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Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn presents U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with an hon­orary degree. McConnell spoke at the Searle Center on Monday regarding American prin­ciples. Mar­keting | Courtesy

“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.”