In America’s so-called blue states, including Vermont, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell is often seen as the villain, and so the fact the minority leader in the United States Senate is in a fight for his political life back home may provide long-distance amusement at a time when our nation’s good nature has been severely strained by protracted partisan bickering.
McConnell, for all the power he covets on Capitol Hill, is surprisingly unpopular even among his own constituents and therefore he faces a serious challenge in Kentucky’s Republican primary and, if he should survive that test, in the general election next November.
But if he’s looking over his shoulder at his tight races back home, doing so isn’t preventing him from declaring how he intends to manage the Senate if the voters of Kentucky return him to Washington and — and this would appear to be somewhat less likely, but possible — if the voters nationally hand the GOP enough victories in Senate races that McConnell would ascend to the lofty position of majority leader.
His party would have to erase the present Democratic lead of six Senate seats in order to shunt the current majority leader, Nevada’s colorless Harry Reid, to the lesser role of minority leader. That isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but it still qualifies as more of a wish than a reality.
That’s because it simply is far too soon to predict either McConnell’s political fortunes in his home state or his party’s success nationally next fall. That, however, hasn’t tempered his enthusiasm for reforms that would please his party’s most partisan members.
“We are going to treat senators with respect,” McConnell declared the other day, relying on words that nobody would wish to dispute. “We are going to work harder and accomplish more.”
But when he proceeded to cite what his fellow Republicans refer to as Reid’s “outrageous power grab” last year, the adoption of a rule that limited the opposition’s power to block legislation via filibuster, McConnell vowed to return the Senate to “the place of great debates, contentious debates, but where you can still get outcomes on things (legislative initiatives) that have at least 60 votes.”
As a sound bite, that declaration had merit. It portrayed McConnell and the Republicans as the stewards of good government. But under closer examination, it may remind Democrats that recently the GOP has been all too willing to insist on at least 60 votes to enact legislation, knowing that in doing so they doom the measure to failure. There may be plausible arguments in favor of the 60-vote rule, but we suspect Americans like a simple majority.
In sports, the winner needs just one more point than the competition. In city councils, school committees and zoning boards, a one-vote margin is sufficient. In our schools, to be elected class president a student must capture just one vote more than any opponent.
That’s the American way, some would say.
So why would Mitch McConnell, portraying himself as the politician who would lead the United States Senate to new effectiveness, continue to embrace a rule that defines a winning majority as one that has at least a 10-vote margin over the other side?
Not surprisingly, Reid does not appear impressed with McConnell’s commitment to reform. Through a spokesman, he accused the Republican leader of waging “a strategy that was based on blocking things for political reasons, whatever their merits.”
Other Democrats remember that McConnell held Republicans together against President Obama’s agenda and helped to sink a transportation bill, among other things, that emerged from the committee process with bipartisan support.
McConnell has his sights set high. Maybe he should win at home first.
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