Early last week, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unleashed his latest salvo on the Koch brothers on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the defence of the billionaire Republican megadonors.
“These American citizens have a constitutional right to participate in the political process,” McConnell said. “There are many wealthy Americans who feel deeply about the country, who feel committed to one side or the other, who are trying to have an impact on the country.”
This is exactly what Reid wanted — a potent, verbal, and public defence of the two brothers.
“This is the debate I’m willing to have,” Reid told a small group of reporters in his Capitol Hill office last week, “because I believe I am on the side of the American people. And they’re not.”
Over the past couple weeks, Reid has repeatedly bashed Charles and David Koch. It has spawned a full-blown campaign, one in which Reid has called them “un-American and said Republicans are “Addicted to Koch” (pronounced “Coke”).
What’s behind Reid’s anti-Koch campaign?
Those close to Reid say it’s part personal and part politics. But what pushed Reid over the edge this time are recent attack ads from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group targeting Democratic candidates for their support of the Affordable Care Act.
Reid knows Republicans will rush to the brothers’ defence, and he’s looking forward to it. For Reid, highlighting Democrats’ opposition to the bothers and Republican support for them is a perfect illustration of the Democrats’ 2014 election message. He is challenging Republicans to oppose the Kochs — and loved when McConnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week gave full-throated defenses.
“I’m trying to find a Republican — somebody, anybody — who will raise an objection to two brothers trying to buy America,” Reid said. “I’ll settle for even one without much seniority over there. Anybody that will stand up to two individuals who stand for everything I don’t.”
This is a fundamental distinction Reid hopes to draw ahead of the 2014 midterm election, as polls show Democrats in danger of losing control of the Senate in and slipping further behind the GOP in the House of Representatives. So, last Thursday in a briefing with a small group of reporters, Reid didn’t hold back.
“I have no problem with people making a lot of money — but it’s what they do with their money,” Reid said of the brothers. “Bribe foreigners in an effort to get these contracts. They are against anything that improves the environment. They actively participated in lobbying to prevent formaldehyde from being listed as a cancer-causing element product.
“This is all in spite of the fact that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.”
Reid goes down the list of items opposed by the Koch brothers — increasing the nation’s minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, Obamacare, and more.
The seeds of Reid’s anti-Koch campaign were sown in a new ad from Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who is one of a handful of prime targets in the GOP’s bid to retake the Senate. Begich’s spot blasts the Koch brothers for two ads AFP ran against him including one deemed by PolitiFact and FactCheck as misleading.
“Who’s behind the ads? Two billionaire outsiders. The Koch brothers,” a narrator says in Begich’s commercial.
A reporter asked Reid last week, plainly, if he thinks people will respond to his campaign. Does the broader electorate care about these behind-the-scenes politics?
Reid cited the Begich ad as an example behind the strategy of focusing on the Kochs. The second half of the ad features Alaskans talking about the closure of the Flint Hills Resources Refinery, an Alaska oil refinery owned by Koch Industries.
“Of course they care,” Reid said. “In this modern world, it’s important that we understand that not everything is decided on the Sunday shows. Not everything is decided on watching the evening news. … People damn sure care. But they have to be educated and develop a reason for caring.”
Personally, Reid feels he has nothing to lose by taking on the brothers. If his campaign succeeds, he feels it could potentially be a boon for Democrats in 2014 — and give him a greater chance to remain Majority Leader next year. If not, he isn’t worried about facing any backlash personally, as he’s confident of his standing in his home state.
“My goal in Nevada is to get one vote more than 50 per cent,” Reid said. “I can’t please everybody, so if they want to come to Nevada and tell everybody in Nevada what a bad guy I am, some people agree with them already. So, let them try to get over 50 per cent.”
In response to Reid’s attacks, the Kochs and their affiliated groups have launched an unusually large-scale public campaign pushing back. Three times in the span of the first week of Reid’s campaign, Koch Companies Public Sector spokesman Philip Ellender released statements on Reid. Charles Koch, meanwhile, gave a rare interview to the Wichita Business Journal.
When Business Insider asked Reid what he made of the public pushback, he said he took it as a sign the Koch brothers were coming after him.
“Their money can buy everything, but it’s not going to buy me. It’s not going to shut me up,” Reid said.
“You know, I’m sure that people on my side wish I were a William Jennings Bryan,” he added, of the 20th century politician who was viewed as a great communicator and messenger. “I’m not. But I’m going to continue whatever inadequate ways I have to express myself to call these people out who are trying to buy America. I don’t care what they do.”
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