A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.
Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, the Nation Magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.
Introduced by the general counsel of Koch Industries, McConnell begins by paying tribute to his patrons, thanking the Koch brothers personally “for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you . . . rallying, uh, to the cause.”
So what is the cause? Putting Americans to work? Rebuilding the middle class? Unleashing free market answers to catastrophic climate change?
No, McConnell can’t seem to get himself to address a positive agenda. He envisions only more obstruction. If he is majority leader, he promises, “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage . . . extending unemployment . . . the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse.”
With Republican majorities, McConnell tells the fat cats, “We own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And . . . 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 do that”
So what parts of government would McConnell starve of funds? Although many Republicans are campaigning as faux populists against crony capitalism, McConnell doesn’t suggest that he’ll cut subsidies to Big Oil or the lard-filled budgets of the Pentagon. No, McConnell pledges to his millionaire funders “We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible].”
For all his posturing about Obama’s dictatorial usurpations, McConnell reassures the millionaires that “we now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” Why? Because in the Citizens United decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned established precedents to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in elections. This is a victory for “open discourse,” McConnell argues, making clear just how he expects the corporations to make their opinions known:
“The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.” (Americans for Prosperity is the right-wing Koch funded political vehicle that has been called the “third-largest political party in the United States.”)
For McConnell, the court’s decision to unleash corporate contributions helped heal the pain from what he described as the “worst day of my political life.” Not the 9/11 terrorist bombings or the disastrous vote to invade Iraq. No, according to McConnell, the worst day of his political life was when a Republican congress passed and George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, that put some limits of big money in our politics.
Mitch McConnell is surely a man for these times. Big money dominates our politics and corrupts our politicians (including, most recently, McConnell’s campaign manager, who resigned because of his possible involvement in bribing an Iowa state legislator to change his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential primary). Legislators like McConnell openly serve “the private sector,” currying their donations while serving their interests.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s underdog challenger: “Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”
Voters aren’t stupid. Given his views and his record, it is not surprising that McConnell is one of the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents, with Grimes running only a few points behind him. Nor is it surprising that more than $100 million may end up being spent on the race, making it one the most expensive contests in Senate history. Millionaires know they can count on McConnell.
McConnell ended his talk by repeating the Republican mantra against taxes and regulation, arguing, “If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that [sic] said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?” Let’s hope the voters of Kentucky come to the same conclusion about reelecting a senator who represents donors far better than voters.