Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell rarely agree, but this week, in separate interviews, both the president and the Senate minority leader called for humility as the two parties prepare for the election and its aftermath.
The president and McConnell have reason to be simpatico. Each faces an uncertain political landscape after the November 2 elections. Obama's party seems certain to lose seats in Congress and, as many analysts predict, control of the House. That will make it all but impossible for the president to promote further ambitious expansions of government like his health care legislation. Likewise, McConnell's likely to remain the minority leader in the Senate, despite Republican hopes of overturning that chamber. He may have more power to stymie legislation, but it will be very hard for him to get anything passed.
In an exclusive interview with National Journal, Obama took a conciliatory tone towards the same Republicans he’s been lambasting on the campaign trail. When asked about how he would respond if Congress extended the Bush tax cuts -- something the president opposes for higher-income earners -- he offered a broader answer.
“I think it’s premature to talk about vetoes because maybe I’m a congenital optimist, but I feel as if, post-election, regardless of how it plays out, the most important message that will be sent by the American people is, we want people in Washington to act like grown-ups, cooperate, and start trying to solve problems instead of scoring political points,” Obama said.
The president sounded a cautionary note for his fellow Democrats: “And it is going to be important for Democrats to have a proper and appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish in the absence of Republican cooperation. I think it’s going to be important for Republicans to recognize that the American people aren’t simply looking for them to stand on the sidelines, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
For his part, McConnell sounded a similar tone in a separate, exclusive interview with National Journal. Anticipating a gain of Republican seats in the Senate, McConnell said: “One of the things we will have to remind newcomers and those who have supported them is that even though we will have a larger Republican Conference, we do not control the government and cannot control the government when the president holds the veto pen.” Oddly echoing Obama, he went on to say: “We need to have a humble, grateful response about this election.” He even added: "Incidentally, there is no polling data that suggests [the voters] love us.”
An article on McConnell and longer segments of the Obama interview will be featured in the next edition of National Journal, and the full transcript of the Obama interview will be on NationalJournal.com. Both will be available on Monday, October 25.
This article appears in the October 21, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.