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Mitch McConnell: ‘Think Of Me As The Grim Reaper’

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“None of those things are going to pass the Senate. They won’t even be voted on. So think of me as the grim reaper.”

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KT) desires to be thought of as “the grim reaper” in his dedication to kill progressive legislation like Medicare For All and The Green New Deal. In front of a small Kentucky crowd on Monday, the Senate leader vowed to stop any “socialist” policy that crosses his path:

“If I’m still the majority leader of the Senate after next year, none of those things are going to pass the Senate. They won’t even be voted on. So think of me as the grim reaper: the guy who is going to make sure that socialism doesn’t land on the President’s desk.”

Mitch McConnell: Masterful Tactician or Major Threat to Democracy?

Progressives would be wise to take his threat seriously. With 35 years of experience in the Senate, McConnell is considered one of the most influential powerbrokers in Washington.

To his allies, the Majority Leader is a masterful tactician with an expansive knowledge of legislative procedures. To his critics, he is a cynical opportunist who has damaged the integrity of US democracy.

Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, for example, describes McConnell as “actively and willfully destroying the senate.” According to Reich, “No person has done more in living memory to undermine the functioning of the US government than the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.”

Critics like Reich blame McConnell for bypassing procedural norms to gain partisan victories.

The majority leader used every tool at his disposal to thwart President Obama’s agenda during his eight years in office, notoriously declaring his goal to make Obama a “one-term president” in 2010.

Most famously, McConnell refused to allow President Obama’s moderate Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing, leaving a vacancy in the country’s highest court for over a year.

Beyond the Supreme Court, McConnell-led Senate Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees from 2009 to 2013. In every presidential administration in United States history until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

Critics argued McConnell’s unprecedented obstructions had nothing to do with the qualifications or ideological positions of nominees, but that they were “bad-faith filibusters… designed either to keep the administration from functioning effectively, by being understaffed, or to maintain ideological advantages on powerful executive or judicial bodies.”

McConnell’s obstructions led to the first use of the “nuclear option,” a controversial parliamentary loophole that allows the Senate to override the 60-vote rule, by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 2013. Reid’s change eliminated the filibuster for all presidential judicial nominees except Supreme Court candidates. In a furious rebuke, McConnell warned Democrats, “you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”

After blocking Merrick Garland, McConnell extended the nuclear option in 2017 to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, successfully filling the vacant position with conservative Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. Later, McConnell pledged to “plow right through” Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process despite allegations of sexual assault, appointing the second successful Supreme Court pick of the Trump administration.

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.’ ” – Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell used the nuclear option a second time in April 2019, cutting the time Democrats could delay nominees from 30 hours to 2 hours. McConnell also gutted “blue slips”, a process that allows Senators to object to nominees in their state.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, condemned McConnell’s decision:

“It is motivated by the far-right’s desire to flood the federal judiciary with young, ideological nominees, many of whom- as we have seen time and again in the Judiciary Committee- are simply unqualified to serve on our nation’s courts.”

Sen. McConnell justified the move as necessary to prevent obstruction from Democrats, saying, “It is time to return this body to a more normal and reasonable process for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities no matter which party controls the White House.” Critics accused the Senate Majority Leader of hypocrisy due to his role in blocking the most nominees in history during Obama’s presidency, and by ramming in partisan nominees and legislation without Democratic oversight.

The Trump administration has enacted historic restructuring of federal courts, with 92 judges secured at “the fastest pace in history.” Critics are concerned lifetime appointments hold hyper-partisan views, as nearly all of them are white men supported by the Koch-backed Federalist Society, an organization dedicated to putting conservatives on the courts. Many nominees are inexperienced (one failed to answer basic legal questions in a confirmation hearing) and some have been accused of discrimination among other controversies.

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board argues the use of nuclear options is undermining the balance of power in the Senate, saying:

“Mr. McConnell’s move to strip the minority party’s ability even to delay nominees represents another step in the transformation of the Senate from one in which the rules force bipartisan compromise into one in which the majority can work its will without consulting the other party. That will lead to ever-more extreme, partisan judges and executive branch officials.”

The 77-year old McConnell is facing reelection in 2020. His initial campaign videos celebrate his role in thwarting Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination and filling the courts with conservative picks. One video features the song “All I Do Is Win,” as the Senate Majority Leader reflects on his partisan conquests, and his campaign website temporarily linked an error “404” page with a picture of Merrick Garland, saying, “Ooops this page doesn’t exist, but just in case go donate and make sure it doesn’t come back.”

Sen. McConnell blocked the most nominees in history during President Obama’s presidency, and has proceeded to fill vacancies at an unprecedented rate during President Trump’s. But while McConnell hopes to be the grim reaper who brings death to socialism, his own role in undermining the minority power of the Senate could come back to haunt him if Democrats win the majority in 2020.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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