Starting his career in the Senate nearly thirty-five years ago and holding positions as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Majority Whip, Senate Minority Leader, and now Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is no stranger to political power. In the past three and a half decades, McConnell has used his power to champion the Republican Party’s preferences into policy; he has helped to keep relations warm with Saudi Arabia, the NRA, and the oil and gas industry, and his opposition to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act led to the ruling that government restrictions on campaign finances are unconstitutional. Recently, McConnell blocked a resolution that called for the Mueller report to be released to the public, called a proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday a “power grab”, and refused to hold a nomination hearing for Merrick Garland. All three of these actions show that McConnell’s only interest is the Republican Party’s domination over the Democratic Party, even if that means the degradation of democracy in America.
On March 25 of this year, a day after special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 election, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Senate to pass a non-binding unanimous consent agreement to release Mueller’s report to the public. Schumer reasoned that “…there is no good reason not to make the report public. It’s a simple request for transparency.” One would assume that there would be bipartisan support for transparency of the report, especially if it would allow the Republican Party to prove once and for all that there was no collusion between Trump and the Russian government. This was not the case. Mitch McConnell immediately objected, stating that Mueller and the Justice Department need “a little time to complete their review in a professional and responsible manner.” However, as a Vox article points out, the unanimous agreement does not prevent the Justice Department from reviewing how to release information, nor does it set a deadline for when the information must be released. One must ask then, does McConnell have any solid ground to refuse to pass the non-binding unanimous agreement, or is it simply to oppose a Democrat-led proposal?
Perhaps less nuanced is McConnell’s response to the Democrat’s anti-corruption proposal, HR 1. HR 1 includes a proposal that would make Election Day a federal holiday, a measure that 54% of Americans support, as it would give people who normally cannot make it to polling places due to work the ability to vote. While addressing the Senate, McConnell stated, “Just what America needs…a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work, I assume our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns. This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? …A power grab.” Several Democratic politicians responded on Twitter, including Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL), who tweeted that making Election Day a federal holiday would be a power grab, but it would be the people grabbing power back from the special interests in D.C.—not the Democratic Party attempting to seize all political power, as McConnell incorrectly believes.
Finally, there is Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold a nomination hearing for former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Only an hour after the late-Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was confirmed, McConnell stated that “the Senate should not confirm a replacement for the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia until after the 2016 election…” This move was an unprecedented action that very few in the White House saw coming, and it would be the first time in recent history that the Supreme Court had an open seat for over a year. McConnell tried to justify his refusal to hold a hearing for Garland by saying the voters should choose their next Justice and therefore it makes sense to wait until the next president was elected. But if McConnell truly cared about the voice of the people, he would not be opposed to Election Day becoming a federal holiday. Politico notes that McConnell considers himself to be the “guardian of Senate tradition,” yet blocking Garland’s nomination goes against Senate tradition, especially considering former Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed during Ronald Reagan’s last year as president.
Mitch McConnell claims to be guardian of the Senate, a supporter of the American people’s voice, and sympathetic to the Justice Department’s reviewing of the Mueller report, yet his actions prove otherwise. Time and time again, his actions prove his true goal is garnering more power for the Republican Party by trying to squash proposals from the Democratic Party, even if that means taking the ability to vote away from the people and, thus, weakening democracy in America.
Very interesting blog. McConnell is a workhorse for the Republican Party and the examples you laid out show that he’s been fairly effective in recent years in pushing forward their agenda (or stalling the democrat’s agenda). I’m also interested in why he shot down Schumer’s request to release the Mueller Report, especially if the conclusion is in favor of the President. Both the rejection of the national holiday for voting and not allowing the nomination of Merrick Garland to proceed appear to be partisan moves and this kind of behavior by the Republican party is unsettling. The failure to recognize legitimate concerns of elected officials is worrisome because it can lead to a lack of diversity of thought as well setting a stage for the consolidation of power in the legislative branch and beyond.
In a sense, Mitch McConnell’s contribution to democratic erosion in the United States is based around his overt partisanship . It is most interesting to read McConnell’s reasoning behind refusing to make Election Day a federally recognized holiday. He outright claims that it is a power move by Democrats to seize power, I suppose his reasoning is that Democrat voters would show out in overwhelming droves to the polls. Also, his partisanship nature clearly shows when he refused to confirm Merrick Garland. Yet, when it comes to democratic erosion the actions of the Republican party and in particular Mitch McConnell is evidence that democratic erosion is occurring in the United States.
I think your post examines Mitch McConnell’s incentives quite well. He’s really done an exceptionally good job of shutting out Democrats, and I think you highlight why this is so dangerous for our democracy. I think what’s also worth noting is how unwilling he is to speak out against Trump. Party loyalty is expected – even required – between a sitting President and his party’s leaders in Congress, but it seems McConnell has given up even the appearance of criticizing Trump. He and the rest of the Republican Party are on an absolute lockdown, they will not speak poorly of Trump under almost any circumstances. Considering how important it is for political leaders to be the driving force behind blocking anti-democratic actions by the executive branch, this is quite alarming.
I think the contrast between Mitch McConnell’s purported role as a guardian of the Senate and his divisive actions in the same legislative body is incredibly interesting. It is revealing that someone who claims to be in such a role (a claim which is likely believed by many of his supporters) is simply another promoter of partisan politics. His refusal to confirm Merrick Garland is the most striking example of this contradiction, as tradition is something he only invokes when it is to his own advantage. Otherwise, tradition and norms can be thrown aside in favor of partisanship. These are the kind of examples that Americans are angry about, but often fail to recognize as democratic erosion. Connecting recent events to the actual term “democratic erosion” might shift attention from annoyance regarding partisanship to concern for American democracy, where it seems as if concern is quite warranted.
I really like how comprehensive this article is in laying out the different ways McConnell has helped increase both polarization and elements of democratic erosion in the US. The worst example of this for me was when he blocked Merrick Garland from being considered for the Supreme Court for about a year, which was a blatant politicization of an institution that is supposed to be nonpartisan. It shows how commonly understood it is now that the two parties must make things as hard as possible for each other in order to signal loyalty to their own party. And now that more democratic processes are becoming politicized due to politicians like McConnell, it is worth wondering if they can ever become un-politicized.