Today CNN’s State of the Union featured Dana Bash’s exclusive interview with U.S.Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). As McConnell assumes his new role as Senate Majority Leader, he tells Dana Bash that he is not opposed to negotiating with the president but still intends to pursue the Republican agenda in 2015.
On bipartisan cooperation: “when the American people elect a divided government, they’re not saying they don’t want anything done. What they are saying is,they want things done in the political center, things that both sides can agree on. We talk about the things where there may be some agreement.”
On trusting Obama as a negotiator: “You know, the only agreements that have been made during these years on a bipartisan basis, I negotiated, the December 2010 two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, the August 2011 Budget Control Act, and the December 31, 2012, fiscal cliff deal. So I’m not opposed to negotiating with the Administration. In those particular instances, the President sort of picked the Vice President to do it. So, I don’t object to negotiating with him. I have done it in the past. ”
On Obamacare and the Republican agenda: “If we can put either repeal or take out pieces of it, like destroying the 40-hour workweek, the medical device tax, the individual mandate. All of these are highly unpopular with the American people. And we will be voting on things I know he’s not going to like. And I hope we can put them on his desk.”
Full transcript after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: The 114th Congress opens this week with Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate.
I recently sat down with the incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and asked what he thinks the message the voters sent to Washington is by electing a GOP Congress.
MCCONNELL: I think the American people had two messages.
They were certainly upset with the president and wanted to express that opposition to what he’s been doing, but they also want to do something about the dysfunction in Washington. They — I’m not sure they know exactly who is responsible for it, but they want it to stop.
And so I think the message from the American people is they’d like to see a right-of-center, responsible conservative governing majority. That’s what the speaker and I tend to provide. And, hopefully, we will have enough followers to do that.
BASH: What’s your top goal as Senate majority leader?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think jobs and the economy are clearly what the voters are concerned about.
They are tried of inaction. They want us to act. And what does acting mean? Just to give you some examples, it won’t surprise you, things like approving the Keystone pipeline, which would put a lot of people to work almost immediately, trying to do everything we can to push back against this overactive bureaucracy of the current administration that’s created much job loss, for example, in my state, in the mining industry, coal mining industry.
They’re also after agriculture through what they call the waters of the U.S. regulation. We need to do everything we can to try to rein in the regulatory onslaught, which is the principal reason that we haven’t had the kind of bounce-back after the 2008 recession that you would expect.
BASH: What do you think the first thing that will reach his desk that he doesn’t like will be?
MCCONNELL: Oh, gosh, I don’t know.
MCCONNELL: Look, you know, he obviously has doubled down on defending Obamacare. We think it’s a terrible piece of legislation. We’re certainly going to be voting on that, if we can put either repeal or take out pieces of it, like destroying the 40-hour workweek, the medical device tax, the individual mandate.
All of these are highly unpopular with the American people. And we will be voting on things I know he’s not going to like. And I hope we can put them on his desk.
BASH: Let’s talk about your relationship with the president.
MCCONNELL: You know, the first two years, he had huge majorities in the House and Senate. The last four years, he controlled the Senate. They guaranteed he never got anything he didn’t like.
Now he needs to talk to us. And that’s good, because when the American people elect a divided government, they’re not saying they don’t want anything done. What they are saying is,they want things done in the political center, things that both sides can agree on. We talk about the things where there may be some agreement.
BASH: There has to be some level of trust, right?
BASH: Is there? I mean, do you trust the president as a negotiating partner?
MCCONNELL: You know, the only agreements that have been made during these years on a bipartisan basis, I negotiated, the December 2010 two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, the August 2011 Budget Control Act, and the December 31, 2012, fiscal cliff deal.
So I’m not opposed to negotiating with the Administration. In those particular instances, the President sort of picked the Vice President to do it. So, I don’t object to negotiating with him. I have done it in the past.
BASH: How often are you speaking to the Vice President these days?
MCCONNELL: I, you know, see him from time to time.
BASH: You were able to negotiate with the Vice President because the president said that was OK.
MCCONNELL: Yes. Well, you know…
BASH: He gave the green light.
MCCONNELL: The Vice President is not a free agent.
BASH: Well, exactly.
MCCONNELL: He does whatever the President asks him to.
BASH: That means you have the sense that they will unleash the Vice President and allow him to —
MCCONNELL: I don’t know, that will be up the President to decide who he wants to use.
BASH: You famously at the beginning of the Obama presidency said that your political goal was to make him a one-term president. What’s your goal, now that he’s just got two years left but now you’re going to be the majority leader and it’s your legacy, too?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think you can say both of us came up short. I had hoped to make him a one-term president and he had hoped to defeat me last fall. I think what the American people are saying is they want us both to still be here. They want us to look for things to agree on and see if we can make some progress for the country.
BASH: And you feel like you can do that?
MCCONNELL: We’re going to find out.
BASH: Expectations are pretty high.
BASH: You know, for the last six years, you know, we’ve heard that things can’t get done for conservatives because you only have one chamber. Now you have two. I know you still have a Democrat in the White House but now you have two.
So, given that, how much of a balancing act do you have pleasing conservatives but also looking ahead to 2016 for Republicans and making the Republican party a party that can elect nationwide a Republican president? Is that a tough balance?
MCCONNELL: Look, with we need to do both. We need to both look for areas where we can make some progress for the country and obviously to do that we’re going to need some Democratic senators because we need 54, not 60 and we’re going to need the president of the United States.
There are other areas where we’re not going to agree. What I hope Senate Republican will present to the country is a conservative right-of-center governing majority, serious people elected in serious times to try to get results.
BASH: When is the bourbon summit going to happen?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think it will happen. The people in the industry in our state are sure hoping it’s going to happen.
BASH: I’m sure. The question is what bourbon are you going to choose?
MCCONNELL: That’s why I told – that’s why you picking among my three daughters, which one I love the most.
BASH: Sounds like you have to have a taste test.
MCCONNELL: Yes. We’re going to have some kind of draw it out of a hat selection for the bourbon.
BASH: That sounds very diplomatic. Thank you…
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
BASH: …and congratulations again.