Editor’s note: The following op-ed originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.
After a terrible, bone-breaking accident and two eye surgeries, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the former Senate Majority Leader, is scheduled to be back on Capitol Hill this week.
Somehow the bruised Reid looks good compared to the new Republican Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
In just over a month, McConnell has come to look like the beaten man.
Democrats are delighting in McConnell’s failure to deal with the House GOP’s preference for stopping the government from dealing with serious issues. The hard-right Republican caucus is content to do nothing but grandstand in the hope of winning applause from conservative talk radio.
He is on the brink of breaking his promise to avoid shutting down government agencies.
At the same time, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) continues to lash McConnell and Republicans in the Senate for failing to ram through a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that blocks the White House plan to halt deportations. Just last December, McConnell pledged: “We don’t intend to engage in rhetoric nor actions that rattle the public.”
McConnell has already had to break his pledge to return the Senate to “regular order.” He celebrated getting more votes on amendments on the Keystone XL bill than had been allowed in all of last year. But then he shut down Democrats seeking to debate the pipeline. That led to complaints that he was in a hurry to help several Republicans get going to California for a weekend retreat with billionaire donors Charles and David Koch.
The early reviews on McConnell’s leadership are bleak. “It’s not a good start for the future,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) conceded. “But hopefully we’ll get it put together.”
Democrats appear to see no hope for the future.
“The bottom line,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), told reporters “is this leader said he was going to be different and have an open amendment process and regular order…[and then he] went right back to the old Mitch. Right back to a process of shutting everything down, even stopping people from having 60 seconds to speak about their amendments.”
McConnell has also failed to deliver on his promise to have the Senate work on Fridays to produce more legislation. And there is no sign that McConnell intends to reverse the “nuclear option” rules change made by Democrats when they held the majority. McConnell had complained bitterly when Democrats made that shift but now shows no sign of wanting to switch the rules back again.
Now Democrats are sending around a chart showing McConnell’s first month ranks as the least productive in the last five sessions of Congress, going back to 2007, with fewest bills passed, excluding resolutions, and fewest nominations confirmed by roll call votes.
“Sen. McConnell promised the moon but delivered a box of rocks,” said Adam Jentleson, the spokesman for Reid. He was referring to McConnell’s longstanding complaints about how the Senate was run when Democrats held the majority.
McConnell and his fellow Republicans made attacks on Reid a standard verse in campaign stump speeches. They accused the top Senate Democrat of destroying the body’s traditions by refusing to allow Republicans free rein to enter amendments.
Reid said the GOP forced his hand by introducing useless amendments mainly to create embarrassing votes for moderate Democrats.
Then Republicans again slammed Reid’s leadership of the Senate after he used the “nuclear option.” McConnell led the Republicans in charging that Reid had broken the tradition and spirit of the Senate.
Now, in one short month, it is McConnell who is feeling the weight of a broken Senate. And it is worse for him, because some of the attacks on him are coming from his fellow Republicans over in the House.
The Democrats are delighting in McConnell’s failure to deal with the House GOP’s preference for stopping the government from dealing with serious issues. The hard-right Republican caucus is content to do nothing but grandstand in the hope of winning applause from conservative talk radio.
“The Republican Senate has started off as the least productive, most partisan, most contentious Senate in recent memory,” said Jentleson. “From bypassing committees on every single bill so far to trying to silence senators who dared to disagree with him to failing to hold a single Friday vote, Sen. McConnell is running a closed and partisan process that is extremely unproductive for the middle class.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pushed Reid to use the nuclear option to end the GOP stranglehold on nominations. In an interview last week, he told me he now wants both sides to look at the current rules and consider revisions to “advance rules that are right for the institution whether you are in the majority or the minority.”
As the new Senate began on January 6, Merkley went to the floor with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and asked that his fellow senators consider creating “a process to consider rules changes at the start of each legislative session” because he said there is “no guide” to how to hold a debate “about how the Senate functions.”
Merkley is right. That debate is desperately needed because the modern Senate, thanks to McConnell’s earlier tactics, is now caught in an era of never-ending partisan fights and is proving to be dysfunctional with a Republican or Democratic majority.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC’s “The Five,” where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.