Admittedly, I am no historian. However, I would like to think that for an amateur double major in American Studies and Politics, I have a relatively strong understanding of American political figures. I can think of few that have done more to degrade the democratic virtues of compromise and legislative action than Mitch McConnell.
As some fellow Anselmians are likely aware, the government shutdown currently afflicting our nation is the longest in history. Make no mistake, this shutdown is President Trump’s doing, and he has actually stated that he wants the credit for it. He can have the credit for creating this mess. His childish insistence on a wall is enough, in my mind, for every Barnes & Noble to take The Art of the Deal and move it to the fiction section – or the trash bin.
However, I believe that at least some of the credit for its prolonged continuation should be given to Mitch McConnell. When Democrats took control of the House and Nancy Pelosi assumed her role as Speaker of the House, their priority was not a $15 minimum wage. It was not single-payer health care. The first substantial bill they passed was not about any of the campaign promises on which they’d won their majority. Instead, it was a Republican-written solution for funding the government. Think about that.
The Democrats in the House decided that they would take political motivations and put them aside and give the Republicans a way out of the mess their party leader created. When the House’s solution to ending the shutdown passed the Senate in the previous Congress, it did so with the vocal support of the Senate’s 100 members. There was not a “No” to be heard. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Jim Inhofe found themselves in agreement with moderates like Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski and progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Now that such legislation has been supported by a Democratic majority, Mitch McConnell is unwilling to bring it to a vote in the Senate. He says that the proposal does not have the support of the president – that it would be vetoed. That is almost certainly true, but by preventing it from getting to the president’s desk, McConnell is allowing President Trump to continue this shutdown without facing bipartisan political pressure.
My friends have asked me how I think the shutdown will reach a conclusion. I fail to see a clear path towards reopening the government if Mitch McConnell is unwilling to put some kind of pressure on the president to accept the reality of his own defeat.
For a president who had control of Congress for the first two years of his presidency, Donald Trump has been remarkably unable to get a substantial legislative agenda through. With the exception of two bitterly-contested Supreme Court nominees and a tax bill that had long been the pet project of Speaker Paul Ryan, Donald Trump’s legislative agenda has been dead on arrival. If he were going to get this wall, it would have happened before the majority of Americans voted to elect Democrats to Congress. Donald Trump missed his window. However, it is incumbent upon Mitch McConnell to spell out this reality and force the president’s hand. Yet, if there is one simple truth remaining in American politics today, it is this: Mitch McConnell is the only person in Washington with less interest in advancing the common good than Donald Trump.