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EDITORIAL: McConnell leaves his mark on the federal courts

Mitch McConnell announced last week that he would step down as the GOP leader in the Senate, and many Trump Republicans are eager for the door to whack his rear on the way out. They should be careful what they wish for and ponder what the minority leader’s decision might portend for November.

Sen. McConnell, from Kentucky, has served for nearly 40 years and has four more years left on his current term. He is 82-years-old and has been in the Republican Senate leadership for two decades. If only Joe Biden had the grace to recognize when to step aside.

Sen. McConnell was also a favorite whipping boy of Donald Trump. He refused to play the sycophant, as Mr. Trump demands, and had harsh words for the former president in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots. Last month, Mr. Trump said that, if he were re-elected, he wasn’t sure he could work with Sen. McConnell.

In fact, many of Mr. Trump’s signature achievements would not have been possible had Sen. McConnell not shepherded them through the upper chamber. He was integral in helping the White House in 2017 pass the first major tax reform bill in a generation. And without Sen. McConnell, Mr. Trump could not have confirmed scores of constitutionalist judges to the federal bench while cementing his mark on the Supreme Court.

Sen. McConnell’s main sin among Trump Republicans is that he knows how to add and was sometimes willing to compromise with moderate Democrats to advance legislation. That’s inevitable in divided government, particularly in the Senate, where it often takes 60 votes to get anything done.

Sen. McConnell’s decision might also be a warning to Republicans about their chances of making congressional gains in November. The Senate map is heavily favorable to the GOP — Democrats must defend 23 of the 34 seats on the ballot. Yet Sen. McConnell has previously been critical about the quality of candidate his party has fielded under Mr. Trump — and voters have vindicated his assessment. Republicans have failed in the past three elections to turn Mr. Trump’s grip on the party into electoral traction. Would Sen. McConnell have given up a chance to lead the Senate again if he felt the GOP was poised to pick up several Senate seats?

Perhaps Sen. McConnell simply decided to go out on his own terms rather than risk a challenge if Mr. Trump again won the Oval Office.

Either way, he exits as the longest- serving party head in Senate history. No politician can survive that long without making enemies or earning justifiable criticism. Yet even Republicans who carp at the man from Kentucky must applaud his greatest achievement: the legacy he left on the federal courts.

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