Mitch McConnell, gravedigger of democracy: Majority leader's shocking power grab

Mitch McConnell has labored for years to seize full power for the Republican Party. Guess what: It's working

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 8, 2019 9:10AM (EDT)


On Monday I wrote about the GOP's long-term plan to turn the presidency into a (Republican) unitary executive office. You might think that it makes no sense that members of Congress would go along with such a thing, seeing as it directly interferes with their own constitutional prerogatives. That was certainly what the founders assumed would be the case. They assumed that human egos would demand that people jealously guard their own branches of government, thus preserving the checks and balances that would keep any one branch from gathering too much power unto itself. But it turns out that the modern Republicans are loyal to their party above all else, and no one personifies that dedication more than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

When the history of this bizarre era is written, it may very well be said that McConnell was the man behind the curtain who made it all happen. Depending on who does the writing, he could also go down as one of America's most notorious senators. No, he's not like those traitors who abandoned the Senate to join the Confederacy, nor is he a crude segregationist like the 20th century's Theodore Bilbo or James Eastland of Mississippi. He's no demagogue like Wisconsin's Joe McCarthy or Louisiana's Huey Long either. But there are elements of all of those men in McConnell, who holds a very special place in that pantheon as what historian Christopher R. Downing called "the gravedigger of democracy."

In a recent article for the New York Review of Books, Downing writes:

[McConnell] stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar [Germany], congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. ... McConnell and our dysfunctional and disrespected Congress have now ensured an increasingly dysfunctional and disrespected judiciary, and the constitutional balance of powers among the three branches of government is in peril.

There may never have been a more cynical politician than McConnell. From the moment he became the Senate leader he turned senatorial partisanship into a blood sport. Recall that McConnell blithely announced after Barack Obama's election that his top priority was to see to it that Obama was a one-term president. He forced the Democrats to change the filibuster rules when he blocked 79 of Obama's judges, beating the previous record. (That would be the 68 judicial nominees that had been blocked in the entire history of the United States.)  McConnell clutched his pearls over this decision, condemning the Democrats for "breaking the rules" — and then refused to even hold hearings for Merrick Garland, Obama's choice to fill Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court.

Since Trump's election, McConnell has been dutifully jamming through hundreds of judicial appointments at breakneck speed. Don McGahn, the president's former White House counsel said he expected the judges he helped choose to spend the next 30 or 40 years unwinding the "administrative state," otherwise known as the progress of the last century. Republicans are laying landmines across the political and social landscape as far as the eye can see.

On Tuesday, McConnell surpassed himself. Taking to the Senate floor, he declared that the Mueller report was "case closed," refusing to even entertain the notion that the Congress has a responsibility to look further into its evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice. This in itself is not surprising. Other Republican Senators have said the same thing.

It also shouldn't be surprising at this point that he shows no interest in pursuing the evidence of Russian interference or addressing the threat for the future. It's begun to dawn on Democrats that maybe Republicans are ignoring it for a reason. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pointedly said this about McConnell:

He ignores the Mueller report and our intelligence agencies or in the alternative feels the Russians were on the side of the Republicans in 2016 — and just might be again in 2020.

I don't think there can be any other option at this point. McConnell has refused to take up any of the election security bills offered by various members of both parties. He clearly has little interest in preventing it from happening again. Considering McConnell's history, one can only assume it's for partisan reasons.

He responded to Durbin's comment with an insolent broadside:

Maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened. Maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn't have seemed so very tempting. Instead the previous administration sent the Kremlin the signal they could get away with almost anything ... so is it surprising that we got the brazen interference detailed in special counsel Mueller's report?

Keep in mind that this man serves a president who practically crawls on all fours in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The idea that the Democrats were too soft on Putin, so he sabotaged them in order to elect Donald Trump, is so inane I'm amazed McConnell didn't burst out laughing when he said it.

But the chutzpah reaches unprecedented levels when you consider the Washington Post's report that McConnell refused to acknowledge the evidence of Russian interference in briefings by then-CIA director John Brennan "and threatened to accuse the White House of political meddling if it brought the issue to the public’s attention," saying, “You’re trying to screw the Republican candidate." When Obama and the intelligence community tried to put together a bipartisan statement in the fall of 2016 to warn the public about Russian interference. McConnell, taking the partisan line as usual, said he was skeptical that the intelligence was correct and watered down the statement to meaningless mush that didn't even mention Russia. (If the Obama administration was too soft on anyone, it was Mitch McConnell. They should have called his bluff.)

McConnell didn't mention the obstruction of justice evidence in his stemwinder on the floor on Tuesday. If he were anyone else, one might be tempted to think it's because he's embarrassed after making comments like this back in the Clinton era:

Needless to say, Mitch McConnell is not afraid of being called a hypocrite. He is a shamelessly unprincipled gutter fighter whose only goal is to consolidate the power of the Republican Party by any means necessary. If that requires digging the grave of democracy, he's more than willing to do the dirty deed. He didn't mention obstruction of justice because he knows it's still remotely possible he might have to throw Donald Trump under the bus at some point. As usual, Mitch is keeping his options open. His only loyalty is to winning full power for his party. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton