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Mitch 'The Grim Reaper' McConnell: Meet the Man Who Ruined the Senate

The Republican Majority Leader from Kentucky has made the Senate a legislative graveyard

 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters following the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Republicans in the Senate hope to pass their tax cut legislation this week and work with the House of Representatives to get a bill to President Donald Trump before Christmas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters following the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on election security legislation (H.R.2272) to strengthen the security of ballot boxes, voter rolls and vote counts against future attacks on our elections by foreign adversaries.

The legislation is important to efforts to protect the integrity of the 2020 national elections, which intelligence agencies have said are likely to be attacked again by foreign countries, just as Russia did in 2016.

These efforts, however, will be met by a familiar refrain heard throughout 2019 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he won’t schedule the legislation. McConnell is literally holding hostage almost all bills passed by the House this year and he has scheduled minimal legislative work on bills offered by Senators, including bipartisan bills.

Instead of legislating, McConnell is spending most of the Senate’s time ramming through President Trump’s executive branch and judicial nominees, regardless of their qualifications, after having blocked an unprecedented number of judicial nominations made by President Obama.

McConnell has mockingly labeled himself the Senate’s “Grim Reaper,” but that is precisely what he is as he kills off the Senate’s constitutional role as a legislative body.

Senator McConnell has imposed his obstructionism on his Republican colleagues with an iron fist. Republican Senators have gone along with McConnell’s shutdown of the institution in the same way they have subserviently genuflected to President Trump’s wishes.

Senator McConnell’s destructive role is not new. Whether serving in the minority or the majority, McConnell has spent his 34-year career in the Senate as an obsessive obstructionist. In the minority, he used the filibuster rules at unprecedented levels to block Senate action. In the majority, McConnell has used his scheduling powers to stop the legislative process in its tracks.

McConnell began his career in politics as a “campaign finance reformer.” As Republican Party Chair for Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1973, McConnell wrote an op-ed in which he expressed his support for public financing of elections, contribution limits, spending limits and disclosure requirements.

Once he got to the Senate in 1985, however, it wasn’t long before McConnell opposed every campaign finance reform he had earlier supported.

In almost every year from 1987 to 1994, the Senate considered campaign finance reform measures to control the corrupting influence of big money in American politics. McConnell led successful Republican efforts to block every reform bill — except in 1992 when McConnell let a bill go to President George H.W. Bush because he knew Bush was waiting to veto it.

Blocking campaign finance reform measures became McConnell’s raison d’être.

In 2002, however, McConnell’s efforts to block all campaign finance legislation ran into Senator McCain (R-AZ) and a major campaign finance reform bill he was pursuing, joined by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). McConnell pursued his usual obstructionist filibuster tactics. McCain beat him.

The newly enacted McCain-Feingold law ended unlimited “soft money” contributions to the national parties. McConnell said that the day President Bush signed McCain’s bill into law was “the worst day of my political life.”

In 2010, McConnell was back in his favorite role of blocking campaign finance legislation. McConnell rounded up every Republican Senator to filibuster and defeat by one vote the DISCLOSE Act, which would have closed gaping campaign finance disclosure loopholes.

Senator McConnell built his Senate career and his rise to power on political money — opposing any and all efforts to curb political influence-money while raising massive amounts of campaign funds. During the 1990s, McConnell became his party’s most prolific fundraiser for Senate races. (He remains so today.)

This combination of roles placed McConnell on the fast track into the Republican leadership. In 2003, he became Senate Majority Whip. In 2007, he became Senate Minority Leader. And in 2015, he attained the pinnacle of Senate power, becoming Senate Majority Leader.

As Senate Minority Leader, McConnell’s use of the filibuster to obstruct Senate action hit full stride during President Obama’s first term.

According to The Atlantic, “In 2009, there were a record 67 filibusters in the first half of the 111th Congress — double the number that occurred in the entire 20-year period between 1950 and 1969.” By the time Congress adjourned in December 2010, “the number of filibusters had swelled to 137 for the entire two-year term of the 111th Congress.”

According to The Atlantic, during the 111th Congress, “over 400 bills that had been passed by the House of Representatives — many with broad bipartisan support — died in the Senate without ever having been debated or voted on because of the inability to obtain the 60 votes required by Rule XXII.” McConnell turned what in earlier decades had been a little used super majority requirement to end a filibuster into the operating rule for the Senate.

A study by the Congressional Research Service in 2013 found that of the 168 cloture motions that had been filed on presidential nominations in all of American history, 82 of them, almost half, were undertaken by McConnell during the Obama presidency.

As Majority Leader, McConnell has continued his decades of obstructionism, using his scheduling powers instead of the filibuster rules.

When Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, McConnell’s response was to shut down the Senate’s legislative role in order to block House-passed legislation. Except for rare exceptions and must-pass legislation to fund the government and increase the debt ceiling, McConnell has made the Senate a legislative graveyard.

When McConnell leaves the Senate, this will be his legacy: Senator McConnell turned “the world’s greatest deliberative body” into a dysfunctional, undemocratic and feckless institution.

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Fred Wertheimer

Fred Wertheimer

Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote government accountability and integrity.

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