McConnell is Getting Away with Murder

Holding up needed economic relief to protect corporations should be politically devastating, but Dem's haven't yet made Republicans pay a price

Mitch McConnell would rather save big corporations money than save American lives and jobs.

Seem like a harsh thing to say? Perhaps, but it’s 100 percent true.

Millions of Americans face the expiration of unemployment benefits and are staring down the prospect of eviction in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. Congress is working on a relatively meager, but essential bipartisan relief bill that includes an extension of unemployment benefits, more loans for small businesses, funding for vaccine distribution, and an eviction moratorium. Even though this bill is a fraction of the support that was included in the HEROES Act passed by the Democratic House earlier this year, Democratic leaders have joined with a bipartisan coalition of Senators to back this compromise proposal.

McConnell — as he is wont to do — is blocking the proposal because he wants to include a provision that protects corporations from being sued if their workers die or get sick from COVID.

Killing Americans to help corporations is — on its face — such a politically (not to mention morally) atrocious position that anyone who adopts it should be run out of politics within hours. Yet, this is the position of the most important and influential Republican not named Trump. McConnell holding the relief bill hostage presents an opportunity and an imperative for Democrats.

Less Popular than Pond Scum

You don’t need a PhD in statistics or a trove of polling data to deduce that providing big corporations with liability protections is a huge loser. When McConnell first raised the issue earlier this year, Crooked Media included it in a poll of Michigan as part of our Pollercoaster series with Change Research:

Overall Michigan voters oppose the policy 55 to 37. One in five Republicans oppose the liability protections and opposition is much stronger than support: only 16 percent strongly support it, while 42 percent are strongly opposed.

Private polling to which I was privy showed similar results in other states closer to the election. None of this is rocket science. Screwing over Americans to help corporations is bad politics. Doing so in a pandemic and a recession should be akin to committing ritual political suicide.

Democrats have a huge opportunity to put additional political pressure on the Republicans in these negotiations and make them pay a political price in Georgia.

McConnell’s Bet

Mitch McConnell is devoid of morality, compassion, and even a shred of basic humanity, but he is not stupid. His only ideology is the accumulation of political power, which raises the question — why would he adopt such an unpopular position less than a month before a runoff election that will determine control of the Senate?

There are two possible reasons other than the perverse joy McConnell probably derives from hurting people: First, the liability provision is the top priority of the corporations, billionaires, and trade associations that fund the Republican Party. The massive grassroots money machine that propelled Democrats in the 2020 election has continued to pump resources into the runoff elections in Georgia. Therefore, McConnell has an imperative to keep the corporate money flowing. The Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s SuperPAC, raised $71 million in the month after the election and has booked more than $40 million in television advertising in Georgia. The vast majority of that money was raised from a small handful of billionaires and corporate interests. Steve Schwartzman, a Wall Street tycoon in every pejorative sense of the term, gave $15 million. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the people funding the pro-Republican ads in Georgia stand to profit off the liability shield provision that McConnell is promoting. It’s a simple quid pro quo.

The second reason is more alarming for Democrats. McConnell feels that he can support such a politically suicidal special interest giveaway because he has no fear that he will pay a political price. In the risk-benefit analysis, McConnell has clearly concluded that the benefit of the corporate money far outweighs the risk that voters in Georgia or elsewhere will hold Republicans accountable. McConnell was just reelected by a healthy margin in one of the most Republican states in the union. There is almost nothing he could do that would put his reelection prospects at risk. But McConnell also feels no concern that Democrats will make the Republican Senators running in Georgia or elsewhere pay for his misdeeds.

McConnell is betting that he can get away with it, because he is betting Democrats will let him. And he may be right.

Making the Turtle Pay the Price

The model for how Democrats should proceed can be found way back in 2002. After 9/11, there was a big bipartisan push in Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security. In hindsight, this was not the best idea. In the moment, however, it felt like a matter of great urgency. During the debate over the bill, Democrats pushed collective bargaining rights for some employees of the new department. A very simple and reasonable request with ample precedence across the government. Republicans rejected the idea out of a reflexive opposition to the rights of working people. This standoff stalled the bill.

The Bush White House, which was hoping to take control of the Senate in the upcoming midterms, smelled blood. The word went out to every Republican with access to a microphone — attack Democrats for putting the interests of union bosses over protecting Americans from terrorists. The attacks were ruthless and relentless. The Republicans did not mince words. They didn’t care about admonitions from fact checkers or editorial boards. The Republicans hammered the living daylights out of every Democratic politician on the ballot culminating in an ad that compared Senator Max Cleland, a war hero that lost three limbs in Vietnam, to Osama Bin Laden. (Ironically one of the creators of this ad was Rick Wilson of Lincoln Project fame). I was working on a Senate race in very red South Dakota at the time and these ads were devastating. My candidate escaped by the skin of his teeth.

As a result, Democrats gave up their position, lost the election, and were afraid to oppose Republicans on national security issues for years to come.

There is no reason that Democrats can’t run a similar play against McConnell and the Republicans for putting the interests of wealthy corporations above the lives of Americans. More people will get sick and die because of their opposition to a bill that funds vaccine distribution. We shouldn’t be afraid to say so in very blunt language. While Democrats do not have Fox News or a rage filled Facebook algorithm pushing out our message, we could still put real pressure on Republicans if we spoke with one consistent voice. We could ensure that every Republican was asked about this choice by every reporter. We could put up brutal ads that hammer Republicans for sacrificing American lives for increased corporate profits. We could start every interview with an answer about Republicans holding up aid to workers to help corporations. We could do all those things, but we aren’t.

Rep. Katie Porter showed exactly how to do this in a Twitter thread last night. More Democrats need to follow her lead. Voters can only punish Republican misdeeds if they know about those misdeeds and they won’t know if Democrats don’t tell them.

Maybe it’s too much to ask for in the middle of a pandemic with the party regrouping and the President-elect forming his government after a delayed transition and a failed coup. But I bring this up because it is the exact sort of issue that Democrats need to drive home to voters if we have any chance at keeping the House and winning the Senate.

At some point, we need to put Republicans back on their heels for promoting morally abhorrent and politically unpopular policies. Democrats are in big trouble if Republicans can continue to pass the special interest agenda of their donors without paying a political price with the working class voters that put them in office.

When these opportunities come — and they will come again — we need to speak loudly and with one voice.