Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’

Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’
© Greg Nash

Democrats are turning their campaign message to the many scandals swirling around the Trump administration, betting that vows to “drain the swamp” will attract voters to their side in November.

The strategy marks an expansion of the Democrats’ midterm agenda, “A Better Deal,” which up until now has focused almost exclusively on kitchen-table economic issues in lieu of the controversies surrounding President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE and a growing list of people in his orbit. 

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In extending their message to include an anti-corruption component, the Democrats are painting the Trump administration — and its Republican supporters on Capitol Hill — as an unscrupulous group that’s using power to pad its own pockets while peddling policies to the highest corporate bidder. The Democrats are promising voters they’d be an alternative: The party that would clean the place up.

“President Trump has embraced the most egregious establishment Republican norms and appointed the most conflict-of-interest-ridden Cabinet in my lifetime,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday at a press briefing on the steps of the Capitol. 

“The swamp has never been more foul, or more fetid, than under this president.” 

The message is something of a shift for the Democrats. Last summer, they launched their “Better Deal” platform in rural Virginia by unveiling a series of proposals that were laser focused on the economy — and made no mention of the president. 

The Democrats had been burned at the polls in 2016, when they’d hinged much of their national campaign on an anti-Trump message, and didn’t want history to repeat itself this year, when they’re hoping to win back control of both chambers. 

Yet internal poll results, Democrats say, show that voters respond more favorably to the party’s economic platform when it’s coupled with promises to weed out corruption and the influence of money in Washington. Their response, unveiled Monday, is their “Better Deal for Our Democracy,” which features a series of specific proposals designed to encourage voting, limit the sway of lobbyists, bolster ethics standards for Washington policymakers and reform the nation’s campaign finance laws by barring unlimited and anonymous donations.

“American democracy shouldn’t have a price for entry,” said Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities McCain's former chief of staff considering Senate bid as Democrat MORE (D-N.M.).

It's also a return to the "drain the swamp" message employed by House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Pelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor MORE (D-Calf.) in 2006, when Democrats retook the House and Senate. 

The Democrats feel they have the ultimate cautionary tale in the current administration. Not only is Trump’s campaign team under investigation for potentially colluding with Russia to swing the election, but a number of Cabinet secretaries and other top officials are also facing allegations of ethics violations or other misconduct. 

Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas EPA inspector general to resign Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog says agency failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools| Watchdog won’t investigate former Superfund head’s qualifications| Florence causes toxic coal ash spill in North Carolina MORE, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, is under fire for enjoying lavish travel arrangements and securing a seemingly sweetheart lease agreement from the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before the agency. 

Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonKavanaugh an excellent fit to continue the Supreme Court's honored tradition GOP strategist: Republican candidates distancing themselves from Trump could backfire in midterms Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events MORE, who leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development, churned headlines earlier this year when it was found he’d ordered a $31,000 taxpayer-funded table for his office at the request of his wife.

Trump’s budget chief, former Rep. Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyPoll: Cruz up 9 in Texas Senate race Financial policymakers must be suffering from amnesia On The Money: Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs | Senate confirms new IRS chief | Median household income rose for third straight year in 2017 | Jamie Dimon's brief battle with Trump MORE (R-S.C.), raised eyebrows last month when he told a group of banking executives that his policy had been to meet only with those lobbyists who’d donated to his campaign.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE, the former Health and Human Services secretary, resigned last September after revelations that he favored costly charter flights at taxpayers’ expense. 

And Democrats are attacking Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, for accepting millions of dollars from large corporations in return for promised access to the president.

“Instead of delivering on his promise to ‘drain the swamp,’ President Trump has become the swamp,” Pelosi said at Monday’s messaging event.

“We want Republicans and their corrupt, big donor-driven agenda to get out of the way. It has given the American people a raw deal.”

Republicans quickly responded with charges that Democrats were being hypocritical. Both Schumer and Pelosi, they point out, frequently tour the country raising millions of dollars in campaign contributions for their party, much of it from the same type of well-heeled interests the Democrats decried Monday.

And one GOP operative noted that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was recently cleared of criminal wrongdoing after facing charges of trading political favors for private gifts, might not have gotten off so freely if the Democrats’ promises to crack down on “pay-to-play” arrangements were adopted. 

“I’d be curious to hear what Schumer thinks about Menendez in light of this proposal,” said Sarah Dolan, communications director of the America Rising PAC. 

Democrats vow that if they win the power in Washington, they’ll enact new campaign finance laws that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by putting caps on donations and outlawing anonymous contributions in the name of accountability and transparency.

“In this election, phony front groups with names like ‘Rhode Islanders for Puppies and Peace and Prosperity’ are going to show up on our televisions and pour their smear ads into our living room. And all of it is anonymous,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems call on Senate to postpone Kavanaugh vote Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (D-R.I.).

“People in this country feel like they’re not being listened to by government,” he added. “It’s because they’re not.”