Mitch McConnell Biography, Career, Impeachment, Wives, Children

Mitch McConnell began his political career in 1977 as the judge-executive of Kentucky’s Jefferson County. He was elected to the United States Senate as a moderate Republican in 1984, and he demonstrated political savvy that allowed him to advance to the position of minority leader in 2006.

McConnell received global recognition for his opposition to President Barack Obama‘s legislative goals, which aided in turning the tide against Democratic control of the Senate. Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, he was named Senate majority leader in 2014 and notably refused to allow Senate hearings for a new Supreme Court nominee in 2016.

Early Years and Education

Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. was born in Sheffield, Alabama on February 20, 1942. After having polio at the age of two, he recovered thanks to his mother’s intensive therapy sessions, eventually becoming a superb baseball player.

Addison Sr.’s new employment sent the family to Louisville, Kentucky, where McConnell was elected student body president at duPont Manual High School. He held the same position at the University of Louisville before earning a B.A. in history with honors in 1964. He received his J.D. from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1967.

Early Political Career

In the mid-1960s, McConnell began his political career by interning for Kentucky Congressman Gene Snyder and Senator John Sherman Cooper. After law school, he worked as a principal legislative assistant for Senator Marlow Cook before becoming a deputy assistant attorney general to President Gerald Ford.

McConnell was elected as the judge-executive of Kentucky’s Jefferson County for the first time in 1977. Early in his tenure, as a moderate Republican, he supported collective bargaining rights for public employees and directed federal monies toward the expansion of Jefferson Memorial Forest.

McConnell defeated Walter D. Huddleston for a Senate seat in 1984, making him the first Republican in the country to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator that year, as well as the first member of his party to win a statewide campaign since 1968.

U.S. Senator

McConnell served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and fought for tax reform during his first term in the Senate. After being re-elected in 1990, he became recognized for his opposition to campaign finance reform, and he successfully led a drive to prevent legislation on the subject in 1994.

When he was named chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1996, McConnell continued to go against the grain at appropriate times. Following the enactment of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, he sued the Federal Election Commission, and in 2006, he rejected a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration.

By that time, the junior Kentucky senator had gained notoriety for his political savvy and ability to forge coalitions. In 2002, he was elected party whip, and four years later, he became Senate minority leader.

Republican Leader and Opposition to President Obama

As the Senate’s leading Republican, McConnell opposed the Democratic effort for a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq. In late 2008, he backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was signed into law by outgoing President George W. Bush.

With the 2008 election of President Obama giving Democrats control of the White House and both branches of Congress, McConnell focused on obstructing the new commander-in-chief whenever possible. Most notably, he opposed the passage 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 approval of Obama’s judicial appointments, and rejected a slew of other Obama-era legislation. Making his party’s strategy explicit in a 2010 interview with the National Journal, he stated: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

While McConnell did not meet that target, he did benefit from the Republican capture of the House in 2010. Despite the Democrats’ drive for gun control legislation following the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, McConnell voted against a 2013 bill that would have extended background checks for gun purchases.

He persisted in pushing the Republican narrative of excessive Democratic spending, generating a prolonged conflict over the federal debt ceiling that eventually pushed him to agree to a settlement to avert a government shutdown in October 2013. Despite infuriating the Tea Party side of the Republican Party, McConnell survived the ensuing power struggle that brought down senior House Republicans Eric Cantor and John Boehner. His re-election to the Senate in 2014 completed another wave of Republican advances, granting him the long-coveted position of Senate majority leader.

Majority Leader and Supreme Court Controversy

With the votes in his side, McConnell focused on fresh legislation. He led Senate passage of a five-year transportation plan, struck accords to improve education and social security, and pushed for legislation to combat the opioid epidemic. He also served as the senior member of the Agriculture, Appropriations, and Rules Committees.

Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia in February 2016, the Senate leader notably thwarted President Obama once more. With an Obama choice predicted to tilt the Court to the left, McConnell declared that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” and then refused to allow Merrick Garland’s nomination to be heard.

Despite criticism from both sides of the aisle, McConnell’s gamble paid off when Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, ensuring the nomination and confirmation of conservative favorite Neil Gorsuch.

Trump Administration: Obamacare Repeal, Tax Reform, Wall Vote

With President Trump in office, McConnell and his Republican colleagues began their long-promised repeal of Obamacare. After a few hiccups, the House passed its version of repeal legislation in May 2017. The Senate bill, however, did not gain enough traction to get over the hump, and with the defections of independent-minded Republican senators such as John McCain and Susan Collins, McConnell was forced to delay holding a vote before suffering a rare public defeat when the revised version was rejected in July.

The failed bill heightened tensions between McConnell and Trump, who were already divided over the direction of the Republican Party. McConnell, on the other hand, got back on track by clinching the passage of a comprehensive Senate tax reform measure in early December. The $1.5 trillion tax measure passed on December 20, 2017, when he and House Speaker Paul Ryan mended their differences, giving Trump his first big legislative success.

When the two parties disagreed on a temporary budget package in January 2018, the result was a brief government shutdown. Democrats wanted fresh protections for “Dreamers,” or the children of illegal immigrants growing up in the United States, but were persuaded to back down when McConnell made a vague pledge to look into the problem.

The majority leader stated in April 2018 that he would prefer to make the temporary individual tax cuts from the 2017 bill permanent. Around the same time, it was discovered that McConnell had allegedly sabotaged legislation from the March omnibus package that would update congressional policy on s**ual harassment due to a provision that made members financially accountable for settlements brought against them.

Furthermore, he addressed the contentious matter of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, with Trump apparently irritated by the special counsel’s encroachment into other aspects of his professional affairs. McConnell minimized the significance of recent bipartisan legislation to safeguard special counsels and stated that he would not bring it to the floor for a vote.

In 2019, McConnell was again squeezed by President Trump’s demand on erecting a wall along the US-Mexico border. Following a 35-day government shutdown over the issue and a budget settlement that allotted just $1.375 billion for the wall, Trump rejected McConnell’s warnings about lukewarm Senate support and declared a national emergency in February to secure additional funds. The House then passed a resolution to repeal the national emergency, and McConnell was unable to prevent its passage in the Senate, culminating in Trump’s first veto.

After a summary of the completed Mueller report was issued in March, clearing Trump of collaborating with Russia — though his probable obstruction of justice remained a politically explosive topic — an empowered president announced that he was resuming the repeal and replace of Obamacare. This time, Trump heard McConnell’s warnings that Senate Republicans had little desire for another quick healthcare battle, and he vowed he would address the problem after reelection.

That summer, the Senate majority leader broke his shoulder after falling on his patio, requiring him to work from home.

Impeachment

In the fall of 2019, McConnell and his colleagues took a back seat as the country concentrated on President Trump’s impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. In December, the lower chamber voted almost entirely along party lines to charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of justice, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to immediately relay the articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate, leaving McConnell to negotiate the terms of the trial with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.

Beyond agreeing to hold arguments over three days rather than two, McConnell used the Republican majority to his advantage after the Senate trial began in January 2020, squashing Democratic attempts to change trial procedures and summon witnesses. The Senate voted along party lines to acquit Trump on both impeachment accusations on February 5, 2020, causing the president to laud McConnell for a “fantastic job” in a celebration address afterward.

The next month, as the country was reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, McConnell and Schumer clashed once more over the components of an emergency relief package. On March 25, the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion package — dubbed a “wartime level of investment into our nation” by the majority leader — that included a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities, and states, four months of expanded unemployment insurance, and $1,200 for most American adults.

Personal Life

McConnell, a devout Baptist, wrote ‘The Long Game’ about his life and political career in 2016.

McConnell and his first wife, Sherrill Redmon, have three daughters. He married his second wife, Elaine Chao, in 1993, and she eventually became George W. Bush’s secretary of labor. Chao was appointed Transportation Secretary by President-elect Trump in November 2016. McConnell claimed that he would not recuse himself from his wife’s Senate confirmation.

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