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Bill Straub: True to his character, McConnell changes his stance on potential U.S. Supreme Court vacancy

WASHINGTON – Sometimes it seems Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell is bound and determined to prove to the world that he is a malevolent cad and, in the stated view of one respected historian, the “grave digger of American democracy.’’


Most successful politicians try to hide their personal flaws to attract public support. McConnell, of Louisville, forges a different route, showcasing his soullessness, his indecency and his spitefulness, then promoting those disreputable characteristics as positive aspects of his unprincipled personality. His endeavors truly display, out in the open, that ol’ Root-‘n-Branch cares not a fig for the people who elected him nor, for that matter, the nation as a whole.

No, the only thing that motivates Addison Mitchell McConnell is power. And his never-ending pursuit of same, forsaking all else, is sure to be his epitaph.

This week McConnell made clear that, should a vacancy occur on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020, the final year of President Extreme Stable Genius’s term, he will work to see that ESG’s nominee is confirmed.

That normally wouldn’t be earth-shattering. But it runs counter to a previously held position. In 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell refused to permit so much as a hearing for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland, the choice of outgoing President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to fill the seat.

That was then. This is now. In explaining his ignominious position, McConnell insisted there was precedent for not considering a president’s Supreme Court nomination during the final year of his/her term, although examples are few. Instead, he maintained, “let the American people decide’’ through the ballot box in choosing the president’s successor.

That rationale from ol’ Root-‘n-Branch was baloney from the get-go and everyone with half a brain knew it. It was all part of McConnell’s grand scheme to politicize the federal judiciary. He is not swayed by the rules of fair play or civility. Garland’s nomination went unconsidered. ESG opted for arch conservative Neil Gorsuch and the rest is history.

But there was Mitch, addressing the Paducah Chamber of Commerce, smugly acknowledging that, should a vacancy occur during the finale of the ESG administration, “Oh, we’d fill it.’’

His reasoning this time is even lamer than the Garland calculation – Obama was a Democrat while Republicans were the majority in the Senate. Now the GOP retains power in the upper chamber and the president is, likewise, a Republican, so McConnell no longer feels motivated to “let the American people decide.’’

Even a burglar could have said it better than that.

McConnell apparently made this pronouncement with something of a smirk. He knows he’s going to get lambasted over the statement but he simply doesn’t care. Kentuckians have sent him to the upper chamber five times and will probably make it six come November 2020 for reasons that are blowing in the wind. Regardless, in Mitch World his allegiance is not owed to the United States or the folks he represents. His blood oath is to the Republican Party and the wealthy donors who own him.

It’s been said before but it’s always worth repeating – party over country.

Decency, and what anyone has to say about it in relation to McConnell, means very little. For some stupefying reason according to reports he enjoys being referred to as Darth Vader or any other form of evil incarnate. During a recent presentation in Owensboro he vowed to serve as the “grim reaper’’ in the Senate when it comes to progressive policies like, oh, clean air and election reform.

Stonewalling has always been ol’ Root-‘n-Branch’s stock in trade. He rarely brings anything beneficial to the table. His intent has always been to stand in the way. It started with campaign finance reform when he butt heads with the late Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, beginning in the 1990s and trickling into the 2000s.

When the nation was thunderstruck by the economic collapse of 2008, it was McConnell who watered down the Obama administration’s recovery act, thus gumming up the process. He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act – better known as Obamacare – by “root and branch.’’

Ol’ Mitch did everything within his considerable power to waylay dozens of Obama’s judicial nominations, forcing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, then head of the majority, to change the rules to prohibit filibusters on appointments to federal district and circuit courts. That came after McConnell blocked votes on a pair of Obama nominations to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered the second most powerful court in the nation.

And he’s still tossing monkey wrenches hither and yon. On Wednesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller confirmed that, “There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election’’ by Russia in 2016, adding that the allegation “deserves the attention of every American today.”


Some folks, including Republicans like Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri, want to address the issue. Not McConnell. For unstated reasons he has opted to block any election security bill from consideration this year. There are plenty of bills to choose from – the Secure Elections Act, the Protecting the Right to Independent and Democratic Elections (PRIDE) Act, the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act, and the bipartisan Honest Ads Act.

McConnell has said no to all of it. And it shouldn’t be forgotten it was dear, old Mitch who refused to sign on to an Obama administration initiative to inform the public that Russia was nosing in on the election process three years ago to ESG’s benefit. That alone should gain him the enmity of the American public.

And what has Mitch accomplished in 35 years in the Senate that didn’t involve stonewalling? He managed to get an amendment attached to the Farm Bill last year that legalizes industrial hemp. Nice proposal and it might ultimately benefit the commonwealth, which at one time led the nation in hemp production. But if that’s your greatest accomplishment, compared to the record of vile destruction you have wrought over three decades, you might want to pull the covers over your head.

Back in the spring of 1954, the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations held a series of hearings regarding claims that Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-WI, pressured the U.S. Army to give special treatment to a former aide. McCarthy countered that the military was retaliating for claims he made regarding communist infiltration of the ranks.

The army was represented at the hearings by attorney Joseph Welch. At one point, Tail Gunner Joe, an evil man, noted a young lawyer in Welch’s office had belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, a group thought to have communist connections.

Welch took offense.

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?’’ Welch asked at one point. “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?’’

That question needs to be asked again.

NKyTribune’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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