Somehow, I was led to believe that voting was a fundamental part of democracy. And when a majority exists, and no vote can take place – well, that is more than just a shame; it’s not democracy.
At center stage on this is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). There are currently forty-seven Democratic senators who want to pass legislation to open most of the closed departments and agencies of the federal government. There are also at least four Republicans; that makes a total of fifty-one; i.e. a majority of the one hundred members of the Senate.
But McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to vote on the bills that have already passed the House. His reasoning is that the president has said that he would veto such legislation.
McConnell was not born yesterday. The fact that Donald Trump is unpredictable and not good to his word is not a surprise to most people, and that includes him. If McConnell would allow the Senate to vote to reopen most of the agencies that are currently closed, who knows what Trump would do? In a sense, McConnell is now doing Trump’s bidding. A more responsible Majority Leader would let democracy prevail, and if the president would want to veto the bills, he would be free to do so. We have no way of knowing what he actually would do, because Trump himself has no idea.
The problem is not just McConnell. It is a system that has existed in Congress since its origins. Each house has its leadership. It makes sense to have men and women in positions to organize the legislation that is considered before Congress. There need to be traffic cops; one who will say let’s deal with Bill ‘D’ before Bill ‘A’ because it currently is more urgent. For example, it is far more important now for each house of Congress to deal with issues reopening the government, and even addressing border security, than it is to vote on a bill that would rename a post office.
We often talk about presidential abuse of power, and we are certainly seeing quite a bit of it with Donald Trump. Seldom do we talk about abuse of power with Congressional leaders, but it may be more prevalent and nearly as insidious. This is what we are seeing now with Mitch McConnell. He is essentially ostracizing fifty-one or more members of the U.S. Senate, leaving them with as much power to effect policy as you and I, as ordinary citizens, have.
We talk a great deal about structural changes necessary to improve our democracy. These include abolishing the Electoral College, eliminating gerrymandering, and eradicating voter suppression. But equally important is for Congress to drastically reduce the power of its leaders, including committee chairpersons.
Right now, Mitch McConnell is being cowardly, loyal, undemocratic and savvy all at the same time. It seems that he prefers to think of himself as loyal and savvy rather than cowardly and undemocratic. But his audience is more than a crowd of one – Trump. It is the American people, and in particular the 800,000 government workers who did not receive their paychecks yesterday.
Come on, Mitch, show Trump what courage and good judgment look like. It’s a way to try to rejuvenate the Republican Party.