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McConnell, Boehner Turn Up Rhetoric at CPAC

Republican leaders today sought to rally their party’s conservative base, excoriating the Obama administration for its new contraception policy and accusing Democrats of using the government to attack political enemies and to broadly undermine the nation’s fundamental principles.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) used speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference to launch broadsides at Democrats and President Barack Obama while defending their own political and policy efforts.

The normally soft-spoken McConnell gave a particularly aggressive speech, eschewing his usual tone for the sort of sharp, hyperpartisan rhetoric that’s a favorite of CPAC conventioneers.

“Again and again, this administration and its allies have used the resources of government itself to intimidate or silence those who question or oppose it and to reward their friends and punish their enemies,” McConnell charged, adding that Obama “is telling the men and women who run religious schools, hospitals and charities in this country that they now face a choice that no one in the United States should ever have to make: Violate your conscience, pay a penalty or close yours doors.”

McConnell also repeatedly accused the White House of class warfare by “attacking private citizens or groups for the supposed crime of turning a profit or expressing an opinion that the administration doesn’t happen to share.”

On the economy, McConnell dismissed the idea that the president’s policies have anything to do with recent good news, charging that the recent upturn in jobs numbers “is because the American people put a restraining order on him and [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [Calif.].”

Turning up the rhetoric even more, McConnell questioned whether many Democrats respected freedom.

“What liberals just can’t seem to accept is the idea of free people and free institutions pursuing happiness as they see fit — with a deep respect for the rights and difference of others — without the heavy hand of government trying to direct their lives and their destinies for them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Boehner spent much of his address touting the accomplishments of his majority and deriding his critics.

In particular, Boehner used the speech to play up his efforts to reshape how the House operates — most notably his efforts to open the chamber floor.

“When I took the gavel from Nancy Pelosi and said we’d have open debates in the House, folks on the other side didn’t boo this time — they just laughed. They laughed and called it a ‘stunt’ when we read the Constitution on the floor of the House, start to finish,” Boehner said. Left unsaid was the fact that Boehner and his leadership team have rarely allowed contentious bills to come to the floor with the type of free-form open process that defined, for instance, last year’s debate on the budget resolution.

Acknowledging his difficulties over the last year, Boehner argued the dissension within his own Conference is simply a by-product of his efforts to “look to the people, not politicians.”

“This is not a majority full of Members willing to trade their votes away for the promise of a pork-barrel project … I make no apologies for this. Yes, things are harder. But I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

Boehner also hammered the administration’s contraception rule, vowing to block it legislatively.

“What’s ultimately at stake is a First Amendment right and fundamental American value that has stood for two centuries,” Boehner said, adding that “one thing is for certain: This attack on religious freedom cannot — and will not — stand.”

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