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Bill Straub: Mitch McConnell has been called out, however gently; the permanent stain of failure is his

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch” McConnell has spent 36 long years in the nation’s capital splitting asunder a once great political institution for his own partisan purposes at significant cost to the body politic.

Now a group that can’t be ignored is finally calling him out, if only in a veiled manner.

A bipartisan group of former senators has launched what can only be described as a broadside against the Louisville Republican’s leadership. In a letter published Wednesday in The Washington Post, the erstwhile lawmakers, ranging from the revered, like Jack Danforth, a Republican from Missouri, to the little known, like Dean Barkley, an independent from Minnesota, assert that, “Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional duties,” and, further, that “the legislative process is no longer working’’ in the once august chamber.

“The Senate — and the proper functioning of our Republic — are simply too important to be allowed to continue on their present course,” they said.

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

The group, which includes 20 Republicans, cites reasons for their growing angst but little guidance in the way of offering solutions. The Senate, it notes, has essentially ceded its authority to the executive branch, currently led by President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, who, although the authors are too reluctant to note, has made mincemeat of the Constitution and continually jeopardizes the security of the nation he is sworn to protect.

Trump, the ex-lawmakers state without citing him specifically, has assumed, with the Senate acquiescence, the power to regulate international trade – hence the imposition of tariffs on China and other trade partners — the power to authorize the use of military force in foreign conflicts – remember who sent more troops to the Middle East late last year without congressional approval — and the once sacrosanct power of the purse — which has permitted the grifter running the country to divert military funds to build a chintzy wall along the nation’s southern border.

All of those responsibilities are supposed to be on the Senate’s plate. But wait, there’s more. As the ex-lawmakers specifically state in their missive:

“Senate committees have lost responsibility for writing legislation. Rules allowing extended debate, a feature of the Senate that is essential to protecting the rights of minorities, have been abused as the filibuster and cloture have shut down action on the Senate floor. It is now commonly said that it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. This is new and obstructionist; it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture in the once relatively exceptional event of a filibuster. Filibusters are now threatened as a matter of course and are too readily acceded to. Neither in committee nor on the floor do rank-and-file members have reasonable opportunities to advance their positions by voting on legislation.”

And while he isn’t specifically identified in what amounts to an indictment of his all-too-long tenure, the man responsible for all this, and much more, is Addison Mitchell McConnell, who has earned the moniker “Grave Digger of Democracy.”

Last year, for instance, McConnell invoked what is called the nuclear option, changing Senate rules to reduce the time for debate over presidential nominations from 30 hours to two, hardly enough time to get a word in edgewise.

It was McConnell who infamously started the filibuster era upon assuming the mantle of minority leader on Jan. 3, 2007, at the outset of the 110th Congress. The number of cloture motions filed to end a filibuster jumped from 68 in the 109th Congress to 139 under our boy Mitch. Things really powered up after Democrat Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, with 252 cloture motions filed to force a vote during the 113th Congress, which ended in 2014.

And it’s well known that McConnell enjoys blocking legislation, embracing the image of “the grim reaper’’ while depriving lawmakers of the opportunity to, as the ex-senators said, “advance their positions by voting on legislation.’’ As of Feb. 14, there were 395 House-passed bills sitting on McConnell’s desk. None of them are expected to receive so much as a debate on the upper chamber floor.

Sen. Mitch McConnell

But McConnell did manage this week to score political points and firm up his party’s status with social conservatives by offering up a pair of anti-abortion bills that he knew were doomed to failure, an overt political act that has become standard operating procedure since McConnell assumed control, who constantly places party before country.

The 70 ex-lawmakers also note the Senate has abdicated its oversight responsibilities. Anyone who observed that joke of an impeachment trial – starting at the point where the Senate Republican leadership was working as a team with the White House to deflect the accusations – knows that’s true.

It should be noted at this point that the letter writers held that this action “does not have to be viewed as a judgment on today’s Senate leadership.” Rather, the group maintained that responsibility is shared by Republicans and Democrats.

But it’s the height of ridiculousness to fail to acknowledge what’s right before everyone’s eyes – that Mitch McConnell is smack-dab in the middle of everything that the ex-lawmakers maintain is wrong with the Senate. He was the one who unleashed the filibuster, ceded authority to a narcissistic bigot by refusing to consider legislation the president wouldn’t sign, blocked popular bills, changed rules to his advantage to limit debate and filibustered proposals that rendered it nearly impossible to get so much as a post office named.

This, despite the letter-writers’ caution, is the world Mitch McConnell has created. There is no getting around it.

The ex-senators lone proposal is unlikely to gain much support – creation of “a bipartisan caucus of incumbent members that promotes a fair opportunity for senators to participate in meaningful committee work as well as on the Senate floor” could, they maintain, help restore the Senate to its essential place in our constitutional system.

Better yet, Kentucky voters can oust McConnell in November, though that might just be as unlikely as a bipartisan caucus. What can be said is that Trump, even though the Senate failed to convict, is permanently saddled with the stain of impeachment. With this letter, Mitch McConnell is permanently stained with the shame of failure.

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