McConnell’s wins, America’s losses: A Senate partisan departs

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

What is Mitch McConnell’s legacy as leader of Senate Republicans? A lot of procedurally astute but brazenly hypocritical moves to strengthen the power of his party in the chamber.

He twisted the rules to set a pernicious, disrespectful, anti-democratic precedent that in an election year, a president’s Supreme Court nominee would be summarily denied hearings. And so, Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement was not Merrick Garland, tapped by President Barack Obama, but Neil Gorsuch, chosen by Donald Trump.


Then, in a breathtaking turnabout in 2020, McConnell ignored his own rule to rush through another Trump choice, Amy Coney Barrett, to fill the seat vacated by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In early 2021, he voted to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial over his role on Jan. 6 and his refusal to accept the 2020 election results — failing to take the one definitive step that would have barred the demagogue and wannabe dictator from holding any office again.

In practically the same breath, he took to the Senate floor and delivered pointed remarks truthfully stating that “Jan. 6 was a disgrace,” and that “American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like,” and that “they did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election,” and that “former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

When the president was named George W. Bush, McConnell pressed for unpaid-for tax cuts that gave the biggest benefits to highest-income Americans. When the president was named Obama, McConnell tacked hard in the wind, blaming the president for every dollar of budget imbalance and using the nation’s debt limit as a bargaining tool.

When the president was named Trump, McConnell again championed irresponsible tax hikes that again ballooned deficits and debt.

And now, with Joe Biden in the big chair, McConnell has again assumed the role of fiscal mischief-maker, empowering those on the hard right who wanted to take the country to the brink.

The list goes on. McConnell insisted that the United States deliver military aid to Ukraine be yoked to immigration reforms — then, under pressure from Trump, folded like a T-shirt and voted to kill the deal. Other Republicans showed a modicum of courage. The leader buckled.

And though McConnell was a lead warrior against Obama nominees up and down the federal judiciary, he blindly pushed through judge after judge nominated by Trump, including many rated unqualified by the American Bar Association. The courts will live with the consequences of that brazen hypocrisy for generations.

That’s not all. In the wake of a threat on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life, McConnell demanded Democratic action on a bill stepping up security around Supreme Court justices’ homes — but has had no answer other than more guns everywhere for school shootings that have torn at the nation’s very soul.

Mitch McConnell will be remembered as a savvy tactician who, by skillfully manipulating the rules of the Senate, got the better of Democrats in many partisan battles. He will also be remembered as a man who, though claiming to put principle above all else, proved he had almost none.