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Bill Straub: Where is the Senate traditionalist now? Could he be the Emperor with no Clothes?


After what seems like centuries masquerading as the grand wizard of the U.S. Senate, a man whose ingenious strategies and maneuvers left the likes of Daniel Webster and Lyndon Baines Johnson disheveled in his imperial wake, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell has been revealed for what he really is – a gutless wonder.

He is the emperor with no clothes. He is, as the great Roy Orbison once crooned, runnin’ scared.

The Louisville lawmaker is so intimidated by the specter of President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, looming over the landscape that he is as mum as a worm regarding direct evidence of the man’s racism and misogyny, which is only becoming more overt as the November election nears.


The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

His relentless kowtowing to the Trumpster is a national embarrassment. The man known widely as Moscow Mitch was once credited with being a Senate traditionalist, one who would guard the prerogatives of the upper chamber against all comers. That was put to the lie last week when Trump issued a series of executive orders that effectively shanghaied the congressional power of the purse to further his own political ambitions.

Unable to strike a deal with Democrats, who control the House, over a new recovery package to address the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the national and world economy, Trump, as is his wont, took the strongarm route, issuing proclamations deferring payroll taxes and student loan payments and providing some financial relief for the unemployed. All done without congressional approval.

Trump’s actions are constitutionally questionable at best. As for McConnell, the great protector of Senate procedures?

You go guy.

“I applaud the President for taking action during this emergency to get help to Americans who are struggling,’’ McConnell said.

Now, giving benefit of the doubt, let’s say desperate times call for desperate measures. So what did our boy Mitch say when Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, issued a series of equally questionable executive orders during the immigration crisis of 2014?

“Imposing his will unilaterally may seem tempting. It may serve him politically in the short term. But he knows that it will make an already-broken system even more broken, and he knows that this is not how democracy is supposed to work. Because he told us so himself,” McConnell said in a floor speech.

Now, to be fair, duplicitousness has always been Mitch’s strongest political commodity. It is his stock-in-trade. He has the much-admired ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth without changing expression. He is Edgar Bergan, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd speaking simultaneously.

Of course, the executive orders issue isn’t the first time McConnell has pulled a uie in the middle of I-95. After completing the successful heist of a Supreme Court seat in 2016 – refusing to hold a hearing for Obama’s nominee, U.S.

Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland, because it was too close to an election – McConnell said he would certainly move to confirm any nomination offered by Trump during his final year in office.

Basically, the rationale for doing so is because he can.

Now, in addition to his distress over Trump, McConnell has the willies over the upcoming election, which many analysts are saying could lead to a Democratic takeover of the Senate. The possibility of transfer of power is probably 50-50 or less even though the GOP has more seats to defend and several GOP lawmakers find themselves vulnerable. Democrats basically need a pick-up of three if Democrat Joe Biden topples Trump in the presidential race – polls show him with a small but steady lead – four if Trump remains at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Regardless, Mitch finds himself with headaches galore, so many that he appears paralyzed and unable to unleash the legislative superpowers so many believe he possesses.

Democrats and Republicans have proved unable at this point to develop a third rescue package desperately needed as a result of COVID-19. House Democrats tendered a $3.4 trillion proposal three months ago, extending a $600 bonus for unemployment benefit recipients and providing some relief for state and municipal governments. The Senate, which never really got around to voting on a third relief measure, waited until the end of July to release a grab bag of ideas, primarily benefitting corporate interests while shoving the shiv into the jobless and local governments.

In the recent past, the two parties have been able to come to a mutually beneficial compromise on providing necessary relief. They achieved that by excluding McConnell from the negotiations – Democrats not only can’t stand him, they don’t trust him – leaving the heavy lifting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, representing the White House.

Mnuchin, who has experienced ups and downs at Treasury, proved surprisingly adept at cutting to the chase. He was able to work with Pelosi and Schumer. So this time Trump changed course and placed his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina GOP congressman, in charge.

Bad move.

Meadows is, by many accounts — and I’ll be using a technical, political term here — a moron. While Pelosi and Schumer have proved fully capable of dealing with Mnuchin, Meadows has essentially shut it down. So now the 30 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits face the prospect of meeting the bills without the $600 bonus, a federal eviction moratorium has expired, meaning, according to the Aspen Institute, between 30 million to 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction over the next several months, and local governments are suffocating.

Regardless, now would be a great time for that old Mitch magic wouldn’t it?

Coming in on a white horse to bridge the gap and work to the benefit of the long-suffering American people?

C’mon, gang, let’s put on a show!

Instead, of course, what the nation received on the Senate floor from the Sage of Louisville was, “The American people are not done fighting this virus. And Republicans are not done crafting policies to help them. But the difference between now and March is that Democrats seem to be done being reasonable.’’

To McConnell, Democrats are “treating this crisis like an ordinary political game.”

Compare that to Pelosi’s remarks Wednesday:

“Our differences are vast but we must reach agreement. Leader Schumer and I stand ready to find common ground. We have proposed that we meet halfway. We have suggested that we would go down $1 trillion if they came up $1 trillion.”

“Schools are greatly affected by support for state and local government and there is a great difference between us and the Republicans on state and local funding. McConnell’s position is to let states go bankrupt, and the Administration’s proposal is sympathetic to that view.”

So, which side sounds serious to you?

McConnell has to know the present situation is untenable. Millions unemployed, millions facing eviction, and kids facing the prospect of going to bed hungry.

The Republican Party is the one in charge during these desperate times and it’s hard to imagine, without direct action, that voters won’t take it out on the GOP come Election Day.

But McConnell is so scared of Trump, so scared to act, that all he can come up with is weak tea against the Democrats.

But what McConnell is most fearful of is the same fate that faced Henry Hill: that he’ll “get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.’’


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4 Comments

  1. Willie says:

    Bill, at least you are consistent: All GOP bashing all the time.

  2. Richard says:

    President Kamala will fix everything.

  3. Charles McQuillan says:

    You’re praising Pelosi and Schumer, my god they can’t even control the rioting and violent antifa thugs in their own states. Plus they want pork added to the bill to provide for their political cronies, things that have nothing to do with helping the needs of the suffering work force in this country. You’re a pathetic liberal shill , your opinion contains no credibility at all.

  4. Jerry Smith says:

    “Grand wizard of the U.S. Senate,” Bill? Sorry, all of those were Democrats. But the tools in your toolbox never change. When in doubt, subtly insinuate racism. Or overtly, as you point as scream at Donald Trump and shout, “Raciiiiiiiiiist!” with no evidence. But you’re probably referring to Jussie Smollet …

    I’m all for freedom of speech, so I defend Bill’s right to bloviate. But can we get some other voices and opinions in the editorial section? It’s a bit one-sided.

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