Mitch McConnell under fire for comments to Koch brothers summit

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is taking heavy fire from Democrats for comments he made during a private strategy conference hosted by billionaires Charles and David Koch, outlining his strategy to oppose Democratic pet proposals if Republicans take the Senate.

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Local and national Democrats decried his promise to drop “all these gosh-darn proposals” that Democrats have been pushing, like minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits, as “staggering and beyond deplorable,” as Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon put it.

But McConnell’s campaign stood by his remarks, noting his opposition to such proposals is nothing new and highlighting a portion of his comments in which he pledges to go after the Environmental Protection Agency as evidence of his commitment to fighting for Kentucky’s coal industry.

The comments went public late Tuesday night, when progressive magazine The Nation published a recording it had obtained of McConnell’s session at the June conference of conservative lawmakers, donors and strategists.

In the recording, McConnell gives an early outline of his strategy to attach policy riders to spending bills if he controls the Senate, which was decried by Democrats as an effective threat to shut down the government when he made similar comments in a recent interview.

“We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board,” McConnell says in the recording.

He also declares, “We’re not going to be debating all these gosh-darn proposals,” like raising the minimum wage, which he says will “cost the country 500,000 new jobs;” extending unemployment — “that’s a great message for retirees,” McConnell remarks sarcastically; or “the student loan package the other day — that’s just going to make things worse.”

McConnell adds: “These people believe in all the wrong things.”

He does, however, heap praise on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which opened the door to unlimited political spending by corporations.

McConnell has long been an advocate for fewer restrictions on campaign spending, and in the recording says Americans “now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.”

National Democratic groups and McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, immediately pounced on the recording. 

Grimes’s campaign characterized his remarks as his “plans to hurt Kentucky families and pander to millionaires and billionaires.”

“On issues like raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and helping Kentuckians with college affordability, McConnell promised his party’s rich backers that he stands with them, no matter the cost to Kentuckians and this nation,” the Grimes campaign said in a release.

Logsdon called McConnell's comments “shocking.”

“His pandering to wealthy out-of-state backers to help his party gain power at the expense of hardworking Kentuckians is staggering and beyond deplorable,” Logsdon added.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also seized on the comments, along with a handful of national progressive groups, including EMILY’s List, the group backing female Democratic candidates; Democracy for America and Every Voice, a group opposing big money in politics.

Democrats feel the remarks underscore the main case they’ve been building against McConnell — that he’s out of touch with average Kentuckians and only interested in his own gain.

His opposition to proposals like raising the minimum wage and student loan reform are no secret, and Democrats have made them a central focus of attacks on McConnell. But the recording casts his opposition in stark and somewhat inelegant terms.

But McConnell’s campaign stood by the comments, and his campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore pointed back to a recording of Grimes at a recent fundraiser, where she made no mention of Kentucky’s coal industry.

“In contrast to Alison Lundergan Grimes' failure to defend Kentucky coal from the EPA behind closed doors with Obama donors, Senator McConnell fights for Kentucky wherever he goes,” Moore said. “Earlier this summer Grimes failed to utter a word of support after promising Kentuckians she would defend Kentucky coal at a Harry Reid fundraiser and lord knows what she said to Tom Steyer and anti-coal billionaires when she attended their conference in Chicago.”