Over the years, Beltway insiders and the media have built a myth around Mitch McConnell as a master tactician and strategist who both sides agree is a formidable force in Congress. For the most part, it’s just not true. For all his decades in the Senate and years in Senate leadership, McConnell has only one major legislative achievement: tax reform. The rest of the battles (Obamacare and Obamacare repeal, defunding Planned Parenthood, etc.) have resulted in failures where McConnell was unable to hold his caucus together or thwart the Democrats’ agenda. And he’s undeniably a card-carrying member of the swamp, notorious for working against conservatives in Republican primary races. He was booed at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
But McConnell is paving a laudable legacy for himself in one critical area: reclaiming the federal judiciary.
McConnell managed to block Barack Obama’s replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia for a year. Although the nominee, Merrick Garland, was painted as a moderate, there is no doubt that Obama picked him because he would be a reliable liberal vote on the Supreme Court. It was a huge gamble on McConnell’s part — and it worked. McConnell then doubled down, breaking the absurd Democrat filibuster in order to confirm President Trump’s nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
But dozens of vacancies still remain on lower federal courts. Democrats have exploited Senate rules to stall nominations, requiring 30 hours of debate time for each nominee. At that rate, it would take 11 years to confirm all Trump’s nominees. Democrats have invoked the 30-hour rule even on nominees they don’t oppose.
McConnell, fed up at the pace and perhaps worried about Democrats taking the Senate this year, is plowing full steam ahead. The Majority Leader along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are breaking Democrats’ obstructionism and pushing through Trump’s judicial nominees. Since Congress rarely takes up major legislation in the second half of an election year, the Senate could well spend the next six months doing nothing but confirming judges. And that would be a huge step in reclaiming the judiciary from radical judges who use their positions to expand government and rewrite the Constitution and restoring it to judges who respect constitutional limits and the rule of law.
McConnell has been a failure when it comes to legislation. But it may not matter to his legacy if he can keep confirming good judges to the federal courts.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore