Throughout the last decade, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven himself to be one of the most decisive and controversial figures in American politics. Throughout both the Obama and Trump administrations, McConnell’s tight grip on the Republican majority has been imperative to the success and failures of each administration, most notably his work to create a heavily conservative federal judiciary. While holding votes on just two Circuit court judges under Obama since 2015, McConnell has proudly confirmed over 200 federal judges in Trump’s term, nearly a third of the federal judiciary.
McConnell’s uncompromising and unapologetic attitude has made him one of the most polarizing figures in the Trump era. The results of the upcoming Georgia senate races will decide how much power the Kentucky Senator wields at the beginning of the new administration. However, even if the Democrats achieve a 50-50 majority with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, McConnell will remain a key player in Washington and his relationship with President-Elect Biden could be critical for much of Biden’s agenda over the next four years. Despite the fear-mongering rhetoric coming from both sides regarding the Senate, Biden and McConnell’s relationship may be telling of a more optimistic, if not uncertain, future for the American government, depending on influence from outside forces.
Biden and McConnell are by no means strangers. The two served together in the Senate for over 20 years and often worked closely when Biden served as Vice President. Thanks to their history, the President-Elect at least appears to be optimistic about working with the Republican leader during his presidency. When asked about his ability to work with the Senator, Biden stated “There are a number of things that when McConnell controlled the Senate that people said couldn’t get done, and I was able to get them done with [him].” Meanwhile, McConnell, like most Republican lawmakers, has still avoided directly acknowledging Biden’s victory, going as far as to block a Congressional resolution to recognize Biden’s inauguration. It is difficult to determine how McConnell’s role in damaging the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency will affect their ability to work together on policy. However, the extent of this damage depends on one main factor: Donald Trump.
As long as Trump maintains his grip on the Republican party, many of those in Congress believe it would be political suicide to go against the President’s campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Additionally, rumors of Trump contemplating a 2024 presidential run if he loses will likely maintain his influence in the party, with many Republicans already stating that they will support a third Presidential run. Trump’s maintained authority in the party will likely hurt the possibility of Republicans, including McConnell, working with the future Biden administration, as they would continue to fear political retribution from the soon-to-be-former president.
Biden and McConnell’s past relationship suggests that there is hope for bipartisanship in the future, despite McConnell’s conduct as the majority leader in the last five years. However, if either man wishes to work with the other successfully and respectfully, they must root out the arbitrary attacks on democracy by the current President, as well as his hold on the Republican party so that senators are not intimidated by compromising across the aisle.