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Bill Straub: Focusing on results and not the theatrics, McConnell thinks Trump is doing just fine

WASHINGTON – It took that great philosopher, John Matuszak, to sum up in a single thought what makes America great.

Back in the late 1970s, early ‘80s, the Oakland Raiders were truly nothing more than a gang of outlaws and Matuszak, the team’s standout defensive end, was the most notorious of them all — the Al Capone of the silver and black.

On the Sunday of Super Bowl XV in New Orleans, a game that resulted in a 27-10 Raiders victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Matuszak was spotted on Bourbon Street at about four in the morning, a bottle in each hand and blondes hanging on to all other available parts, and I will let your imagination run wild.

Thus was his game day preparation. Matuszak flamed out early, of course, subsequently dying at age 38, but he managed to note before departing this mortal coil that the way you know America is a great country is that “even the Tooz can become president.’’

Well, the Matuszak Theorem is being put to a severe test in the person of President Donald J. Trump, who in four short weeks has made the Tooz look like the second coming of Abraham Lincoln by comparison. From the antics of his now former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to scanning national security documents with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a public setting that lent itself to observers snapping photographs, Trump is quickly establishing that it might not be such a hot idea to make just anyone president of the United States.

The Trump administration is, to put it kindly, off to a rocky start. His executive order halting those from seven predominantly Muslim nations created chaos and was laughed out of court. His promise to swiftly denude Obamacare is seemingly lost in the ozone. His unending string of lies on matters great and small make John Lovitz’ old Saturday Night Live character Tommy Flanagan (“Yeah, that’s the ticket’’) look like George “I Cannot Tell a Lie’’ Washington. Oh, and he has openly expressed contempt for members of the third branch of government, the judiciary.

As they used to say on 77 WABC in New York, “the hits keep on comin’.’’

Now one might think these events, and others too numerous to mention, might give pause to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, who is watching Act One of this Shakespearean tragedy from a front row seat. It is McConnell, one of the nation’s three most powerful political figures, who might be called on to tidy up this still burgeoning mess.

But we’re talking about Mitch McConnell, the most brazen political animal to hit the scene since LBJ, who consistently fails to place country over party or self-aggrandizement. To him it is all peachy-keen. Like a cop standing over a bullet-riddled body, it’s McConnell telling passers-by, “Move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here.’’

In an interview with The New York Times, McConnell said he and his GOP Senate colleagues are quite satisfied with President Trump thus far and that they are only focusing on the results of his official actions.

The steps Trump has taken, McConnell said, “look good to me.’’

“No matter what sort of theatrics that go on around the administration, if you look at the decisions that are being made, they are solid — from our perspective — right-of-center things that we would have hoped a new Republican president would have done,’’ McConnell said.

The interview provides a precise synopsis of McConnell’s political philosophy, if it can be called a philosophy. It doesn’t matter if a situation is descending into chaos, that real harm is in the offing, as long as he can achieve his personal goal, which is to accumulate power.

The current political situation is perilous, especially for a newly installed president who, for inexplicable reasons, is cozying up to America’s greatest international rival, Russia, a nation that both the CIA and FBI have concluded interfered in the 2016 election in Trump’s behalf.

There have been claims that members of Trump’s “entourage’’ were in touch with Russian government officials before the election. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor, had contact with a Russian official before the new president’s inauguration, perhaps discussing sanctions imposed by departing President Barack Obama as a result of Russian incursions into Crimea. Flynn was forced out this week for lying about his communications, but there are open questions about Trump – what did he know and when did he know it?

Sound familiar?

These are not casual, easily dismissed claims. Yet, given his statements, McConnell appears not at all fazed by the Russia controversy, Trump’s effort to impose unconstitutional entry prohibitions on those from Muslim nations and other highly questionable initiatives, all because Trump is giving him what he wants and the public be damned.

He has refused calls to establish a special commission to review and investigate Trump’s dealings with Russia, saying he will leave it up to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where Republicans hold the majority, to consider the matter if it so desires.

The interview provides a precise synopsis of McConnell’s political philosophy, if it can be called a philosophy. It doesn’t matter if a situation is descending into chaos, that real harm is in the offing, as long as he can achieve his personal goal, which is to accumulate power.

“I don’t think we need to go through setting up a special committee,’’ McConnell said during an appearance on Morning Joe on MSNBC. “But we are going to look at Russian involvement in the U.S. election. It’s a significant issue… We know they were messing around with it. We don’t think they had any impact on the outcome, but obviously we’re not going to ignore something like that.’’

McConnell has received some support from a fellow Kentuckian, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who was much more forward about his reasons for opposing a special panel – leave Republicans alone.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul said on Fox News. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

Just how diligent McConnell, who is, as previously noted, satisfied with the performance of the new president, will be is open to speculation anyway. But it’s worth remembering back in September 2016 President Obama contacted McConnell and other congressional leaders when it was first determined that Russia was inserting itself into the American election, favoring Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Obama wanted to know how to handle the information, whether it should be made public. McConnell at the time expressed doubt about the “veracity of the intelligence” and made it known that if the Obama administration publicly challenged Russia’s interference that he would consider it an act of “partisan politics.’’

Given that, Obama sat on the evidence, to the consternation of the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. Now, McConnell miraculously believes the Russians were “messing around with it,’’ after initially questioning the “veracity of the intelligence.’’

What changed? Trump’s victory, of course. So much for McConnell’s display of nobility.

Maybe The Tooz would have made a better choice.


Washington correspondent 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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