Democrats are ratcheting up their coronavirus attacks on Mitch McConnell.
One year into their campaign that portrays McConnell as the steward of a “legislative graveyard,” Senate Democrats are edging closer to suggesting the Republican majority is presiding over an actual one during the pandemic.
Frustrated over McConnell’s remarks that he’s not yet feeling the “urgency” to immediately tackle a fifth congressional response to the coronavirus, Democrats are resorting to the time-honored minority tactic of trying to shame the Senate majority leader into moving forward.
“We are moving forward now on an initiative that goes from our legislative graveyard effort to … a focus on the horrors of the real graveyard we have right now,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the party’s messaging arm in leadership. “And the cost of Republican inaction during the Covid crisis, which is very real.”
Stabenow and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are expected to formally launch their messaging program on Tuesday. The Democratic Caucus will lean on McConnell’s Senate to start negotiating on the next relief package or pay the price as they seek to defend their Senate majority this fall.
But McConnell and Senate Republicans are so far unmoved by Democrats’ tactics, even as both Democratic senators and the party's campaign arm come down on vulnerable GOP incumbents.
“Senate Republicans led the way by passing the historic CARES Act that has delivered unprecedented aid to families, workers, medical providers, and small businesses across the country. Sen. Stabenow seems more preoccupied with D.C. focus groups and retooling their message," said Doug Andres, a spokesman for McConnell.
Still, if Stabenow and Schumer's relentless “legislative graveyard” effort is any guide, that means Senate Democrats will raise the issue on the Senate floor every day over the coming weeks to attack McConnell for not moving on the next bill. In addition to floor speeches, Stabenow’s Democratic Policy and Communications Committee has put out reports on coronavirus’ effects on mental health, rural America and racial disparities.
But Republicans say they don’t know enough about how the $2 trillion CARES law approved in March is working to pass the next tranche of aid.
"We’ve got a half a trillion dollars that hasn’t made its way out the door,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell ally who is working on liability reforms — a key GOP priority in the next package. “That’s going to take a little bit of time to negotiate. So I don’t feel any sense of urgency.”
“We’ve already passed four bills already,” he added. Roughly 80 percent of respondents approved of the last big bill passed by Congress in a recent Gallup poll.
Unemployment is currently roughly 15 percent and Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell said on Sunday it might spike as much as 10 points higher. Democrats argue sending more money to local governments will help keep people on payrolls, but Republicans largely are advocating to reopen the economy to make states less dependent on federal aid.
Congress is currently stalled once again over what to do next. The House Democrats passed a $3 trillion aid bill last week without GOP or White House input that McConnell on Monday called "the legislative equivalent of a stand-up economy."
Schumer said President Donald Trump’s “dithering” made the health and economic crisis worse and McConnell is “compounding the problem” by not moving more quickly.
"America will convince him,” Schumer told reporters on Monday.
The Senate GOP is also divided over how much to send to state and local governments. Governors and mayors in both parties are lobbying for another package by late June, when many states complete their budgets for the year. On Monday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi became the third GOP senator to join a package that would approve $500 billion for states and local governments.
Each successive coronavirus bill has been tougher to pass than the last. In the most recent episode in April, Democrats balked at a small business package written by McConnell. They ended up compromising after weeks of being deadlocked on a $484 billion bill delivering money to hospitals and for testing as well as small businesses.
But the next bill is proving much more difficult -- and Democrats say it will cost the GOP if they keep stalling. Stabenow said in order to deliver more money when it’s needed this summer, the negotiations need to begin now and she said the Democrats are ready to work through the Memorial Day recess rather than leave Washington for a break later this week.
Republicans are “in a very precarious situation right now. When you turn back on a majority of the American people and say you don’t feel a sense of urgency about the pain they are experiencing, I would say that’s trouble for them on multiple levels,” Stabenow said.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.