Last night The Nation published the audio of a speech Sen. Mitch McConnell gave in June to a private gathering of billionaires organized by the Koch brothers. In the speech, he praised the Supreme Court for its Citizens United decision and outlined a hardball strategy for the next session of Congress to roll back regulations on corporate America, but not waste time on “gosh darn proposals” to increase the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits and address the student loan crisis.
McConnell opened his remarks at the California resort with a tip of the hat to the wealthy conservative activists hosting the summit — whose network raised over $400 million for the Republican cause in 2012 alone — saying “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David (Koch), for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you…”
The senator devoted most of his speech to his desire to free up unlimited political spending, or what he calls “free speech.” He described the campaign finance reform movement beginning during the Watergate scandal as an effort by “the political left” to control the political process, though neglecting to mention his support for strict contribution limits and public financing of elections during the 1970s, when he called the corrupting influence of money in politics a “cancer” on democracy.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that freed up unlimited political spending by corporations and Super PACs, McConnell said the decision “leveled the playing field” for corporations, ushering in “the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” McConnell added, “I pray for the health of the five” justices who ruled his way in the case.
While most of McConnell’s comments on campaign finance mirrored his public statements, he did add this eye-opening quote on the passage of the 2002 McCain-Feingold bill that regulated electioneering communications.
“The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law in the early part of his first Administration,” said McConnell.
Commentators have noted that McConnell’s tenure in the Senate has included two government shutdowns, multiple wars, the 9/11 attacks, and the financial collapse of 2008. Regarding the latter, McConnell said at the time that the passage of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout for firms directly implicated in the crash was “the Senate at its finest.”
In other words, legislation limiting political spending by the wealthy was his worst day in the Senate, and legislation giving a $700 billion handout to the wealthy was his finest day in the Senate.
Regarding the newly proposed amendment to the Constitution to overrule Citizens United, McConnell fielded a question from David Koch and told the crowd that this is radical legislation seeking to silence the wealthy.
“This is an act of true radicalism,” said McConnell. “This just underscores the level of radicalism that the majority of the (inaudible) say endanger them. They, they are frightened of, of their critics. They don’t want to join the tradition in open discourse. They want to use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics.”
McConnell also laid out a Senate strategy for the next session of Congress that he would later reveal to Politico in August, saying he would attach riders on spending bills to gut legislation he — and the wealthy audience – has long opposed. Such a strategy is what led to the government shutdown last fall over defunding the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats argue this is what such tactics would lead to next year.
“I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill,” said McConnell. “No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”
If Republicans win the majority in the November elections, McConnell previewed that the Democratic agenda to lift wages for the working poor, extend unemployment insurance benefits and lower interest rates on student loans will vanish from the Senate floor.
“We’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals,” said McConnell. “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. These people believe in all the wrong things.”
Three days after this speech at the Koch summit, McConnell stood on the Senate floor and said Republicans are not the party of the wealthy. Rather, he said Republicans are the party that fights the “well off” and “well connected” trying to rig the system, while McConnell seeks to fight for the struggling working class:
McConnell said that Senate Democrats are trying to hide the fact that Republicans are “quietly assembling a lot of good ideas aimed at helping middle-class Americans deal with the stresses of a modern economy” and “working overtime behind the scenes to make their lives easier or paychecks bigger for working moms and recent college graduates.” Those “quiet” and “behind the scenes” ideas “address the concerns and anxieties of working men and women whose wages have remained stubbornly flat during the Obama years, even as the cost of everything from college tuition to healthcare continues to soar.”
McConnell added that these ideas are consistent with the GOP’s longstanding commitment to their principle of ensuring government has “a shared responsibility for the weak”—an amazing claim that he first trotted out last month, days after his Republican primary victory.
Despite such rhetoric, it should be noted that McConnell considers raising the minimum wage “class warfare,” is opposed the the Paycheck Fairness Act to enforce equal pay for women, and suggested that middle to low-income families should not send their honor student to Yale, but instead local community colleges or for-profit universities in order to avoid student loan debt. However, cutting the capital gains tax, rolling back regulations on the financial services sector that caused the 2008 crash, and allowing billionaires to send a million dollar check to a Super PAC still remain high on his agenda.
The campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes took aim at McConnell over the recording, playing up their theme that McConnell cares more about currying favor with wealthy to gain power than the needs of average Kentuckians.
“Shockingly, Mitch McConnell will do and say anything it takes to secure his grip on personal power, including promising to hurt Kentuckians to benefit billionaires,” said Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton. “Kentuckians who are struggling with unemployment, low wages and the soaring costs of higher education are the furthest thing from McConnell’s mind. For the past 30 years, Kentuckians have questioned Mitch McConnell’s priorities, and now we have the hard evidence that his allegiances lie with his millionaire and billionaire donors at the expense of hardworking Kentuckians.”