“I’ve always wanted to be a graduate of Hillsdale,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑Ky) said as he received an honorary degree from Hillsdale College.
On April 15, President of Hillsdale College Larry P. Arnn and Provost David Whalen presented McConnell with an honorary doctorate degree in public service. Before the degree was presented to him, McConnell addressed Hillsdale faculty, students, and friends of the college in a speech titled “How the Legislative Branch Can Restore the Constitution.” He began his speech with high praise for the college and Arnn’s “enormous contributions to Hillsdale and to the nation.”
This was McConnell’s first visit to the college. He said Hillsdale faculty and alumni are on the front lines of public service, and institutions like Hillsdale are built on good ideas can reshape human history for the better.
“I didn’t have the benefit of a Hillsdale education myself,” McConnell said. “And back when I was a young senate staffer, there was no Kirby Center on Massachusetts Avenue making everyone smarter.”
In his address, McConnell emphasised the values and principles he shares with the college and his efforts to put those values to work in D.C.
“Policy matters, nominations matter, but more than anything else throughout my career, I’ve tried to preserve the deeper inheritance our framers left us in the Constitution,” McConnell said. “I’m grateful to share some of that work with all of you today.”
McConnell’s visit to the college brought the college community together, including Cheri Brauer and her husband, who are contributors to the college and live in town. Brauer said the speech was very effective and well-organized, and she enjoyed hearing McConnell talk about how he sets the agenda for the Senate and “how seriously he seems to care about our country,” Brauer said. “It means a lot to us that Hillsdale continues to be a center of conservative thought and influence.”
McConnell discussed the great importance of the federal courts to both the agenda he sets as senate majority leader and to the lasting future of the nation. He said on election night 2016, when it was clear Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States, he asked himself: “What’s the thing that we can do to have the longest positive impact on the country?”
McConnell concluded that lifetime appointments of judges who follow the law as it’s written are “the single most important thing we can do for the long-term future of our country.”
In Trump’s first two years in office, the Senate, under McConnell’s leadership, confirmed a record 30 circuit judges and now have a total of 37 total confirmations.
“We’re going to keep on doing that,” McConnell said in regards to the court appointments. “And there will be no vacancies left behind at the end of this Congress, I can tell you that.”
McConnell also noted the appointment and approval of two Supreme Court justices.
“As long as we have a White House sending up the kind of judges the American people deserve, we will continue confirming them,” McConnell said. “With every one, I hope we step closer to a judiciary our framers would actually recognize.”
Isaac Kirshner, a sophomore studying American Studies, said he was impressed with McConnell’s speech.
“I think Mitch McConnell is a statesman who commands a real, Hillsdalian understanding of the founding principles on which this Republic was founded — one of the few in Congress,” Kirshner said.
McConnell also spoke on his lifelong work defending the First Amendment and free speech in America, calling himself a “First Amendment purist.”
“I see political speech as the mother of all of our freedoms,” McConnell said. “Cracking down on some speech will just unfairly privilege other speech.”
He also said the ability to exchange ideas is how self-government works and said Washington, D.C. cannot be in the business of micromanaging what conversations Americans are allowed to have about D.C. He said protecting free speech can’t just be the work of those in government; it is a national responsibility.
“The First Amendment, my friends, needs constant vigilance,” McConnell said. “Every American should discipline themselves to remember the difference between subtle disagreement and permanent outrage, and avoid being part of the problem.”
Arnn said McConnell gave a thoughtful and excellent speech, as is his way.
“We’ve been working on this honor for about a decade now,” Arnn said. “And we were finally able to find the time.”
McConnell concluded his address in the very place he began it: the core values of our nation. He noted that the soul of our republic is not the content of our debates or our policy differences, but it is the broader consensus in which all of it takes place.
“Beneath all else, America is built on good ideas, the declaration distills them, the constitution and its limits allow them to flourish,” McConnell said. “And as long as these things endure, so shall we.”