Congress

Mitch McConnell: ‘The First Thing I Need to Do Is Get the Senate Back to Normal’

The likely next Senate majority leader spoke on last night’s big GOP win.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a press conference, September 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
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Lauren Fox
Nov. 5, 2014, 9:10 a.m.

Fresh off of his win in Ken­tucky, Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell laid out his vis­ion for a Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled Sen­ate Wed­nes­day.

Re­pub­lic­ans picked up 7 seats on Elec­tion Day and after a 30-year-ca­reer, Mc­Con­nell is now tasked with unit­ing both con­ser­vat­ives and more mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in the Sen­ate as well as work­ing with Pres­id­ent Obama, whom he has nev­er shared a warm re­la­tion­ship with.

The pre­sumptive next lead­er of the Sen­ate prom­ised to lead a pro­duct­ive cham­ber that passed budgets and ap­pro­pri­ations bills on time. 

“The first thing I need to do is get the Sen­ate back to nor­mal, and that means work­ing more,” he said.

Mc­Con­nell re­it­er­ated voters elec­ted a Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity be­cause they were not sat­is­fied with the job the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was do­ing. Now, Mc­Con­nell sees an op­por­tun­ity for the White House and Con­gress to work to­geth­er. Just be­cause there will be di­vided gov­ern­ment, he said, does not mean that the Sen­ate can not be pro­duct­ive.

Pres­id­ent Obama, House Speak­er John Boehner, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, and Sen. Ted Cruz all called Mc­Con­nell. Re­id, con­grat­u­lated Mc­Con­nell on a spir­it­ied cam­pain and hard-fought vic­tory while Obama looked to find com­mon ground with his new ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner in the Sen­ate. Obama plans to meet with Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers Fri­day. 

Already, Obama and Mc­Con­nell see an in­ter­na­tion­al trade agree­ment and com­pre­hens­ive tax re­form as po­ten­tial areas for com­prom­ise. When it comes to hand­ling Obama, Mc­Con­nell said his strategy is to “trust but veri­fy.”

“There is only one Demo­crat who counts,” Mc­Con­nell said. “The pres­id­ent.”

Mc­Con­nell em­phas­ized that he has long sought deals with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. In the past he has worked with Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden, even when Demo­crats in the Sen­ate were re­luct­ant to cut deals.

Mc­Con­nell pledged to work with Obama, but not to ig­nore is­sues that are im­port­ant for Re­pub­lic­ans. He plans to bring up an en­ergy bill and force the pres­id­ent’s hand on the Key­stone XL pipeline. While he re­cog­nized a full Obama­care re­peal would not be pos­sible as long as the pres­id­ent was in of­fice and had the veto pen, he said he would work with Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans to ad­dress the is­sue “in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent ways.”

“If I had the abil­ity, ob­vi­ously, I would get rid of it,” he said.

The Amer­ic­an pub­lic, Mc­Con­nell said, could count on the new Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate hold­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able. He plans to hold hear­ings on the IRS scan­dal.

Mc­Con­nell laid out that Obama had two op­tions. The pres­id­ent could either look for po­ten­tial areas of agree­ment or he could simply wave his veto pen at every turn and waste away the fi­nal two years of his pres­id­ency. 

“Di­vided gov­ern­ment is not a reas­on to do noth­ing,” Mc­Con­nell said.

The sen­at­or said that he’d already re­ceived three calls from “prom­in­ent” Demo­crats, who were also “anxious to be rel­ev­ant again” and move past con­gres­sion­al grid­lock.

“We’re go­ing to func­tion,” he said.

Mc­Con­nell re­minded his caucus that it takes 60 votes to pass a lot of things in the Sen­ate. He plans to use the power of the purse to ne­go­ti­ate with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It’s been a stick­ing point in the past, but Mc­Con­nell as­sured the pub­lic that “there will be no gov­ern­ment shut­downs and no de­fault on the na­tion­al debt.”

On im­mig­ra­tion, Mc­Con­nell im­plored Obama not to by­pass Con­gress and risk de­rail­ing fu­ture bi­par­tis­an com­prom­ises.

Per­haps Mc­Con­nell toughest obstacle will be prov­ing his caucus is united.

“I know a lot of people who want to run for pres­id­ent,” Mc­Con­nell said. 

Mc­Con­nell will have to wrangle Sens. Marco Ru­bio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul all po­ten­tial 2016 pres­id­en­tial con­tenders. Mc­Con­nell’s “not troubled by am­bi­tion.” He joked that he’s known for a long time that he serves “in a body with a bunch of class pres­id­ents.” He’s used to “sharp el­bows and big egos.”

A sign that Mc­Con­nell’s ma­jor­ity may be grow­ing, the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er said that In­de­pend­ent Sen. An­gus King called to con­grat­u­late him on his vic­tory.

Does he see any chal­lenges to his as­cen­sion? “Let me just make a pre­dic­tion for you,” Mc­Con­nell said. “A week from to­mor­row, I will be elec­ted ma­jor­ity lead­er of the Sen­ate.” 

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