A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Poor Mitch McConnell’s horrible, awful, horrendous, very bad month; looking for a way out

August has arrived and no one should be happier about the march of time than Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who experienced one of the worst Julys in memory.

During those 31 days, the Louisville lawmaker witnessed the expected appointment of a right-winger to the federal bench frittered away because he forgot to tell the guy who’s supposed to be his good buddy, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, about his secret wrangling.
The incident established the pair might not be so palsy-walsy as they let on.

Then came legislation our boy vowed to block, a measure offering financial support for the manufacturing of semiconductor chips. McConnell publicly announced his intention because chamber Democrats were buzzing about pushing through a spending package Mitch didn’t care for through a procedure that would avoid a Republican filibuster.

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

McConnell eventually let the chip legislation pass through without incident after being convinced the Democratic spending measure was deader than dirt. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting GOP leader the Democrats’ package rose like Lazarus and now stands a halfway decent chance of getting the 50 votes needed for passage.

In other words, as some have stated, McConnell was McConnelled.

Caught flatfooted, our hero assumed his “I’ll show them” persona by leading the Republican pack in voting against a measure other than the chips bill, which, as we know, had already left the station.

It should be noted Mitch succeeded in this late switcheroo, but only temporarily. Regretfully, the legislation his gang put the kibosh on was the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, a bill aimed at expanding healthcare and benefits for veterans, perhaps numbering in the millions, who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their time in the service.

The public didn’t take kindly to the games McConnell was playing with the bill. The effort was further scorned by comedian and social commentator Jon Stewart, who pushed the act hard from the get-go and proceeded to make mincemeat of the Republican opposition.

McConnell is malicious but he’s not stupid. He tucked tail and eventually let the measure pass, waiting, no doubt, for another, less popular, piece of legislation that he can use as his new play-pretty.

While all this was going on, McConnell saw the odds for the one-and-only thing he truly desires in this world – a Republican Senate majority where he can depose Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, as the chamber’s chief cook and bottle washer – growing at least a bit dimmer. Some of the GOP Senate hopefuls, particularly Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania have been, well, let’s just say they’re not ready for prime time.

In Arizona, Republicans this week chose Blake Masters to run against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Masters is a fully certified Trumpster who insists the 2020 presidential election was not “free and fair” and was, in fact, stolen, to Trump’s detriment. He has also expressed interest in deep sixing Social Security but has, as you might expect, backtracked on the whole thing.

Like Walker and Oz, Masters isn’t exactly setting the world afire. Marc Thiessen, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, appearing on the Fox News Network, recently observed, “…we haven’t nominated any witches yet, but the primary season isn’t over,” referring to a failed Senate candidate in Delaware in 2010.

One other bit of trouble. A handful of Republicans seeking Senate seats are on record saying they will not support McConnell for another two-year term as GOP leader. The chances of him being deposed are Death Valley low, come hell or high water. But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who recently won his party’s nomination, has made his opposition clear.

No matter how you slice it, July 2022 has not been McConnell’s most successful month. Things can still swing his way – Democrats could stumble getting the spending package through since they’re relying on the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Az, who is, in the old baseball parlance, a flake. And one of the Senate candidates might suddenly find his or her footing.

Regardless, considering his legendary, awe-inspiring, superhuman legislative powers that should be the next subject for a boffo box office Marvel movie, many appear astonished that the man they have crowned a legislative wizard, a political grandmaster on a par with Gary Kasparov in the chess world, would trip up in such an embarrassing fashion.

It has all been, as they say in tennis, a series of unforced errors. McConnell somehow convinced President Biden to appoint an extreme anti-abortion conservative, Chad Meredith, to the Eastern District of Kentucky slot held by U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell, who is assuming senior status.

Why Biden agreed to this nomination just weeks after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade is one of America’s great mysteries. The deal was in place before Paul balked and refused to turn in what is called a blue slip, essentially a detail where the senator from the candidate’s home state offers his or her approval.

Paul failed to turn it in, leaving Biden to declare the nomination would not go forward.

The explanation was simple – McConnell didn’t tell Paul the fix was in.

“McConnell’s to blame for tanking this because he tried to do it secretly,” Paul said.

Now, one might think that a) The genius McConnell might want to tell his supposed pal and fellow lawmaker about the deal going down, and b) rather than scotching the nomination he almost certainly would normally support, Paul would contact McConnell and raise holy hell to make sure it didn’t happen again, then let it go. But it’s fair to say both men have grandiose views of themselves and an opportunity is missed.

The churning around the spending bill is even more bizarre. McConnell actually supported the microchip bill but he needed a hostage to derail the Democrat’s package and, well, it was readily available.

But with Sen. Joe Manchin D-WVa, griping about the whole rigmarole and the Democrats needing all 50 available votes, Mitch assumed the coast was clear and he released the microchips bill unharmed.

But before you could say Jack Robinson, Manchin and Schumer struck a deal on a $740 billion package that closes a business tax loophole, allows Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry over drug prices, includes funding for climate and energy initiatives and an extension of subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

And they hope to pass it under a process known as reconciliation, which robs McConnell of his mystical filibuster powers.

So the package is alive and McConnell, who hates the drug negotiating provision because he answers to his owners in the pharmaceutical industry, prematurely released a perfectly good hostage. So, in a fit of pique, he went looking for another one, settling on the proposed PACT Act, and that turned into a filly as well.

Assuming Democrats moved forward on the spending package, the next measure likely to get the McConnell treatment is a measure codifying the Supreme Court decision establishing same-sex marriage. Stay tuned.

McConnell insists this is all balderdash, of course, appearing on Fox News, he insisted, “There’s nothing we could’ve done to prevent the Democrats from doing a bill that only they will vote for, so it’s not a question of being played here.”

Really? Then why the threats about the semiconductor bill? Why vote against and delay the PACT Act? Why are some supporters of the same-sex marriage bill fearful of recriminations?

C’mon, Mitch.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Carla Piening says:

    Please remember that Daniel Cameron was handpicked by the turtle necked McConnell. Now Merrick Garland went around Cameron to actually charge the true wrong doers in the Breonna Taylor case. Justice can be slow. Cameron has assumed his McConnell backing will help him win voters for his run at the governor’s race. Goodbye Cameron. Wishful thinking on unseating the likes of McConnell.

Leave a Comment