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U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader
Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. (born February 20, 1942) is an American politician currently serving as Kentucky's seniorUnited States senator and as Senate majority leader. McConnell is the second Kentuckian to serve as a party leader in the Senate, the longest-serving U.S. senator for Kentucky in history, and the longest-serving leader of U.S. Senate Republicans in history.
In 1944, at the age of two, McConnell's upper left leg was paralyzed by a polio attack. He received treatment at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. The treatment potentially saved him from being disabled for the rest of his life. McConnell stated that his family "almost went broke" because of costs related to his illness.
In March 1967, shortly before the expiration of his educational draft deferment upon graduation from law school, McConnell enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve as a private at Louisville, Kentucky. This was a coveted position because the Reserve units were mostly kept out of combat during the Vietnam War.:11-12 His first day of training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, was July 9, 1967, two days after taking the bar exam, and his last day was August 15, 1967. Shortly after his arrival, he was diagnosed with optic neuritis and was deemed medically unfit for military service. After five weeks at Fort Knox, he was honorably discharged. His brief time in service has repeatedly been put at issue by his political opponents during his electoral campaigns.
In 1971, McConnell returned from Washington, D.C., to Louisville, KY, where he worked for Tom Emberton's candidacy for Governor of Kentucky, which was unsuccessful. McConnell attempted to run for a seat in the state legislature but was disqualified because he did not meet the residency requirements for the office. He then went to work for a law firm for a few years. During the same time period, he taught a night class on political science at the University of Louisville.
In his early years as a politician in Kentucky, McConnell was known as a pragmatist and a moderate Republican. Over time, he shifted to the right. According to one of his biographers, McConnell transformed "from a moderate Republican who supported abortion rights and public employee unions to the embodiment of partisan obstructionism and conservative orthodoxy on Capitol Hill."
McConnell has a reputation as a skilled political strategist and tactician. However, this reputation dimmed after Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2017 during consolidated Republican control of government.
McConnell regularly obtained earmarks for businesses and institutions in Kentucky, until the practice was banned by Congress in 2010. McConnell has received criticism for funding "temporary patches" to Kentucky's long-term healthcare problems, while simultaneously opposing and obstructing national programs that seek to improve healthcare more systematically, such as Obamacare and Medicaid expansion.
Relationship with Obama administration
McConnell has been widely described as an obstructionist. As the leading Republican senator, McConnell confronted and pressured other Republican senators who were willing to negotiate with Democrats and the Obama administration. According to Purdue University political scientist Bert A. Rockman, "pure party line voting has been evident now for some time... but rarely has the tactic of "oppositionism" been so boldly stated as McConnell did." According to University of Texas legal scholar Sanford Levinson, McConnell learned that obstruction and Republican unity were the optimal ways to ensure Republican gains in upcoming elections after he observed how Democratic cooperation with the Bush administration on No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D helped Bush's 2004 re-election. Levinson noted, "McConnell altogether rationally... concluded that Republicans have nothing to gain, as a political party, from collaborating in anything that the president could then claim as an achievement." A number of political scientists, historians, and legal scholars have characterized McConnell's obstructionism and constitutional hardball as contributors to democratic erosion in the United States.
In October 2010, McConnell said that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Asked whether this meant "endless, or at least frequent, confrontation with the president," McConnell clarified that "if [Obama is] willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it's not inappropriate for us to do business with him." According to political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, "Facing off against Obama, [McConnell] worked to deny even minimal Republican support for major presidential initiatives--initiatives that were, as a rule, in keeping with the moderate model of decades past, and often with moderate Republican stances of a few years past."The New York Times noted early during Obama's administration that "on the major issues--not just health care, but financial regulation and the economic stimulus package, among others--Mr. McConnell has held Republican defections to somewhere between minimal and nonexistent, allowing him to slow the Democratic agenda if not defeat aspects of it." Under McConnell, the Republican caucus threatened repeatedly to force the United States to default on its debt; McConnell saying that he learned from the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis that "it's a hostage that's worth ransoming."
McConnell worked to delay and obstruct health care reform and banking reform, two of the most notable pieces of legislation that Democrats navigated through Congress early in Obama's tenure. Political scientists noted that "by slowing action even on measures supported by many Republicans, McConnell capitalized on the scarcity of floor time, forcing Democratic leaders into difficult trade-offs concerning which measures were worth pursuing. ... Slowing the Senate's ability to process even routine measures limited the sheer volume of liberal bills that could be adopted."
Use of the filibuster
One of McConnell's most common tactics to delay or obstruct legislation and judicial appointments has been the filibuster. A filibuster is an attempt to "talk a bill to death", forcing Senate leadership to abandon a proposed measure instead of waiting out the filibuster-or at least to delay the measure's passage. In the United States Senate, any senator may speak for unlimited duration unless a 60-person majority votes to invoke cloture, or end debate, and proceed to a final vote. Political scientists have referred to McConnell's use of the filibuster as "constitutional hardball", referring to the misuse of procedural tools in a way that undermines democracy.
Political scientists Hacker and Pierson describe the rationale behind McConnell's filibusters, "Filibusters left no fingerprints. When voters heard that legislation had been 'defeated,' journalists rarely highlighted that this defeat meant a minority had blocked a majority. Not only did this strategy produce an atmosphere of gridlock and dysfunction; it also chewed up the Senate calendar, restricting the range of issues on which Democrats could progress."
In 2012, McConnell proposed a measure allowing President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, hoping that some Democratic senators would oppose the measure, thus demonstrating disunity among Democrats. However, all Democratic senators supported the proposal, which led McConnell to filibuster his own proposal.
In 2013, Senate majority leader Harry Reideliminated the filibuster for all presidential nominations except the Supreme Court. By that time, nearly half of all votes to invoke cloture in the history of the Senate had occurred during Obama's presidency. In April 2017, Senate Republicans led by McConnell eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to end debate on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. In August 2019, McConnell wrote an editorial for The New York Times, strongly opposing the elimination of the filibuster on legislation.
Throughout Obama's tenure, McConnell led Senate Republicans in what has been called "a disciplined, sustained, at times underhanded campaign to deny the Democratic president the opportunity to appoint federal judges." In June 2009, following President Obama nominating Sonia Sotomayor as Associate Justice, McConnell and Jeff Sessions opined that Sotomayor's seventeen years as a federal judge and over 3,600 judicial opinions would require lengthy review and advocated against Democrats hastening the confirmation process. On July 17, McConnell announced that he would vote against Sotomayor's confirmation. In August, McConnell called Sotomayor "a fine person with an impressive story and a distinguished background" but added he did not believe she would withhold her personal or political views while serving as a justice. Sotomayor was confirmed days later.
In May 2010, after President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to succeed the retiring John Paul Stevens, McConnell stated during a Senate speech that Americans wanted to make sure Kagan would be independent of influence from White House as an associate justice and noted Obama referring to Kagan as a friend of his in announcing her nomination. McConnell announced his opposition to Kagan's confirmation, saying she was not forthcoming enough about her "views on basic principles of American constitutional law." Kagan was confirmed the following month.
In 2014, Republicans gained control of the Senate, and McConnell became majority leader; McConnell used his newly heightened power to start what was considered "a near blockade of Obama's judicial appointments". According to The New York Times, Obama's final two years as president saw 18 district court judges and one appeals court judge confirmed, the fewest since President Harry S. Truman. In comparison, the final two years of the presidencies of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan had between 55 and 70 district court judges each confirmed and between 10 and 15 appeals court judges confirmed. According to the Los Angeles Times, McConnell brought about an "extraordinary two-year slowdown in judicial confirmations", detailing 22 confirmations of Obama's judicial nominees, the lowest since President Truman in 1951-1952. The number of federal judicial vacancies more than doubled comparing the figure near the end of Obama's term to the figure at the end of George W. Bush's term. Later in a 2019 interview, McConnell credited himself for the large number of judicial vacancies created in the last two years of Obama's presidency.
On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died. Shortly thereafter, McConnell issued a statement indicating that the U.S. Senate would not consider any Supreme Court nominee put forth by Obama. "'The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,'" McConnell said at the time. On March 16, 2016, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court. Under McConnell's direction, Senate Republicans refused to take any action on the Garland nomination. Garland's nomination expired on January 3, 2017, with the end of the 114th Congress.
In an August 2016 speech in Kentucky, McConnell made reference to the Garland nomination, saying that "one of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.'" In April 2018, McConnell said the decision not to act upon the Garland nomination was "the most consequential decision I've made in my entire public career". McConnell's refusal to hold Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland during Obama's final year in office was described by political scientists and legal scholars as "unprecedented", a "culmination of [his] confrontational style," a "blatant abuse of constitutional norms," and a "classic example of constitutional hardball."
In January 2017, Republican president Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left after Scalia's death. Gorsuch's nomination was confirmed on April 7, 2017, after McConnell eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.
On July 18, 2018, with Andy Oldham's Senate confirmation, Senate Republicans broke a record for largest number of appeals court judiciary confirmations during a president's first two years; Oldham became the 23rd appeals court judge confirmed in Trump's term. McConnell stated he considers the judiciary to be the item of Trump's first two years with the longest-lasting impact on the country. The record for the number of circuit court judges confirmed during a president's first year was broken in 2017, while the previous two-year record took place under President George H.W. Bush, and included 22 nominations. By March 2020, McConnell had contacted judges appointed by previous Republican presidents, encouraging them to retire prior to the 2020 election, in an attempt to ensure their replacements would be under a Republican president (Trump) and a Republican-controlled Senate. The number of judges McConnell contacted is unknown.
Congressional leaders in January 2020
In July 2018, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. McConnell accused Democrats of creating an "extreme" distortion of Kavanaugh's record during his hearing process. In September 2018, Christine Blasey Ford publicly alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in 1982. After a report came out of Democrats investigating a second allegation against Kavanaugh, McConnell stated, "I want to make it perfectly clear.... Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor." Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6. McConnell afterward admitted the confirmation process was a low point for the Senate, but also downplayed reports of dysfunction in the Senate; he said that claims that the Senate was "somehow broken over this [were] simply inaccurate."
In October 2018, McConnell said that if a Supreme Court vacancy were to occur during Trump's 2020 re-election year, he would not follow his 2016 decision to let the winner of the upcoming presidential election nominate a justice. He noted that in 2016 the Senate was controlled by a party other than the president's - and argued that for that reason, the 2016 precedent was not applicable in 2020, when the presidency and Senate were both controlled by Republicans. In September 2020, following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he announced the Senate would vote on Trump's nominated replacement. On October 23, 2020, McConnell set in place the Senate debate for the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg's seat. Barrett was confirmed on October 26, 2020.
The United States federal government shut down between October1 and 17, 2013, following a failure to enact legislation to fund the government. McConnell later vowed that Republicans would not force the US to default on its debt or shut down the government in 2014, when stop-gap funding measures were set to expire. McConnell also stated at the time he wouldn't allow other Republicans to obstruct the budget making process.
In July 2018, McConnell stated that funding for the Mexico-United States border wall would likely have to wait until the midterms had concluded. President Trump tweeted two days later that he was willing to allow a government shutdown to get funding. Several spending bills were approved that August, which was seen as a victory for McConnell in his attempts to prevent another government shutdown.
During this shutdown, McConnell blocked the Senate from voting on appropriations legislation, and said it was not his place to mediate between the Senate and Trump. Privately, McConnell had advised Trump against initiating the shutdown. Democrats criticized McConnell for not putting appropriations legislation up for a vote, noting that the Republican-controlled Senate unanimously passed an appropriations bill without wall funding and that the Senate could override Trump's veto.
By January 23, McConnell had blocked four Senate bills to reopen the government and a bill funding the Homeland Security Department through February 8. McConnell called for Democrats to support a Trump administration-backed measure that included $5.7 billion in wall funding, together with a temporary extension of protections for DACA recipients, a Democratic priority. Privately, other Republican senators pressured McConnell to stop blocking appropriations legislation.
The shutdown ended on January 25, when President Trump signed a three-week funding measure reopening the government until February 15 without any funds for a border wall. This was the longest government shutdown in American history.
On February 14, 2019, ahead of the Senate approving legislation preventing another partial government shutdown and providing funding for President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border, McConnell announced that President Trump "has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill" reopening the government. At the same time as he signed the bill, Trump declared a national emergency with regards to the border situation, allowing his administration to divert billions of dollars allotted by Congress for other purposes towards wall construction. McConnell stated his support of this national emergency declaration.
Relationship with Trump administration
McConnell initially endorsed fellow Kentucky senator Rand Paul during the 2016 presidential campaign. Following Paul's withdrawal from the race in February 2016, McConnell endorsed presumptive nominee Donald Trump on February 4, 2016. However, McConnell disagreed with Trump on multiple subsequent occasions. In May 2016, after Trump suggested that federal judge Gonzalo P. Curiel was biased against Trump because of his Mexican heritage, McConnell responded, "I don't agree with what he (Trump) had to say. This is a man who was born in Indiana. All of us came here from somewhere else." In July 2016, after Trump had criticized the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in Iraq, McConnell stated, "All Americans should value the patriotic service of the patriots who volunteer to selflessly defend us in the armed services." On October 7, 2016, following the Donald Trump Access Hollywood controversy, McConnell stated: "As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape." In private, McConnell reportedly expresses disdain for Trump and "abhors" his behavior.
In October 2017, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and other Trump allies blamed McConnell for stalling the Trump administration's legislation. In response, McConnell cited the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to show that the Senate was supportive of Trump's agenda.
After Joe Biden won the election of 2020 against Donald Trump, McConnell refused to recognize Biden as the winner of the election. In his public statements, McConnell did not repeat any of Trump's false claims of voter fraud, but did not contradict them, ignoring questions about evidence and instead arguing that Trump had the right to challenge the results. At the same time that McConnell refused to recognize Biden, he did celebrate Republicans who won their races in the Senate and the House in the same elections.
On November 5, 2019, as the House of Representatives began public hearings on the impeachment of President Trump, McConnell stated "I will say I'm pretty sure how [an impeachment trial is] likely to end. ... If it were today, I don't think there's any question-it would not lead to" the removal of President Trump from office.
On December 14, 2019, McConnell met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland. Later that day, McConnell declared that for Trump's impeachment trial, he would be in "total coordination with the White House counsel's office" and Trump's representatives. He also declared that there was "no chance" that the Senate would convict Trump and remove him from office.
On December 17, 2019, McConnell rejected a request to call four witnesses for Trump's impeachment trial, because according to McConnell, the Senate's role was to "act as judge and jury", not investigate. Later that day, McConnell told the media: "I'm not an impartial juror [in this impeachment trial]. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it."
After Trump's acquittal, McConnell was noted for his ability to block witnesses, to secure Trump's acquittal, and to maintain party unity during the impeachment process. Commentators noted that McConnell had kept Republican senators "marching in lockstep" throughout the process.
Speaking on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on April 22, 2020, McConnell suggested that states should be able to declare bankruptcy instead of receiving additional coronavirus aid funds - funds which he implied would be used to save insolvent state pension funds, instead of coronavirus relief as intended. His comments were met with sharp criticism from various state and local officials. States currently cannot declare bankruptcy.
After the passage of the CARES Act, McConnell waited several months before advancing any additional coronavirus relief measures in the Senate, saying in May that "I don't think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately," and stating that Congress should "[hit] pause" to evaluate how the allocated funds were working before approving more. In negotiations between congressional Democrats and White House officials for an additional aid package, McConnell was absent from the talks.
On September 10, a pared down coronavirus relief bill crafted by McConnell failed to advance the Senate past a Democratic filibuster. Democrats panned the bill as "completely inadequate" given the scope of the crisis brought on by the coronavirus - and as a partisan maneuver to help Republican senators up for reelection. McConnell called the bill a choice between "do[ing] something" and "do[ing] nothing", and said he was holding the procedural vote to get lawmakers on the record about their willingness to compromise on coronavirus legislation.
In October, McConnell remarked he has actively avoided the White House since early August over concerns the Trump administration is not taking enough precautions against COVID-19. At the time of his remarks, three GOP senators had recently tested positive, as had numerous White House employees and residents, including President Trump. McConnell has advocated mask wearing and social distancing, although neither are required in the Senate.
Early in his political career during the 60's and 70's, McConnell held moderate stances - including support of abortions, support of unions, and support of the civil rights movement.
McConnell has criticized proposed legislation by House Democrats such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. McConnell stated that if he was still Senate majority leader after the 2020 elections: "none of those things are going to pass the Senate. They won't even be voted on. So think of me as the Grim Reaper." In June 2019, Nancy Pelosi criticized McConnell for withholding votes on measures already passed by the Democratically controlled House, including the For the People Act of 2019, the Equality Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and others.
McConnell's campaign was noted for a series of television campaign spots called "Where's Dee", which featured a group of bloodhounds trying to find Huddleston,[better source needed] implying that Huddleston's attendance record in the Senate was poor. He was the first Republican to win a statewide election in Kentucky since 1968, and benefited from the popularity of President Ronald Reagan, up for re-election, who was supported by 60% of Kentucky voters in the same year.
In 2014, McConnell faced Louisville businessman Matt Bevin in the Republican primary. The 60.2% won by McConnell was the lowest voter support for a Kentucky U.S. senator in a primary since 1938. He faced Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the general election, and defeated Grimes, 56.2-40.7%.
In the November 2020 general election, McConnell faced Democratic nominee Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot; and Libertarian nominee Brad Barron, a businessman and farmer. During the campaign, McConnell and McGrath agreed to one hour long socially distanced debate on October 12. McConnell was elected to his seventh term on November 3 when he defeated McGrath.
In 2010, the OpenSecrets website ranked McConnell one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. Senate, based on net household worth. His personal wealth was increased after receiving a 2008 personal gift to him and his wife, given by his father-in-law James S. C. Chao after the death of McConnell's mother-in-law, that ranged between $5 and $25 million.
In May 2019, McConnell's brother-in-law Gordon Hartogensis, who is married to Chao's sister Grace, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a part of the Labor Department. McConnell voted to confirm.
McConnell's detractors have called him by a number of nicknames, including "Moscow Mitch", "Cocaine Mitch", the "Grim Reaper", "Darth Vader", "Rich Mitch", "Nuclear Mitch", and "Midnight Mitch". McConnell is known to embrace several of them; however, he objected strenuously to the nickname "Moscow Mitch".
During the 2014 campaign season, McConnell was lampooned for posting campaign B-roll footage online for use by allied PACs. Various Internet posters satirically interspersed the B-roll with footage from sitcoms and movies, and popular music. The practice-either of posting B-roll footage online for usage by PACs, or of lampooning the B-roll-was termed "McConnelling."
In 2015 and 2019, Time listed McConnell as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Slotnick, Elliot; Schiavoni, Sara; Goldman, Sheldon (2017). "Obama's Judicial Legacy: The Final Chapter". Journal of Law and Courts. 5 (2): 363-422. doi:10.1086/693347. ISSN2164-6570. S2CID158940942. the major responsibility for the obstruction and delay of Obama judges in the 114th Congress falls to Majority Leader McConnell and the allied leadership in the Republican Senate caucus
^ abcMcConnell, Mitch (2016). "Chapter One: A fighting spirit". The Long Game: a Memoir. New York, NY: Sentinel. p. 9. ISBN9780399564123. Archived from the original on August 5, 2020. Retrieved 2020. She'd been known her whole life not by her first name, Julia, which she loved, but by her middle name, Odene, which she detested. So in Birmingham she began to call herself Dean, and with no thought of ever returning to Wadley... James McConnell, from County Down, Ireland, who came to this country as a young boy in the 1760s, went on to fight for the colonies in the American Revolution.
^Although McConnell has allowed reporters to examine parts of his military record and take notes, he has refused to allow copies to be made or to disclose his entire record, despite calls by his opponents to do so. His time in service has also been the subject of criticism because his discharge was accelerated after his father placed a call to Senator John Sherman Cooper, who then sent a wire to the commanding general at Fort Knox on August 10, advising that "Mitchell [is] anxious to clear post in order to enroll in New York University (NYU)". He was allowed to leave post just five days later, though McConnell maintains that no one helped him with his enlistment into or discharge from the reserves. According to McConnell, he struggled through the exercises at basic training and was sent to a doctor for a physical examination, which revealed McConnell's optic neuritis. McConnell did not attend NYU.Cheves, John (October 23, 2008). "McConnell opens military record". Lexington Herald-Leader. Archived from the original on January 5, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
^Unah, Isaac; Williams, Ryan (2019), Rich, Wilbur C. (ed.), "The Legacy of President Obama in the U.S. Supreme Court", Looking Back on President Barack Obama's Legacy, Springer International Publishing, pp. 149-189, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-01545-9_8, ISBN9783030015442
^Reasons cited for McConnell's opposition to the nickname include "a longstanding resistance to federal control over state elections, newly enacted security improvements that were shown to have worked in the 2018 voting and his suspicion that Democrats are trying to gain partisan advantage with a host of proposals".