Mitch McConnell is a hypocrite far beyond his treatment of Supreme Court nominees. Here is a (long but incomplete) list of areas in which his voting record and other political actions have been inconsistent over the course of his career.
As a child, McConnell contracted polio, for which he received treatment at the (subsidized) Roosevelt Warm Springs Center for Rehabilitation. As a result of that experience, which nearly bankrupted his family, he advocated strongly for affordable healthcare in the early years of his political career. Decades later, he is now one of the most vocal and instrumental opponents of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare for All, and other plans to increase access to health care across the country.
2. Voting Rights (and Civil Rights)
In 1964, McConnell attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the event that famously featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. McConnell voted for renewals of the voting rights act in 1986 and 2006. This year, however, he has refused to hold hearings in the Senate on the restoration of the Voting Rights Act for over 300 days, making him a major obstacle to equal access to voting. He has also pushed for increased identification requirements for voting throughout his tenure in the Senate, sometimes with the explicit purpose of decreasing Democratic voter turnout.
Before his election to the Senate, McConnell was the chief executive of Jefferson County, Kentucky, a position that then included the city of Louisville. According to journalist Alec MacGillis, he was considered a pro-choice advocate at that time, as was normal for Republicans in the 1970s. However, following his senatorial victory in 1984, for which he enlisted the help of future Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, McConnell appears to have changed course on a number of issues. His voting record in the Senate has been strongly anti-choice, and many of his other actions have helped fuel social conservatives who push the issue.
4. Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining
In 1977, when McConnell was running for his first elected position as a relatively unknown candidate, he courted the support of local labor unions in order to secure that victory. McConnell attended an AFL-CIO dinner, and speaking to labor leaders. At one of those meetings, when asked directly about whether he supported collective bargaining agreements, he answered in the affirmative. However, since joining the Senate, McConnell has not only abandoned collective bargaining as an issue, but has repeatedly voted against bills that would strengthen labor unions. Perhaps more impactfully, when he blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, he set in motion events that eventually created the court that would rule (5–4) on Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. That case weakened unions by stating that public sector employees could not be required to pay union dues.
5. Debt Ceiling
At various points throughout his career, McConnell has promoted raising the federal debt ceiling in order to avoid a default, sometimes leveraging that ability to accomplish other ends. However, in 2020, with millions of Americans desperate for economic relief during the Covid-19 pandemic, McConnell and other Republicans have used the rising national debt as as excuse to block a second Covid-19 relief package.
Senator McConnell has simultaneously used to the filibuster in impactful and sometimes shady ways, while simultaneously taking steps to remove its power for others. In his efforts to make the Democratic party appear fractured in 2012, McConnell attempted to set up the Democrats in Congress by calling a vote on a bill to raise the debt ceiling that was supported by President Obama, thinking that the Democratic coalition would reject the bill. When Democrats instead called his bluff and pledged to support the measure, McConnell filibustered a vote he had himself called. Then, in 2017, McConnell led Senate Republicans in lowering the vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to 51, effectively eliminating the power of the filibuster from that decision.
7. Campaign Finance Reform
In a 1977 op-ed in The Courier-Journal, McConnell advocated strongly for campaign finance reform, calling large and pressure-filled political contributions a “cancer.” However, since being elected to the Senate, McConnell has opposed most bills that seek to limit campaign contributions and that require transparency from those making donations.
8. Gun Control
Throughout his career, McConnell has tended to vote against regulations on gun ownership and sales, including voting against the Brady Handgun Bill, known as the “Brady Bill.” He has also held up gun control legislation in his role as Senate Majority Leader. At the same time, he pays lip service to the issue, claiming repeatedly to be willing to entertain gun control legislation if President Trump supports it, highly unlikely statements given his voting record.
9. Climate Change
While McConnell, at least recently, has said that he believes in human-caused climate change, his voting record does not reflect that stance. While it is unclear what he himself believes, his voting record on this issue may have to do with his high-profile donors in the oil, gas, and coal industries.
10. Judicial Appointments (other than the Supreme Court)
McConnell regularly boasts about how, particularly in the last two years of President Obama’s administration, he blocked dozens of lifetime judicial nominees in an effort to save those nominations for a Republican president. However, once President Trump took office, McConnell ramped up judicial hearings, allowing Trump to appoint a higher number of judges in his first term than almost any other president. In an especially insidious maneuver, McConnell also reportedly urged many federal judges to retire ahead of the 2020 election, in order to allow himself and President Trump to nominate and vote through their conservative replacements.
11. Supreme Court Appointments
In 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died about some nine months before the next presidential election, McConnell argued that “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” However, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away less than two months before a presidential election, McConnell assured the country that President Trump’s nominee would get a swift vote. His divergent treatment of Supreme Court nominees represents perhaps his most glaringly hypocritical and consequential stance as a politician.
Mitch McConnell’s most famous tactic has a politician has been obstructionism: blocking things from getting done. Only one percent of bills passing before his desk have been enacted into law in the past two years. This man focuses on tactical advantage rather than firm ideals. This is a man who brags about his obstructionism, calling himself the “Grim Reaper” of Democratic policy proposals. While President Trump has surely inspired divisiveness during his time in office and before, McConnell has been putting oppositional tactics into play, often somewhat under the radar, for decades.
If cruel hypocrisy, flagrant obstructionism, and divisive thinking do not represent the vision and version of America you support, please do not support Mitch McConnell.
Thank you to all the authors whose work is linked in this piece. They are Jesse Hicks, Richard Cowan, Janell Ross, Benjamin Barber, Alec MacGillis, Ryan Cunningham, Burgess Everett, Kelly McEvers, Dave Jamieson, Sahil Kapur, Kaitlin Funaro, Camille Caldera, Ella Nilsen, Matthew Daly, Marianne Levine, Jordain Carney, Andrew McCormick, Tom Luftus, Priyanka Boghani, Phillip M. Bailey, Li Zhou, Joshua Green, Katherine Fung, Marc Fisher, Sean Sullivan, Ed Mazza, and Zachary B. Wolf.