Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), reflecting on the results of the midterm elections, apparently thought it’d be a good idea to write an op-ed on his perspective. Naturally, he turned to Fox News, which published a piece under a rather extraordinary headline: “Will Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?”
Much of the Republican leader’s pitch was predictable – McConnell believes his party has been “prolific” in its triumphs over the last two years – but it was the GOP senator’s references to bipartisanship that made the op-ed seem as if it were intended to be satirical.
I have good news: reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated. […] And looking ahead to the coming year, there will be no shortage of opportunities to continue this impressive record of cooperation across the aisle and across the Capitol.
What we can make of those opportunities will depend on our Democratic colleagues. Will they choose to go it alone and simply make political points? Or will they choose to work together and actually make a difference? […]
After years of rhetoric, it’s hardly news that some are more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.
For the record, McConnell didn’t appear to be kidding.
Taken at face value, stripped of any context or history, the Senate majority leader’s rhetoric may seem like an olive branch of sorts. The week after Americans elected a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, there was Mitch McConnell stressing the virtues of “bipartisanship,” “working together,” and “reaching across the aisle.” What could possibly be wrong with that?
The answer lies in everything we know about the senior senator from Kentucky.
I’m reminded of a column the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote last year, describing McConnell as the politician who effectively “broke America.”
No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power. […]
McConnell is no idiot. He is a clever man who does what works for him in the moment, consequences be damned.
As we discussed in detail at the time, whether one finds McConnell’s work outrageous is a matter of perspective. If you’re a myopic Republican partisan, the GOP’s Senate leader has simply taken every possible opportunity to maximize his party’s interests, using the levers of power at his disposal. McConnell, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t committed any crimes in his partisan pursuits, so much as he’s pushed the limits in ways without precedent in the American tradition, ignoring any sense of norms or institutional limits.
And to that end, McConnell has been quite successful.
But if you’re not a myopic Republican partisan, and your principal concern is with the health of the American political system, McConnell’s work has earned him a role as one of this generation’s most consequential villains.
It was McConnell who changed Senate norms to require 60-vote supermajorities on every piece of legislation of any significance. It was McConnell who was responsible for creating the modern judicial confirmation wars. It was McConnell who spearheaded every recent attempt to derail campaign-finance reforms.
It was McConnell who cooked up an unprecedented scorched-earth scheme to undermine Barack Obama’s presidency, deliberately refusing to consider any compromises – even if it meant rejecting his own ideas – in the hopes of trying to ensure that the Democratic president only served one term.
It was McConnell who imposed the first-ever, year-long blockade on any Supreme Court nominee. It was McConnell who was warned about Russia’s illegal attack on the American election last year, only to scuttle efforts to address the crisis in the hopes of putting Moscow’s candidate in the Oval Office.
It was McConnell who decided to shift with the political winds in order to advance his partisan crusade. Milbank added, “[M]ost characteristic of McConnell is his tendency to shift his views to suit current exigencies (on the minimum wage, withdrawal from Iraq, earmarks, abortion, labor and civil rights) and his adroitness at gumming up the works: forcing clerks to spend hours reading a bill aloud on the floor; opposing immigration legislation he’d encouraged; asking for a vote on a debt-ceiling proposal and then trying to filibuster it; urging the Obama administration to support a bipartisan debt commission and then voting against it.”
This isn’t about issues or ideology, per se. My point isn’t that McConnell is on the right, and I’m on the left, so I’m opposed to his vision and preferred policies. Rather, we’re talking about politics on an institutional level. We can evaluate the Kentucky Republican’s views on given issues on a case-by-case basis, but what makes McConnell so destructive is how he’s pursued his priorities, not the priorities themselves.
I don’t blame McConnell for considering partisan advantage important; I blame him for prioritizing partisan advantage above literally every other consideration, including the health and sustainability of our political system. I’m not bothered by his victories; I’m bothered by what those victories have cost.
It’s against this backdrop that McConnell took his pitch to Fox News, arguing that he believes Democrats are “more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.”
If the Senate majority leader doesn’t want to be laughed at, perhaps he should try a less ridiculous message.