Updated Sep 16, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi's next target: Mitch McConnell

Animated illustration of Nancy Pelosi speaking with Mitch McConnell's likeness being thrown as if a speech bubble.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will escalate her caucus' anti-Mitch McConnell messaging this fall, testing a theory that this can be more effective than just continuing the party's anti-Trump rhetoric, Democratic leadership aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are still divided over how much to focus on President Trump ahead of the 2020 elections — and they're aware that "Trump fatigue" could mean that their attacks will bring diminishing returns.

  • Pelosi has relentlessly reminded her House colleagues that Democrats regained the majority in 2018 by focusing on the issues, not by bashing Trump.
  • She's also still cautioning against impeachment, despite the majority of the caucus saying they support an impeachment inquiry.
  • Meanwhile, her office downplayed the House Judiciary Committee's Thursday vote to establish rules for hearings on impeachment in a Tuesday memo, first reported by Politico. It characterized the vote as typical oversight even though committee chairman Jerry Nadler described it as an “impeachment investigation.”

Pelosi believes there is a ceiling on how much the party can shift public opinion on Trump, the aides say, noting that his approval rating has remained steady over the last several months.

  • But demonizing McConnell "is something even the more moderate Democrats can glom onto," one aide said. "He's seen as the face of obstruction and Trump’s enabler in the Senate. It's easy to message against him."

Details: Over the next few months, Pelosi will be hyper-focused on McConnell and "his refusal to pass meaningful legislation," per the Democratic leadership aides. The Senate's inaction on gun violence is a particularly effective example, they add.

  • Another benefit of the strategy, in their view, is that it creates a fresher way for the caucus to pivot to their own legislative achievements: "Their message of ‘look at all the things we’re passing' was falling flat," a Democratic congressional aide said.
  • By focusing on McConnell and Senate Republicans' blocking tactics, the aide said, House Democrats can "tout the good they’ve done and also helps show the importance of Dems taking back the Senate.”

The other side: "I don't believe for a second that [Pelosi's team] thinks there is any strategic value in what they’re doing," Josh Holmes, McConnell's former chief of staff and campaign manager tells Axios.

  • "Pelosi for the better part of a year has been caught in an impossible situation between a progressive base that wants impeachment and the political reality that it’s harmful to the party. So every few weeks she dangles a new set of car keys in front of them as a distraction," Holmes added.
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