GOP Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is using his power as Senate Majority Leader play political games and to pressure 2020 Democratic candidates, according to an article this morning in the Los Angeles Times.
McConnell sets the agenda for the Senate, and instead of introducing legislation to solve the nations’ problems, he is planning to bring to the Senate floor bills that are exclusively designed to “make Democratic senators uncomfortable.”
As Democratic Senator Chris Murphy (Conn.) said, McConnell “is just trying to screw with Democrats.”
Sometimes it seems like every Democrat in the Senate is running for president. That’s not true, but almost one out of every five Democratic senators actually does have plans to seek the presidency. With so many of his colleagues in the opposition party eyeing the White House, McConnell has decided he should do what he can to make their lives difficult.
For example, on Monday, McConnell forced the Senate to hold a vote on an anti-abortion bill that is very controversial. It has no chance of passing, but the vote required Democrats to take a public position on the bill, and McConnell hopes that will be used against them during the 2020 campaign.
In another high profile move, McConnell is planning a vote soon on a massive climate change plan called the Green New Deal. Again, the Majority Leader believes he will put Democratic presidential aspirants in an awkward position.
Most Democrats support stronger environmental protections and of course McConnell does not. So he’s bringing up the bill to focus voters’ attention on what he views as one of the Democrats’ most extreme ideas. He is hoping to also highlight intra-party divisions between progressives and moderates.
These are just two of the votes that McConnell is expected to force this year on high-profile and politically polarizing issues, according to the Times. One of them will certainly be the Medicare for All bill, introduced by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The issue of healthcare is not easy, and Sanders’ bill has pointed out that all Democrats do not agree on what to do.
“When you have that high a number of U.S. senators who are in a Democratic primary for president, obviously you can cut a pretty wide swath through the field by simply forcing them to take a position on an issue,” said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and political adviser.
Democrats have a cynical view of McConnell’s motives.
McConnell is “just trying to screw with Democrats,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has expressly said he won’t seek the nomination in 2020.
Murphy and other Democratic lawmakers said the party is strategizing over how to handle the Green New Deal vote and the others like it. They hope to use the environmental vote to remind voters of the GOP’s resistance to bringing up any climate change legislation, other than one McConnell knows will fail.
One option is for Democrats to vote “present” instead of in support or opposition, effectively neutering the vote. In 2017, when Republicans tried to force a vote on Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, nearly all the Democrats banded together to vote “present” instead of showing party divisions.
“I think there’s a lot of us talking about what to do on this,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of the Democrats who has announced his candidacy.
Other Democrats said they were eager to show their support for an idea that could differentiate the increasingly crowded Democratic primary field.
“I don’t know what [McConnell’s] intentions are exactly,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “But I’m in favor of it,” she said of the Green New Deal.
Mitch McConnell has proven to be a cynical leader of Republicans in the Senate. His antics over the next two years may backfire, however, since he may find out that the majority of American voters are in favor of the Democratic positions that he finds radical. In fact, it is possible that his miscalculations could actually help Democrats win back not just the White House, but control of the Senate as well.