Politics & Policy

“The Minority Is Not Irrelevant”

The leader of the opposition.

Washington, D.C. — “I think that they’ll have to deal with us.”

Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s confidence could fool you. You’d think he wasn’t giving up majority digs for minority ones, the way he talks.

But he is — though you had better believe he’s ready to fight for minority rights.

In a brief interview at the Capitol with National Review Online on Thursday, the Kentucky Republican said that he has “a good personal relationship” with incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but plans on “cooperat[ing] only if they move to the center” policy-wise. He’s as curious as everyone else is if the buzz about there being more conservative Dems in the Senate now is true. “We’ll see if they really mean it.”

And rather than making noise about any kind of dramatic declaration of independence from the White House, as some have suggested he do, McConnell instead reminds his counterpart across the aisle that, in addition to the filibuster option, there is a presidential veto that (believe it or not) can be used. While he is quick to say that he doesn’t mean this as a threat, and that neither the filibuster nor the veto is a default position, they are certainly options.

Senator McConnell doesn’t seem too worried about the signals sent by bringing Trent Lott back into the leadership as majority whip, by the lack of new faces in the 110th leadership. McConnell believes that Election Day was a “one-message election: Iraq,” a “referendum on the president that was appealing to people on the Left who want to get out.” It was a message that also had its effect on frustrated voters on the Right who think something different. Yet McConnell believes that the president got the message and that the change at the top of the Pentagon and the coming Baker Commission recommendations will improve things. He’s optimistic, too, that Dems in their narrow minority won’t do anything too foolish on this front, in part because their legislative options are limited — “unless the new majority wants to cut off funds to the troops.” They’re too “squeamish” for that, though, McConnell predicts.

When it comes to the “culture of corruption,” while McConnell believes it played a big role in the Conrad Burns loss, he’s not too worried his chamber is stained.  He doesn’t think it played much of a role in the races of innocent members When it comes to earmark reform, he wants “transparency.”

His attitude is a forward-looking one — even when talking about the election. “It was not a blowout,” if you consider the numbers.  He emphasizes that “the Senate is close to a tie.” Leading a “robust minority” of 49, Senator McConnell makes clear that “the minority is not irrelevant.” And his confidence and unnerved calm — this man does not look like a leader whose troops have been slaughtered — suggest Harry Reid can take that to the bank.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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