For 15 years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao have quietly slipped into seats in the balcony for worship services at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus. They have been members of the church for 10 years.
“I began to attend Southeast and so did my wife because of Bob Russell,” McConnell said. “Bob is an inspirational leader, and I am thankful for his wisdom and spiritual counsel through the years. At Southeast, I love the preaching, I love the friendliness, and it’s a reinforcing place that has been important to both Elaine and to me.”
The Southeast Outlook recently spoke with McConnell.
Who was the major spiritual influence in your life?
I would say the primary spiritual influences in my life were my mom and dad, both of whom not only regularly attended church but practiced their faith every day of the week.
Can you elaborate on having polio as a child?
I contracted polio at the age of 2, just before the end of World War II. It was a terrifying diagnosis in those days, but for a disease that could paralyze or kill its victims, I was one of the luckier ones. It affected me in my left leg, but thanks to our proximity to Warm Springs and the heroic efforts of my mom, who literally kept me off my feet for two years, I ended up having a perfectly normal childhood.
There’s no question that my mom’s care and determination made all the difference, and I’m still deeply grateful to her for it. It was no easy feat to keep a 2-year-old boy from trying to walk or run, but she watched me like a hawk for fear that I’d start to do so before the benefits of the rehab really stuck. So my mom was a real rock, and like most moms, she didn’t do it for the gratitude or the praise.
In fact, I don’t remember that period at all. My earliest memory was stopping at a shoe store on the way home from our last trip to Warm Springs and buying a pair of low-top saddle oxfords. When she laced them up, it was clear we’d beaten the polio. The only side effect is that I now have a little trouble climbing down stairs. But that’s it.
You’ve helped many families get visas for children they are adopting in foreign countries. Can you elaborate on your passion for orphans?
As a father of three daughters, I recognize the importance of raising children in a safe and loving home. Throughout my time in the U.S. Senate, I have met many Kentucky families whose greatest joy is to open their hearts and homes to children through adoption.
For this reason, I have been proud to support and lead a number of efforts in the U.S. Senate to ease the process for families adopting, including expanding adoption tax credits, streamlining documentation for international adoptions and assisting families who have contacted me with complications in Guatemala, Russia, and most recently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Though much work remains, it has been extremely gratifying to be able to help a number of Kentucky families unite with their adopted children, and I hope to continue to aid Kentuckians in this area.
The first piece of legislation you co-sponsored in Congress in 1985 was a pro-life bill. Over the years, you have sponsored six constitutional amendments to restrict abortion. Has being pro-life been costly for you in the political arena?
Not at all. I’m very proud of my 30-year pro-life record and my efforts to protect innocent life. We’re not doing a very good job as a country if the best thing we can offer a scared, young mom-to-be is a referral to Planned Parenthood. We’ve got to show people that there are better choices—and that no one regrets the choice for life, especially those who’ve received it. It takes work to bring about a more just and humane society, but I believe we’re winning that fight.
You have co-sponsored six a constitutional amendments to put prayer back in schools. How else has your faith affected your work as a senator?
Every morning that the Senate is in session, the Senate chaplain leads us in prayer. The responsibilities I have as the Senate majority leader are so great that I can’t imagine beginning each day any other way, or without placing my trust and faith in God to guide me through difficult decisions. In ways great and small, faith is very important to my life. I’ve fought to put prayer back in schools because I believe that our nation was founded on, and continues to reflect, Judeo-Christian principles, and I’m committed to protecting those principles.
Who do you admire?
Who do I admire? Well not surprisingly, I think Ronald Reagan was—for people in my line of work and for many Americans—an inspiration. He put a sunny face, an optimistic face, on conservatism and did a lot in my view to bring America back from a period of drift and decline, which began, really, in many ways, in the 1970s, and I think if I were to pick one role model, that would be the person.