Tom Eblen

That was then, this is now: McConnell’s standards shift with political winds

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a Washington news conference Nov. 9.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a Washington news conference Nov. 9. AP

Nobody talks out of both sides of his mouth better than Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell.

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, the Senate majority leader said Democrats should stop objecting to confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees this week, even though some have yet to make required financial disclosures and get government conflict-of-interest clearances.

“All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration in having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” McConnell said, adding, “but we need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”

Whenever he is accused of hypocrisy, McConnell changes the subject by lashing out at critics. In his mind, there is no right and wrong — just power and partisanship.

But Democrats aren’t the only ones complaining. The Office of Government Ethics says some Trump appointees haven’t even submitted draft disclosure reports, limiting the ability of senators to fully question them during hearings.

“I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,” Walter Shaub, the office’s director, wrote Friday.

This stuff matters. Trump’s cabinet members, several of whom are millionaires and billionaires with complex financial relationships, will be spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money, and some senators would like to know if a lot of it might end up lining their pockets and those of their friends.

McConnell felt differently about this issue in 2009. Then the minority leader, McConnell wrote his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid, insisting that ethics clearances for President Barack Obama’s nominees be submitted to committees before hearings so senators could “fairly review a nominee’s record and to make an informed decision prior to a vote.”

But last week’s display of McConnell hypocrisy was even more rich. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he warned Senate Democrats not to try to block a Trump Supreme Court nomination.

“I think that’s something the American people simply will not tolerate and we’ll be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it,” McConnell said.

In case anyone wasn’t paying attention, McConnell spent most of last year ignoring all precedent by refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nomination from Obama, who at the time he nominated Merrick Garland had 11 months remaining on his term. Stealing a Supreme Court seat because he could get away with it will go down in history as McConnell’s most shameful act of putting party before country.

Speaking of financial conflicts of interest, we still know little about those of the president-elect, who defied a long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. Trump has claimed he will release them when an IRS audit is complete, although there is no legal reason an audit prevents their release.

Last spring, when most Republican leaders were calling on Trump to release his tax returns, McConnell chimed in. “For the last 30 or 40 years, every candidate for president has released their tax returns, and I think Donald Trump should as well,” he said.

Since then? Crickets.

Most likely, Trump will follow the example of Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has defied a similar state tradition. During the campaign, Bevin said he would release his tax return after the election. Once elected, Bevin refused to keep his promise. Kentuckians are still waiting to see them.

Welcome to Republican-controlled government, where ethics and accountability are for other people.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen