A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Count the ways Mitch McConnell’s word can’t be good; another stopgap event looms

The immediate, knee-jerk reaction many people have when asked if they have faith in someone on the opposite side of a contentious dispute is to respond, “I trust him about as far as I can throw him.’’

While Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root and Branch’’ McConnell presents a very slight figure – 140 pounds soaking wet? – it’s doubtful that even the likes of Hulk Hogan could toss him all that far, hence the unease some feel over the deal he cut with Democrats to reopen the partially-closed federal government when it ran out of money last Friday.

Mitch McConnell

Simply put, a number of lawmakers don’t trust the Louisville lawmaker, and with good reason. There are past examples of ol’ Root ‘n Branch failing to keep his commitments. Even fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, has publicly excoriated him as a liar, maintaining that McConnell “is willing to say things that he knows are false. That has consequences for how this body operates.”

Regardless, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, decided to gamble on McConnell’s veracity in an effort to keep the government’s doors open to all. As a consequence, Schumer has been chided by progressive and Latino groups for believing that Mitch is as good as his word. Whether the gambit proves successful won’t be known until Feb. 8 at the earliest.

What can be said, with little chance of contradiction, is that McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, are primarily responsible for the situation that resulted in the partial shutdown and there is reason for concern that their mutual bumbling might set the stage for further inactivity in the near future if the planets don’t somehow magically align.


Congress, after receiving the president’s budget proposal, is supposed to have a spending plan in place by Oct. 1. Both legislative chambers are supposed to approve 12 different appropriations measures to fund the government for an entire fiscal year. The House managed to pass four appropriations bills for FY 2018. The Senate, here’s looking at you, Mitch, adopted a big, fat zero.

Now, to be fair, Congress rarely meets its budgetary obligations. In fact, since the current appropriations system was installed in 1976, Congress has managed to pass all its required appropriations measures on time only four times – FY 1977, FY 1989, FY 1995 and FY 1997.

Given that you might think McConnell and Ryan deserve a mulligan. But McConnell, upon becoming majority leader, vowed to get appropriations done on time. And it would have been possible had he not gotten involved with an inane effort to repeal Obamacare or add to the federal debt with a $1.5 trillion tax cut, with both initiatives absorbing an estimable amount of legislative time.

As a consequence Congress has been forced to approve temporary spending plans, known as continuing resolutions, or CRs, four times. And it may have to adopt a fifth when the current package expires on Feb. 8.

The third of the four continuing resolutions expired on Jan. 19 and Senate Democrats, along with a few GOP stragglers, refused to provide an immediate go-ahead, leading to the shutdown. The primary reason they balked was the inability of the Republican-controlled Congress, along with the imposter in the White House, President (egad!) Donald J. Trump, to address the status of about 700,000 individuals dubbed Dreamers – folks who entered the U.S. illegally as children and now, as a result of actions taken by the Trump administration, are subject to deportation in March.

Chuck Schumer

Democrats, who hold 49 of the Senate’s 100 seats if you include two independents, want to address the situation regarding Dreamers who, in most cases have assimilated into the American culture and have little or no memory of the country from whence they came. So Democrats withheld support for the fourth continuing resolution until the GOP came up with a citizenship plan.

Schumer and his caucus backed down a bit, ultimately throwing its support behind the fourth CR, after McConnell expressed his intention to either negotiate an immigration compromise before the stopgap measure expires on  Feb. 8 or bring an immigration bill to the floor open to amendment.

This is no way to run a railroad, folks.

Critics of the Democratic retreat – the moron at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, by the way, tweeted that Schumer suffered a “humiliating defeat’’ – questioned the wisdom of trusting McConnell, and understandably so. Upon assuming the role of majority leader, ol’ Root ‘n Branch promised a return to “regular order’’ where bills are assigned to a committee for deliberation before being sent to the floor for consideration.

McConnell has violated that rule standard more times than LeBron James has violated the NBA’s traveling rule. And he has paid little heed to his vow to impose an open amendment process on most bills hitting the floor.

But there’s more than that. In order to get their votes in support of the $1.5 trillion tax cut package that passed the Senate in December, he promised Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, he would have some influence in the looming debate over the Dreamers. He has yet to make good on that promise. Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, voted for that same bill after she received a commitment from the majority leader to consider proposals intended to stabilize Obamacare markets.

You guessed it. So far no dice.

And Cruz isn’t the only GOP lawmaker to accused ol’ Root ‘n Branch of playing things fast and loose. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, during the failed Obamacare repeal vote last year, was disturbed that McConnell told some members of the caucus not to worry about cuts in Medicaid, that they would never take effect.

Johnson said he considered that a “pretty significant breach of trust.”

McConnell has been shown to be duplicitous throughout his entire political career, which may account for his uncommon electoral success. In a successful run for Jefferson County judge-executive back in 1976, ol Root ‘n Branch came across as both pro-organized labor and pro-choice on the question of abortion. It turned out he was neither. His consultants praised him for his willingness to say or do anything to get elected – whether he believed in it or not.

In this case accepting McConnell’s word is probably the best move for several reasons. He promised to address the issue on the Senate floor, making it rather difficult for him to backtrack on a statement made for thousands if not millions of people. Even Republicans, Flake being one and Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, being another, could turn on him if he reneges, creating potential problems down the road.

In addition, embracing the Dreamers seems to be politically popular. McConnell being McConnell it’s unlikely he wants to wind up on the wrong side with elections coming up in November. Photos of young people who look, talk and act like Americans being tossed out on their ears, dispatched to places where they have no real connection, isn’t the sort of thing anyone wants to see during the campaign season.

But the best reason for addressing the issue as promised is the easiest – the continuing resolution expires on Feb. 8 and there’s nothing to stop Schumer and the other Democrats from opposing a fifth stopgap measure.

That’s the sort of language ol’ Root ‘n Branch understands.

The NKyTribune’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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One Comment

  1. Judith Oetinger says:

    Thank you, Bill. Thank you for writing of the ignorance at play here and for keeping those of us who read and study the political black hole we are dealing with..abreast of the ridiculous manipulations of Bevin and McConnell, thus to suit their corporate and political ties and to line pockets that are already well lined. I appreciate your research and making the wily ways of our branches of government, revealed and forced to answer for their actions.

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