Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, December 8, 2016

One week ago, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave an interview vowing that a Republican Senate majority would attach partisan riders to spending bills in an effort to blackmail President Obama into rolling back his agenda — a tactic that would almost certainly lead to another government shutdown — his campaign tried to walk back his remarks.

“Evidently Alison Lundergan Grimes’ interpretation of how the U.S. Senate works is that senators must rubber-stamp President Obama’s agenda or the government shuts down,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said in response to the Democratic candidate’s critique of McConnell’s strategy. “Unlike Grimes’ commitment to the Obama agenda, Senator McConnell will fight for Kentucky priorities whether the president is interested in them or not.”

But new audio obtained by The Nation confirms that McConnell meant exactly what he said. In a June 15 speech to a Republican donor conference led by Charles and David Koch, McConnell was secretly recorded laying out largely the same case that he pitched to Politico last week:

So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.

To be clear: If Republicans load must-pass appropriations bills with riders to undo the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, or any other key Democratic achievements, President Obama will veto them. Unless Republicans relent, the government will shut down. McConnell’s campaign (and some impartial observers like Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein) may claim that that isn’t the minority leader’s intent, but without the shutdown threat, Republicans would have no leverage to “go after” the Democratic agenda.

McConnell had plenty else to say at the Koch gathering (for example, he remarked that “the worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” suggesting that campaign finance reform outranks 9/11 on his list of disasters). But the promise of more congressional brinksmanship will likely prove to be the key takeaway, given the obvious political implications.

Nobody should be surprised that McConnell is eager to escalate a confrontation with the White House. After all, he’s far from the only Republican to promise it. Earlier this week, Marco Rubio made similar remarks with regard to immigration. Over in the House, startlingly influential Rep. Steve King (R-IA) did the same.

Republicans are being quite honest about what the GOP would do with control of Congress. At this point, the only question is whether voters will listen.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014 The National Memo