Joe Biden got hammered for invoking segregationists, but I have another beef with what he was apparently trying to say, which I took to be: If we got along back then with all our differences, we can get along today, too.
Actually, they did get along better back then. But today—we can’t. It ain’t gonna happen.
And it ain’t gonna happen for one reason and one reason only. Rhymes with Fitch Fuhfonnell. And as long as the Democrats—presidential candidates, Senate candidates, House Democrats, whomever—run around acting like Mitch McConnell isn’t a huge impediment to progress in this country, in his way a bigger one than President Trump, and not calling him out as the one-man Berlin Wall of reaction that he is, they’re wasting everyone’s time.
McConnell knows this is his role, and right now, he’s enjoying it way too much, the way he’s taken to repeatedly calling himself the “Grim Reaper” of the Senate. Recently, he went a little too far even by his own Vaderesque standards. He called any attempts to bring statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico “full-bore socialism.” He walked that back a little Tuesday when an aide told The Washington Post that statehood wasn’t socialistic, but “another example of government overreach.”
Right. Because like, why should citizens of the United States, which residents of D.C. and the Island of Enchantment are (the latter since 1917), have voting representation in Congress? To McConnell, there’s only one reason why they should not: “They plan to make the District of Columbia a state—that would give them two new Democratic senators—Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators.”
Actually, that might not always be true—as it happens, the non-voting representative to the House right now from Puerto Rico is a Republican! But generally, yes, they’d be Democrats. And the Puerto Rico senators would be representing 3.2 million American citizens, which is more than the senators from about a dozen red states (and about half a dozen blue or purple ones).
Statehood is an issue for the future, but very much one that the Democrats must pursue when they have the power to do so. In the here and now, though, McConnell is making much worse trouble.
Everybody complains about the House Democrats doing nothing because they’re not impeaching Trump, but in fact they are passing some things: the Violence Against Women Act; a gender pay equity act; universal background checks on gun purchases; an act to bar discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity; an act to provide legal status for the Dreamers; an act to block the Trump administration from trying to roll back Obamacare via regulation; and, of course, the big bill at the beginning of the session to expand voting rights.
That’s seven bills. All of them enjoy broad public support. And all of them are D-E-A-D in the Senate.
Soon, writes Ron Brownstein in a smart piece, McConnell may face tougher headwinds. The Democrats are going to start moving election security bills through the House. Does McConnell really want to be seen as resisting attempts to prevent Russian interference in the 2020 election?
Actually, yes, or at least he won’t mind. As long as the White House is with him, which it will be; as long as he can go on Fox News and describe the “Democrat” bills as overreach (maybe small-bore socialism) without challenge, which he will; as long as no other Senate Republicans go wobbly on him, which they will not; he can and will block anything.
And more importantly, he’ll also do this: He, and Fox and all the Republicans, will say it’s the Democrats who are being extreme, and they’ll make it look to much of the country like it’s just your basic dysfunction again and it’s everyone’s fault.
No. It’s McConnell’s fault.
And Democrats have to make the country know this.
They have to make a villain of McConnell. Nancy Pelosi is doing some of this. At her weekly press avails, she stands next to a poster that says “McConnell’s Graveyard,” listing the bills he won’t pass. That’s not nearly enough. As I wrote about the Democrats last week, they have to be far more creative about how they approach these things.
And if they really want to play hardball: Open some hearings on Elaine Chao, the secretary of Labor who is McConnell’s wife and who is the subject of freshly swirling charges about possible conflicts of interest in her awarding of projects to Kentucky. And attempting to include members of her family (which owns a shipping concern) in a meeting with Chinese officials that she was to attend as secretary. But it’s those highway projects in Kentucky that look awfully swampy to a lot of people.
See, this is the sort of thing the Republicans would do in a heartbeat. Democrats still think: Oh no, maybe we can win him over. No. You can’t. Take the Grim Reaper at his word.
Yes, job No. 1 for Democrats heading into 2020 is beating Trump. Job 1A is making the voting public understand that dysfunction is not some amorphous thing that’s just in the Capitol Building water supply. No—it’s because of one man. And even if they win the White House, nothing will happen—not Bernie Sanders’ revolution, and not even Joe Biden’s restoration—unless they beat Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate.