McConnell on midterm elections: ‘The wind is going to be in our face’

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

LOUISVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was instrumental in marshaling forces to pass the largest tax overhaul in 30 years to spur an economic resurgence.

Yet, that doesn’t top McConnell’s list of what he considers his most consequential political accomplishments as the Senate’s top lawmaker. Top of the list for him is the rapid confirmations of conservative judges to every level of the federal judicial system.

“I believe that’s the most important thing we’re doing,” McConnell told members of the Kentucky Today editorial board in an interview on Tuesday. “You’ve heard me say before that I thought the decision I made not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia died was the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career. The things that will last the longest time, those are my top priorities.”

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The tax bill, McConnell said, is important to the country, but if political winds shift and Democrats are back in charge in the Senate and House, it will likely be short-lived.

“It’s noteworthy that when we did comprehensive tax reform 30 years ago, we left it alone for four years before the political winds shifted and we started playing with it again,” he said. “Believe me, the next time the political winds shift, and the other guys are in the ascendancy (he snapped his fingers indicating a rewrite). But they won’t change these judges for a generation.”

McConnell said he reached out to the White House general counsel shortly after Trump’s election, encouraging him to move quickly with nominations of judges in their 40s and 50s.

“I said ‘we’ve got a chance to transform the country in a very significant way for the next generation if we can get our act together,’” McConnell said.

The pace of confirmations has been quick, courtesy of a rule change pushed through by Democrats in 2013 when they controlled the Senate. The change made it easier for McConnell to fast-track judicial appointments.

Besides the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, McConnell’s Senate also confirmed 12 federal circuit judges in the first year of Trump’s presidency.

“That’s more than the first year of any president since the circuit courts were created in 1891,” McConnell said.

The appointees were relatively young positioning them to serve on the federal courts for decades.

McConnell said he’s hopeful Republicans can hold a majority in the Senate and continue appointing conservative judges throughout the entirety of Trump’s tenure.

“This is going to be a challenging election year,” McConnell said. “We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”

Trump’s low approval ratings could be a major factor in House elections, considering every seat is up for election this year. In the Senate, only a third of the seats are in contention.

Of the Senate seats up for grabs, 26 are held by Democrats and eight by Republicans. And, of the 26 Democratic seats up for election, six are in states where Trump’s popularity remains fairly high — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.

“I’m hoping we can hold the Senate,” he said, “And the principle reason for that, even if we were to lose the House and be stymied legislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do.”