Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign is so proud that he’s turned the once-hallowed chamber of the U.S. Senate into a place where legislation goes to die that it retweeted an investigative report on the topic with a special seal of approval from “Team Mitch.”
"I’m Mitch McConnell and I approve this message." https://t.co/nBmiH2Y1nn
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) June 7, 2019
After controlling the Senate for the entirety of Donald Trump’s miserable presidency, Senate Republicans effectively have one signature piece of legislation they can go back and tout to voters: their tax cut for America’s wealthiest individuals, passed at the end of 2017. Since then, it’s been almost entirely approving Trump appointees, straining just to keep the government’s lights on, and a lot of time twiddling their thumbs. The New York Times reports that “barely a dozen roll-call votes have held this year” on anything related to legislation. The disaster relief bill that finally cleared Congress this week was such a feat, the White House had it shipped overseas so Trump could sign it amid his considerable efforts to disgrace the U.S. on the world stage.
Asked about the Senate’s legislative accomplishments last month under McConnell’s stewardship, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin jested, “What legislation?” Republican Sen. Joe Kennedy, who chided his colleagues to get off their “ice-cold lazy butts,” observed, “There’s a reason that the American people think that members of Congress were born tired and raised lazy.”
But McConnell, he’s proud. He’s running on all that inaction—well actually, he’s running on all the money pouring into his campaign coffers, partially driven by his giant tax cuts for the rich.
It’s especially glaring in light of a new podcast series from Embedded exploring McConnell’s political career. The second episode, titled “Money Money Money,” details McConnell’s obsession with injecting as much money as possible into our political system. McConnell, lacking the usual charisma, likability, and communication skills of many politicians, has made collecting big money and swamping his political opponents the key to his electoral success. As long he has power, McConnell has made it perfectly clear that he will gladly sell out to the highest bidder, no matter who it is. He considers political spending an exercise of free speech, but really the money is just the key to him maintaining power and that’s his sole goal: being in power.
In the podcast, reporter Tom Dreisbach revisits how McConnell championed big tobacco throughout the ‘90s and beyond. He notably helped crush a very popular tobacco regulation bill in 1998, sponsored by his colleague Sen. John McCain. Just before the final vote, McConnell told the entire GOP caucus that anyone who voted against the bill would get “political cover” from the tobacco industry. In other words, he offered to buy their votes on behalf of an industry that had knowingly lied about the addictive nature of a product that was killing millions of Americans. That caucus meeting was originally reported in a Wall Street Journal article, likely in June 1998, that I have yet to track down. But it was mentioned again in an August 1998 Times piece about the Justice Department opening an inquiry into the matter.
The complaint, which was based on news articles, including a report in The Wall Street Journal, said that on June 17, hours before the Senate took a critical vote on the tobacco bill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who leads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, held a private meeting with Republican senators. The complaint said that Mr. McConnell told them that the industry was promising to run advertisements that would give ”political cover” to senators who voted to kill the legislation.
You can also read some of McConnell’s love letters to tobacco lobbyists here. McConnell has defended his position by saying that tobacco was a big industry in Kentucky back then and everyone was pulling for it. Kentucky now has the highest rate of lung cancer in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. McConnell is currently championing his own tobacco regulation bill but, with a number of pro-tobacco loopholes built into the legislation, even that effort appears to have been driven and approved by tobacco lobbyists.
Last year, a Holocaust historian contemplated the way in which McConnell has wielded his power in the Senate to destroy democratic norms and weaken the foundations of our republic. “If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell,” wrote Christopher Browning.
The Embedded series feels like “The Gravedigger, Part 2.” McConnell’s promotion of a politics awash in as much money as possible is exactly what has crippled Washington’s ability to be responsive to the needs of the masses rather than the wishes of a select few with gobs of cash.
I encourage you to listen to the series and if you like the themes in this piece, I have compiled some of them into a helpful tweet thread (feel free to tweet!). McConnell has got to go before he destroys what’s left of this democracy.
UPDATE: McConnell also trying to singlehandedly kill an election security bill.