Editorials

Mitch McConnell should do the obvious right thing, reopen the government

Federal prison workers protest government shutdown by targeting McConnell’s Lexington office

Federal prison workers from various counties across Kentucky gathered along Harrodsburg Road near Sen. Mitch McConnell's office to protest the government shutdown lasting 24 days, the longest in the nation's history.
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Federal prison workers from various counties across Kentucky gathered along Harrodsburg Road near Sen. Mitch McConnell's office to protest the government shutdown lasting 24 days, the longest in the nation's history.

In recent days we’ve learned that President Donald Trump concealed details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that U.S. counterintelligence agents opened an investigation into whether Trump had become a Russian asset.

That news renders Trump’s claims of an emergency at the southern border even emptier. Our longtime adversary’s nuclear-armed, authoritarian regime poses a real threat to security and peace. Ragtag refugee “caravans” do not.

Trump’s detractors have long accused him of being compromised by or in cahoots with the Kremlin, but last week it was revealed for the first time that U.S. counterintelligence agents had been alarmed enough by Trump’s actions that they opened an investigation in 2017 into whether he was working, perhaps unknowingly, against U.S. interests for Russia. That inquiry presumably has been folded into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump on Monday denied helping Russia. But in such unsettled times the nation needs a fully functioning government and Congress. It needs an FBI, Department of Homeland Security and State Department that are funded and paying employees who are the front line against terrorism.

Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sits on his hands, afraid of Trump’s wrath and voters, even though McConnell could end the government shutdown by allowing the Senate to vote on a spending plan and then overriding any Trump veto.

When McConnell does emerge, he touts the merits of Trump’s wall, raising a question: If McConnell really thinks that Trump’s wall is critical, why didn’t he push for more funding during the two years when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress? It would have been much easier to win approval then than after Democrats won the House.

Ten Senate Democrats were up for re-election last year in states that Trump carried, which would have opened them to persuasion. McConnell would have needed only nine Democrats to win the necessary 60 votes. We have to conclude that not even McConnell thinks the wall, as envisioned by Trump, is necessary.

Now a bunch of Republicans, including McConnell, are facing re-election next year in states that Trump carried. McConnell’s top consideration seems to be protecting himself and his GOP majority from Trump-inspired challenges from the right.

As of Monday afternoon, McConnell had said nothing about the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump was aiding Russia. We also learned last week that Trump went out of his way to keep his conversations with Putin secret, even telling a linguist not to tell other administration officials what had been said, a departure from past administrations when memos about conversations between the president and other heads of state were circulated and used to hone policy.

Unquestionably loyal to Trump, McConnell blocked a bipartisan announcement that Russia was interfering in the election in 2016 and a bill protecting the Mueller investigation in November.

Facing his toughest test yet, McConnell should do the obvious right thing and reopen the government.

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