Eleven years, five months and 10 days into his tenure as Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell has now had the party’s top spot longer than anyone.
“He understands the Senate better than anybody else here,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday.
Up until today, Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., was the longest serving Senate Republican leader.
Former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., had the job for five years, and believes it comes with challenges others in Washington never face.
“I think it’s the toughest leadership job, political job, in this city,” Lott said in an interview. “When the president makes a decision the government moves, in the House when the Speaker makes a decision the rules committee takes care of it, in the Senate…you lead and govern by the strength of your personality and respect for the rules.”
Lott believes McConnell’s longevity sprouted from a style that stands out from previous party leaders.
“He plays his cards very close to his chest, he is an interminable listener,” Lott said. “He may not say much but he’ll just sit there and listen and listen and listen.”
McConnell’s majorities have successfully passed tax reform, but failed to achieve another top legislative goal: full repeal of Obamacare. And in 2010, he took heat for outlining a different priority.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” McConnell told the National Journal.
Obama was re-elected, but stymied by McConnell six years later when the outgoing president nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and the GOP-lead Senate refused to consider it on the floor until after the 2016 election.
“We think the most important principle in the middle of this presidential election, which is raging, is that the American people need to weigh and decide who is going to make this decision – not this lame duck president on the way out the door, but the next president next year,” McConnell said in 2016.
At the time, the Obama administration complained McConnell was breaking longstanding Senate tradition.
“We’re setting an incredibly dangerous precedent in the institution that I love,” former Vice President Joe Biden said.
But waiting worked in McConnell’s favor, as Garland’s nomination expired and the Senate later confirmed President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Tensions with Democrats seem to have cooled after the long-running high court conflict, and some are even offering kind words about McConnell’s milestone.
“He’s reasonably able to control his people,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “That in and of itself is something to be credited with.”
But sometimes Republicans break ranks, like Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who once called McConnell out about the Export-Import Bank, from the floor of the Senate.
“I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie,” Cruz said in 2015.
Then, there are the GOP candidates who try to capitalize on anti-McConnell sentiment in their home states.
“One of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch ‘Cocaine Mitch,” Don Blankenship, third-place finisher in West Virginia’s recent Republican Senate primary, said in a campaign advertisement.
Ultimately in D.C., there’s not much of an appetite to remove the Republican leader.
“He’s been right so many times,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “It builds confidence among his colleagues.”