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Bill Straub: McConnell dismisses rules of fair play, obstructs progress, to further his own agenda

WASHINGTON – The United States Senate has been converted into a cemetery during the 116th Congress and it should come as a surprise to no one that the primary grave digger is one Addison Mitchell McConnell.

Much of what the House has sought to accomplish this year has been relegated to the legislative mausoleum controlled by our own Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-’n-Branch’’ McConnell, R- KY. McConnell is regarded by many of the cognoscenti as a savant who plays grandmaster-level chess ala Bobby Fischer while all the other congressional dopes are playing checkers or tidily-winks or some other such thing.


The man now universally known as Moscow Mitch is, indeed, an able hand when it comes to manipulating the rules of the upper chamber to achieve his goals, as ludicrous as his ends might be.

But his abilities have consistently been overrated.

He, for instance, simply isn’t in the same league as Lyndon Johnson, who ran the joint like his personal empire back in the 1950s, and there’s no reason to believe he’s any more talented than predecessors like Howard Baker, of Tennessee, or Bob Dole, of Kansas, both fellow Republicans.

(Bill Frist of Tennessee? Well, yes. But then my dog Elwood could have run the chamber better than him).

No. Where ol’ Root-‘n-Branch undeniably outshines one and all is in the area of shamelessness, a characteristic he seemingly holds a patent on. 

To be sure, shamelessness is a beneficial political trait. It allows one to pursue the most absurd path imaginable and act, as Moscow Mitch almost always does, as if he is proudly offering up the grandest concept since canned beer.

What he provides apparently is what passes for genius in the halls of the Capitol these days, establishing just how diluted that description has become.

The source of McConnell’s vaunted reputation is his ready willingness to catapult generally accepted congressional conduct into the stratosphere, dismissing the rules of fair play that previous majority leaders clung to regardless of the problems they presented. Moscow Mitch, who passes himself off as an institutionalist, is really quite the opposite – someone willing to deep six established protocol in order to eke out something that passes for victory regardless of the cost to the republic.

His history fully displays that pattern.

When Barack Obama, a Democrat, was elected president and took office in 2008, McConnell immediately set about undermining his efforts by filibustering virtually every initiative that came down the pike, requiring 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to get the simplest tasks accomplished. Between 2009 and 2013, for instance, with Republicans in the minority, McConnell led the effort to block 79 Obama high-level nominees. In the entire history of the United States until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

McConnell’s predecessors could have operated in equal fashion, the rules were there for them to abuse. They chose not to.


But Moscow Mitch, as shameless as a porn star, was more than willing to destabilize the norms of democracy that made the system work and turn them to his benefit.

“The big challenge that we faced was the filibuster,’’ Obama said on CNN’s “Axe Files” podcast after leaving office, noting that “adding the filibuster, I think, has made it almost impossible for us to effectively govern at a time when you have at least one party that is not willing to compromise on issues.’’

That party during his tenure, of course, was the Republicans.

McConnell’s unprecedented attack on Senate norms essentially forced Democrats, then in the majority, to change the rules on some presidential nominees, exempting those chosen for the Supreme Court, to require only simple majorities, otherwise the judiciary and the administration would have been forced to run for a significant amount of time on low rations.

Moscow Mitch objected to the change, asserting that “breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American,” neglecting to mention his own part in breaking the rules by obstructing progress just because he could.

He then, of course, after the GOP grabbed the majority, refused to grant a bearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and changed the rules to confirm high court nominees, requiring now only a simple majority, clearing the way for partisans like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. He further dismissed the process known as the blue slip – which allowed lawmakers to object to court nominees in their home states – and limited floor debate on nominations.

If playing chess means changing the rules of the game so your pawn is as powerful as your opposition’s queen, then Moscow Mitch is, indeed, the world’s champ.

Now McConnell, still holding the majority, is following up on that loathsome record by refusing to consider various pieces of legislation sent over by the House.

By various pieces of legislation we mean just about anything.

The House, controlled by Democrats, has passed more than 250 bills this session, ranging from gun safety in wake of the deaths of eight people and wounding of 25 others in Odessa and Midland, TX, to vote security offered in response to Russian intervention in the 2016 election, to reducing prescription drug costs.

Almost the entire agenda – save for measures to keep the government operating – have been dispatched to the legislative graveyard by Moscow Mitch, who proudly accepts the moniker of The Grim Reaper for his efforts, or lack thereof.

How cute.

Meanwhile, McConnell and Senate Republicans have failed to forward any real agenda of their own, other than to say they won’t vote on any proposal that doesn’t carry the imprimatur of President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom.

One of the bills with moss growing on it is the Violence Against Women Act, which attracted bipartisan support when it passed the House in April — 33 Republicans joined 230 Democrats in voting for it. The legislation governs programs aimed at assisting survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault.

In this latest reauthorization, the House added a provision making it more difficult for known domestic abusers to obtain guns, which makes sense if you’re a woman in fear for her life and the well-being of her children.

Moscow Mitch is sitting on it like a hen on the nest. And battered women are fearing for their lives so the Grim Reaper (haha, what a card) can put another notch in his belt. 

McConnell’s shamelessness has carried him far as he continues to brutalize the norms of democracy that have kept the republic operating. The thing is he doesn’t care about the damage. It’s all about winning to him, regardless of the consequences it carries for the republic.

He can do this because he’s safe in the assumption that the good people of the commonwealth keep sending him back. McConnell is enormously unpopular in the Bluegrass, but as long as he prostitutes himself on behalf of guns, and keeps dispatching anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, his re-election looks solid. After all, he’s been in Washington 35 years and they haven’t corrected the mistake yet.

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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