McConnell's Stunning Admission

The fact that the GOP felt pressure to cave on stimulus checks offers a roadmap for the next couple of years.

Does it count as saying the quiet part out loud if you say it on an ostensibly private phone call?

On a recent conference call, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the case for making a deal on COVID relief to his caucus of conspiracy mongering, COVID truthing plutocrats. McConnell didn’t argue that 5 million more Americans would slip into poverty if unemployment insurance expired. He didn’t persuade them with stories of local restaurants and small businesses in dire need of loans as bridges to our post-vaccine future. Instead, McConnell — as politicians often do — personalized the pain and suffering of the pandemic and recession through the stories of two individuals.

Kelly and David are getting hammered.”

Of course, “Kelly and David “are Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two Republican millionaire Senators accused of insider trading whose fates in a January runoff will determine control of the Senate.

For many, McConnell’s remarks were seen as evidence of the win-at-all-costs nihilism that is endemic to modern Republicanism. It’s definitely gross that McConnell cares more about keeping power than keeping millions of Americans out of poverty. However, we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that McConnell, a shrewd political operator, has decided that the only way Republicans can win in Georgia is for the GOP to sign off on the government sending money to people in need. This stunning admission has implications for how Democrats can make progress in the Biden era as well as for our 2022 political strategy.

Leverage Matters

Mitch McConnell is right (you don’t hear that from me often, huh?). Kelly and David are getting hammered. Georgians are hurting and their Senators are too busy re-litigating a decided election to help them. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have continually highlighted their opponents’ opposition to relief legislation and $1,200 stimulus checks more specifically. This message has been prevalent on the air, on the stump, and in the debates.

During a rally in Georgia this past week, President-Elect Joe Biden brought up Loeffler and Perdue’s opposition to direct cash payments:

We need to get money in people’s pockets right away. Look — don’t get me wrong. I hope the Congress passes a package right away. But it should support firefighters, cops, educators, and first responders. It should support the testing and vaccinations we need. And it should deliver direct cash payments to people right away.Your two Republican Senators are not supporting that kind of package.

There haven’t been a ton of high quality public polls on the Georgia runoffs — and to be honest, who knows which polls are high quality these days. So we don’t know if this messaging is working. But we do know that Loeffler and Perdue think it’s working. Otherwise, they would never abandon their reflexive corporatist cruelty to actually help their constituents.

McConnell’s Calculus

If Democrats win the Senate, they will have the opportunity to fix the economy, help the unemployed, keep fire fighters, cops, and teachers on the job, and open schools without ever having to worry about Mitch McConnell. If we don’t, things become a slog of legislative inches and inadequate solutions. We will fight like hell over band aids to apply to broken legs.

Back in 2009, the economy was hemorrhaging jobs and the financial system was on the verge of collapse. Where others saw devastation, McConnell saw opportunity. At the time, Democrats had huge majorities in the House and the Senate so McConnell decided he could actively hurt the economy without getting blamed. The worse the economy, the more seats Republicans would win in the midterm elections. This strategy was craven, cynical, and morally abhorrent. But it was very successful. McConnell’s admission that he needed a relief bill to pass to win in Georgia suggests that he doesn’t believe he can re-run that same play during the Biden Presidency.

Win or lose, there is a lesson in what’s happening in Georgia: Despite the cynical declarations that “Nothing Matters,” pressure works.

A Roadmap for the Next Two Years

If the Republicans control the Senate, it won’t be so easy to sit back and watch the world burn. In 2022, Republicans will defend seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Florida. And Democrats can hammer them for obstructing popular and necessary economic policies passed by the House and supported by the President. Senate Republicans will be on an island of obstruction.

While it’s safe to assume the Republicans will obstruct Biden on every issue under the sun, Democrats will have the most success — legislatively and politically — when they pressure Republicans on populist economic issues. As Waleed Shahid of the Justice Democrats said to Elaine Godfrey of The Atlantic:

The more that Democrats are able to paint Republicans as plutocrats who don’t care about working-class and middle-class families, the more successful they’ll be.

When the issue terrain moves from racist, cultural fear mongering to the economy, Republicans start to get nervous really fast. Direct cash payments or stimulus checks is a great issue for this strategy because it is so easy to understand, but you can imagine a similar approach on other issues. Republicans blocking the closing of corporate tax loopholes because they want to cut Medicare. Republicans blocking money to keep cops, firefighters, and teachers on the job. Republicans blocking legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 and so on. If you make a Republican afraid of losing their job, they might actually do their job.

By folding on the relief bill in such an obvious and cynical way, McConnell has given Democrats a roadmap for the next two years.