Moving Trump’s Tax Cuts, Conservative Court Appointees at Heart of McConnell’s Legacy

Senate’s longest-serving leader from either political party announces he’s stepping down from role after the November election.
Moving Trump’s Tax Cuts, Conservative Court Appointees at Heart of McConnell’s Legacy
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks into the Senate chamber in Washington on Feb. 28, 2024. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

Just when official Washington was focused on whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would endorse former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, the Kentucky Republican sprang a huge surprise by announcing that he will step down in November as the chamber’s GOP leader, a role he’s held since 2007.

Mr. McConnell, noting the recent death of the sister of his wife, former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, observed in an introspective address on the Senate floor: “I turned 82 last week, and the end of my contributions is closer than I’d prefer.”

Mr. McConnell said he will complete his term as Kentucky’s senior senator. His successor in the Senate seat will be decided in November 2026. His decision to vacate the minority leader position means there will likely be a heated backroom contest to name his successor in the role.

Mr. McConnell’s legacy almost certainly will focus on his role as Senate majority leader during President Donald Trump’s tenure in securing Senate confirmation of three conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court—Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Mr. McConnell also guided the Senate confirmation of more than 300 Trump appointees to lower federal courts between 2017 and 2020.

“Mitch has had a long and honorable tenure as the Republican leader. I am grateful for his service,“ Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The Epoch Times. ”He made the decision that it was time to step down as leader, and I certainly respect his judgment in that regard.

“He has many legacies, but none is more consequential than confirming hundreds of principled constitutionalists to the federal judiciary.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 27, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 27, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Mr. McConnell also played a pivotal role in securing Senate passage of President Trump’s massive package of federal tax cuts and tax reforms, which were signed into law in December 2017.

During the last year of President Barack Obama’s tenure, the Kentucky Republican enraged Democrats by refusing to convene confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. While the Constitution requires the Senate to confirm or deny confirmation to presidential court nominees, there is no constitutional stipulation regarding the timing of a confirmation hearing.

Mr. Garland was subsequently appointed U.S. attorney general by President Joe Biden in 2021.

Mr. McConnell was first elected to the Senate in 1985 and has served continuously ever since. He had two public episodes of freezing in a blank stare last year, and had to be helped by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in the first case and by staff members in the second.

Heritage Foundation constitutional scholar Hans von Spakovsky told The Epoch Times that, while the high court appointment dramas are certainly major points in Mr. McConnell’s legacy, he should also be remembered for his determined defense of the First Amendment, particularly in regard to campaign speech.

“I think his greatest legacy, besides keeping a biased partisan like Garland off of the Supreme Court, has been his steadfast protection of the First Amendment rights of Americans. Throughout his career, he has stopped numerous attempts to severely restrict the ability of the public to participate in the political process through so-called campaign finance reform efforts that were clear and blatant violations of the First Amendment,” he said.

“Similarly, he prevented the passage of numerous bills proposed by Democrats to nationalize the administration of elections, taking that right away from the states and voiding common-sense reform efforts like voter ID. He has protected the security and integrity of the election and campaign system.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquest also praised Mr. McConnell’s efforts to protect the First Amendment in political campaigns, saying, “Mitch McConnell changed the direction of the world. He stopped the destruction of the Republican Party by opposing, delaying and weakening and ultimately defeating the drive for “campaign finance reform” that would have left union bosses as the sole power in America.”

Mr. Norquist added that “Senator McConnell heroically sculpted the present Supreme Court and saved the Second Amendment, religious liberty, and free speech. An amazing and lasting legacy.”

Campaign and legislative strategist Brian Darling agreed, telling The Epoch Times that Mr. McConnell’s “legacy will be that he was the longest-serving Senate leader in history, his defense of the Supreme Court to block jurists who do not respect the rights enumerated in the Constitution, and his fight for freedom for Americans to fully participate in elections without government intervention.”

“[Mr. McConnell] should also be praised for his staunch defense of the Senate’s legislative filibuster,” he said

Mr. Darling is a former general counsel to “Tea Party” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who will become Kentucky’s senior senator with Mr. McConnell’s departure from the chamber.

President Barack Obama (L) stands with Judge Merrick Garland while nominating him to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House on March 16, 2016. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama (L) stands with Judge Merrick Garland while nominating him to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House on March 16, 2016. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jimmy Keady, a Virginia-based campaign strategist, praised Mr. McConnell, saying that his “top legacy would be his impact on the Supreme Court that will long outlast his tenure in the Senate. From blocking Merrick Garland to pushing through multiple justices under President Trump, Mitch McConnell proved he is a master politician.

“Mitch McConnell also helped guide Republicans to multiple Senate majorities and helped Republicans nationwide get elected. McConnell earned respect through his leadership and ability to break through the partisan stranglehold in Washington and pass conservative legislation and a conservative agenda.”

Similarly, campaign strategist Andrea Bottner told The Epoch Times that Mr. McConnell “is a masterful strategist, and his patient, tenacious approach to remaking the Supreme Court will be remembered gratefully by conservatives for years.”

Populist conservatives within and without the Senate have been increasingly critical of Mr. McConnell in recent months because of his candid criticism of President Trump and his active support for increased U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine. But Taxpayers Protection Alliance President David Williams told The Epoch Times that Mr. McConnell’s main accomplishments deserve commendation.

“For those celebrating his departure and mocking McConnell, it is important to remember his work to get much-needed tax reform passed in the Senate in 2017 (that wasn’t easy) and also remember the Supreme Court looks the way it does today because of McConnell,” he said.

“McConnell was in no way perfect, but he did some good things that helped taxpayers and the country.”

Praise From Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans praised Mr. McConnell for his long leadership. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), for example, told Fox Business News that he will be stepping down, and between now and then, we need to keep our focus on making certain we take the U.S. Senate and that we have a Republican majority leader and we have to keep our focus on electing Donald Trump to the White House. That is where my energy will be. After we cross those two hurdles in November, we will turn our attention to whomever is going to replace [Leader] Mitch McConnell as the Republican majority leader.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told The Epoch Times: “Mitch McConnell has an extraordinary record of which he can be proud. We don’t agree on everything—far from it—but he’s a colleague, and I respect him, and I respect his decision. I have no idea who will be running, but I will tell you categorically, unequivocally, and unconditionally that it won’t be me.”

Whether or not the GOP regains the Senate majority in November, the contest to become Mr. McConnell’s successor is likely to be intense. His No. 2, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), will likely be favored, although leading Senate conservatives such as Mr. Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) aren’t likely to stand idly by in the contest. Mr. Rubio was the House majority leader in the Florida legislature prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate. Ms. Blackburn is also a potential candidate and, if elected, would become the Senate’s first woman in the top party leadership role in the Senate.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. McConnell in 2022, said: “I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for. As everyone knows, I challenged Leader McConnell in 2022. This is an opportunity to refocus our efforts on solving the significant challenges facing our country and actually reflect the aspirations of voters.”

Lesser known are Mr. McConnell’s accomplishments prior to his election to the Senate. He served as county judge for Jefferson County in Kentucky, as well as being appointed deputy assistant attorney general by President Gerald Ford in 1975. He also served on the Senate staff of Sen. Marlow Cook (R-Ky.) and as an intern for Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky.).

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.
Related Topics