Mitch McConnell criticized for urging action after Brett Kavanaugh threat but not Uvalde

Morgan Watkins
Louisville Courier Journal
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell made remarks during the Memorial Day Service held at the Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louisville, Ky. on May 30, 2022.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for immediate action in Congress this week after a man who reportedly threatened U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's life got arrested, with weapons in his possession, near the powerful judge's home.

Yet the Kentucky senator's demand that the Democrat-led House of Representatives pass a bill extending police-provided security to Supreme Court justices' family members drew criticism online as people juxtaposed his urgency on that with his wait-and-see approach to potential legislation meant to respond to the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

More:Texas shooting raises pressure on Mitch McConnell to pass gun laws. Why it will likely fail

McConnell gave back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor Wednesday and Thursday morning demanding House Democrats quit holding up this bipartisan bill aimed at better protecting the justices and their families.

Comparatively, he has not used his routine daily speeches on the Senate floor to demand legislative action to address mass shootings in the wake of last month's massacre in Uvalde, where a gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers.

Since that May 24 shooting, McConnell has given six of his usual opening speeches on the Senate floor on days when the chamber meets. He mentioned Uvalde in one of them, the day after the massacre.

McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer told The Courier Journal Thursday that the senator supports the negotiations between Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, on a potential bill responding to the Uvalde shooting, and he "hopes they deliver a bipartisan outcome."

"Those ongoing Senate talks are no excuse for House Democrats continuing to block the bipartisan Supreme Court security bill that the Senate already passed unanimously a month ago," Steurer said. "Yesterday’s disturbing events show that Democrats have already delayed this noncontroversial bill for far too long."

Here's a look at what McConnell has said about the apparent threat to Kavanaugh, the Uvalde shooting and the potential for Congress to take action due to those incidents:

What McConnell said about the arrest near Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home 

McConnell has urged House Democrats to quit holding up the Supreme Court Police Parity Act, which senators of both parties unanimously passed on May 9 to authorize security for the justices' families.

The Senate passed that bill while people protested at justices' homes after a leaked draft ruling showed the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.

McConnell — who helped establish the current conservative majority on the court that, in turn, may decide this month to nix Roe v. Wade — slammed leading House Democrats for holding up that proposal since then.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right, talk to reporters following a closed-door policy meeting at the Capitol in Washington on March 8, 2016. In the aftermath of recent horrific mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, a bipartisan group of senators, including Cornyn and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., are holding private virtual meetings during recess to try to strike a compromise over gun safety legislation.

"Well this is where we are. ...If these reports are correct, an assassination attempt against a sitting justice, or something close to it," McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "This is exactly, exactly why the Senate passed legislation very shortly after the leak to enhance the police protection for justices and their families."

"No more fiddling around with this," he demanded of House Democrats. "They need to pass it today."

The House didn't approve the bill "before the sun sets" Wednesday, as McConnell urged. What it did pass that day was a slate of gun reforms on a mainly party-line vote, with Democrats voting 'yes' and Republicans voting 'no.' (That package isn't expected to clear the Senate.)

Leading House Democrats attributed the delay in voting on the Supreme Court bill to their interest in expanding its scope to provide protection not only for justices' families but also for the families of court staffers in certain situations. 

Numerous accounts on Twitter posted criticisms of McConnell's reaction Wednesday to the arrest near Kavanaugh's home, suggesting his immediate push for legislative action to better protect justices' families was hypocritical given his history of opposing legislative action to try to protect Americans from gun violence in the wake of repeated mass shootings. 

And on "The View" talk show, host Joy Behar likewise criticized McConnell for demanding action on Supreme Court protections but not on recent mass shootings in Texas and New York, saying: "Nothing on Uvalde so far, and nothing on Buffalo ... he's worried about, you know, the Supreme Court. That is his urgency."

McConnell gave another speech on the Senate floor Thursday demanding action on the Supreme Court bill, saying this "urgent and uncontroversial bill" has "inexplicably" sat on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk for weeks, among other, related criticisms he leveled at Democratic leaders.

"So, it's hard to avoid concluding that perhaps some Democrats may want this dangerous climate hanging over the justices' heads as they finish up this term," he said. "A disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, similarly expressed concern last month about the hold-up in the House over this bill. 

Pelosi indicated Thursday that the House will vote on the Supreme Court bill next week. 

What McConnell has said on Uvalde shooting, possible legislation on guns, etc. 

McConnell spoke of prayer the morning after the Uvalde massacre, but he said nothing about enacting new gun laws. 

He has, however, expressed an openness to considering whatever legislation emerges from the bipartisan group of senators who are working to craft a proposal in the wake of Uvalde as well as another mass shooting last month in Buffalo, where a white man linked to white supremacist hatred is charged with killing 10 people and injuring three others, nearly all of them Black.

McConnell — who, like many of his GOP colleagues, has consistently voted against stricter gun regulations — refused to say, during a D.C. press conference Tuesday, if he'd support raising the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old (which was part of the gun regulations the House passed Wednesday).

Instead, he indicated he's waiting to see what (if any) legislation results from ongoing negotiations between several senators of both parties.

"I personally would prefer to get an outcome, and I hope that we'll have one sooner rather than later," he said. 

Morgan Watkins is The Courier Journal's chief political reporter. Contact her at mwatkins@courierjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.