A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: With Senate unable to get anything done, McConnell is facing opposition from all sides

It’s becoming obvious that Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell needs to embrace the advice of the late Warren Zevon and seek lawyers, guns and money to fend off the GOP’s right-wing crazies as they go from nipping at his heels to taking a big chunk out of his calf.

He is, as the song goes, a desperate man.

A coalition of ultra-conservative outfits, including FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the Senate Conservative Fund, who find their influence ever-expanding in a party that seems destined for the asylum, have called on the Louisville lawmaker to resign from the post he has coveted for most of his natural born days, explaining that he simply has failed to lead this great nation into the reactionary promised land.

“It’s time for new leadership,’’ FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said in a statement. “Mitch McConnell has been a failure in the Senate and has cost Republicans almost a year of victories. He has demonstrated that he either does not understand the frustration coming from conservatives and the urgency of passing key legislation – or he does not care.’’

Ol’ Root ‘n Branch, the right-wingers maintain, dropped an easy touchdown pass to eradicate the sin know as Obamacare, which means, horror of horrors, millions of Americans previously devoid of proper medical care can continue to maintain health insurance.

They also note that the search for the right-wing Golden Fleece, tax reform, committed to sticking a gazillion more dollars in the pockets of the wealthy and further inflating the national debt while lower and middle classes continue to struggle, has seemingly reached a stalemate.

And while the House has passed the REINS Act, sponsored in the upper chamber by McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, which would require Congress to approve every new regulation from the Executive Branch that costs more than $100 million, ‘Ol Root ‘n Branch has spent his time whistling Dixie over it.

Ditto the House-passed Financial CHOICE Act, aimed at making mincemeat of the Dodd-Frank Act, imposed to protect consumers after the financial meltdown of 2008.

The leaders of six conservative groups signed a letter dispatched to McConnell, asserting, “It is time for you and your leadership team to step aside, for new leadership that is committed to the promises made to the American people.”

“If Mitch McConnell does not step down, we foresee a scorched earth disaster from a furious Republican base that will take it out on elected officials in 2018 and again in 2020,” said Brent Bozell, president of Media Research Center and a letter signatory, at a press conference about the effort to Ditch Mitch. “It will begin simply by staying home — and rightfully so.”

The external effort to oust ol’ Root ‘n Branch from the prestigious position he desired for so long is picking up steam, although there are no signs of an internal revolt – at least at this time. Steve Bannon, the former aide to President Trump and leader of what has become known as the alt-right, is gearing up to run similarly-minded candidates against establishment Republicans seeking re-election to the Senate in 2018.

He is seeking a single pledge from those he anoints – that they oppose the re-election of McConnell as majority leader.

And then, of course, there’s McConnell’s ongoing feud with the man himself, the enfant terrible holed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or, more likely Mar-a-Lago, where he consistently embarrasses anyone with a lick of sense while determinedly leading the U.S. down the road to perdition.

Mike Allen, the former White House correspondent for The Washington Post who now puts out Axios, wrote recently that Trump is telling associates that “Mitch isn’t up to it.’’ Maintaining that ‘ol Root ‘n Branch is a failed leader, past his prime without the strength or stamina required to ram through his agenda.

Trump is particularly peeved with McConnell over his refusal to change Senate rules and kill the filibuster, a move that often requires legislation to get 60 votes for passage rather than 50 – half of the 100-member Senate plus Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie.

Regardless, the anti-McConnell campaign seems to be picking up momentum and there’s no reason to believe anyone will weep over Mitch’s fate if he is given the heave-ho.

There is evidence, to put it bluntly, that Addison Mitchell McConnell is the least popular politician in America. In addition to the sideswipes from the hard-core right, a Harvard-Harris poll published by The Hill in late August showed that the GOP leader is viewed favorably by 19 percent of those questioned, while 49 percent don’t like him even a little bit.

Amazingly, he may be less popular in Kentucky, even if only slightly so, than the nation at large. An August Public Policy Polling survey released in August had his approval at a ghastly 18 percent.

Frankly, McConnell deserves every bric-a-brac tossed in his direction. It’s impossible to look at the record he has accumulated thus far and walk away with the conclusion he has done a good job as majority leader. It’s a question for historians, but it’s hard to imagine that any of his predecessors ever performed below the level established by ‘ol Root ‘n Branch.

The Republicans are the party that produced such stalwarts since 1981 as Howard Baker and Bob Dole. Even when you disagreed with them, they kept the machine humming and there was never any doubt they had the welfare of the nation in mind. McConnell, rather famously, consistently places party and self ahead of the country and people, obviously, are beginning to notice.

After years halting progress while leading a Republican minority, placing roadblocks on everything and anything Democrats tried to advance, McConnell has proved he is not up to the task of getting things done as the leader of the majority. It might prove as rare as the Liberian Greenbul, but the alt-right, far right, ultra-conservatives, whatever you want to call these whackos are spot-on – Mitch isn’t getting the job done from any perspective and there’s no reason to believe he is capable of righting the ship.

Instead McConnell already is moving to placate those conservatives looking to toss him. On the same day the far-right groups called for his ouster, McConnell sought their favor by endorsing what amounts to a court-packing strategy – abolishing the tradition of the blue slip

There’s plenty he can do – ignore a president defiling the country, cross the aisle and work with Democrats on areas of need or agreement, arrive at a budget everyone can at least live with.

Fat chance.

Instead McConnell already is moving to placate those conservatives looking to toss him. On the same day the far-right groups called for his ouster, McConnell sought their favor by endorsing what amounts to a court-packing strategy – abolishing the tradition of the blue slip.

For years, senators have been afforded the privilege of raising a red flag over presidential nominees to the federal bench in their home states, regardless of party affiliation. The concept was simple – lawmakers should at least be consulted by the administration before making an appointment.

But McConnell, apparently, isn’t much interested in providing Democratic lawmakers with input into President Trump’s judicial selections, telling The Weekly Standard that majority Republicans will treat a blue slip “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball.”

McConnell has always used federal courts as his ace in the hole. Almost immediately upon taking officer in 1985 he abolished a judicial nominating commission set up by Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Owensboro, and his predecessor, Sen. Walter “Dee’’ Huddleston, D-Elizabethtown, to make recommendations of worthy candidates. It was an operation that worked splendidly to the commonwealth’s benefit. ‘Ol Root ‘n Branch dismissed it for purely political reasons.

And the one accomplishment he can point to during his time as majority leader is the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neill Gorsuch, who already is proving himself unworthy of the robe. In order to accomplish that he pushed aside President Barack Obama’s nominee and left the seat opened by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia for more than a year.

He thinks that serves him well with conservatives. The evidence is to the contrary.

The alt-right is, well, right this time. McConnell is worthless. He ought to go peddle his papers elsewhere.


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.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment