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.”