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Mitch McConnell, the 'Grim Reaper' of the US Senate

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Washington (AFP)

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the US Senate, takes pride in calling himself the "Grim Reaper," doling out death to the hopes of Democratic lawmakers.

The wily six-term senator from Kentucky now holds the fate of a Republican in his hands -- that of President Donald Trump, no less.

Although Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, it will be the 77-year-old Majority Leader who actually calls the shots.

Trump, a brash political neophyte, and McConnell, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984, come from vastly different backgrounds and have not always been on the same page.

While Trump is a fast-talking New Yorker born of privilege, the low-key McConnell suffered from polio as a child, chooses his words carefully and delivers them in the slow, southern drawl of his native Alabama.

Where the pair find common cause is on advancing a conservative agenda, notably by packing the courts with judges who share their philosophy.

Appointing scores of conservative judges is "the most long-lasting contribution that Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have made for the country," McConnell told Fox News recently.

It was a court appointment that perhaps more than anything else earned McConnell his reputation as a hardnosed political operator and a master of the Senate chess game.

Following the February 2016 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell blocked the appointment of Scalia's successor by then-President Barack Obama on the grounds it was an election year.

McConnell brazenly refused to hold Senate hearings or a vote to confirm Obama's choice, earning him the everlasting fury of many Democrats.

The Supreme Court vacancy was eventually filled by Trump, who appointed a conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch, to the seat.

- 'Pretty weak stuff' -

McConnell has been equally ruthless when it comes to Democratic legislation making its way from the House to the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats to the Democrat's 47.

"Think of me as the Grim Reaper," he once said, smiling slyly beneath his round, wire-rimmed glasses. "None of that stuff is going to pass. None of it."

McConnell sells "Grim Reaper" T-shirts on his campaign website describing himself as "the guy who is going to make sure that socialism doesn't land on the president's desk."

McConnell, the patient and skilled backroom negotiator whose recently published memoir is titled "The Long Game," and the voluble Trump got off to a rocky start.

Two years ago, when the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, Trump aimed a barrage of insulting tweets at McConnell and questioned whether he should remain in the Senate leadership post he obtained in 2014.

The grey-haired veteran politician shrugged off the criticism calling Trump a "new president" who "has not been in this line of work before."

"I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process," he said.

The Majority Leader, whose wife, Elaine Chao, is Trump's secretary of transportation, has made it clear that when it comes to impeachment, he will do everything he can to protect the Republican in the White House.

He has dismissed the two articles of impeachment -- for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- passed by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives as "pretty weak stuff" and said the Senate had "no choice but to take it up."

And although the 100 members of the Senate swore an oath to administer "impartial justice" at Trump's trial, McConnell said he planned to work in "total coordination" with the White House.

"I'm going to take my cues from the president's lawyers," he told Fox News. "We all know how it's going to end.

"There's no chance the president's going to be removed from office."

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