Mitch McConnell: The Man Who Sold America - 2019-09-17
This year, it was no use. Even before "Moscow Mitch" became a thing, Kentucky Democrats were smelling blood. McConnell has been unpopular in his home state for years, but his approval rating plunged in one poll to a rock-bottom 18 percent — with a re-election campaign looming in 2020. In January, he had raised red flags among Republicans and -Democrats alike when he took a key role in lifting sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Putin ally under FBI investigation for his involvement in 2016 election-meddling; three months later, Deripaska's aluminum company, Rusal, announced a $200 million investment in Kentucky. A billboard funded by a -liberal group was subsequently erected on a busy stretch of I-75: "Russian mob money . . . really, Mitch?"
More recently, reports emerged that McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, had set up a pipeline in her department to funnel grants to Kentucky to lift her husband's political prospects. And as Trump's trade war with China escalated, uncomfortable old stories began to recirculate about how McConnell "evolved" after he met his future wife in the early Nineties, going from being a fierce China hawk to a potent ally on Capitol Hill. Chao's father, James — a Chinese American shipping magnate and close friend of former People's Republic dictator Jiang Zemin — gave McConnell and his wife a huge gift in 2008 that boosted the senator's net worth from less than $8 million to nearly $20 million. While "Beijing Mitch" doesn't have quite the same ring as his new moniker, McConnell's change of heart on Russia was hardly without precedent. (McConnell declined to comment for this story.)
Plus, McConnell made an unusual blunder in July. When a group of former coal miners suffering from black-lung disease caravaned to Washington to ask the senator for help, he met with them for only two minutes, leading to terrible headlines. As Fancy Farm got underway, coal miners in Harlan County were holding a protest that made news throughout the state. Their company had declared bankruptcy without warning and was refusing to pay their final paychecks, and the miners were blocking the tracks to prevent rail cars from shipping $1 million worth of the coal. As the protest stretched into late August, the site became a 24-hour encampment, attracting activists and food donations from around the country, and was visited by nearly every Kentucky politician except McConnell. Practically every story featured the miners cursing the senator. "He's not pro-coal," said miner Collin Cornette. "I don't even think he's pro-Kentucky."