Comparisons are odious, Shakespeare wrote, and maybe so, but these days, virtually everything to do with Washington has become so foul-smelling that a mere comparison now and then seems like a tiptoe through the tulips.
Comparisons: Recently, Donald Trump has been referred to as Fat Nixon, although I see him more in the mold of moldy old Andrew Johnson; corrupt, racist and about to be impeached.
In a June 9 New York Times profile, Attorney General William Barr was compared by a former Justice Department official to “the closest thing we have to Dick Cheney,” a thought that should send a shiver up the spine of any sentient or quail-hunting American.
As for Mitch McConnell, in past days the Senate majority leader has compared himself to Death itself. He told a fundraiser back home in Kentucky that any progressive legislation from the House would be DOA when it hits the Senate: “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 The Grim Reaper, scourge of “socialism.” Sweet. He also has compared himself to Darth Vader. And Democratic presidential wannabe Michael Bennet recently declared, “Trump is the star of his own three-ring circus in Washington, but there is no doubt who the ringmaster actually is, and that is Mitch McConnell.”
Yes, Mitch McConnell—the smugly smirking Sasquatch who vows to stomp progressive laws flatter than Kansas. The man who told National Journal in 2010 that, to hell with legislative success, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He didn’t succeed in that particular election but he certainly helped lay the groundwork for our current gruesome predicament.
Mitch is the guy who before the 2016 presidential election refused to let the public know the extent of Russian interference and threatened those who wanted to tell the truth (and who now is blocking legislation that would combat more meddling—see below.)
And Mitch is The Grim Reaper who blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, claiming that to obey the wishes of the American people, filling the seat had to wait until there was a new president, but who now has said—to laughter and applause at a Kentucky chamber of commerce meeting last month —that if there was a similar vacancy next year, Republicans would not hesitate to fill it, presidential election year be damned.
So in reality, the Garland ploy was, in the words of stalwart Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, “a naked power play to make pro-business judges set our laws for the next 40 years.”
And that’s just a piece of it. Under McConnell, the Senate has become the GOP elephants’ graveyard, a place for confirming right-wing judicial and executive appointments and little else.
Here’s how The New York Times described it on June 6: “[T]he Senate left for D-Day celebrations after a three-day workweek in which nothing passed. Three minor administration posts were filled on Wednesday, and the Senate mustered four votes on motions to end debate. Meantime, the logjam of unaddressed legislation piled higher.”
Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy complained that McConnell has “effectively turned the United States Senate into a very expensive lunch club that occasionally votes on a judge or two.” According to The Times, “Barely a dozen roll-call votes have been held this year on bills, amendments and legislation, and around 20 bills have been signed into law since January.”
“I don’t know what the hell [McConnell’s] for, I only know what he’s against,” House Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern told The Hill. “… Anything that helps working people, or helps those struggling to get into the middle class, he’s against.”
On the other hand, despite Mitch’s intransigence in the Senate and Trump’s tweets and complaints, the House of Representatives is very busy. Its ongoing investigations of the president have gotten the most press but haven’t slowed the members down, as the president and others have suggested.
It’s useful to list just some of the many pieces of legislation passed by the house so far this year, proposed laws that now languish in the Senate mortuary (thanks to Vox for this, where there’s a more thorough compilation):
HR 1 — For the People Act of 2019, legislation promoting campaign finance reform, government transparency, automatic voter registration and an end to the gerrymander;
HR 5 — Equality Act, protecting the LGBTQ communities;
HR 7 — Paycheck Fairness Act, fighting salary and benefits discrimination against women;
HR 8 — Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, much needed gun regulation;
HR 9 — Climate Action Now Act, including restoration of our role in the Paris accords;
HR 840 — Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, adding child care to veterans’ benefits;
HR 1585 — Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019;
HR 1500 — Consumers First Act;
HR 1644 — Save the Internet Act of 2019.
And don’t forget, among others, several additional bills helping veterans; continuing work toward increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and restoring sections of the Voting Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court; the Secure Act, making it easier to offer 401K plans and convert them into steady retirement income; and the Dream and Promise Act, building a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the children of the undocumented. As for desperately needed infrastructure, there’s a plan, but Trump stomped out before Democrats could present it.
The only things the House and Senate have agreed on are disaster relief, the anti-US involvement in Yemen resolution that Trump then vetoed, the bills that ended the long government shutdown, and restricting robocalls.
Meanwhile, amidst all that senatorial torpor and up for reelection this year, Mitch McConnell continues using his connections, raking in campaign contributions from special interests and handing out plenty of pork barrel cash to his state.
Rich in pocket but morally bankrupt. As mentioned, he’s been blocking efforts to take further action to bolster election security, while according to the website Sludge, lobbyists for the two largest voting machine vendors, “ES&S and Dominion Voting Systems have made contributions to McConnell’s campaign and joint fundraising committee.”
Further, The Inquirer’s Will Bunch asks, “What does McConnell get out of his less-than-vigilant approach to Russian meddling in our democracy? One of his biggest donors (a whopping $3.5 million to McConnell’s leadership PAC) is Russian-born U.S. citizen Len Blavatnik, who’s maintained close ties in his homeland and has business partnerships with two Russian oligarchs who’ve figured prominently in Trump-tied scandals, Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska. McConnell recently used his Senate clout to get U.S. sanctions lifted on Deripaska and his large aluminum company Rusal, which promptly announced a plan to invest $200 million in a new plant… in McConnell’s Kentucky.”
McConnell married well. His second wife, Trump’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, comes from a wealthy and influential family in the shipping business. Her father gave them millions of dollars in gifts that make McConnell one of the richest members of the Senate. What’s more, according to The New York Times, “In all, from 1989 through 2018, 13 members of the extended Chao family gave a combined $1.66 million to Republican candidates and committees, including $1.1 million to Mr. McConnell and political action committees tied to him, according to F.E.C. records.”
The largesse extends to Elaine Chao’s cabinet position, too. According to Politico, “The Transportation Department… designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.” Mitch laughed it off, telling a reporter, “I hope we can do better next year.”
It’s all of a piece. McConnell’s hypocritical and brutal cynicism, coupled with the urge for power and to make a buck any way he can, together make for an egregious attack on the principles of freedom and democracy—in many ways worse than Trump because Mitch knows exactly what he’s doing and how to do it.
A more suitable comparison to him isn’t The Grim Reaper of the spirit world but the mad Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler, the 15thcentury menace upon whom, in part, Bram Stoker is said to have based the bloodthirsty character of Dracula.
Vlad’s ruthless cruelty killed tens of thousands. No enemy was safe but the innocent died, too. In turn, McConnell’s stewardship of the legislative burial ground that the Senate has become is killing decent law upon decent law, many of which would, in fact, save lives. (Let’s see if he’ll allow a Senate vote on making long term the 9/11 victims’ compensation bill the House passed this week after Jon Stewart’s angry testimony before the judiciary committee. “Gosh, I haven’t looked at that lately,” Mitch disingenuously told reporters.)
Don’t be fooled; when the Republicans say that this fatal gridlock is the fault of Democrats, they’re playing the exact same game of projection that Donald Trump plays non-stop: accuse the opposition of those sins and crimes that in reality are your own. Keep in mind that list of forward-thinking bills already passed by the House but deliberately bottlenecked by McConnell, and realize that come Election Day Trump isn’t the only menace to the republic who has to go.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.