The Senate majority leader comes out of his shell.
O.K., throwing this one at you without warning: What’s your opinion of Mitch McConnell?
A) Spawn of Satan.
B) Sort of pitiful, what with having Donald Trump on his back.
C) Can we talk about how he looks like a turtle?
Definitely not the last one. It’s true that many Americans think of McConnell as turtle-like, due to his lack of anything resembling a chin.
But this is wrong on two counts. First, you shouldn’t tackle people you disagree with by making fun of their looks.
Second, it gives turtles a bad name. Turtles are great for the environment and everybody likes them. They sing to their children. You are never going to see a turtle killing gun control legislation.
Mitch, on the other hand, has a longstanding alliance with the National Rifle Association, which has shown its affection to the tune of about $1.3 million in support. Anything the N.R.A. dislikes never gets the chance to come up for a Senate vote. Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is moldering away in a corner because the N.R.A. doesn’t want authorities taking guns away from domestic abusers.
It’s been another terrible year of mass shooting violence. One simple, very popular response would be to improve the background checks for gun purchases. It would at least show our elected officials care about the crisis.
Such a bill passed the House of Representatives and went to the Senate where it’s, um, laying around somewhere. “There’s a whole bunch of Republican support, but he won’t let it move to the floor,” said minority leader Chuck Schumer.
This goes on a lot. McConnell, who has near total control over what comes up for a vote, sits on things he doesn’t like until they smother. Farewell, immigration reform, Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, lowering prescription drug prices, protecting election security, restoring net neutrality.
You can, of course, just presume that McConnell is following Trump’s orders. But it’s hard to believe the president even knows what’s going on. This week, when he was in Europe, Trump twittered congratulations to the House on the passage of a huge disaster aid package, adding, “Great, now we will get it done in the Senate!” Helpful readers noted that the Senate had approved said bill two weeks before.
There are well over 100 House-passed bills sitting around gathering mildew in Mitch’s limbo. What do you think that place looks like? A very depressing bus station waiting room? A hospital ward packed with comatose patients? Or maybe just a dimly lit storage bin where little bills sit around drinking juice and playing video games until the end of time?
All of them in the thrall of Mitch McConnell. Before we move on, can we mention that McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, is the nation’s secretary of transportation, and possibly on her way to serious contention for Worst Cabinet Member?
Check out the Times story by Michael Forsythe and Eric Lipton that detailed how Chao, during the performance of her duties promoting the American maritime industry, has also been lending a helping hand to her own family’s very extensive shipping business, which builds most of its fleet in China. Her family has made more than $1 million in campaign contributions to the senator. Which is generous, but not quite as impressive as the somewhere between $5 million and $25 million that Chao’s father has given his daughter and son-in-law as a flat-out gift.
So McConnell has been doing very well indeed — family money, Senate majority and no irritating votes on stuff he doesn’t like. To be fair, he’s not the first leader who’s pulled that disappearing bill trick. (Possibly the first who enjoys referring to himself as “The Grim Reaper,” but that’s just part of his colorful personality.) His predecessor, Democrat Harry Reid, did the same thing, although Schumer claims not nearly so much. “There was not a total blanket on anything coming to the floor,” Schumer said in a phone interview. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
Well, there’s one thing coming to the floor. McConnell is obsessed with cramming the federal judiciary with men and women of a conservative bent. When President Barack Obama was in his second term, McConnell slowed the confirmation process to a mini-crawl, so he was able to gift Trump with more than 100 vacancies to fill.
Most spectacularly of all, when Antonin Scalia died in February of 2016, McConnell completely ignored Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as his successor.
“Not even holding a hearing on the Garland nomination has to be an absolute landmark in Senate process,” said Joshua Huder of the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
A man who has never gotten a single vote from anyone living outside the state of Kentucky decreed that a man twice elected president of the United States had no right to have his nominee for Supreme Court considered in the Senate. McConnell told Charles Homans of The Times it was “the most consequential thing” he’d ever done. He was extremely proud.
McConnell’s argument was that Obama was too close to the end of his term to make a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. But now he’s saying that if there’s a vacancy before the 2020 election, he’ll of course get Trump’s choice for a successor a confirmation vote. “Oh, we’d fill it,” the senator chortled at a Chamber of Commerce lunch back home in Kentucky.
I know you’re not surprised, but isn’t it sort of awful that McConnell’s so proud of himself? You’d hope that, at least in public, he’d murmur something vague and look a tad sheepish.
No self-respecting turtle would ever behave like that.