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Bill Straub: A new word to enhance your vocabularly; to describe ‘beyond shameful,’ try ‘mitchful’

Occasionally when following American politics you come upon a statement or claim that is so outrageous, so mind-boggling that characterizing it as shameless tends to understate the absurdity.

Such statements extend well beyond the boundaries of shamefulness into a completely new territory.

They are mitchful.

Those of us who have witnessed the increasingly ghastly career of one Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell have become somewhat inured to the nonsense that often spews from his pursed lips.

Just recently, for instance, McConnell led the GOP charge for a tax cut that everyone and his brother knew was going to blow a trillion-dollar hole in the budget. The Congressional Budget Office said so. But ol’ Mitch tut-tutted at the news, surmising that the cut would, magically, pay for itself. Then the bill came and the deficit for the last fiscal year ballooned to $779 billion, leading the Louisville lawmaker to express concern about the increasing debt he helped create and suggest Congress may need to cut Social Security to address the crisis.

Typical McConnell. His history is full of such remarks. And now we have a new chapter regarding the upcoming 116th Congress. And, let me tell you, it’s a pip. It’s a lulu.

Republicans made slight gains in the Senate as a result of the Nov. 6 election, picking up one, probably two, seats in the upper chamber, bringing their advantage over minority Democrats to, most likely, 53-45, with two independents who caucus with the Dems.

Mitch McConnell

The results were something of a disappointment for both sides. Democrats were at a disadvantage, having to defend 26 seats plus the two independents during the cycle while the GOP had only nine up for re-election. Dems hoped to hold the line, they couldn’t. Republicans hoped to gain a far greater advantage, they also failed.

But the House was a different story. Results in some races remain outstanding but it appears Democrats will gain in the neighborhood of 38 seats and retake the majority in the lower chamber for the first time since 2010, installing a regulator on what Republicans hope to accomplish over the next two years.

With that in mind, McConnell, magnanimous as always, released an op-ed piece warning Democrats to act in a bipartisan manner or face the consequences. Congress had achieved great things over the past two years, he said, adopting a wildly unpopular tax-cut package and confirming two Neanderthals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

These “successes,” McConnell failed to note, were achieved in a decidedly non-bipartisan manner. In fact, ol’ Mitch had to change Senate rules in order to squeeze Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Bret Kavanaugh through and could only get the tax cut via reconciliation.

Regardless, Mitch demurred, citing a few non-controversial areas where Republicans and Democrats agreed, asserting this:

“So make no mistake. The Senate has proven its ability to reach bipartisan solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation.

“And looking ahead to the coming year, there will be no shortage of opportunities to continue this impressive record of cooperation across the aisle and across the Capitol.

“What we can make of those opportunities will depend on our Democratic colleagues. Will they choose to go it alone and simply make political points? Or will they choose to work together and actually make a difference?’’

Regardless, McConnell said, “Senate Republicans will continue our commitment to delivering results.”

Let all that sink in for a moment and remember that it was McConnell who, as Republican leader, almost single-handedly, invented the concept of “go it alone and simply make political points,” starting in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama and extending through this year.

It was McConnell who shepherded in the era of obstruction and non-cooperation that has created divisions that have all but ruined the once proud upper chamber. Ol’ Mitch is quite infamous for placing party before country, best exemplified by his refusal to support Obama when he sought to release a statement in the midst of the 2016 election that Russia was involving itself in the campaign to the benefit of now-President “Tiny’’ Trump.

The record is clear. In his book, The Cynic, about McConnell’s rise to power in the Senate, Alec MacGillis quotes at length the late Sen. Robert Bennett, R-UT, one of Root-‘n-Branch’s closest allies, regarding a GOP retreat in West Virginia following Obama’s election.

“Mitch said, ‘We have a new president with an approval rating in the 70 percent area,’” Bennett said. “’We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win and we begin to take him down one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it’s Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time when the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on. We recognize the American people – even those who do not approve of him – want him to have success, are hopeful.’”

Bennett wasn’t the only Republican to cite McConnell’s obstructionism. The late Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, told Michael Grunwald in his book, The New New Deal, that Senate Republicans were instructed to oppose anything and everything Obama proposed.

“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” Voinovich is quoted as saying. As to the strategy meeting referenced by Bennett, Voinovich added, “He (McConnell) wanted everyone to hold the fort. All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”

And Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, also got in on the act. This again from Grunwald:

Biden says that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any cooperation on many votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators, who said, `Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ he recalls. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’” Biden says.

Yet, after all that, after involving the Senate in a record number of filibusters and blocking the confirmation of dozens of Obama appointments to high governmental posts and the judiciary – hello Judge Merritt Garland – McConnell is sanctimoniously prevailing on Democrats to operate in a bipartisan manner and, while they’re at it, leave Trump alone.

“I have good news: reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated,’’ said the man holding the bloody knife that killed bipartisanship, acting as if it could be resurrected under his watch.

Good luck with that.

“That message may have been lost on a few House Democrats, who have made clear their preference for investigations over policy results,’’ McConnell said in a veiled reference to the numerous outrages perpetuated by Trump during his two years in office. “After years of rhetoric, it’s hardly news that some are more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.”

Then on Wednesday, just to show how very serious he is about all this bipartisan falderal, McConnell blocked consideration of a measure offered by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, supported by Senate Democrats, intended to protect the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s involvement in the 2018 presidential campaign, specifically whether operatives sought to swing the election to Trump and whether any officials within the campaign was aware of Moscow’s involvement.

In other words, ol’ Root-‘n-Branch’s sincere commitment to bipartisanship – as long as it doesn’t stand in his way – lasted minutes.

It’s amazing, really. Staggering. No one – no one – has fanned the flames of division in the 21st Century more than Addison Mitchell McConnell. He knows that. Everyone knows that. And here he is posing as a statesman valiantly extending a hand of bipartisanship to opposition Democrats. What a guy!

Somehow, and this is the most amazing thing of all, McConnell still manages to look himself in the mirror in the morning. How he accomplishes that I’ll never know.

Shameless isn’t a strong enough word. It’s mitchful.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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