Mitch McConnell and Merrick Garland have a fraught history. The Senate Republican leader was guilty of the most egregious petty politics when he blocked Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016. His excuse was the election 10 months away; the Kentucky senator had no such compunction last year when he rammed through a Republican nominee in the closing weeks before the election.
Garland was nominated for the high court by Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, who McConnell had vowed to make a failed, one-term president. He took his final revenge by preventing Garland from even getting a single hearing, much less a vote.
This week Garland finally got a Senate hearing. He is Joe Biden’s nominee to be attorney-general, and that may put him in an unintentional position to do McConnell a big favor.
McConnell has stockpiled an enormous collection of IOUs for political favors and fundraising over his six terms in the Senate, where he rose to his dream job, majority leader, until he lost the majority in a close Georgia runoff election. He blames that on Donald Trump, who instead of campaigning for the two Republican Senate candidates, used his appearance to air his never-ending list of grievances and spread more lies about having a second term stolen from him.
No one in Washington ever did more for Trump than McConnell. He rammed through the Senate a record number of Trump’s federal judges, many inexperienced and unqualified, got giant tax cuts and other legislation passed, and ultimately twice saved Trump from being convicted after being impeached by the House.
McConnell finagled the rules to protect Trump, who had been charged with blackmailing a foreign leader to dig up dirt on Biden and then trying to prevent the Congress from certifying the election of Biden, who had won by more than seven million votes.
After making sure Trump was – wrongfully – acquitted, the cynical but seething McConnell delivered a speech that spelled out why, but for McConnell’s own chicanery, the disgraced former president should have been convicted.
Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the deadly January 6 insurrection, McConnell told the nation, and suggested a remedy could be found in the “criminal justice system” where “former presidents are not immune.”
A seething former (he rejects that descriptive) president retaliated with all the vitriol he could spew. “Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack” with a “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill and personality.”
Trump wants revenge, but McConnell may get the last laugh and Judge Garland may be the one to deliver it. The judge McConnell kept off the Supreme Court will now be in charge of the nation’s criminal justice system
As confirmation hearings for attorney-general were beginning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, across the street the Supreme Court, with three Trump nominees and three more of his staunch supporters, cleared the way without any dissent for Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns and other financial records to be turned over to New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance. (Remember when Trump promised six years ago to make his returns public but kept coming up with excuses not to?)
GARLAND TOLD senators the greatest threat the country faces is white supremacy, and his first priority will be investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the violent insurrection of January 6. He didn’t have to mention the instigator of the insurrection by name; everyone knew it. Especially Mitch McConnell.
Committee Republicans, including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both of whom encouraged the deadly insurrection and led Senate efforts to prevent certification of Biden’s election, didn’t see the same threats as Garland. They wanted to talk instead about investigating Hunter Biden, James Comey, the Steele Dossier, Operation Fast and Furious, and Tea Party tax treatment. They demanded assurances that Biden’s attorney-general would be independent of the White House, something that never seemed to bother them in the prior administration.
Trump is threatening revenge on those he feels didn’t support him enough, promising to raise money and candidates for primary challenges, and McConnell is his number-one target. McConnell, who turned 79 this month, had just been elected to a seventh term and is unlikely to run again in 2026, so doesn’t have to worry about primary challenges or Trumpsters deposing his leadership post.
If anyone gets revenge it could be McConnell, and in a historic twist of irony Garland could be the one who delivers it for him as the attorney-general prosecuting those responsible for the insurrection, from the delusional former president down to the terrorist troops who stormed the Capitol.
McConnell’s top priority is getting back his old job of majority leader; Republicans would have to pick up only one Senate seat next year for that to happen.
The Trump-McConnell feud could protect Democratic control. Democrats retained their majorities by very slim margins in November and historically the party in the White House usually loses seats during off-year elections. If the GOP-MAGA internecine split gets serious, it could wind up protecting Democrats by bringing down vulnerable Republicans in marginal states and districts.
McConnell and Biden have been friends since their Senate days – the Kentuckian was the only GOP senator to attend Beau Biden’s funeral – and have been able to work together, especially when it came to averting crises like a government shut-down.
McConnell has called Biden “someone I could work with,” but that appears highly unlikely since the Republican leader’s goal is to get his old job back by showing the Democrats can’t govern and only he can stop them.
Obama wrote in his memoir, “But what McConnell lacked in charisma or interest in policy he more than made up for in discipline, shrewdness, and shamelessness – all of which he employed in the single-minded and dispassionate pursuit of power.”
McConnell likes to call himself the “Grim Reaper” because his desk is where Democratic legislation goes to die. He may have a more cordial relationship with Biden than with Obama, but never forget that his focus is on winning back his old job, and in his scheme that means making sure Biden fails.