How Mitch McConnell, Key Player In Supreme Court Confirmation, Rose To Lead Senate09:47
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks alongside fellow Senate Republicans during a news conference following the weekly Senate Republicans policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill, on July 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks alongside fellow Senate Republicans during a news conference following the weekly Senate Republicans policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill, on July 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

This is part 1 of a two-part conversation. You can hear part 2 here.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully blocked President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court in 2016. Now, he's overseeing the confirmation of another.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Washington Post senior congressional correspondent Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) about McConnell's early years and rise to prominence in the Senate.

Interview Highlights

On McConnell's early foray into politics during his high school years

"At a really early age, in high school, he had the political bug. He knew back then that he wasn't the most popular kid, and he developed what would be something, a hallmark, that would stay with him well into his 70s: It was all about tactics. He won his high school class presidency not by making the biggest promises or having the best vision for what would happen to the school. He just knew exactly how to campaign better than anybody else, and put together a campaign in which he went around to all the most popular cheerleaders and all the most popular jocks in the high school and got them to endorse him. And then he made up these endorsement sheets — almost like a whip card that you'd see in the Senate today — and it just had a list of all the popular people endorsing Mitch McConnell, and he walked around slipping these inside the lockers of people.

"It was a really big high school back then from grades 7 through 12, he once told me. So the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders really didn't know any of the upperclassmen, but they got these cards that said, 'Captain of the football team endorses Mitch McConnell for class president,' and boom, who won class president? Mitch McConnell."

"He knew back then that he wasn't the most popular kid, and he developed what would be something, a hallmark, that would stay with him well into his 70s: It was all about tactics."

Paul Kane, on McConnell's experience running for high school class president

On his start in the Senate

"He gets to the Senate in 1984, on the coattails of Ronald Reagan, running against an incumbent Democrat, targeting the incumbent Democratic senator as sort of aloof, nowhere to be found, on junkets. His ad maker brought out bloodhounds and were sort of running around Kentucky in this famous ad searching for the incumbent senator. And that helped propel McConnell to what was considered an upset win then, because the South had still not fully transformed at the Senate congressional local level. So he was part of sort of a minority of Republicans from the South at that point in 1984."

On McConnell's opposition to setting campaign spending limits

"There are only a few real core issues that have stuck with him, and this is one of them. He believes that he is a proud defender of the First Amendment. He believes that political speech is unlimited, completely protected and anybody at any price should be allowed to speak it. And it rubs people the wrong way, because you end up having a corporation or a super-rich person who can dwarf what the average person can spend for his or her political speech."

On McConnell's opposition to term limits for lawmakers

"I think he believes that, in a perfect world of free speech, anybody can say anything they want about a senator within the law, and you either vote them out or you vote them back in, and that the voters there are the ultimate check on term limits."

This segment aired on July 11, 2018.

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