McConnell Warns Of Scary Prospect If GOP Loses Senate Control In Midterms

McConnell Warns Of \Scary Prospect\ If GOP Loses Senate Control In Midterms
We Still Dont Know What Brett Kavanaughs Confirmation Means For The Midterms
After a series of gut-wrenching moments, intense and emotional exchanges, and by far the weirdest hearing I have ever seen on Capitol Hill, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the newest justice of the Supreme Court.

Only that wasnt the end of the matter. Kavanaugh then went to the White House to partake in a fake swearing-in ceremony that—because Donald Trump has to be Donald Trump—had all the hallmarks of a political rally.

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Sitting in the front row at that ceremony, taking it all in, was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which was appropriate since all of this—the weird hearing, the subtle dismissal of victims of sexual assault, the secrecy around the nominees record—was his doing. He is the maestro of moving judicial nominees through the Senate, and Kavanaugh was a prime testament to McConnells ruthless, amoral pursuit of that singular mission.

For those who have been in the trenches fighting against McConnell (and Im one of them, having served as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids top communications hand), his success is undeniable. Single-minded in his pursuit of political power, imaginative in his choice of tactics, and emotionless to his core, he practiced Obamas no drama mantra years before it became associated with the 44th president. And because of it, our judiciary will bear the imprint of his efforts decades after he leaves office.

But, and this is very important, that wont be McConnells sole or even his most important legacy. Indeed, when history is written on McConnells tenure as Republican leader, there will be a more profound and unsettling conclusion: McConnell broke the Senate and hurt the country, and the sad fact is that he couldnt care less.

This so-called institutionalist who expresses such devotion to the Senates traditions and the working people of Kentucky is, on these fronts, a fraud. That McConnell exists only in the imaginations of the reporters that write glowing profiles about the brilliant means and Machiavellian mind-set he employs while giving short shrift to the damaging ends he pursues.

The reality is that for him politics is all about winning. The idea that a leader would work to bridge the differences between the two parties in order to try and improve the country is a foreign concept to him. Everything is a zero-sum game. He is a man of no conviction except for a pursuit of power at all costs.

I had a ringside seat for all of this when I was working in Senator Reids office for six years. The economy was in a free fall and millions of Americans were hurting. So what did McConnell do? He used every tool available to him as Republican leader to block Obamas efforts to address this suffering and indicated his opposition to the newly elected presidents agenda for good measure. It was one thing for him to declare famously that his whole goal was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president (obviously he failed) but it was another thing to watch him try to round up the votes to filibuster virtually every piece of legislation we brought to the floor.

The same pattern was there regarding judges. McConnells entire objective was to simply block what Obama or Democrats put forward, especially during Obamas second term in office. Its the reason there were so many judicial vacancies available for Trump to fill.  

McConnells defenders will say that he was just doing what any opposition leader would do in that position. But the truth is, it was not standard fare. And he did it, in part, to ensure his own survival. In 2012, when his leadership position was threatened by an insurgent Tea Party, McConnell capitulated. Rather than questioning some of the movements more extreme views, which ran contrary to his public record to that point, he appointed a Ron Paul staffer to run his re-election campaign. It was not a profile in courage.

That was just the first act. For his next one, he cooked up a false argument to keep Judge Merrick Garland, Obamas pick for the Supreme Court, bottled up in committee, never even giving the president a courtesy of a hearing. He followed that up with his handling of Kavanaugh, which was breathtaking in its audacity: from the shielding of records to the limiting of the scope of the investigation into allegations of sexual assault.

After watching all that, no one should have been surprised to hear McConnell declare this week that despite how hed bottled up Garlands nomination, the standard set then wouldnt necessarily apply to Donald Trump. In an all-too-typical display of hypocrisy, McConnell left open the possibility of confirming another Supreme Court justice during the 2020 presidential elections if a vacancy occurred and Republicans still controlled the Senate. McConnell had some ready-made rationalization for why this was within the norms and traditions of the Senate—when, in reality, it was anything but that.

But thats just McConnell. While he may be imaginative when it comes to using power, he also a leader with little or no concern for the collateral damage his methods inflict on the Senate and our political system.  

Henry Clay, whose seat he holds, and who brokered bipartisan deals in hopes of keeping the union together, once observed the time will come when Winter will ask you what what you were doing all Summer. I am not sure Clay would approve of how McConnell has used this summer.

A wave of new polls followed Brett Kavanaughs ascension to the Supreme Court last weekend, and the numbers make a few things clear.

One: Even before the assault nominations broke, Kavanaugh was unusually unpopular for a Supreme Court nominee, with opinions divided along starkly partisan lines.

Two: For the duration of the hearings, his confirmation managed to cut partially through the noisy chaos of the Trump-era news cycle, drawing sustained media coverage and public attention.

What the results dont yet do, unfortunately, is lend themselves especially well to an unambiguous narrative about whether the fight to confirm Kavanaugh has affected current enthusiasm about the midterm elections next month, let alone influenced their possible outcome.

Surveys, to quote a favorite polling adage, are snapshots, not predictions. And even as a snapshot, the latest round of numbers is a little blurred.

Initially, there was some reason to think the fight could help the GOP. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released before the Kavanaugh vote last week concluded that Democrats enthusiasm advantage had disappeared with the confirmation battle and that the Kavanaugh confirmation fight has apparently had the effect of rousing a dormant GOP base.  

YouGovs tracking survey last week also noted a rise in enthusiasm among Republican men during Kavanaughs confirmation battle, which seems to have persisted into this week. Several state-level surveys found similar results, and Democrats Senate odds narrowed in FiveThirtyEights forecast. (Kavanaughs dominance in the news also arguably helped Republicans by effectively drowning out other ongoing stories about dysfunction in the White House.)

In the week since, however, several polls have also suggested that Democrats failure to halt Kavanaughs confirmation may have fired up the progressive base. Democratic enthusiasm ratcheted notably upward from September in the latest CNN/SSRS survey, giving the party a double-digit edge on the generic ballot, while the GOPs numbers remained largely flat. Another national poll, conducted for Politico by Morning Consult, also concluded that its Democrats who appear more energized by the nomination fight.

A lot of possibilities about the generic ballot/polling in general and Kav: (1) It helped Ds fullstop (2) It helped Rs at first, but after Kav was confirmed Rs went back to sleep and Ds were energized (3) The increased D enthusiasm is concentrated in blue enclaves 1/

Theres also a possibility that the episode didnt have any single tangible, overarching effect at all. For one thing, neither political party exactly won plaudits for the episode ― majorities of Americans disapproved of how both Republicans and Democrats handled the hearings, with few believing either side was making a good-faith attempt to get to the truth of the matter.

For another, although the confirmation hearings drew significant attention, its far less clear whether the Supreme Court showdown will be enough of a priority to motivate voters whod otherwise stay home or move the needle in any other way.

In a HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted Oct. 1-2, at the height of the debate over Kavanaugh, about one-fifth of registered voters said the Supreme Court was among their top two election issues, ranking it modestly behind perennial issues like health care, immigration and the economy. But even at that time, voters were considerably more likely to say Democrats in their state were focusing on health care, and Republicans on economic and immigration issues.

Advertising from both Democratic and Republican candidates has been focused largely elsewhere, and especially on health care. Thats apparently fine by most voters ― just 26 percent said they wanted to see candidates spending more time talking about the court, compared to the 47 percent who said they wanted to hear more about health care.

More recent polling has also found voters interest in Kavanaughs confirmation overshadowed by other concerns.

The tendency to draw dramatic conclusions from fragments of data, whispers of alleged movement in polling or supposed anecdotes from a particular campaign is almost uncontrollable in the final few weeks before an election, forecaster Stuart Rothenberg warned Tuesday, declaring himself skeptical the Kavanaugh fight will fundamentally change next months outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question of all is how much voters will still be thinking about anything that happened last week by the time Election Day rolls around. Nov. 6 is looming closer than ever, and a few early voters have already cast ballots. But trying to predict what will dominate Election Day headlines is more or less a wonks version of musical chairs: Remember when the big issue of the day was tax reform? Immigration? Russia? Bob Woodwards new book? Omarosas?

In the past week alone, the repercussions of Kavanaughs confirmation have been partially eclipsed in the news by Nikki Haley and Kanye West, and even more so by Hurricane Michael. And during the commercials, Democratic candidates are still probably talking about health care.


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