Politics

The Brilliance of Mitch McConnell

The Senate's leader has earned grassroots praise for his work on the judiciary.

Robin Smith · Feb. 10, 2020

Americans have just watched the impeachment drama meet its end in the Senate following orderly speeches, which was in stark contrast to the scripted-for-cable-news performances in the House demanding to remove President Donald Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been vilified by the Left with terms like “ruthless” and “egregious” because he denied additional drama to the same folks who still can’t get over losing the 2016 presidential election. In the eyes of Republicans, the Senate has, again, done its job — as has McConnell.

But, as recently as December 2017, McConnell was under significant fire from within the Republican Party grassroots for, at the time, his role in fueling the fiery and failed special Alabama Senate primary race. Many grassroots conservatives blamed McConnell for the fact that a key Senate seat is now held by Doug Jones, a lone Democrat senator from the South. Many also called the Senate majority leader an albatross around the necks of the conservative cause — as Nancy Pelosi is to Democrats. The list of grievances included failure to deal with illegal immigration, failure to halt Planned Parenthood funding, and failure to repeal or replace ObamaCare.

Put simply, Mitch McConnell was not exactly hailed by grassroots Republicans.

That was until the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

A month after Scalia’s passing, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland. McConnell cited his former colleague Joe Biden’s own words in shelving the Democrat nomination by declaring no vacancy on the Supreme Court would be filled in the year of a presidential election. The “Biden Rule” originated in June 1992, when the then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman argued that, should a vacancy occur when President George H.W. Bush was running against Democrat Bill Clinton, the deliberating body would “seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”

McConnell’s move was a huge gamble, because nobody seriously thought Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton. But, as it turns out, McConnell ensured that Garland’s nomination never received a Senate hearing, and he provided voters with a big reason to vote Trump. Once Trump took office, he and McConnell delivered, nominating and confirming Neil Gorsuch.

DC theatrics were in full swing when Trump made his nomination to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh. Unlike the Gorsuch nomination, Kavanaugh’s nomination came ahead of a midterm election and shifted the ideological balance of the Court. But McConnell’s steady leadership came into focus as America watched over 48 hours of questioning and hysteria that ultimately solidified the Supreme Court with an originalist interpretation of the Rule of Law. While most will remember the Democrats’ shameful display that displaced anything resembling civility during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, don’t overlook the importance of an earlier stance McConnell took that made this appointment as valuable.

These two Supreme Court justices are the shiny trophies promised by presidential candidate Trump. But, since his first day in office, President Trump has filled over 20% of the circuit-court seats in the country. His 34th circuit judge is being confirmed with three more in the queue for floor action. Compare this record to his predecessor, who appointed 55 circuit judges in eight years. Trump currently still has 128 District Court vacancies to fill.

Needless to say, the impact on the judiciary is already immense, with the guarantee of this campaign promise returning to the presidential trail in 2020. Yet this would not be possible without the Senate and the leadership of Majority Leader McConnell.

McConnell has embraced his role, recently declaring, “You’ll be pleased to know that my motto for the remainder of this Congress is leave no vacancy behind.” He’s doing the work to confirm women and men who are relatively young and intellectually skilled, many with experience as Supreme Court clerks. And their approach to the bench is “to follow the law and the Constitution.”

Yes, President Donald Trump will be credited with his role in placing conservative constitutionalists throughout our nation’s courts. But the ruthless brilliance and powerful maneuvering by Kentucky’s senior senator will forever earn him many accolades for being one of America’s most consequential leaders impacting conservative policy and law.

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