Environmental groups plan to use Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments that a Republican-led Senate would be fine with more government shutdowns to attack the GOP ahead of the November elections.
The Kentucky Republican commented to Politico that a GOP-majority Senate would restrict spending on environmental programs in funding bills, a move that President Obama would likely object to — putting the onus on him to sign spending bills he doesn't like to keep the government afloat.
Environmental groups didn't detail their strategies entering the stretch run of the 2014 midterms, but they have been clear for the past year that they intend to use last October's 16-day federal shutdown to turn voters against the GOP. The party's approval ratings tanked during that ordeal, with more of the public pinning the blame on House Republicans than Obama.
"It's a message that resonates with people across the country. Shutting down the government over something like climate safeguards that a majority of the public supports won't be a winning strategy for Republican leaders," Jeff Gohringer, a spokesman with the League of Conservation Voters, told the Washington Examiner.
The one-year anniversary of the shutdown is looming in October, just in time for the final push before the election. Environmental groups likely will use that milestone to try to mobilize voters during an election season in which a sizable clutch of red-state Democrats, who are more supportive of those groups' goals, need good turnout to have a chance of winning.
The closure of national parks became a symbol for the shutdown, as it served as one of the real-world examples of how actions in Washington resonated across the country. The Obama administration, Democrats and environmental groups tried capitalizing on it by saying the responsibility rested with House Republicans.
Senate Democrats are keen to jump on McConnell's comments as well.
"He gladly shut down the government, costing our economy billions and hurting Kentuckians, just to advance his partisan goals. And that is something we will absolutely remind voters of," Ty Matsdorf, campaign director with Senate Majority PAC, the Super PAC backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, told the Examiner.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans blamed Congress for the parks' closure, according to a November 2013 Hart Research Associates poll conducted for left-leaning think tank the Center for American Progress. And 82 percent of respondents said the shutdown reminded them how important parks are and that they should remain open.
But it's more than just parks, said Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's national advocacy center. Kolton said his group's members, which include conservationists, hunters, anglers and others who might lean more conservative, also lost access to wildlife habitats and hunting grounds when the government shut down.
"Whether it's conservationists or most Americans, people want to see fewer ultimatums and more genuine efforts to work together," Kolton told the Examiner. "Everyone has to appreciate that we're sick of the brinkmanship and the shutdowns."
Environmental groups are betting that's the case — as such, McConnell's comments about potential future shutdowns will likely resurface as November nears.
He would rise to Senate majority leader if Republicans retake the upper chamber. Hailing from coal-heavy Kentucky and running for re-election on a message that the Environmental Protection Agency is killing his state's economy with new regulations on power plants that would restrict coal use, he would be no friend to environmental groups.
As the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund put it, McConnell "possesses that dangerous combination of [climate change] denialism and power."