Being Senate majority leader isn’t easy. And Mitch McConnell is finding out that having unified government could make it harder still.
As my research shows, U.S. Senate majority leaders represent several constituencies that push and pull in multiple – and usually conflicting – directions.
First, the leader is a senator responsible for representing the interests of his state – in McConnell’s case, Kentucky.
Second, like all majority leaders, McConnell is the leader of his party in the Senate, with an obligation to get more Republicans elected to office and to push a legislative agenda that burnishes the party label.
Third, as leader of the Senate, his duty is to sustain the institutional health of that chamber in its function as a counterweight to the whims of the House of Representatives, the ambitions of the executive branch and even the rulings of the judiciary.
Balancing the demands of the office’s various constituencies is sometimes further complicated by another demand on the Senate majority leader – the president, who in times of unified government becomes a fourth constituency to which the leader must answer.
Of course, that’s the position McConnell finds himself in with Donald Trump.
To understand why McConnell must answer to the president, it helps to know some history.