Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly seems to understand that the gender gap isn’t working in his favor right now, and so it’s understandable that he’d look for opportunities to make inroads with women voters. But McConnell keeps turning to an incident from 20 years ago, which is probably a bad idea.
In Kentucky right now, there’s a Democratic state senator, John Arnold, who was accused of sexual harassment. The state lawmaker was cleared by an ethics panel – though most of its members voted to find him guilty – so McConnell sees an opportunity.
McConnell contrasted the Arnold case to his own actions as head of the Senate Ethics Committee in the case of former Sen. Bob Packwood, who was accused to making unwanted advances toward Senate employees.“I moved to expel him from the Senate,” McConnell said.”
The McConnell campaign has tried this before. The senator and his allies generally like to shy away from his legislative record – McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, the Paycheck Fairness Act, etc. – but believe his handling of Bob Packwood’s scandal in the early 1990s shows that McConnell is capable of handling women’s issues appropriately. He may be on the wrong side of recent legislative fights, the argument goes, but at least in one case two decades ago, McConnell took a stand for women’s interests against the interests of one of his own GOP allies.
The trouble is, I remember the 1990s a lot differently.
As we’ve discussed before, the details matter. It doesn’t take too much Googling to find this New York Times editorial from 1995.
Under rising pressure to hold public hearings on accusations of sexual and official misconduct against Senator Bob Packwood, Senator Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, has resorted to bullying tactics that betray the committee’s nonpartisan mission.Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has threatened to begin hearings on accusations against Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic minority leader, and into Senator Edward Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick tragedy if Senator Barbara Boxer of California keeps pushing for public hearings in the Packwood case.The committee is still in the early stages of reviewing accusations that Mr. Daschle interceded improperly with Federal aviation inspectors on behalf of a friend. And raising Chappaquiddick at this stage, when there is no complaint pending against Mr. Kennedy, is game-playing. In any case, it is improper for Mr. McConnell to hold the Packwood matter hostage to unrelated issues. That is an abuse of his power as chairman.
To be sure, this was 18 years ago, and the fact that McConnell, even then, seemed to prioritize partisan games over his responsibilities is a story that’s probably run its course. There doesn’t seem to be much point, for example, for Alison Lundergan Grimes, his Democratic challenger, to base her campaign on the events of 1995.
But that’s not what’s going on here. Rather, McConnell is the one asking us to take a closer look at his handling of the Packwood scandal – as if he thinks it makes him look good.