell once worked for a civ­il rights-mind­ed Repub­li­can, Ken­tucky Sen­a­tor John Sher­man Coop­er. Any ide­al­ism left him long ago.

He stayed the course of pow­er despite pri­vate revul­sion at Don­ald Trump, and leg­isla­tive­ly served as Trump’s enabler. And he has demon­strat­ed how pow­er is wield­ed in Amer­i­ca. McConnell told the New York Times that block­ing Mer­rick Garland’s 2016 nom­i­na­tion to the U.S. Supreme Court was “the most impor­tant thing I have ever done.” Four years lat­er, McConnell would ram through Trump’s pre-elec­tion nom­i­na­tion of Amy Comey Bar­rett in a few weeks’ time.

“If there’s any pow­er in this job, real­ly — it’s the pow­er to sched­ule, to decide what you’re going to do or not do,” McConnell once told the New York Times. In recent years, that pow­er has been to decide what the coun­try would not do.

Which brings us to Joe Biden.

The new admin­is­tra­tion has vowed not to get snookered.

Yet, in respond­ing to McConnell’s “one hun­dred per­cent” remark, Biden said Wednes­day:  “Look, he said that in our last admin­is­tra­tion (with) Barack (Oba­ma) he was going to stop every­thing – and I was able to get a lot done with him.”

Like what? Wide-awake Joe should not be fool­ing himself.

Gone are the days when Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dents could nego­ti­ate a fed­er­al min­i­mum wage increase with a Repub­li­can Sen­ate leader (and vice versa).

The shrink­ing Repub­li­can base is in no mood for society’s compromises.

Nor is McConnell, set on regain­ing his post as Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader in the 2022 midterm elec­tions. Twen­ty-four years of serv­ing in the Sen­ate with McConnell ought to be instruc­tive: Nev­er expect Mitch to have your back.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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