The date was Oct. 23, 2010 — nearly two years into President Barack Obama’s first term and two weeks before the first midterm elections of his presidency. Speaking to the National Journal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a now-infamous statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has pointed out, reading the quote in its full context makes it clear that McConnell was saying that it would be impossible for Republicans to achieve their policy goals with Obama in office. But Democrats immediately seized on the remark as proof that Republicans had single-mindedly set out to obstruct Obama’s agenda, putting partisanship ahead of the country’s best interest.
On Tuesday, a week after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, McConnell, now the majority leader, published a FoxNews.com op-ed that struck a very different note. “Will Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?” the headline asked. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well with liberals, who rushed to point out McConnell’s unparalleled chutzpah and accuse him of blatant hypocrisy.
The op-ed began with McConnell recounting what Republicans have accomplished over the past two years: passing tax cuts, confirming two Supreme Court nominees and rolling back federal regulations. “After this prolific run, I was not surprised to be asked over the past week about just how much the American people can expect from the next Congress under divided leadership,” he wrote. “What can we realistically accomplish?”
The good news, McConnell answered, is that “reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated.” Legislation targeting the opioid epidemic, increasing defense funding, reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and funding infrastructure improvements passed with support from both parties, he noted. Then, in an abrupt tack, he argued that Democrats, having regained control of the House, should refrain from investigating President Trump:
The Senate has proven its ability to reach bipartisan solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation.
And looking ahead to the coming year, there will be no shortage of opportunities to continue this impressive record of cooperation across the aisle and across the Capitol.
What we can make of those opportunities will depend on our Democratic colleagues. Will they choose to go it alone and simply make political points? Or will they choose to work together and actually make a difference?
Last week, the American people made it abundantly clear that they prefer that Congress focus on making a difference.
That message may have been lost on a few House Democrats, who have made clear their preference for investigations over policy results. After years of rhetoric, it’s hardly news that some are more interested in fanning the flames of division than reaching across the aisle.
On Tuesday afternoon, McConnell (or, more likely, a member of his staff) posted a link to the op-ed on Twitter. By midnight, he had received over 29,000 replies. Virtually all of them were from aggrieved liberals, many of whom responded with just one name: Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, whose appointment was blocked by McConnell.
Among the other responses:
“I hope we work with you the same way you worked with President Obama.”
“I think that every time Mitch McConnell tries to use the word ‘partisan’ a pie should hit him in the face.”
“Dude, you are in my lifetime one of the most zero-sum partisans I’ve ever witnessed in politics. That’s not something to be proud of. It’s the reason why Congress is so dysfunctional.”
“You kept Democrats off all committees and withheld all information, so no. Go eat worms.”
“Lol seriously?! How often did you work with Dems? How many times did you shut them out of major decisions when you had the majority or rammed things down our throats? Maybe you should have had this epiphany before now.”
“Mr McConnell, yes, you’re the world’s top expert on putting party above country. No one has ever done so more blatantly than you. But now YOU are calling for bipartisanship? Your hypocrisy is astounding. Obviously, no decent American is going to take you seriously.”
McConnell’s office couldn’t be reached for comment on the Twitter reaction late Tuesday night. It’s worth noting that his sentiments, however unpopular online, are not entirely out of sync with top Democratic Party leaders. Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged that Democrats would “strive for bipartisanship” and seek common ground with Republicans — a conciliatory stance that incurred the wrath of some of her constituents.
Pelosi, who is vying to become the next House speaker, also avoided making any definitive statements about potential investigations into the Trump administration at a news conference immediately after the midterms. Telling reporters that the House of Representatives has “a constitutional responsibility to have oversight,” she added that she didn’t anticipate “any scattershot freelancing” on that front. Democrats, she said, are “trying to unify our country.”
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