Democrats Focus Attacks on McConnell

Posted April 19, 2010 at 7:16pm

Democrats trying to portray Republicans as anti-consumer are increasingly focusing their attacks on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying he is conspiring with bankers to sink a financial regulatory reform bill.

Attacks on the Kentucky Republican are nothing new, particularly since he and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) became the de facto leaders of the party after President George W. Bush left office.

But over the last week Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), the Democratic National Committee and even President Barack Obama — have unleashed a series of bruising, personal attacks against McConnell, accusing him and National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) of trading opposition to the reform bill for campaign contributions from Wall Street.

For instance, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) charged on the Senate floor Thursday that McConnell’s opposition to the bill is based on talking points written by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and designed to protect Wall Street interests.

“If it seems strange … that the Minority Leader is accusing our bill of being too kind to Wall Street by reciting talking points written on behalf of Wall Street, you are not alone,” Dodd said.

Similarly, in an unusual move, Obama chose to use his weekly radio address Saturday to directly attack McConnell.

“Just the other day, in fact, the leader of the Senate Republicans and the Chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on this issue. Lo and behold, when he returned to Washington, the Senate Republican leader came out against the common-sense reforms we’ve proposed. In doing so, he made the cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts — when he knows that it would do just the opposite,” Obama said.

Democrats continued their offensive Monday, with Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and other Democrats using the Senate floor as a stage to attack McConnell.

With McConnell on the floor, Reid said the GOP leader’s complaints about the Democratic bill don’t “pass the laugh test” and accused McConnell of attempting to obfuscate the GOP’s support of big banking interests.

“Republicans also refuse to admit whose side they’re on. Earlier this month, the Republican leader and the head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee went to Wall Street. They met with the bankers and hedge fund managers who benefited more than anyone from the broken system and are trying harder than anyone to stop us from fixing it,” Reid said. “Every time Republicans make these false claims at this late stage of the process, what they are really saying is that they want to protect their special-interest friends on Wall Street.”

Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau continued the assault on McConnell outside the chamber, saying, “We refuse to let him go to the floor and blatantly misrepresent the truth.”

A senior Democratic leadership added that McConnell can expect a “full-court press from all quarters” not just on regulatory reform, but whenever he uses rhetoric that Democrats view as inaccurate.

Many Senate Democrats mistakenly assumed that the politically charged rhetoric of the health care debate would not spill over into financial regulatory reform, the aide said. “Some of our people were naive enough to think that Wall Street reform was important enough … for them to work with us. These guys have no intention to work with us,” the aide said.

Republicans dismissed Democrats’ attacks, insisting their argument that the legislation is little more than a “bailout” for too-big-to-fail interests is resonating with the public — and clearly worrying Democrats.

“If the choice is between waving through another bailout or protecting taxpayers from bailouts and listening to some overheated rhetoric, we’ll stand with the taxpayers,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.

McConnell fired back at the White House on Monday, saying the debate should “focus not on personal attacks or questioning each other’s motives, but on fixing the problems in this bill.”

The partisan pingponging continued Monday afternoon as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sought to portray McConnell as beholden to big banks and questioned what deals were hatched in his closed-door meeting with Wall Street executives.

“I don’t know whether Sen. McConnell is interested in putting Wall Street in charge or putting the American people back in charge but … he’ll have a chance to register whose side he’s on later this month,” Gibbs said in his press briefing.

The administration has been working around McConnell to try to pick up a handful of GOP votes for the legislation. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met Friday with Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and on Monday, he met with moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said after the meeting that GOP votes for the bill were possible under certain conditions.

Geithner also took to the airwaves Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he dismissed McConnell’s comments about financial reform amounting to more bailouts as “absolutely not true.”

Even some of McConnell’s Republican colleagues said his remarks were “a bit over the top,” Geithner said. The reality is that several GOP Senators agree “on the vast bulk of the things necessary to end too big to fail [and] protect taxpayers in the future.”