WASHINGTON -- In his Capitol Hill office, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proudly displays an oil painting of his state’s most famous senator, Henry Clay, “The Great Pacificator” and unifying statesman of 19th century America. But as the 72-year-old McConnell prepares to take over as Senate majority leader, a job he’s spent decades plotting to win, it’s not clear whether he can be -- or wants to be -- another Clay.
McConnell has said recently that the past majority leaders he most admires are two Democrats -- Mike Mansfield of Montana, who moved most of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation, and George Mitchell of Maine, who was noted for his diplomatic and collegial style.
On Election Day, McConnell staffers referred me to a speech their boss had made in which he vowed to run a more bipartisan and consultative Senate than now exists. He would be Clay, Mansfield and Mitchell all rolled into one.
Many of his critics scoff at the notion. “Mitch is about one thing,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “The accumulation of power.”
McConnell may conclude, however, that he must play the Clay role to consolidate that power.
In philosophy and operating style, the two couldn’t be more different -- at least so far.
Clay was a border-state political diplomat who forged historic deals that held the nation together for decades before slavery and the Civil War tore it apart. He championed an “American system” of federal spending to knit the country together with new roads, canals and other infrastructure. He favored an active role for central government in finance, taxes, banking and tariffs to build the muscles of a continental nation.
If there is a theme to McConnell’s long tenure in the Senate, it’s the contrary: to oppose federal action to deal with domestic social problems, to limit the role of government wherever he can in favor of corporate power, and to feed the fears of those who feel aggrieved by Washington's decisions. On the campaign trail this year, he has vowed to dismantle Obamacare “root and branch,” to unravel environmental regulations on the use of coal and other carbon energy sources, and to curb federal authority over elections, campaign spending, banking and much of the rest of the regulatory state.
But philosophy is just the half of it. Clay was known for his gentle demeanor, his gentlemanly tact and his eagerness to see the world and America from as many sides as possible.
McConnell is personally gruff and aloof, and his syrupy delivery on the Senate floor is often laced with the acid of unremitting partisanship and dismissive scorn for his foes. He makes enemies easily and seems to cherish his resentments. For example, Yarmuth said McConnell refuses to acknowledge him on flights to and from the capital, even though they were once close friends.
Pollster John Zogby recalled an incident years ago when McConnell repeatedly interrupted a polling presentation to the GOP with cries of “Bulls**t!” from the audience. (Zogby’s message, as it happened, was that the Republican Party needed to take a more bipartisan approach to legislating.)
Ironically, McConnell’s partisan ferocity doesn’t impress tea party Republicans, who worked against him in the primary and refused to endorse him. They see him as a fraudulent conservative whose deepest desire is not to pursue an agenda of ideas but merely to defend the establishment he has spent decades trying to control.
McConnell has done his share of bipartisan deals in the Senate, but almost always on his own terms and almost always after he helped create the crisis that he then takes credit for ending.
Now he must keep the peace among potential Republican presidential candidates in the Senate (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and perhaps Rob Portman), pacify the tea party wing while showing that the GOP is “ready to govern,” deal with the hapless Republican leadership in the House, and even reach out to President Barack Obama, who has reason to be wary.
McConnell has the skill to bridge divides within the GOP in the Senate, and maybe in Congress as a whole. That will be his first challenge. Whether he can speak to the whole country and try to bring Americans together -- and whether he wants to -- will become clear in the months ahead.
BEFORE YOU GO
11/05/2014 8:27 AM EST
Christie: GOP Wins Show Focus On Leadership
The AP reported Wednesday:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Republican victories in governor's races across the country show voters want leaders who will "get things done," rather that fighting over ideology.
Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2016 candidate for president, said he was gratified by GOP wins in Democratic-leaning states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as victories in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Christie said voters "elect and re-elect governors to get things done."
Christie, who campaigned for GOP candidates across the country, said the winners deserve the credit, not him. He said elections are "always about the candidate."
Christie spoke Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America" and Fox News Channel.
11/05/2014 7:46 AM EST
President Obama To Address Midterm Results In Afternoon Press Conference
President Barack Obama will speak to the press Wednesday afternoon to address his party's resounding loss in the 2014 midterm elections, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. He is expected to strike a tone of compromise and accountability following a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate and many of the nation's gubernatorial offices.
Obama tried reached out to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is widely expected to be the next senate majority leader and who also won re-election Tuesday night, and left a message, CNN reported.
The president's press conference will take place at 2:50 p.m. Eastern time from the East Room of the White House.
11/05/2014 6:57 AM EST
Indictment, Dog Killing, Infidelity Overcome By GOP Candidates
How bad was it for Democrats? Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican facing a 20-count indictment won in New York and another known for outbursts of rage and killing a beagle, Mike Bost, won a seat in President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois that had been Democratic for 70 years.
Down in Tennessee, Rep. Scott DesJarlais' past infidelities and pushing of abortion on a mistress continued to not matter to voters, who handed him a landslide victory.
There were a couple of bright spots for Democrats, or at least the more moderate crowd. Florida Rep. Steve Southerland lost to Democrat Gwen Graham after holding an all-male fundraiser and joking about Graham in lingerie. And in Louisiana, GOP Rep. Vance McAllister, dubbed the "Kissing Congressman" after he was caught on tape smooching a staffer, finished far back in the field in his contest.
-- Michael McAuliff
11/05/2014 5:24 AM EST
Expect A Delay In Results
AP not calling these races until the number of outstanding votes can be verified: Va. gov.; Conn. gov.; Colo. gov.; Alaska gov, Senate.— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) November 5, 2014
11/05/2014 5:07 AM EST
Alaska Becomes 4th State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana
In yet another major pushback against the war on drugs, Alaska legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, joining Oregon and Washington, D.C. -- both of which legalized cannabis only hours before. Alaska becomes the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize retail marijuana, along with Oregon, Colorado and Washington state.
Voters approved Measure 2, which legalizes the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana. Adults, age 21 and older, may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (with no more than three being mature) for personal use. The measure also legalizes the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, such as devices used for smoking or storing the plant.
“The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal are relying on the same scare tactics today that they have relied on for decades, but voters just aren’t falling for it anymore," Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement early Wednesday morning. "The results are particularly encouraging since voter turnout during a midterm election is typically smaller, older, and more conservative. Clearly, support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrums."
Read more here.
-- Matt Ferner
11/05/2014 4:28 AM EST
Ah, Politics... Chicago-Style
11/05/2014 3:40 AM EST
Sarah Palin To GOP: You Didn't Build This
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to Facebook last night to issue a hearty congratulations -- and warning -- to her GOP brethren:
Thank you, wise voters! Tonight is a big victory for We the People! Credit is due to the victorious candidates. Your message to President Obama is undeniably received, though he'll try to ignore it.
The Democrats got mauled today, deservedly so. To prohibit that from happening to the GOP in 2016, it must learn the lesson from the last time Republicans held the Senate majority. This time they must not retreat, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable. Will they fight for reform that aligns with the limited government planks of the Republican platform, or will they return to the big government cronyism and status quo favored by the permanent political class? Will they drain the swamp or decide the D.C. cesspool is really just a jacuzzi they can't wait to jump on into and shake us off?
If GOP leadership returns to business as usual, then this majority will be short lived, for We the People say, “once bitten, twice shy.”
Click here to read the full statement.
11/05/2014 2:55 AM EST
Alaska Approves Minimum Wage Increase
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Alaskans have voted to raise the minimum wage.— Becky Bohrer (@beckybohrerap) November 5, 2014
11/05/2014 2:39 AM EST
Alaska Rep. Don Young Projected To Win 22nd Term
The Associated Press is projecting that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) will win re-election as Alaska's only member of Congress.