What if Mitch McConnell cared as much about the border as about pork projects?

· June 11, 2019  
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Mitch McConnell
Mark Wilson | Getty Images

One after another, House Democrat leaders are going down their to-do list of messaging bills to pass out of the chamber in an effort to broadcast and sell their priorities to the American people. There is no subtlety about their values and passion. Yet, the last time I checked, Republicans still control the Senate. Where is their competing agenda on issues like the border invasion? Why have they not voted on a single major legislative reform this term other than handing the Democrats one win after another on budget bills? A new Politico expose might provide us with an answer to these questions.

Politico’s story is on Todd Inman, a special liaison between Mitch McConnell’s office and the Transportation Department helping to secure pet infrastructure projects in Owensboro, Kentucky, Inman’s home city within McConnell’s home state. The secretary of transportation happens to be Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife. Inman is her chief of staff. Somehow, projects in the Kentucky river town that were previously rejected, according to Politico, wound up being approved, and McConnell kept taking credit for them. The story was based on multiple conversations with local elected officials and emails obtained via FOIA request:

The city submitted its first grant application during the final months of the Obama administration, under a freight and highway improvement program called FASTLANE. But after a technical review by career DOT staff, the city’s application was passed over in favor of other projects.

According to [Daviess County chief executive Al] Mattingly, local officials were undeterred and saw Chao’s appointment as Transportation secretary — and Owensboro local Todd Inman’s new role as director of operations in her office — as a valuable connection moving forward.

Back in Washington, Inman encouraged that perception. In a February 2017 email to McConnell’s chief of staff, he wrote, “The Secretary has indicated if you have a Ky-specific issue that we should flag for her attention to please continue to go through your normal channels but feel free to contact me directly as well so we can monitor or follow up as necessary.”

Owensboro submitted a second grant application in the first year of the Trump administration under the department’s INFRA grant program — the new administration’s successor to FASTLANE — which was likewise unsuccessful. Weeks before that application was due, McConnell’s office emailed members of Chao’s staff with the Owensboro Riverport Authority CEO’s contact information, requesting technical assistance for the riverport’s grant application. Derek Kan, Chao’s undersecretary for policy, forwarded the request to his deputy, who confirmed that they were following up.

Finally, in 2018, the riverport resubmitted a third time under the department’s BUILD program, a competitive infrastructure grant program that began under the Obama administration’s economic stimulus law. This time, the application was successful. City officials held a December news conference in front of a Christmas tree in City Hall announcing the $11.5 million federal award.

Four months later, as McConnell prepared to launch his reelection campaign, he called Mayor Watson and asked him to pull together a group of political and business leaders at the riverport to tout his role in getting Owensboro the grant award, Watson said. On April 22, within days of officially launching his 2020 campaign, the Senate majority leader stood inside a riverport building and celebrated his achievements.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it is for me to see what the riverfront has spawned,” McConnell told the assembled crowd. “Not only the project itself, but all around it.”

There is nothing illegal about this process, but it gives you a glimpse of what makes McConnell’s political heart beat. There is no sense of urgency to run for re-election on defending Kentucky’s sovereignty and security from illegal aliens, even though it has become the top concern of voters. Not a single piece of border security legislation has been brought up on the Senate floor this session, over one year into this border crisis. Nothing on sanctuary cities, a Flores fix, asylum reform, etc. McConnell has refused to even attempt to pass a budget bill with any border priorities in it and has handed Democrats everything they wanted in these “must-pass” bills without anything in return to fix the border.

Rep. Chip Roy, whose district is now being overrun with African migrants from countries with lethal epidemics, quipped on Twitter, “If only we could turn border security into pork!”

Indeed, these GOP leaders would be pulling every string known to man to get the job done.

Roy refers to Trump’s recent appointment of former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible, among other things, for asylum policy. Yesterday, The Hill reported that the top three Senate Republicans – Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and John Thune – all oppose the appointment of Cuccinelli. They are upset that, as head of Senate Conservatives Fund, Cuccinelli has attacked some sitting Senate Republicans in the past.

That is certainly an understandable position from where they sit. But perhaps the reason Cuccinelli has gone after some of these Republicans is because they care more about expanding pet spending projects than protecting our border? Perhaps, if they’d work with Cuccinelli to secure the border and actually make Republicans distinguishable from their Democrat counterparts, there would be no need for people like Cuccinelli to look for Republicans who, you know, actually are passionate about the Republican Party platform.


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.