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Monday, January 25, 2021

Mitch McConnell: Boogeyman or Straw-man?

Since the Republicans flipped the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was elected majority leader, he has been seen as a one man opposition. The invincible Grim Reaper of any left-of-center legislation that dares rear its head in the Senate chambers. Sen. McConnell’s political acumen, honed by years in Senate leadership, is not in question but his reputation as an immovable obstacle is far too easy an excuse for feckless Democrats to quit before the fight even starts. 

McConnell’s reputation is fueled by more than the scary stories Democrats tell each other around the campfire. The GOP Leader reportedly relishes in his notoriety for putting progressive legislation in the proverbial graveyard. 

This became all the more relevant since Democrats flipped the House in 2018 and even more so in light of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 Election. Democrats in the House have voted on a plethora of progressive legislation that have almost all been stymied by Sen. McConnell in the Senate without a vote. 

Sen. McConnell is without a doubt a steep obstacle for Democrats to overcome. He wields great power over the Senate and its proceedings, but there are no brick walls in politics. When Sen. McConnell refuses to hold a vote on legislation passed in the House or proposed in the Senate, Democrats take their ball and go home. He’s just too big and bad for them to do anything. 

Instead of seeing Sen. McConnell’s resistance and responding by fighting for the agenda they claim to represent, Democrats lick their wounds and cry foul. Instead of engaging with Sen. McConnell on his own level in a political knife fight, they continue to “rise above it all.” When Democrats don’t have the votes to further their agenda, they take it as a cue to give up and maybe try again next time. They should take this adversity as a sign that they need to work harder. Don’t have the votes? Agitate for them. Make it politically uncomfortable for Sen. McConnell to keep blocking these progressive policies. 

Democrats were starting to work toward this strategy in their fight for $2,000 stimulus checks, with an unlikely ally in President Trump. However, Sen. McConnell opposed $2,000 in stimulus and instead favored only $600. But, a few Democrats were not ready to let him dictate terms. 

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) led the charge in the Senate, appealing to Republican and Democratic senators alike to oppose Sen. McConnell. The left-leaning senators proposed that the senators who favor $2,000 stimulus checks withhold their votes for the bloated $740 billion military budget until they came to an agreement on a proper stimulus.

President Trump had already vetoed the budget, a strategic windfall for those opposing it. Combined with the veto, it would only take a little over a third of senators to hold up the military budget and Sen. McConnell’s agenda. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get much needed support to struggling Americans, but when the legislative battle came, progressives found themselves fighting alone. In the end, the $740 billion military budget passed 322-87 in the House and 81-13 in the Senate

I don’t pretend to have all the answers or the perfect strategy to topple Sen. McConnell’s legislative power, but I think that the recent override of the Republican President’s veto is a perfect example of how Democrats are hardly even trying. 

The bar for victory was so low. Thirty-four senators could have answered Sen. McConnell’s obstructionism with some of their own by playing hardball and holding up his military budget to pressure him to concede on stimulus checks. Instead, most of the Democratic caucus fell over at the first gust of wind. 

Democrats will bitch and moan on the news and social media about how unconscionable it is for Sen. McConnell to block stimulus checks; all the while, they can hardly lift a finger to challenge him. At this point, Sen. McConnell is more of an excuse than an obstacle for Senate Democrats. 

Politicians would rather pontificate on Twitter while Americans struggle. Minority Leader Schumer even tweeted that “Democrats will not stop fighting” as he let the military budget sail through the Senate. Speaker Pelosi rails against Sen. McConnell on Twitter and Democrats all complain that something must be done. “Someone with power must do something,” they type in their offices in the halls of congress, seemingly immune to irony. 

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I’m sure there are many explanations as to why most Democrats languish in inaction while Republicans decimate the people’s desperately needed survival checks. Some may believe that they are sure to lose a fight so they might as well not even start one. Others may believe, for whatever triangulating and half-baked reason, that fighting for a greater stimulus will hurt them politically. I believe that some may be in the pocket of corporate interests who would prefer to see that money rush upward rather than flow down.

It’s about time that elected Democrats learned that they are not in an episode of “The West Wing.” Political goals are not achieved by making stirring speeches in the Senate chamber or by having the best arguments on the debate floor. Politics, at its core, is a power struggle. 

You want to beat Mitch McConnell? Hit him where it hurts. Hold up his legislative agenda. Gum up the works any way you can until his obstructionism is politically uncomfortable. Meet obstructionism with obstructionism. Agitate for your goals and then pour on the political pressure. Agitate in McConnell’s own state, which has some of the poorest counties in the country, until protesters are at his door.

Democrats fell flat on making McConnell sweat with the military budget. While I hope they learned their lesson from it, I’m not holding my breath. The only silver lining is that we are inaugurating a new Congress in January, a Congress that could break the mold. A congress that will stand up to Republicans holding the people’s relief hostage instead of rolling over.

More and more the geriatric Democrats, broken by years of conservative hegemony, are giving way to younger, more diverse and more progressive successors. Among others, Reps. Eliot Engel and William Lacy Clay are being replaced by Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. This new progressive bloc ought to use their bolstered ranks to energize the party and fight for progress in the halls of power. 

Philip is a junior studying journalism. Do you think Democrats consistently fail to halt Sen. McConnell’s obstructionism? Are the new generation of progressive politicians the answer to this problem? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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