What is Mitch McConnell up to?

I wondered how long it would take the national press to notice SB 228 now working through the Kentucky Legislature.  It effectively takes the power of filling a U.S. Senate appointment away from the Kentucky governor, Democrat Andy Beshear.  The Republican sponsors claim they are just covering the bases, so to speak, with a modern law on U.S. Senate vacancies.  There's some truth to that.  For example, it's smart to protect Rand Paul's seat in the next few years, if he moves on by taking a Cabinet post in the next administration.

Nonetheless, this has set off speculation that Sen. McConnell is leaving soon in some sort of deal for Biden's resignation, where the Democrats will then briefly have a window to fill the V.P. vacancy.

Sorry, folks.  I've known Mitch for 45 years.  That's about the last thing he would ever do.  Monster ego?  Yes.  Liberal Republican roots?  You bet.  He still goes weepy over his old boss, John Sherman Cooper, the Nelson Rockefeller of Kentucky.  But he is also an ultra-partisan Republican.  He may not care much for what conservatives in the GOP think, but he has mortal contempt for anybody with a D by his name.

For someone so obsessed with his Republican legacy and having worked so many years to burnish it, the last thing he wants is to be remembered as the sell-out who did Dementia Joe an enormous favor and let the Democrats off the hook when time comes to fill the V.P. post after Harris vacates it.

No, instead, you can be sure McConnell is already salivating over the prospect of holding the V.P. slot open as long as possible (just like the Supreme Court vacancy) and getting a pound of flesh straight from Chuck Schumer's heart.    

So what's really going on back in the Bluegrass?  The understanding in Kentucky has long been that Mitch would serve out his term, using the time to try to install his protégé, A.G. Daniel Cameron, as heir apparent.  But that's become more difficult.  McConnell's break with Trump has made him very unpopular with Kentucky grassroots Republicans.

Many county GOP committees have even censured him, and some members of the state committee would do so as well.   Neither Cameron nor others close to McConnell, like Kelly Kraft, would do well in a special election.  The heavy favorite, if he chose to run, would be the congressman from Western Kentucky, James Comer, a frequent guest on Fox News.  So an early exit for McConnell would spoil his succession plans.  And he badly wants those to happen, so he will be inclined to stay in the Senate for now.

The I.G. report on Elaine Chao is not a big deal, either.  Using government staff to run personal errands — that's the sort of thing that might get a sitting Cabinet member fired, but the DOJ has already declined criminal charges here.  At worst, she might be asked to write a check to cover the costs for such services.

For McConnell, the real issue is going to be the 2022 Senate elections.  If the Republicans lose seats, he will likely not be retained as GOP leader and may want to move on from the Senate.  However, 2022 is a long way down the road.  Republicans have 20 seats to defend, but mid-term elections seem to operate now in national waves.  Unhappiness with Mr. Biden, and V.P. Giggles when she succeeds him, will dominate the voting and will be the deciding factor in the next cycle.

Look for McConnell to work hard for more Republican Senate victories in 2022.  Only if that doesn't happen will he consider making use of the new Senate vacancy law.

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Ky.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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