By: John David Dyche
Kentucky's Mitch McConnell "loved every minute" of his first year as U.S. Senate Majority Leader. The position not only lets him set the chamber's legislative agenda, but he determines how the body will go about its important work.
When McConnell assumed the leadership he declared that Republicans would be "a responsible center right governing majority." This meant, among other things, not shutting down the government or risking non-payment of government obligations.
McConnell looked for, and found, things that were worth doing and had bipartisan support. To get them done he returned the Senate to so-called "regular order," which relies on the committee process, and gave senators more opportunities to offer amendments.
This produced considerable accomplishment even under divided government in which Democrats hold the White House. On big issues where there was not bipartisan agreement, McConnell proceeded in a way that pointed out important philosophical and policy differences between the parties.
McConnell's foes used to criticize him as an obstructionist. As Majority Leader, however, he accomplished a lot.
His list of important items that made it into law includes a highway bill, an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education measure, some small but meaningful entitlement reforms, legislative review of the Iran nuclear deal, a cybersecurity initiative, and a spending measure.
As for that spending measure, McConnell was not enthusiastic about busting the budget caps, or sequester, but a critical mass of Republican senators strongly (and sensibly) wanted more defense spending. That increase came at a cost of compromise with liberal Democrats on other areas.
Things that did not make it all the way through the process, but which distinguished the two parties, included a Keystone pipeline measure, an Obamacare repeal, and rollbacks of the Obama administration's aggressive regulatory agenda.
McConnell's goals for the coming year include passing all the appropriations bills for the first time since 1994. Democrats blocked them this year, which is why it was necessary to do an omnibus spending measure.
The new leader lost a few, too. For example, he backed a robust renewal of the Patriot Act providing for bulk collection of telephone metadata. The Senate, at the urging of Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul, opted for something considerably less.
McConnell caught hell from unrealistic and self-promoting colleagues, like Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity. None of this bunch ever adequately explained how they would have gotten their desired results when the GOP does not have a filibuster-proof majority, much less a veto-proof one.
These McConnell critics who make their living by attacking Republicans either ignore or do not comprehend constitutional or political realities. McConnell clearly does.
He knows that control of the White House is required to really change the country. And that control, like control of the Senate, is decided in so-called "purple" states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin that are battlegrounds between Democrats and Republicans.
That is why the nomination of electable Republican presidential and Senate candidates is so important to McConnell and the country. Ideological purity is not a pathway to victory in purple states.
McConnell rightly reminds Republicans, "Winners make policy; losers go home." If the GOP is serious about more conservative change it must first win these elections rather than merely make self-gratifying debating points.
He has high hopes for his new partner at the Capitol's other side, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. McConnell liked and respected former Speaker John Boehner, but thinks Ryan is now in a position to pursue his passion for policy by leading the legislative process in the House.
Back home in Kentucky, McConnell has a good relationship with, and fully supports, the new Republican governor, Matt Bevin. McConnell is also helping as he can to achieve a Republican majority in the state House of Representatives.
He is not enamored of the presidential caucus that the state Republican Party will hold instead of a primary, but backed it on a one-time only basis to support Paul's presidential bid. Although he is publicly supporting Paul for president, McConnell acknowledges that is it more probable that his colleague will be reelected to the Senate.
McConnell is a conservative, but he is also a realist and an institutionalist who wants the Senate to function well and fulfill its constitutional role. He has withstood withering attacks from the far poles of the political spectrum and has emerged even stronger.
The Majority Leader abides.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His email is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.