McConnell Rhetoric Suggests Tactical Shift by GOP

Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:12pm

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leveled his sharpest criticism to date against President Barack Obama on Friday, accusing the administration of abandoning bipartisanship to pursue what he said is a decades-old “liberal— agenda.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, McConnell charged that Obama and Democrats are using fears about the economy to push sweeping legislative changes. Obama has opted to “use the strategy that we are all frightened to death … to pass what appears to be a 20- or 30-year wish list of the liberal elements of [his] party,— McConnell said, arguing that that agenda is a “really rather audacious effort to, in my view, really Europeanize the nation.—

McConnell’s rhetoric shows that Capitol Hill Republicans are changing their tactics when it comes to attempting to define Obama in the public’s mind.

During the first few weeks of the new administration, Republicans pursued a strategy of aligning themselves with Obama, repeatedly accusing Democratic Congressional leaders during the stimulus debate and other skirmishes of breaking with Obama’s pledge to work with the GOP. But as Obama has pushed forward with an aggressive agenda of legislative and policy reforms, Republicans have pivoted to a more oppositional stance.

McConnell on Friday sought to lay the blame for the quick deterioration of bipartisanship on Obama’s shoulders, accusing the White House of purposefully moving to the left on most critical issues.

For instance, during early meetings with Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, McConnell said that he raised the issue of pursuing Social Security legislation backed by Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). That bill would put in place a non-partisan panel — similar to the military base closure process — to develop a list of reforms to the massive entitlement program.

Although McConnell said Obama and Emanuel initially showed support for that approach, they have since cooled to the idea.

“Regretfully they seem to be backing away from the approach,— he said, arguing that it is an example of a broader shift in the administration’s efforts that has become clear as the White House rolls out its policy proposals. “What’s changed is that he’s made proposals … it’s his call whether he wants to govern from the middle or the left, and I think he’s made it pretty clear here in the first two months— that he is pursuing a partisan agenda.