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Bill Straub: Given yet another chance to be a statesman, McConnell chooses party over country


WASHINGTON – A few months back, when word about the Trump administration’s all-too-close ties to the Kremlin started percolating, Sen. Rand Paul clearly stated what has come to pass as the Republican Party’s unofficial position on scrutinizing President Trump’s often disturbing activities.

Fahgetaboutit.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” the Bowling Green Republican said during an appearance on the Fox News radio’s Kilmeade and Friends. “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.”

It’s obvious, to Paul’s way of thinking, the ends justify the means and that GOP lawmakers should assiduously turn a blind eye to The Donald’s unrelenting tomfoolery so long as they can proceed unobstructed on their own merry way.

And that about sums up the approach Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Mitch “Root and Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, are taking to all White House shenanigans that have recently left the District of Columbia aghast. With an FBI probe into Trump administration ties to Russia getting, perhaps, a little too close for comfort, the president fired the agency’s now former director, James Comey, based on some bogus rationale about his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails some seven months prior.

The situation is particularly sensitive since U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Russia, under Vladimir Putin, attempted to involve itself in the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s behalf. And it’s now known that Trump appointed Michael Flynn to serve as his first national security advisor despite official warnings that Flynn’s relationship with the Russian government rendered him compromised and a potential blackmail target.

Trump dallied for 18 days after receiving the information before firing Flynn, a man he praises to this day.

Amid calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the rather curious turn of events, McConnell, in his usual smug way, has declared the chamber will stand pat and let the Senate Intelligence Committee handle things.

His reasoning is simple, really. Handing the probe over to a special prosecutor, or even a special committee empaneled for the sole purpose of looking into Russian mischief and the Trump administration’s Kremlin ties, will starkly limit any influence he can bring to bear on the final determination. Anyone who thinks McConnell intends to keep hands off of any final report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee that might place the Republican administration in peril is a fool.

McConnell can oversee the process in a manner that would be lost if the keys of the kingdom were handed over to a special prosecutor. The only way McConnell will forfeit anything that jeopardizes his authority is if they pry it from his cold, dead hands.

A lot of people, it seems, are trying to convince themselves that McConnell will ultimately do the right thing. They obviously haven’t been paying attention. Doing things the right way or the Republican way, McConnell will always opt for the latter.

Consider his recent handling of the American Health Care Act, that abomination passed by the House intended to replace Obamacare, a law McConnell despises because it was championed by some black guy we let live in the White House for eight years. McConnell has vowed to deep six the Affordable Care Act – hence his new sobriquet “Root and Branch’’ — which has helped provide millions with health insurance.

McConnell doesn’t really care what the replacement bill says or does as long as he can cite it as another victory over former President Barack Obama. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine the package passed by the House is a disgrace of historic proportions – one that will certainly lead to numerous premature deaths and long suffering.

As it currently stands, the American Health Care Act is, beyond questions, one of the absolute worst pieces of legislation that has ever rocked the Capitol building. The Senate will likely improve the measure – not exactly a difficult achievement. But any idea that McConnell is going to swoop in aboard a white horse to save the millions who find their health care protections endangered are in for a very rude awakening.

McConnell has put together a 13-man working group to develop the Senate’s own health care plan – emphasis on 13-man since all of its members are male, despite the availability of several female lawmakers who might have an idea or two themselves. Two members, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, lean so far to the right they’ve fallen off the map completely.

And, by golly, they’re all white.

Not exactly the face of America. Folks like Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, a physician who supports some facets of Obamacare, were left off. As usual, McConnell will brook no dissension.

Now, faced with a burgeoning crisis on health care and Russian influence, when the times call for him to finally show the sort of statesmanship that in the past made America great, McConnell is doubling down on his usual gambit of placing party over country

“I would hope that Sen. McConnell would be a little more sensitive to the fact he’s picked a dozen men on his side, there are certainly some very competent women he could’ve chosen,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, told MSNBC. “Let me start with Susan Collins, who’s been working on revising and repairing our health care system for some time now, Lisa Murkowski (of Alaska), who has some very strong feelings as well. I mean there are many people he could’ve turned to have a more balanced approach to a much more affordable repair of the system.”

No. McConnell is a lot of things – craven, calculating, amoral – but a statesman he’s not.

Over the past 228 years, give or take, any number of factors have gone into making the United States the great nation it is today, the shining city on the hill, as Ronald Reagan put it. One of the most important, but least acknowledged, revolves around those individuals who rose to the occasion at difficult times, displaying courage as they approached the eye of the storm.

Rep. Peter Rodino, a New Jersey Democrat, was considered a legislative lightweight whose greatest contribution to the republic was his sponsorship of the bill make Columbus Day a federal holiday. But, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he showed depth and fair-mindedness during the Nixon impeachment hearings that no one really anticipated.

Sen. Howard Baker, R-TN, meanwhile, after his initial and understandable knee-jerk reaction to protect the president of his party at the outset of the Watergate hearings, rose in righteous indignation to the administration’s high crimes and misdemeanors.

Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-IL, a conservative who was the long-time minority leader in the upper chamber, came up with the votes necessary to help President Lyndon Johnson pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Al Smith, a New York assemblyman and Tammany Hall regular, was appointed to the commission investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 with the thought he wouldn’t make waves. But, as observers at the hearings noted, Smith could be seen growing angrier and angrier the more he heard about the terrible conditions that resulted in 146 poor, young women dying in that blaze. The reforms he helped develop can be seen to this day.

All those individuals proved to be statesmen. McConnell has shown over and over again during his 40 years in the public eye that he is the anti-statesman, a conniving apparatchik all-too-willing to sell out the national interest to gain a political advantage.

Now, faced with a burgeoning crisis on health care and Russian influence, when the times call for him to finally show the sort of statesmanship that in the past made America great, McConnell is doubling down on his usual gambit of placing party over country.

No one should be surprised.

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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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