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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.

Go deeper

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Tokyo Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

Of note: His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ won't investigate nursing home deaths in N.Y. and 2 other states

People who've lost loved ones due to COVID-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a March protest and vigil in New York City. As of this month, Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has decided not to launch a civil rights investigation into whether policies in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan contributed to pandemic deaths in nursing homes, according to a letter sent to Republicans.

Why it matters: The Trump DOJ requested data from the three states plus New Jersey last August "amid still-unanswered questions about whether some states, especially New York, inadvertently worsened the pandemic death toll by requiring nursing homes to accept residents previously hospitalized for COVID-19," per AP.

Former Blizzard CEO says he "failed” women at the studio

Image: Neville Elder / Getty Images

Mike Morhaime, who co-founded and worked at video game studio Blizzard for 28 years, has apologized publicly for toxic work conditions at his former studio, which is now the subject of a discrimination and harassment lawsuit by the state of California.

Why it matters: Morhaime is no longer at Blizzard, but was its leader for most of its existence and therefore was in charge when much of what is alleged in California’s suit would have occurred.