The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Does Mitch McConnell know he’s part of the first branch of government?

The New York Times reported on the eve of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) swearing-in:

Asked if [Pelosi] considers herself Mr. Trump’s equal, she replied, “The Constitution does.” She frowned at the memory of a dinner at the White House last year when men talked over her, and she asked, “Doesn’t anybody listen to a woman in the room?”
"Hopefully that will become a thing of the past now that we have so many women in Congress — and with the gavel,” Ms. Pelosi said. “The gavel makes a big difference.”

That is a politician fully aware of and ready to use her power. Contrast that with the pathetic passivity of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who presides over what was once called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Not anymore. CNN reports:

Well, it’s not complicated. I was in this role when [Barack] Obama was President, and [Vice President Joe] Biden and I did deals because they needed some of our votes. So, now the role is reversed and ultimately the solution to this is a deal between the President and Nancy and Chuck because we need some of Chuck’s votes and obviously we need Nancy’s support," he said, referring to newly installed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
“So, I haven’t been sidelined,” McConnell added. “It’s just that there’s no particular role for me when you have this setup.”

Gosh, he could vote on the very same bill that passed the Senate by voice vote and — just like that! — reopen the federal government. A self-respecting Senate majority leader previously would not declare his own impotence, nor turn over the job of legislating to the White House. Pelosi is right: Congress is a coequal branch and its job is to fund the government. You have to wonder why Republicans want the Senate majority if they are nothing more than supplicants to the president and bystanders in governance.

President Trump, who seems to be in a funk these days, popped into the White House press briefing room Thursday, a lame effort to get the cameras off Pelosi for a few minutes.

Alongside border patrol agents, President Trump defended funding his border wall Jan. 3 during a news briefing at the White House. (Video: Reuters)

If Trump and McConnell — two “low energy” septuagenarians — don’t show signs of life, voters will start to wonder why Republicans should be in charge of anything. The problem is not cosmetic and will deepen as Pelosi sends over bills not only to reopen the government but also to fix the Affordable Care Act, address corruption, legalize dreamers’ status, revive the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act and more.

McConnell can carp that the president would veto all those things — since Republicans now, I suppose, object to keeping the lights on, fixing the ACA, ending Trump’s reign of corruption, helping the dreamers (who were brought here as children and must undergo serious vetting) or protecting voting rights.

Indeed, the lack of energy, ideas and optimism in the GOP is striking. A new conservative online outlet called the Bulwark, run by prominent #NeverTrumpers, will attempt to address the problem head on. Editor Charlie Sykes writes, “The task now is not to continually degrade and adjust our standards to accommodate Trump, but rather to push back against the moral and intellectual corruption that now poses an existential threat to conservativism as a viable political force.” Rather than William F. Buckley’s “stand athwart history yelling, Stop," Sykes, Bill Kristol and other like-minded critics of Trump and the rotting GOP will declare in the face of Trumpian inanity and dishonesty, "You can’t be serious.” He adds, “As much of the Right descends into sophism and trollery, we will be a forum for rational, principled, fact-based conservative commentary.” Wow, what a concept. (The mindless shuttering of the Weekly Standard seems extraordinarily dumb — especially since its writers and their readers will go to the Bulwark and elsewhere, including to The Post, in the person of David Byler.)

So we return to the Republicans' dilemma. They do not favor or seem capable of sound governance. The great economy Trump inherited suddenly seems vulnerable. All Republicans can do is rail against immigrants, propose silly and unpopular things such as the wall, run up the debt and retreat from America’s foreign obligations while coddling brutal dictators. Who wants to be part of that?

McConnell’s do-nothing strategy is not only a constitutional outrage but politically deadly for his members. What exactly are incumbents up for reelection in 2020 (e.g. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado) supposed to run on? Maybe that is why Gardner is already urging Republicans to open the government. Next thing you know, a few Republicans are going to want to pass anti-corruption legislation or the long-awaited infrastructure plan. If McConnell cannot lead from the front, other Republicans will need to push their party to do their jobs.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Pelosi said she’d do it, and she did

Eugene Robinson: Speaker Pelosi will show Trump he’s not the only one with power in Washington

Greg Sargent: Trump’s reign of corruption will now face real opposition. Here are three things to watch.

George F. Will: Republicans should be alarmed by this sign of intelligent life in the Democratic Party

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Nancy Pelosi vows that House Democrats won’t act like Republicans