Who is Mitch McConnell? Mitch McConnell (Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr.), 78, is a senior Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky as well as Senate majority leader since 2014. McConnell is the second Kentuckian to serve as a party leader in the Senate, and the longest-serving American senator for Kentucky as well as the longest-serving leader of U.S. Senate Republicans in history. A 2012 survey and a 2016 survey found that McConnell had the lowest source status approval rate of any active senator. With a 49% disapproval rate in 2017, McConnell had the highest disapproval rating of all senators. In 2020, according to Morning Consult, Susan Collins overcate McConnell as the most unpopular senator with an unfavorable rating of 52% of Maine voters compared to McConnell’s 50% unfavorable.
Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. was born on February 20, 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama. After contracting polio at the age of two, he recovered thanks to his mother’s vigorous therapy sessions, and even became a talented baseball player.
A new job for Addison Sr. brought the family to Louisville, Kentucky, where McConnell became student body president at duPont Manual High School. He held the same position at the University of Louisville, before graduating with honors in 1964 with a B.A. in History. In 1967, he earned his J.D. from the University of Kentucky School of Law.
Early political career
With an eye on a career in politics, McConnell did an internship for Kentucky Congressman Gene Snyder and Senator John Sherman Cooper in the mid-1960s. He served as chief legislative assistant to Senator Marlow Cook after law school, and then became an assistant to President Gerald Ford’s deputy attorney general.
In 1977, McConnell won his first elected seat as Jefferson County executive judge in Kentucky. A moderate Republican early in his career, he supported the collective bargaining rights of public employees and directed federal funds toward the expansion of Jefferson Memorial Forest.
In 1984, McConnell beat Walter D. Huddleston for a Senate seat, making him the only Republican in the country to defeat a acting Democratic senator that year, as well as the first of his party to win a state race since 1968.
During his first term in the Senate, McConnell won a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and advocated for tax reform. Gaining traction after his re-election in 1990, he became known for his opposition to campaign finance reform and successfully spearheaded an effort to block legislation on that front in 1994.
McConnell, who was appointed chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee in 1996, continued to oppose the tide at the right times. He sued the Federal Election Commission after the passage of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, and in 2006, he opposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting the desecration of the American flag.
By then, the young Senator of Kentucky had gained renown for his political cunning and his ability to forge coalitions. He was elected party whip in 2002 and four years later assumed the position of minority leader in the Senate.
Republican leader and opposition to President Obama
As the Senate’s chief Republican, McConnell rejected the Democratic push to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. In late 2008, he supported the Problem Asset Relief Program, promulgated by outgoing President George W. Bush.
With President Obama’s 2008 election giving Democrats control of the White House and both branches of Congress, McConnell focused on obstructing the new commander-in-chief whenever possible. In particular, it opposed the adoption of the economic stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the health insurance reform package, the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) in 2010.
In addition, he opposed the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, delayed the approval of Obama’s court candidates, and rejected a number of other laws introduced during the Obama administration. Making his party’s strategy explicit in a 2010 interview with the National Journal, he said, “The most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a single-term president.”
While McConnell failed to achieve that goal, he saw advances with the Republican take-off of the House in 2010. Two years later, despite Democrats’ push for gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, McConnell voted against a 2013 bill that have expanded background checks for the purchase of weapons.
He continued to push for the Republican narrative of overthrowing Democratic spending, fueling an ongoing dispute over the federal debt limit that eventually forced him into an agreement to end the government’s closure in October 2013. Although his engagement infuriated the GOP’s Tea Party faction, McConnell survived the ensuing power struggle that brought down top House Republicans Eric Cantor and John Boehner. His re-election to the Senate crowned another wave of Republican achievement in 2014, giving him his coveted role as senate majority leader.
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