Americans have complained for years about the do-nothing politicians in Congress. Obstructionism has dogged any substantial work for close to a decade as our elected officials spend more time arguing across the aisle than crafting useful legislation. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to bring that to an end — and the timing couldn’t be more suspect.
On June 5, McConnell announced that he would be suspending the Senate’s upcoming August recess — instead giving lawmakers just one week to return to their home states before requesting their presence back in the Capitol. The leading Republican cites outstanding judicial nominations and other pending Congressional action as the impetus for his decision to keep senators in D.C.
The Senate majority leader said Tuesday that the Senate will only take a break for the first week of August because of “historic obstruction” by Senate Democrats and will stay in session the rest of the month. McConnell was under enormous pressure from his own caucus as well as the president to cancel as much of the recess as possible, but the majority leader also saw an opportunity to unite Republicans and annoy incumbent Democrats.
McConnell cites a “judicial crisis” of empty seats that still need to be filled — ignoring the fact that the reason so many seats remain open is because the Senate GOP refused to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominations. Regardless, for Republicans the need is real.
After all, come January 2019, there’s a strong possibility that Republicans will no longer hold the majority — and it will be the Democrats with the power to confirm or deny.
But filling up judicial vacancies is only a fig leaf for the real reason behind the clamor to keep Senate in session as often as possible. According to The Hill, the other goal is to prevent Democratic incumbents from campaigning at home, giving an advantage to their GOP challengers.
The Hill reports:
Democrats immediately cried foul over the move, arguing it was a clear political play by McConnell. ‘The fact that the Republicans have resorted to keeping Democrats off the campaign trail in August shows you just how nervous they are about November,’ said a senior Democratic aide.
David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC, added that McConnell is “terrified” about letting Democrats campaign. “Given his horrendous recruits, Senator McConnell is right to be terrified of Senate Democrats on the campaign trail, but whenever the GOP Congress is in session they find new ways to alienate and disgust voters,” he said.
If the move is meant to put Democratic senators at an electoral disadvantage, well, apparently they aren’t getting the message.
According to Roll Call:
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat from Maryland who is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is portraying the schedule change as an opportunity for legislating and messaging. “Our members are eager to actually get some things done like addressing the problem of increasing health care costs, the increasing costs of prescription drugs,” Van Hollen said. “We hope we’ll use this time period on something the American people care about.”
In fact, the progressive wing’s embrace of the plan could reveal that McConnell’s real reason for keeping senators in Washington wasn’t about harming Democrats up for reelection, but protecting Republicans in the same situation.
After all, without a long stretch at home, vulnerable GOP senators now have an excuse to avoid public meetings, town halls and other face-to-face forums where they would be forced to interact directly with their constituents. They will no longer need to fear being ambushed by those concerned about a lack of affordable health care coverage or underfunded safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security. And senators won’t have to answer questions about why — even with a lower unemployment rate – wages remain stagnant, or why Congress would rather see children murdered in their school desks than enact simple, practical gun reform.
Actually, come to think of it, it’s surprising that McConnell is letting senators come home at all — or that they even want to. These legislators may be far more comfortable staying in their D.C. bubble, where voters can’t demand the answers to hard questions.