House Democrats are hoping to use Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump mocks Mueller, Pelosi before D-Day ceremony The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump mocks Mueller, Pelosi before D-Day ceremony Paul to force votes on blocking Trump’s Bahrain, Qatar arms sales MORE‘s “legislative graveyard” as a messaging tool to topple GOP candidates in 2020.
McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, is embracing his role as a roadblock to the Democrats’ legislative agenda, casting himself as the “Grim Reaper” poised to kill the Democrats’ top policy priorities. The barrier has frustrated Democrats as they fight to advance legislation they promised voters in 2018, but they also see it as a political gift heading into next year’s elections.
Just this week, the House passed legislation granting legal protections to so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Democrats also hope to soon pass an increase to the minimum wage, and measures on climate change, health care and gun safety have already been approved.
Those proposals poll well nationally, and Democrats think voters — particularly those fed up with Washington gridlock — will take notice if McConnell simply ignores them, as he’s vowing to do.
“He’s an issue in this campaign,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. “I don’t know what the hell he’s for, I only know what he’s against. … Anything that helps working people, or helps those struggling to get into the middle class, he’s against.”
McGovern is hardly alone. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 Overnight Defense: Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy | Trump, Macron downplay rift on Iran | Trump mourns West Point cadet’s death in accident | Pentagon closes review of deadly Niger ambush MORE (D-Calif.) has made it routine to denounce McConnell’s “Grim Reaper” promise as a barrier to any progress on Capitol Hill. This week, she marked the first 150 days of the Democrats’ House majority by rattling off a slew of proposals already passed by the lower chamber that now sit idle in the Senate. The list includes voting rights protections, campaign finance reforms, pay equality for women, a net neutrality bill and protections for the LGBTQ community.
“We’re very proud of the work that we have done to send over to the Senate, where Mitch McConnell has said he’s the ‘Grim Reaper’ — it’s a Senate graveyard,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “We have news for him: It’s alive and well in the public, and he will be hearing from the public, hopefully very soon.”
McConnell and the Republicans are punching back, dismissing the Democrats’ proposals as frivolous messaging bills designed to energize the Democrats’ base but without a chance of becoming law. Aside from the partisan nature of most of those bills, the Republicans note, they also have little chance of winning President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey figure that Mueller report linked to Russia was a State Department intel source De Blasio: There’s too much talk about impeachment among Democrats De Blasio: There’s too much talk about impeachment among Democrats MORE’s signature.
“This isn’t a serious strategy to govern. They’re passing bills saying that this is what they want, but they know that they’re strictly basing their strategy on what polls well and not what can get into law,” said a Senate GOP aide.
“They’re doing everything for political reasons, and we’re actually the adults in the room.”
Not everything is partisan warfare on Capitol Hill. McConnell and the Democrats have come together on numerous occasions to enact must-pass legislation, like funding for the federal government. And Democrats feel they have an ally in the Senate majority leader as they negotiate a deal to raise spending caps later in the year.
“Three or four times before this we’ve had a deal on a replacement for the sequester,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Dems call on Trump to cancel plans to speak at July Fourth celebration House Dems call on Trump to cancel plans to speak at July Fourth celebration Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret MORE (D-Md.) said this week. “Those deals dealt with two-year cycles, and I think that’s what Sen. McConnell and I would both like to do again.”
Through the lens of political messaging, however, Democrats see a useful foil in McConnell, who has spent much of the year focused on confirming conservative Trump appointees, including almost two dozen judges, in lieu of passing policy bills. By casting McConnell as the face of Washington gridlock, Democrats hope to portray the entire GOP as uninterested in governing — at the expense of the middle class.
Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesLiberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret Clyburn walks back comments about impeachment MORE (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, blasted McConnell this week as the Senate’s “Rip van Winkle,” urging upper-chamber Republicans “to wake up from their legislative slumber and do their job.” And the Democrats’ campaign arm is vowing to make what they consider McConnell’s stonewalling a national theme in their campaign messaging.
“While we’re delivering for Americans, Mitch McConnell and the Republican held Senate brag about being a tool of Washington special interests,” Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosSanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Sanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care MORE (D-Ill.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an email. “It would be funny if it weren’t so recklessly harmful for the folks we represent.
“The American people know who’s working on their side and who’s working against them,” she continued, “and we’ll make sure that message is reinforced when it’s election season.”
McConnell, for his part, has been characteristically defiant in the face of the attacks. In a Wednesday interview with Fox News Radio, the six-term Kentuckian noted that he’d dubbed himself “Darth Vader” during the campaign finance battles of years past. And he’s relishing the thought of blocking Democratic proposals like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal — a role he sees as “the firewall against socialism.”
“I’ve kind of enjoyed playing off of my enemies over the years, and in fact the ‘Grim Reaper’ title I gave myself,” he told Fox. “Happy to embrace it.”
Republican campaign operatives are also welcoming the Democrats’ messaging campaign, saying it will only help GOP candidates at the polls next year.
“The socialist Democrats highlighting Leader McConnell’s efforts to block their extreme socialist policies is an in-kind donation to Republicans across the country,” Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Thursday in an email.
McConnell is up for reelection in 2020, and Democrats are scrambling to field a prominent candidate to challenge him. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWalmart shareholders reject Sanders-backed proposal to put workers on board Sanders to Walmart shareholders: minimum wage ‘not a radical idea’ Trump blasts Schumer for saying he’s bluffing on tariffs: ‘What a creep’ MORE (D-N.Y.) met earlier this year with Amy McGrath, a former Marine pilot, in hopes of recruiting her. McGrath lost a close race against Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale Barr58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill Dying on the track: Horse racing is at a crossroads On The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump’s tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump’s trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs MORE (R-Ky.) in 2018, attracting national attention as one of the top Democratic fundraisers of the cycle, but she has so far declined to enter the Senate contest.
Matt Jones, a popular sports radio host, has also flirted with the idea of jumping into the race.
Kentucky is a Trump stronghold — the president won the state with 63 percent of the vote in 2016 — but polls show that McConnell’s approval rating has been underwater this year.
Democrats hoping to use the majority leader as a national soundbite are also hoping Kentucky voters hear the message.
“As we approach the next election, he — along with Donald Trump — will be two major issues where people are going to have to decide whether they want to continue or not,” McGovern said.
“If you want this country to run, you’ve got to get rid of the Grim Reaper.”