Harry Reid: Republicans Are "Addicted to Koch"

Harry Reid: Republicans Are "Addicted to Koch"
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Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid got punny on the Senate floor Tuesday, continuing his crusade against the billionaire Koch brothers, whose money plays a sizable role in congressional campaigns.

With control of the upper chamber at stake for Democrats, Reid took to the floor for the second time in as many weeks to blast special interest influence and rally his party’s base for a difficult midterm election year.

“Senate Republicans are addicted to Koch,” Reid said, playing on the surname, which is pronounced “coke.” The brothers, Charles and David, made their fortune in the oil business and donate heavily to Republicans, mainly through the group Americans for Prosperity. The Kochs have become a top punching bag for Democrats, and their name is often used in fundraising pitches. (One PAC affiliated with the siblings, however, has given to Democrats too.)

“Like most shrewd businessmen, the oil baron Koch brothers are very good at protecting and growing their prodigious fortune. There’s nothing un-American about that. There’s nothing un-American about that,” Reid said. “But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest 1 percent.”

Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, faces the prospect of losing Senate seats to Republicans in the midterms. The GOP needs a net gain of six to take control of the chamber, an endeavor that initially appeared remote but now seems increasingly possible.

Even with the financial backing of outside groups, Republicans lost winnable seats in 2012, and Democrats increased their majority in the Senate. This year, the map is favorable to Republicans, running through many red states the president lost in the last cycle. Republicans have tried to expand the playing field further with challenges to Democratic incumbents in states such as Colorado (won by Obama in 2012), where Rep. Cory Gardner waded into the race against Sen. Mark Udall and has begun to clear the GOP field.

Republicans hope the president’s unpopular health care law will weigh down Democrats running in 2014, and ads across several battleground states feature attacks on it. Last week, Senate Democrats began a new offensive to highlight the positive effects of the law.

On the floor last week, Reid hit the Kochs for financially backing ads in key states like Michigan; the spots feature people talking about their negative experiences with the Affordable Care Act. Reid called the commercials false, and took a direct charge at the brothers.

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who chairs his party’s campaign arm, fired back at the majority leader last week on the floor, calling his words into question. “I have heard directly from countless Kansans about the devastating effects Obamacare has had on them and their families,” he said. “They are, most assuredly, not liars. They do not deserve to be called liars by any member of this body.”

On Thursday, Reid said the amount of money flowing into campaigns from Koch-affiliated groups has nearly rendered the Republican’s official campaign arm irrelevant. “Koch-backed groups have spent a vast sum helping elect Republican Senate candidates this year -- a sum that dwarfs even the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s own spending,” he asserted. “In fact, Senate Republicans hardly need the NRSC anymore. They’ve got the Koch brothers. Besides, the NRSC can’t hide its donors’ identities, like Koch-funded front groups can.”

Reid pledged to continue his assault on the pair. Afterward, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the brothers for exercising their constitutional rights, and asked Reid why he did not mention liberal billionaire donor Tom Steyer, who recently promised to spend millions in 2014 campaigns on the issue of climate change.

“There are many wealthy Americans who feel deeply about the country, who are committed to one side or the other,” McConnell said on the floor. “As many on the left as on the right.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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