So where was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday when the House GOP clown caucus failed once again to get its act together to elect a speaker? In a move sure to infuriate Republican extremists, McConnell made a rare joint appearance with President Joe Biden in Covington, Kentucky, to tout a major project funded by the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November 2021.
The event offered a sharp contrast to the chaos engulfing the House with the new narrow GOP majority unable to elect a speaker on its second day in control.
Biden began his remarks by thanking McConnell for providing the votes needed to get the infrastructure bill passed according to a transcript of the speeches.
"I wanted to start off the New Year at this historic project with the bi-partisan agreement because I believe it sends an important message to the entire country," Biden said. "We can work together. We can get things done. We can move the nation forward. If we drop our egos and focus on what is needed for the country."
In his remarks, McConnell said, “Even while we have big differences on other things .. this bridge, I think, symbolizes coming together ... If you look at the political alignment of everyone involved, it’s the government is working together to solve a major problem at a time when the country needs to see examples like this, of coming together and getting an outcome … I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
McConnell had fully expected to take over as Senate majority leader on Tuesday when the new Congress convened. But instead, Democrats ended up increasing their Senate majority by one seat in the midterms.
Unlike his spineless House counterpart Kevin McCarthy, McConnell may realize it's beneficial for party leaders to stand up to rather than appease extremist MAGA Republicans. He has blamed Trump for putting up poor quality candidates like Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania who lost potentially winnable races that left him as minority leader.
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He doesn’t want that to happen again in 2024 when the Senate map favors Republicans. Democrats must defend three seats in states won by Trump—in Ohio (Sherrod Brown), Montana (Jon Tester), and West Virginia (Joe Manchin) as well as in purple states, including Arizona (Kyrsten Sinema, now an independent).
Additionally, Trump has insulted McConnell in posts on his Truth Social platform as an “Old Crow” RINO (Republican In Name Only) and leveled ethnic slurs at his wife, Trump’s former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. And Trump lashed out at McConnell and Chao again on Tuesday on his Truth Social platform in the wake of McCarthy’s failure to win the speakership. Trump is backing McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
“There is so much unnecessary turmoil in the Republican Party,” Trump said, adding that the disorder is due in large part to “Old Broken Crow” McConnell, his wife Chao “who is a sellout to China,” and their “RINO” allies. They “make it difficult for everyone else by constantly capitulating to Hopeless Joe Biden and the Democrats.”
Of course, McConnell is responsible for much of what ails the nation, including packing the judiciary with Federalist Society conservatives, including three hard-line Supreme Court justices. But McConnell has begun to take a stand against MAGA Republican extremists, even if his actions are too little, too late after he failed to vote against Trump in the 2021 Senate impeachment trial. McConnell incurred the wrath of Trump when he got 18 other Senate Republicans to join him in supporting the infrastructure bill in 2021. In the House, McCarthy opposed the bill, while only 13 Republicans supported it.
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He further infuriated MAGA Republicans when he helped the Senate pass the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill in December, including $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine, to fund the government in fiscal year 2023.
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On Wednesday, Biden and McConnell appeared together to tout the $1.63 billion in federal grants that Kentucky and Ohio will receive to help repair the overloaded Brent Spence Bridge and build a new span adjacent to it. The bridge over the Ohio River connects Cincinnati and Covington, and is a heavily used freight route connecting the Midwest and the South.
Other speakers at the event included two Republicans, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and former Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, as well as two Democrats, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who is up for reelection in 2023, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and J.D. Vance of Ohio did not attend the event.
Biden has accomplished much more than expected with Democrats narrowly in control of Congress during his first two years in office. But after the November midterms, Republicans gained a narrow House majority and plan to try to stall Biden’s agenda and launch investigations into his family and Cabinet members.
Conservative commentators were irate about the joint appearance. Mark Levin called McConnell a “total fraud” on Twitter. Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Behold the uniparty!”
On Tuesday, McConnell broke the record for longest-serving Senate party leader whether in the majority or the minority, Politico reported. The record had been held by Democratic Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana, who served as majority leader for 16 years.
In his floor remarks to open the new Congress, McConnell actually paid tribute to Mansfield: “Mansfield was a canny strategist who knew how to rally his conference. He knew when to go to battle, and when to coordinate with his counterpart Everett Dirksen,” McConnell said. “In short, he knew how to work the Senate.”
In November, McConnell beat back a leadership challenge. Ten senators voted for Sen. Rick Scott of Florida instead of McConnell.
Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior Biden administration officials will be blanketing the country this week to promote the president’s economic plan. On Wednesday, Harris will be in Chicago and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will visit New London, Connecticut. On Thursday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will join White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu in San Francisco, California.
Those visits are related to the following infrastructure projects funded under the 2021 bill: four moveable bridges crossing the Calumet River in Chicago; the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in New London, Connecticut; and the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Here is a video of Biden’s visit to Covington, including the speeches by Biden, McConnell and others. McConnell’s speech begins at the 29-minute mark and Biden’s at the 35-minute mark.
(Updates throughout with details from the event in Covington, Kentucky.)