Mitch McConnell Revels in His Strategy of Political Polarization

During an interview with Kentucky Today, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked what he considers to be his most consequential political accomplishment.

Top of the list for him is the rapid confirmations of conservative judges to every level of the federal judicial system.

“I believe that’s the most important thing we’re doing,” McConnell told members of the Kentucky Today editorial board in an interview on Tuesday. “You’ve heard me say before that I thought the decision I made not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia died was the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career. The things that will last the longest time, those are my top priorities.”

You might remember that, to keep the Supreme Court vacancy open for Donald Trump to fill, McConnell had to go so far as to stop the Senate from even holding hearings on a Democratic president’s nominee. That has never happened in the history of this country.

To make matters even worse, the nominee that was denied hearings was Judge Merrick Garland. In 2010, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who served as chair of the Judiciary Committee on three separate occasions, said this about Garland:

Senator Orrin Hatch said he had known the federal appeals court judge, seen as a leading contender for the Supreme Court, for years and that he would be “a consensus nominee.”

Asked if Garland would win Senate confirmation with bipartisan support, Hatch told Reuters, “No question.”

“I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of (Senate) votes. And I will do my best to help him get them,” added Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman.

Prior to Obama nominating Garland two years ago, Hatch said this:

“The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate [to fill the court vacancy], but I don’t believe him,” Hatch told us.

“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies.

But, Hatch quickly added, “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”

The senator from Utah was wrong. Obama nominated Garland, and still…McConnell didn’t simply impose a filibuster (which had been normalized by Republicans for Supreme Court nominees), he didn’t even allow a hearing on the nominee. That is what the Republican majority leader counts as the most consequential accomplishment of his career.

This tells us a lot about the man who currently leads the Senate. He views Supreme Court nominees simply through the lens of partisan politics and is willing to take unprecedented steps to give his party an advantage, even if it taints what little comity might be left in upper chamber.

Of course we already knew that about Mitch McConnell. In writing about this, Ed Kilgore reminded us of the other dubious distinctions the Majority Leader had to chose from when considering his most consequential accomplishment.

There was his career-long fight against campaign-finance reform, culminating in the legal battle that led to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. There was his famous strategic plan to make total obstruction of Barack Obama, rather than any positive agenda, the focal point for Senate Republicans, which contributed to the poisonous atmosphere that eventually produced President Trump. And speaking of Trump, there was McConnell’s refusal to go along with Obama’s request for a bipartisan warning about Russian meddling in the 2016 elections…

All of this is a great reminder of what is at stake in the 2018 midterms. Every senate race will not only be a contest between the candidates. It needs to be a referendum on the leadership of Mitch McConnell. If the Republicans maintain a majority, we know exactly what to expect from their leader.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.