Michael Adkins: One dysfunction stands out above all

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There are numerous factors in the dysfunction of Congress, especially the all-powerful influence of money and undemocratic congressional rules. These factors are pertinent on both sides of the aisle, and we can point out Democrats as well as Republicans who exhibit these problems.

But no member of Congress fully epitomizes the problems as much as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Let’s take the last factor first. Congress, once a democratic institution, has changed its internal rules to the point where far too many members hold far too much power; so much so that other members of Congress are all but useless.

Beginning with filibusters and later as majority leader, McConnell has been solely responsible for blocking more judicial appointments than in all the previous four decades. His unprecedented refusal to hold hearings on Merrick Garland was among the most pernicious, naked political acts in our lifetimes.

McConnell noted that no Supreme Court nominee had been appointed when both chambers of Congress and the White House were held by opposite parties since Grover Cleveland. It mattered not that this was a coincidence with no constitutional or legal precedent to support him. Further evidence of his undemocratic power is the fact that McConnell often blocks House bills from even being heard in the Senate. No elected member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, should hold that kind of power.

McConnell has the lowest approval rating of any senator in his or her home state, a not-uncommon fact for him. He currently stands at a 33% approval rate among Kentucky voters, which is a vast improvement over the 18% rating polls showed immediately after he earned the “Moscow Mitch” moniker. Lacking the charm and personality of typical politicians, McConnell is reliant on massive campaign contributions to tarnish and vilify his opponents over the Kentucky media. Only 10% of his campaign contributions come from Kentucky. His legendary skill at obtaining huge donations has not only kept him in office, but is vastly responsible for the shift in his political views over time. In other words, like too many congressmen, Mitch can be bought.

His deaf ear to gun violence victims seeking common-sense solutions like improved background checks, closing gun-show purchase loopholes, and re-imposing the assault weapons ban is due to the $3.5 million he alone received from the NRA from 2015 to 2017. One big donor has given McConnell, since 1998, over $5 million simply to fight and repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

McConnell’s opposition to all health care reform is easily attributable to the more than $435,000 he has received from large medical care companies and the insurance industry. His opposition to any measure that would lower drug costs? You guessed it, Big Pharma, including our own Eli Lilly, has put in excess of $1.3 into McConnell’s war chest since 2015. I am confident we can uncover many more examples of big-money influence on McConnell’s votes, but let us look at just two more. Few realize that Sen. McConnell pleaded with President Trump to unilaterally withdraw the nation from the Paris Climate Change Accord. Once again, big corporate donors played their role. Big Energy, coal, gas and oil forked over more than $2.3 million to McConnell. Who helped lift sanctions on Putin’s pal in return for a $200 million investment in Kentucky? Moscow Mitch of course.

I’d like to mention one other concern about how money impacts Congress. McConnell’s estimated $28 million net worth places him below the average senator’s. How can such a wealthy body of legislators be expected to understand the plight of the middle class?

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party.