McConnell’s Take

by Rich Lowry

I talked to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell earlier today for a sense of what he’s thinking on election eve.

On the possibility of taking a majority in the Senate:

It’s worth remembering that in January, the early part of ’09, people were saying we’d have a hard time staying at 41, at 40, which is where we were then. So, we’re going to have a really good day and I think it would take quite a perfect day to get a majority, but I think we’re going to be very much in play over here in terms of making policy and determining what happens in the Senate.

On health care:

My view is if we have the votes to do it, but we ought to put a full repeal on his desk, give him an opportunity to do it. If we don’t, then we’re going to go after it in every way that we can. I’ve said in the past, and say again now, that I think it’s the single worst piece of legislation that’s passed in the time that I’ve been here.

On whether, per the conventional wisdom, he’ll have trouble managing the new senators from the tea party:

You mean people like Portman and Blunt and Boozman and Ayotte and Coats and Rubio? That’s who you’re talking about? You get my point, Rich. I’m going to have a broad array of people. I’ve got them now, from Olympia Snow to Jim DeMint which is about as broad a philosophical span as you can imagine. I’d rather manage abundance than scarcity. And the problem with being right at 41 is that every man is a king and every woman is a queen. And you just don’t have wiggle room. If we get well north of 41 I can assure you that the administration will do no more damage to the country legislatively. I do worry about what they can do administratively, and that’s why it’s so important to get a majority in the House so we’ll have the ability to engage in really serious meaningful oversight.

On what the balance is between working with President Obama where appropriate, and working to defeat him:

Well, they’re not inconsistent. I was shocked last week that people thought it was unusual that I said our number one political goal was to make him a one-termer. Well, his number one political goal is to be a two-termer. Now we can put that aside. If he chooses to seriously address spending and debt why would we not want to be cooperative? If he decides he wants to quit doing things that make it harder for people to hire, he wants to genuinely focus on things that would get the private sector going again, I think most of my members are going to say, “Let’s do that.” So we’ll have to see. It’s really up to him. He’s got to decide whether he’s going to do a Clintonian back-flip here and get himself more in line with the American people. If they’re kidding themselves inside the White House that this election is just about the economy–I know that’s what they’re spinning publicly, but if they’re saying that inside the White House–then I think they’ve got a real problem.

On whether a lame-duck session would lack the legitimacy to deal with the proposals of the fiscal commission on matters like entitlements:

Yes, unless it did the right thing. In which case, it might not be a bad time to do it.

On whether a GOP budget should take on entitlements:

Well that’s a big issue to discuss. I think entitlement reform requires bipartisanship. What you’ve got to hope here is that Obama is going to have a desire to improve his own credentials on spending. One difference between now and ’95, I think the spending issue is much bigger now than it was in ’95. We focused on it then, but I think it’s much bigger now. And he may decide he wants to do something serious about spending. Whether that includes entitlement reform or not I don’t know but I think he’s going to have to be bought into whatever we do, if we do it. On budgets though, if there’s a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, we’re not likely to have a budget. So, what’ll probably happen on discretionary is the appropriation bills will become the focal point for cutting spending. Exactly the opposite of the perception of those bills in the past, we intend to use them to reduce spending not to enhance it.

On what happens if Obama won’t sign appropriations bills that cut spending, leading to a shutdown fight like the one Bill Clinton benefited from:

The big difference, though, I think it would be harder for him to veto bills because they spend too little in an environment like this. I do think the environment makes that a little trickier than it was for Clinton. We’ll see. But if there’s any message coming out of tomorrow, I know the Democrats are convinced themselves that if the economy was good everything would be fine. I don’t think there’s any poll data to back that up. I don’t think the public is overwhelmingly blaming the president for the economy, I think they’re blaming him for not doing anything effective to turn it around. And I think his agenda has been deeply unpopular and it may not be as easy to demonize some marginal reduction in something or even zeroing something out as it was in ’95. Clinton did it well.

On whether he’s surprised Republicans have bounced back so quickly:

It won’t surprise you to know I don’t think it’s an accident. We decided, after this is over, people are going to say Obama misread his mandate, he screwed up, and all the rest. I think Senate and House Republicans had a lot to do with the comeback by keeping our fingerprints off of these things. By having a great national debate about the future of the country and making sure that everyone in the country knew that they were not “bipartisan” initiatives. Had we gone in the tank with this guy when he was sitting at a 65% approval rating and a 40-seat majority in the House and close to getting 60 in the Senate, you’d have had a different outcome.

On approval numbers for the Republican party still being low:

I think that’s a good reminder to us that this election tomorrow is not about us, it’s about them. This is a report card on what they’ve done in the first two years and I think they’re going to come close to getting an ‘F,’ and so our reaction tomorrow night and Wednesday morning should be one of gratitude and humility. Not spiking the ball in the in zone. I think it’s important not to misread what this election is about.