Free Minds & Free Markets

Mitch McConnell is Keeping the Senate Out of the Shutdown Fight. It's a Hypocritical Abdication of Congressional Responsibility

Five years ago, McConnell declared the need to restore the Senate. Instead, he's broken it further.

Sipa USA/NewscomSipa USA/NewscomIn January 2014, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.), then the GOP minority leader, gave a lengthy speech titled "Restoring the Senate."

The point of the speech was to argue for the body's relevance and importance, to make a case that the Senate was where America's toughest legislative problems could and should be worked out, through vigorous debate, seriousness of purpose, and a shared sense of serving more than a single party's short-term political priorities.

"Over the past several years, the Senate seems more like a campaign studio than a serious legislative body," McConnell said. Centralization was a big part of the problem, he argued; debate should be embraced rather than avoided. He complained that "major legislation is now routinely drafted not in committee but in the Majority Leader's conference room and then dropped on the floor with little or no opportunity for members to participate in the amendment process, virtually guaranteeing a fight." McConnell warned that brute, simple-minded partisanship would produce legislation that was both worse and less politically stable, exacerbating the volatility of both politics and policy.

Meanwhile, the Senate had become subordinate to the political priorities of the White House. That needed to change. "The Senate should be setting national priorities, not simply waiting on the White House to do it for us." The ongoing failure to buck the executive branch and minimize shallow political gamesmanship, he said, "diminishes the Senate."

Five years later, McConnell is the Senate majority leader under a GOP president, and he is running the Senate in almost exactly the manner he previously decried.

To take the most prominent recent example: One of the most notable features of the current shutdown fight is that McConnell has almost entirely absented the Senate from the negotiating process. It is a galling and hypocritical abdication of congressional responsibility. Instead of restoring the Senate, he's broken it further.

McConnell has put the responsibility to negotiate a resolution entirely on President Donald Trump and House Democrats, repeatedly saying that he will only bring a vote to the floor if Trump is guaranteed to sign it. Multiple Republican senators are reportedly concerned with Trump's demand for border barrier funding, and with the increasing likelihood that the president will circumvent Congression by declaring a national emergency, but McConnell is suborning their interests to the president's political demands.

Trump's demand for a border wall is the definition of pointless political stunt; even immigration restrictionists view the barrier as a largely symbolic goal. When talking to network news anchors earlier this week, Trump himself reportedly dismissed his trip to the border today as a pointless political stunt foisted upon him by advisers.

In the 2014 speech, McConnell cast the Senate as the platform for solving the nation's most significant disputes. "The place where it happens, the place where all the national conflicts and controversies that arise in this big, diverse, wonderful country have always been resolved, is right here in this chamber," he said. Yet McConnell now refuses to take any affirmative action to come to an agreement. He is forcing the Senate to serve as an empty pass-through for the president's partisan, political agenda. Whatever you think of the shutdown, the Senate shouldn't be sitting out the debate, taking no position and expecting everyone else to do the work.

The shutdown, of course, is not the first time McConnell has conducted Senate affairs in exactly the manner he formerly criticized. In 2017, the GOP's two biggest legislative efforts—the failed Obamacare repeal bill and the tax overhaul—were both strictly controlled by leadership, through an insular, secretive, centralized process that largely avoided the sort of extended debate that McConnell said was necessary to produce better legislation and shore up the Senate's reputation.

Indeed, under Trump, McConnell has run the Senate in almost exactly the manner he warned would corrode not only the upper chamber's stature but the entire legislative process.

Perhaps McConnell didn't really believe what he said back in 2014 and was just jockeying for power from his position in the minority. He has always been fairly comfortable with hypocrisy if it affords him a partisan advantage. But that's less of an excuse and more of a way of capturing the essential problem.

In any case, the essential dynamic that McConnell described five years ago has turned out to be basically right, at least when it comes to the spillover effects: Treating the Senate almost exclusively as essentially subservient to the executive branch, and as a platform for partisan posturing and political point scoring rather than a serious forum for legislative debate, as McConnell has, has contributed to declining trust in our governing institutions, to the poisoning of American political discourse, to the instability and fragility of public policy. He has diminished not just the Senate but American political life.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • StackOfCoins||

    "Trump's demand for a border wall is the definition of pointless political stunt"

    So it's now "pointless" to hold ground in an effort to fulfill a campaign promise? It's "pointless" that Leviathan has at least temporarily been subdued, and it's endless growth momentarily halted?

    "even immigration restrictionists view the barrier as a largely symbolic goal"

    Is it symbolic because the wall is considered un-possible to build, or because Reason cosmotarians don't really want one?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I want to smell you. I want to breathe you in.

  • StackOfCoins||

    I'm afraid now.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I love you, alive girl.

  • ||

    Yeah, Suderman makes a retarded leap of faith or is wearing some phenomenally blue-wave colored glasses if he thinks Mitch would end the stalemate and that that end wouldn't/couldn't still involve funding for a border wall.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I will show you with my body, and my lips and my eyes, very soon.

  • Jerryskids||

    You sure you got the right Stack there?

  • MoreFreedom||

    Why should McConnell get involved? Trump wants a wall, and all spending bills originate in the House. Considering half the country voted for him and his wall, and that the cost is less than 0.1% of the budget for this year, seems to me the Democrats are being petty and essentially giving half the country the finger and saying "No, we're not going to allow the government to protect you from illegals" even if it's only a drop in the bucket of spending, and even though you won the election for Trump.

    Trump has asked the Democrats to negotiate, and all the Democrats do is engage in passive aggressive resistance, meanwhile they've made up a fake dossiers to engage in investigations of Trump and his campaign personnel to get him removed, for obstructing justice for a non-crime that didn't happen. That's the real misuse of power and responsibility.

  • Ron||

    I think Mitch is a coward and not getting involved in the border debate now by making it entirely Trumps debate with democrats so he can later claim he was never for it by not helping when the shit hits the fan over it. i can't blame only Mitch though since the other republicans could make him do his job but when have the GOP done that of late except for Kavanaugh

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Some Republicans are already preparing for survival after Trump's departure.

    Or, at least, they think they are.

  • Fancylad||

    Is this the senate's responsibility? Suderman's making some pretty iffy arguments here, mostly just hyperbole, appeal to motive and affirming the consequent.
    Are there actual reasons the senate should step in?

  • ThomasD||

    What the Senate "may" do (Article 1, Section 7) does not mean the Senate is required to do.

    Suderman is shocked to find that politicians are behaving politically.

    Call the Wahmbulance!

  • Jury Nullification||

    "Trump "thinks" he's a dictator, and shits on the notion of THREE co-equal branches."

    Fuck off! By your logic, it's the house that is the problem as the senate majority and executive branch are on the same page and the house is refusing to bow to their will. Bowing to the will of others. That's your thing, right. And what you demand of Trump.
    Trump would be exercising powers given to him by congress. FFS

    At your spectrum level, you better get your TDS checked.

  • MoreFreedom||

    The establishment, of both the Democrats and GOP, don't want a wall, though most of the GOP politicians lied about it when they ran for office, and McConnell knows that. Having a vote forces the GOP to show where they really stand, like when a bill came up to repeal Obamacare when Trump was in office. McConnell knows that and doesn't want to force establishment RINOs to show where they really stand on the issue.

  • Ron||

    why is the anti-gun company Levi's advertising on a libertarian site?

  • Dillinger||

    and why won't Hollywood hire Allyson Hanigan anymore wtf?

  • StackOfCoins||

    Hollywood, it would seem, has a problem with a gingers. There are far too few redheads for my tastes.

  • Dillinger||

    i'd say "if they were all reds maybe it wouldn't be so special" ... but it *would be* so special.

  • Ragnarredbeard||

    Apparently she got old. Hollywood can't have that.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Because their money spends, just like anybody else's?

  • DajjaI||

    contributed to declining trust in our governing institutions

    Why the weeping and gnashing? Shutting down the government is a good thing. We're libertarians - we don't need to trust in government! Rejoice, my people!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I want to hold you tight.… I want to kiss your lips…. I love you. I am in love with you.

  • Lester224||

    I expect a change in tune when the tax refunds are delayed.

  • Fancylad||

    Fuck off Hihn

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Any moron who gives the federal government a tax free loan each year deserves what they get. In this case, a delayed refund ln THEIR money.

    Fucking idiots.

    If you underpaid taxes, you can claim the shutdown delay to send the tax owed check.

    There is a reason why some people gain wealth and other people live paycheck to paycheck. And it aint becuase of ehat you earn.

  • SIV||

    What kind of fag gets a tax refund? Welfare chiseler deadbeat EITC-bums , that's who.

  • wearingit||

    You're an anarchist if you want no government. Do you understand what a libertarian even is?

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    The correct thing for McConnell to do was to pass the funding bill last year when he had the chance using reconciliation the same way the senate passed Obamacare years earlier.

    I'm pretty sure the reason he didn't was because many of the chamber of commerce type republican donors love the open border status quo the way it is and don't want it to ever be fully secured.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Several reasons exist McConnell and the GOP establishment don't want a wall, and you got one right (but it's the GOP politicians who like the status quo, their donors' desires are secondary but your point about them wanting their campaign cash donations does apply). Many know the only way for government to fulfill their Social Security and Medicare promises (or more likely to further delay reform until after they're out of office) is to grow the economy by adding more people to it. Also, a lot of rich people (including business owners employing a lot of illegals) take advantage of illegals' status and don't pay them what they promised to clean their house, or pay them less, or demand a kickback. And of course you've got the people who want to help the poor immigrants and get warm and fuzzy feelings for doing so, using other taxpayers' money of course. Then there are the big government proponents, who know more illegality means more government!

    Finally, a wall might mean having a real debate about immigration and forcing politicians to vote on that, with possibly everyone losing votes for supporting to much or too little immigration. As for me, I'd like to see more immigration of skilled people who won't be consuming welfare at my expense, as they won't be voting for more redistribution. Heck, I can dream about eliminating government redistribution entirely as that's the moral and libertarian position.

  • Jerryskids||

    One of the most notable features of the current shutdown fight is that McConnell has almost entirely absented the Senate from the negotiating process.

    Gee, when troubles a-brewing Turtle Boy withdraws into his shell? You were expecting him to leap into the fray nunchucks a-twirling? He ain't that kind of turtle.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    When Lefties get this upset, you know Trump is doing awesome.

  • MoreFreedom||

    One person's opinion, doesn't negate Trump's opinion. Nor does it in any way mean "Trump humiliate [sic] himself" or is "Another MAJOR defeat" except perhaps in your mind. While I voted for Johnson, you'll have to convince a large part of the people who voted for Trump to change their opinions first, before there's a MAJOR defeat for Trump.

    I'll bet, and be thankful, that the government stays shut down for a long time for something that amounts to less than 0.1% of the budget. The Democrats claiming they're for the shutdown to save this amount, means the GOP will have one less excuse to not shut down the government to cut spending in the future.

    Cheers to divided government!

  • spork||

    Perhaps if there were no 17th Amendment, senators would go about the business of representing the state legislatures' interests in the federal context instead of kowtowing to national special interests and trying to score votes from the public. Perhaps in that scenario, where the states had been properly represented for the past century, we wouldn't find ourselves in this position in the first place, enthralled by the intrigues and petty spats of an all-encompassing totalitarian political system that more closely resembles professional sports or reality television than a system of governance. Perhaps in that scenario, even with a shutdown, senators would be negotiating for the continuance of transfer payments from the national taxpayers to their states' coffers.

    Perhaps, perhaps.

  • MasterThief||

    That is looking like one of the biggest mistakes made in amending the Constitution. It functionally makes the Senate little different from the house and abandons state rights

  • ThomasD||

    Yes, states do have rights, some are expressly noted in the Constitution.

    States, not being human beings, do not have natural rights. They have civil rights.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Welch AND Suderman lying about Constitutional "responsibilities".

    Congress used to be part time and there is no constitutional requirement to pass a budget.

    In fact, the Constitution is set up to encourage the Branches of Government to not get along every time.

  • Agammamon||

    What is there for the Senate to do?

    Either you want a wall - and even those of us who don't understand that half a wall is worse than a whole one - or you don't. What 'compromise' could there be other than 'we'll toss some money your way if you only half-ass the wall, enriching everyone's donors in the process ruining thousands of lives of American citizens and still being utterly ineffectual at stopping immigration'?

    Because, to me, that sounds like a Democrat win and Republicans don't lose too badly and the rest of us get screwed over massively.

    For the Senate to jump in would just be flinging more mud around the pigsty. We also don't need a budget. They don't stick to it anyway and the longer this goes on the easier it will be to kill some of these 'non-essential' things government does that it hasn't been doing for three weeks already without the country collapsing.

  • Ron||

    I wonder how workers feel when they are told they are non essential. the Irony of the proof that government has become so big that it can employ nonessential people. does anyone know of a private business that last long doing that.

  • Overt||

    My private company has tons of Non-Essential employees. A Non-Essential is a person who we can afford to be unproductive for a day or two- not a person that we can lose indefinitely. When we have an earthquake or other office shutdown, the company does not expect Non-Essentials to be working. These are admins, sales people, account reps, business analysts, etc. However our essential employees keep the lights on. They keep the servers running in our data center.

    In the government and business, Non-Essentials does not mean not necessary for a business to survive. It means that they are not essentially to delivering the daily business commitments.

  • wearingit||

    They could start by just passing the bill the Democratic house presented which, oh I don't know, only passed the Senate 100-0 a few weeks ago.

    I know the bootlickers here disagree and make excuses for everything under the sun but McConnell is nothing but a hypocrite (surprise!) and a coward for not actually doing his job. The legislative branch does not serve at the pleasure of the president, no matter which party he/she hails from.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "an insular, secretive, centralized process that largely avoided the sort of extended debate that McConnell said was necessary to produce better legislation and shore up the Senate's reputation"? No, an insular, secretive, centralized process that entirely avoided the sort of extended debate that McConnell said was necessary to produce better legislation and shore up the Senate's reputation. In fact, senators had no chance to see the bills they were voting on, bills that were being rewritten by lobbyists while the Senate was "considering" them.

  • Flinch||

    Hypocrisy? Mitch is a go along to get along type judging by his quick capitulation on items during the Obama years, and has made no indication otherwise in the past - he's ready to push through whatever the house can bang out with the president. So, he has to wait on Pelosi's posturing to take place first. Come to think of it, hypocrisy might be a step up from what we have seen the last two decades: a party vacillating between two positions that ought to be mutually exclusive: "me too" [where republicans redecorate democrat ideas] and "we're not them!" [in an effort to hide their disposing of any philosophy of governance whatsoever come election time].

  • JWatts||

    Suderman is grasping at straws here. I'm looking for his article on why the Democratic Senate didn't step in and stop the 2013 shutdown. Oh wait, there isn't any such article.

  • Trigger Warning||

    McConnell is an unprincipled hack? Really?

  • loveconstitution1789||


    Gove us months of federal shutdown.

  • Fancylad||

    Dear Hihn.
    Please choose just one fucking sock and stick with it for the thread, or else learn to change up your mantras.
    Three fucking socks and 25% of the posts, saying the exact same thing, in the exact same style, with the exact same buzzwords and jargon, aren't fooling anyone.

  • Fancylad||

    Dear Hihn.
    Please choose just one fucking sock and stick with it for the thread, or else learn to change up your mantras.
    Three fucking socks and 25% of the posts, saying the exact same thing, in the exact same style, with the exact same buzzwords and jargon, aren't fooling anyone.

  • Liberty Lover||

    Nancy Pelosi runs the Senate Democrats, not Mitch McConnell. He is spineless.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Mitch doesn't want to have a vote on funding the wall, because some of the Republican Senators who ran on border security were lying, and would vote against it. If he holds the vote, they get exposed, and primaried the next time they're up for reelection.

    So he'd rather stay out of it, and let the Democratic House do the heavy lifting of denying Republican voters what they were promised.

    I have a hard time envisioning any scenario under which it's in McConnell's interest to hold a vote on this topic. Pressure for a wall would have to become so intense that he could count on the vote of every man, woman, and near sighted pointy nosed mammal.

    Realistically, Trump's never getting funding for the wall out of Congress. There are too many members who are absolutely determined to keep the border insecure. It's his emergency order, or nothing.

  • Longtobefree||

    Mitch McConnell is the sole reason that the bill was not passed by simple majority, and the sole reason for the shutdown. He couldn't lead a pack of starving wolves to fresh meat, let alone a political party.

  • Curly4||

    First of all until the house passes a bill Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) does not have anything to do. It is not until the house sends the bill to the senate that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) job will start. In this case if some how Pelosi does get funding for the government return to work except a CR for Homeland Security thin I hope McConnell will not bring the bills to the floor. If the government returns to work there will not be any pressure on Pelosi to fund any kind of barrier along parts of the border. On the other hand if the government stays shut down then Pelosi will have to explain to the government workers why they will not be getting a paycheck when all she would have to do is to compromise on the border barrier funding which it has already been said that Trump would take less than the $5 plus billion.

  • David1234||

    "Multiple Republican senators are reportedly concerned with Trump's demand for border barrier funding, and with the increasing likelihood that the president will circumvent [Congress] by declaring a national emergency, but McConnell is suborning their interests to the president's political demands."



Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online