Furloughed federal workers have displayed their unpaid bills at Mitch McConnell’s Senate office in protest. House freshmen marched to his office Wednesday to urge a vote. And he’s drawn the ire of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newest star of the Democratic party.
Yet through it all, the Senate Majority Leader has persisted and never wavered: The shutdown, he insists, is the Democrats’ fault.
As Democrats look to turn McConnell, R-Kentucky, into the face of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, they’ve erected billboards in Kentucky and raised money off his refusal to hold a Senate vote on House bills to re-open the government. The shutdown will enter its 27th day Thursday with no apparent end in sight.
On Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, a self-described Democratic socialist, called McConnell out on Twitter and for the second time in two days joined a parade of House freshmen who crossed from the House to the Capitol and over to McConnell’s Senate office. They delivered a letter calling on McConnell to put the House spending bills up for a vote “so that we can end this manufactured crisis.”
“We’re here doing our jobs,” Ocasio-Cortez said, standing by McConnell’s office. “We have voted, repeatedly, over and over again to re-open the government. Where’s Mitch? That’s my question.”
She accused McConnell of ducking the members of Congress and said the freshmen wanted to have a “conversation with him about getting people their paychecks.”
McConnell’s office provided the House members with use of a copier to run off more letters and McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, Don Stewart, said he told them he’d deliver the letter to McConnell.
The taciturn majority leader has remained firm for weeks. After President Donald Trump threatened not to sign a spending bill that didn’t include money for his promised border wall, McConnell pledged the Senate would only consider legislation Trump would sign.
“Does he answer to the president or does he answer to the American people?” Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pennsylvania, one of the freshmen accompanying Ocasio-Cortez, asked of McConnell.
“I understand his frustration, that after we all agreed, the president changed his mind,” Wild said. “But that doesn’t stop the fact that we ought to be doing what Congress was elected to do.”
McConnell took to the Senate floor Wednesday for the third day in a row, again looking to pin the blame for the shutdown on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and by extension, some of the very same Democrats who showed up in his office.
McConnell charged that Democrats who once backed border security are now taking their cues from Pelosi’s “extreme, fringe position that walls have now become immoral” — a reference to the speaker’s characterization of Trump’s proposed border wall.
“Democrats have made a marketing decision to obstruct President Trump, at all costs, even if it hurts substantive priorities they used to support,” McConnell said.
In an editorial he offered to newspapers Wednesday, McConnell suggested that “Democrats are operating purely on political spite directed at President Trump. Why else would they rather have a partial government shutdown drag on for weeks than continue to support border security?”
Allies suggested the protests would have zero effect on McConnell, who is not easily rattled and is up for re-election in 2020 in a state where Trump is more popular than he.
McConnell is not feeling pressure from his fellow Republican senators to break with Trump either, even as some GOP senators on Wednesday signaled interest in signing a Democratic and Republican letter to Trump requesting that he support a short-term spending bill that would temporarily re-open the government.
Some Republicans acknowledged there could be a political cost to pay as the shutdown continues.
“When you start taking a look at TSA agents or border security or other people with central positions that aren’t getting paid, I worry about them,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, referring to reports of backups at some airports as Transportation Security Administration personnel don’t report to work.
“Some people are going to look at that and question whether they’re being treated fairly. But right now the American people are not blaming any one party or any one person,” Tillis said. “They’re blaming all of us, which is why we need to solve the problem.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said his constituents at home see split 50-50 on who takes the blame the impasse.
“At the end of the day you just listen to what your constituents have to say and make the best decision you can,” Scott said. The 50-50 split, he said suggests “that people are dug in and they want their representatives to stay where they are consistently.”