I talked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the recent Senate Obamacare repeal and the recent suspected terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California.
The audio: 12-04hhs-mcconnell
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt on a huge news day, I’m joined by the majority leader of the United States Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell. Senator, welcome back. Great to have you as always.
MM: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: What is your reaction before we turn to the very busy legislative calendar in the Senate to the news that the attackers were ISIS-connected?
MM: Well, we’re still taking a look at that, and if that were to ultimately be proven to be true, it would certainly underscore again what many of us have been saying all along is that ISIS does have the potential to reach us here at home.
HH: And does it add to the momentum behind Senator Cotton’s bill to restore the expired authorities that went away with Patriot Act’s replacement by the USA Freedom Act?
MM: I sure hope so. Cotton and I both agreed that weakening of the Patriot Act was a mistake. Unfortunately, there were a reasonable number of Republicans who thought that was a good idea. I think there were, frankly, from my point of view, overblown security concerns that really were not there (chuckles). We ended up weakening the Patriot Act, I actually voted against that as did Tom Cotton, the effort to weaken it, and I think we ought be reconsidering that decision made back in early summer which I think was not in teh best interest of the security of our nation.
HH: Well, I hope you do. Let’s turn to what you’re getting done. This is a pretty productive session, you’ve got the rewrite of No Child Left Behind, you’ve got the transportation bill with Ex-Im in it, we’ll come back to that, and now you’re going to get a vote on Obamacare repeal today.
MM: Yes, we actually voted to repeal Obamacare last night and the House will take it up, we believe, and pass it, and send it down to the president who will have to fully own this awful healthcare law which I’ve said to you and others on frequent occasions, the worst piece of legislation that has been passed in America in the last 50 years. Obamacare has been a disaster in every respect. We wish we had a president down there who would sign the repealer, but he’s going ot have the opportunity to do it. We know he’ll veto it, but it at least points out what a disaster it has been and shapes it up frankly, for next year’s election.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, we’re anticipating the House will agree, and that’s pretty much in teh bag, how did you get the past the 60-vote margin on this thing?
MM: We didn’t. This was done with a a 52-vote majority. We used a process called “reconciliation.”
HH: Okay, I got it.
MM: No, there wasn’t a single Democrat who supported it, Hugh, not one (laughs).
HH: But it was “reconciliated?”
MM: . . . They own it, and no, we passed it Republicans-only. It will now go to the House and be passed by them and on down to the President for his anticipated veto.
HH: So that means if we replace him with a Republican and we hold the Senate, that reconciliation can be used to repeal this disaster.
MM: Yes, most of it. There are certain parts of it, but basically the bill that we passed completely gutted Obamacare just exactly what we need to do.
HH: Wow, that is a huge achievement. Let me turn tot the Ex-IM Bank while we have you, Senator. I know we may disagree on this, I don’t really know what your position is on Ex-IM, but I’m a huge supporter of it because of the industrial bank. Now that it’s been overwhelmingly passed by the House and the Senate, will you filling the vacancies on the Ex-IM board so that it get functioning again?
MM: Well, that’s a good question. I actually am oppose to the Ex-IM Bank. My dilemma as the majority leader of the Senate was that 65 of my members were in favor of it, so it’s pretty hard to prevent that from passing where you got 65 members for it, and there over 300 House members for it of both parties, so that was a dilemma in trying to kill the Ex-IM Bank which I would have been happy to do. I do not support the Ex-Im Bank, but as to the appointments to it, we’ll have to see how that shapes up. I’m not actually up to speed as to exactly who’s up for appointment, if any of them are right now. But I think the further good news on saying good-bye to the Ex-IM Bank is that I believe all the presidential candidates, there may be some exception, but virtually all the presidential candidates on our side, on the Republican side, have come out against the Ex-IM Bank.
HH: I know, but I’m working on them, Senator (laughs). I’m working on Charles Koch, too. I’m working on them all because the Ex-IM Bank is so necessary to the national defense, but having had the vote, I know you’re against it, but having had the vote, is there any kind of an obligation, do you feel, to giddy-up and get the bank running again since your members want it and there are these vacancies that cripple it.
MM: Well that’s been the problem, it’s pretty overwhelmingly supported. You and I are obviously on the same side on this–
HH: Oh no, we disagree. I’m pro-Ex-Im.
MM: . . . I’m the majority leader, not the dictator, and the bank’s supporters ended up with a pretty big vote in the Senate.
HH: Yes, I am a bank supporter. I want you to know that. I want those appointments made, I’m a big bank supporter. I’ve been a bank supporter forever and I understood that you were against it, but having won, I don’t want a victory lap, I just the bank to work.
MM: Well, it probably will because it’s there. I misunderstood you, I thought you were opposed to Ex-Im, you’re in favor of it.
HH: I am, I’m a big supporter of it.
MM: Well, most of the presidential candidates – you’ll have to turn around because they ahve the same view I did about it.
HH: I know (laughs). Let me go back to the “omni,” Senator, because this is where the rubber is really going to hit the road. We can’t have a shutdown now. You’ve got so much done. We cannot have a shutdown now, that would change everything that is going the right way politically in this country, so how do you avoid it? I think the president wants it, by the way, but how do you avoid it?
MM: Well, we’ll have to pass the appropriation bill. I’m sorry we’re sorry we’re having to do them in a clump, the reason for that is that Senate Democrats wouldn’t let us take the bills up which they can do procedurally so that they all got balled up in a clump here at the end of the year which I absolutely hate to be in that position, but we do have to pass them. These are bills that have been written by a Republican house and a Republican Senate at an amount agreed to under the negotiation we had a couple of months ago and I think we will pass them. We’re hoping to have on them a number of what’s typically called writers pushing back against the executive overreach that has been going in this administration. You can hardly find any sector of the American economy that has not been adversely affected by one agency or another, and healthcare, financial services, the EPA, FCC, NORB, you name it, they’ve all been on a regulatory rampage all across the country. We hope to be able to stop at least some of that through directives written into the omnibus that we’ll pass sometime in the next week or so.
HH: Turning to that omnibus, one of thew writers I’m most interested in – I don’t expect Planned Parenthood to be a writer because the president will veto it and you haven’t got the votes, but I do expect a “Gitmo stays open” writer and even if the president dares to veto that, I can’t imagine Democrats running for reelection are going to want to close Gitmo. Will Gitmo we a writer, Leader McConnell?
MM: Yes, and also, it was in the national defense authorization act that the president signed. His attorney general has already announced publicly he doesn’t have the authority to move the prisoners to the U.S. I guess he could probably try to close the facility, but the question is, where can he put them? The law clearly, according to his own attorney general, prevents him from bringing them to the U.S. We’ve had unpleasant outcomes from sending them to countries that don’t keep them. The president’s got a heck of a dilemma on his hands. What he ought to do is leave Gitmo open – it’s the perfect place for these detainees in the War on Terror – they are not U.S. citizens. If they are brought into the U.S., then they would have all the protections of the criminal justice system. These foreigners don’t deserve to be treated like American citizens, should not be brought to the U.S. And Guantanamo is actually the perfect place for them and I think it should be maintained.
HH: And after the events of this week I think there is an overwhelming public agreement with that. I just don’t know if this president much cares about the Constitution, Leader McConnell.
MM: Well, he’s certainly has pressed the limits all the time. Once he lost the House in 2010, he knew he was finished legislatively, so what he’s done since that time is push for limits. Execution action, every regulatory process, which is why, Hugh, we’re limping along here with a 2% growth rate. Our economy ought to be growing at a 3-3 1/2% rate. It’s not achieving the growth rates that allow young people to realize their dreams because of this administration basically claiming down on the creativity of the American private sector.
HH: Let me close, Senator, by asking you about the president’s rhetoric the last couple of days. I did this with Chris Christie the last hour, in the aftermath of Benghazi, he went into the Rose Garden and brought up the video, denounced it, and then talked about acts of terror. It was very ambiguous, it was misdirection. Then in the last two days, he said this. Let me play Cut Number 2 from Wednesday night with Norah O’Donnell.
BO: Well, we don’t know that much yet, it’s still an active situation. The FBI is on the ground offering assistance to local officials as they need it. It does appear that there’s going be some casualties and obviously our hearts go out the victims and their families. The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country has no parallel anywhere else in the world and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently. Common-sense gun safely laws, stronger background checks. . .
HH: Now here’s what he said yesterday in the Oval Office.
BO: It is possible that this was terrorist-related, but we don’t know, the potential possibility is that this was workplace-related and until the FBI’s been able to conduct what is going to be a large number of other [inaudible] until we understand the nature of the workplace relationships that the individual and his superiors and subordinates in the organization where this terrible shooting took place. Until all the social media and electronic information has been exploited, we’re just not going to be able to answer those questions.
HH: So Majority Leader McConnell, why the reluctance to say Islamist terror in America is real and present. You’ve had intelligence briefings, he had just briefed by the FBI and the DOJ right before he made that last statement. What is going on here?
MM: Basically, I don’t know if the investigation is far enough long, but it sounded to me like the president said workplace violence again, is that what I heard?
HH: Yes, you heard correctly.
MM: Yes, this probably going to prove to be a ridiculous comment assuming the investigation leads to where it seems like it may lead to some kind of terrorist motivation. We need to treat this like a war, not like a criminal investigation, and the whole mindset of the administration is that these lone wolf attacks are somehow not really what they are. So I don’t want to pre-judge what the facts are going to be in this, but it sure looks like a terrorist-inspired incident.
HH: Senator McConnell, always great to talk to you. Congratulations on the Obamacare repeal vote. I know you won’t get the override, but that does promise a new day come 2017.
MM: Thanks, Hugh good to be with you.
HH: Be well.
End of Interview