Dems plan slice-and-dice strategy to pressure McConnell

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Dems plan slice-and-dice strategy to pressure McConnell




Steny Hoyer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s strategy is intended to pressure Senate Republicans into taking up House bills. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

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House Democrats are set to pass pieces of their sweeping campaign finance and ethics reform bill after watching it go nowhere in the Senate.

House Democrats can’t get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on their biggest legislative accomplishment.

So they’re going to pass it all over again.

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is eyeing a new strategy that would take the caucus’ signature achievement this year — a sprawling elections and government transparency bill — and break it into bite-size pieces with fresh votes on the floor, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.

The move is intended to pressure Senate Republicans into taking up House bills and underscores a desire by Democratic leadership to spotlight all the legislation that has languished on the other side of the Capitol.

“Since Senator McConnell refuses to take up H.R. 1, I am prepared to bring to the Floor and pass individual bills to address the reforms included in the For the People Act,” Hoyer said in a statement to POLITICO.

The package, which passed on a party-line vote in March, is expected to be sliced into separate pieces in the coming weeks on election security, voting rights and campaign finance.

House Democrats are eager to remind the public about a marquee proposal that some lawmakers fear has been overshadowed by the bruising shutdown battle and subsequent fights on oversight and the Mueller probe.

Separate votes would also help draw attention to little-noticed pieces of the initial bill, such as automatic voter registration or a crackdown on super PACs, which are priorities for the liberal grassroots and something some lawmakers say Democratic leaders have not done enough to promote.

Democrats are eager to hammer Senate Republicans for failing to take up ideas that have bipartisan support, like tightening the rules for TV ad disclosures or protecting state election security systems from foreign hacking.

“It’s unfortunate that the ‘grim reaper’ has chosen to conduct himself like this,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said, referring to a nickname McConnell recently gave himself for killing Democratic bills. “At the end of the day, I hope that we’ll see more responsible behavior.”

In reality, the approach has little chance of changing McConnell’s mind. The Kentucky Republican has already rejected a wide range of ideas in H.R. 1 — like overhauling the Federal Election Commission and tightening restrictions for political ads. A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment on whether any of the Democrats’ bills could come to the floor, but there’s little reason to think he’ll reverse course.

Some vulnerable Democratic freshmen are growing anxious that after five months in the majority, the House has sent no major bills — besides must-pass spending measures — to Trump’s desk.

Democrats are indeed acting on core pieces of their agenda — passing legislation to curb gun violence, tackle the gender pay gap and bolster Obamacare — but the Senate has ignored the legislation.

“There’s been a lot of talk about how, tactically, how we can reinforce this point that we have legislation that has broad support — because the elements of H.R. 1 are broadly supported — and McConnell’s not willing to give anything a fair hearing,” said Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, who leads the House Democrats’ messaging arm.

“We want to make sure we put some pressure on him,” Cicilline said.

At least at this point, the rank and file doesn’t blame Democratic leadership for the impasse. Asked about the fate of their bills in the Senate, most Democrats are quick to slam uncooperative Republicans in the upper chamber.

And if McConnell’s blockade continues, as is likely, Democrats are likely to make the case to voters they need a Senate majority to get anything done.

“If the Senate refuses to take it up, then that’s the issue in 2020 they’re going to have to answer for,” said Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Still, some moderate Democrats are hopeful that some narrow proposals may make it into law — noting that while zero Republicans voted for H.R. 1 on the floor, parts of it do have bipartisan support.

Washington Rep. Derek Kilmer, who leads the centrist New Democrats Caucus, said some of the two dozen separate provisions in the legislation have already been introduced as stand-alone bills that he says could eventually move in the Senate.

That includes his own bill, the Honest Ads Act, which had 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans as co-sponsors in the previous Congress. It also has a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“That’s something, I think, that could move,” Kilmer said. “There are those sorts of ideas — that are stand-alone bills — that I think could see some action.”

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