The GOP’s leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, opened the show today.
HH: I’m going out tonight to LAX, take the red eye to Kentucky so I can be with my next guest tomorrow, Mitch McConnell, who is the Republican leader of the United States Senate. And hopefully come January, he’ll be the majority leader. He’s in how own reelection race down in Kentucky. Senator McConnell, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
MM: Hey, Hugh, looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.
HH: Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Now I think Alison Grimes is throwing more money here, but I hope the effort is being matched by contributors and IE’s and your efforts in Kentucky. I know you’ve got a lead, but I know you’re running all the way through the end, though, aren’t you?
MM: Yeah, today, I’m running around our state with Lee Greenwood, one of the American icons, and I think we’re in good shape to win this thing. Yeah, there’s been a lot of money spent against me, but of course, you know, I’ve got, I’m probably the Republican the liberals most want to beat a week from today, the Republican the President most wants to beat. And of course, that produces a lot of resources for my opponent. But I think we’re ready for them, and I think we’re on a path to victory.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, today in Roll Call, WGDB, one of the great blogs over there, has the headline Democrats Run From Harry Reid. They’ve been running from President Obama. I think he’s in quarantine from Democratic candidates. But I hadn’t thought that Harry Reid had become radioactive until I read this today. Does Alison Grimes talk openly about the fact that she’ll be supporting Harry Reid if she by some stroke of luck ended up in the United States Senate?
MM: No, she doesn’t, but of course, I do. And you know, Harry Reid famously said coal makes you sick. We have a depression in the coal fields of Kentucky created by the Obama administration. And so you know, changing the current majority leader, who’s an anti-coal activist for a majority leader from Kentucky is a pretty appealing thing to our voters as you can imagine. So in that sense, Harry Reid is an issue in our state, and she doesn’t bring his name up, but I do.
HH: Now I will come back to the race in a second, but I want to hit you with a headline. Over at The Atlantic this afternoon, Jeffrey Goldberg, who is a very astute observer, and no conservative, I mean, he’s a down the road person, writes about the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, and he quotes a senior administration official as calling Benjamin Netanyahu a chicken****. It’s sort of the low point I can remember of American, U.S.-Israel relations. What can the Senate do with you as leader to repair that?
MM: Well, one thing we’d be doing is voting on a second Iran sanctions bill which we’ve been trying to vote on all year, and of course Harry Reid as the majority leader will not allow such a vote. We believe that if the Iranian-U.S. discussions don’t produce a credible nuclear agreement, we ought to have stronger sanctions, not weaker ones. So that would be on the agenda if the senator from Kentucky is the majority leader next year and setting the agenda in the Senate.
HH: Also from that Goldberg piece is this quote. “Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me, Goldberg, as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous and Aspergery. These are verbatim descriptions. I keep a running list. But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a chicken****. So Senator McConnell, what is it about the President that makes him so anti-Israel? Why is this administration so hostile to our strongest ally in the Middle East?
MM: It beats me. Israel is our strongest ally in the world. This administration spent a lot of time trying to tell the Israelis how to live their lives in addition to trying to tell all of us Americans how to live our lives. And look, I think we ought not to be trying to tell the Israelis how to defend themselves. We ought to get off their case and support them. They’re the strongest ally we have in the world, we need to be behind them.
HH: Okay, Senator McConnell, Defense spending is on the table when you get back if you are the leader. A lot of people now recognize with the rise of ISIS that we’ve hollowed out our military, even as we pull out of Afghanistan, Camp Leatherneck closed yesterday. How quickly can a budget and then the necessary appropriations bill make it through a Republican-controlled Congress to the President’s desk?
MM: Well, there’s no question that next year, if the American people change the majority in the Senate, we’ll be restoring a lot of the Defense cuts that this administration has so been enthusiastic about. The only part of the federal government this administration wants to cut is the Defense department. To me, that’s the last place we ought to be looking to reduce spending, particularly with the ISIS threat, with the renewed hostility we’ve experienced from the Russians. This is not a time to be reducing Defense spending, and we intend to try to reverse that.
HH: How about, then, the administration’s policy on Ebola? I don’t know if this is coming up much. It certainly has changed the discussion in the last two weeks of the election. What do you make of the CDC’s argument with Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo? And ought a government agency to be dictating to governors how they best protect the people of their state?
MM: You know, my view is that these governors are doing what they think is in the best interest of the protecting the health and well-being of the people of New Jersey and New York. And I don’t think we ought to be second-guessing those decisions. I must say beyond that, I’m still perplexed about the reluctance to impose a travel ban. It seems to me to make elementary good sense. So I think this reflects, this second-guessing of the CDC’s decision reflects that the growing concern that Americans have about the competence of their government and this administration.
HH: Senator, if you’re the leader, are we going to be in for two years of nothing getting done? Or do you expect it will be a period such as ’94-’96 when some serious legislation gets done?
MM: Well, I think a lot of that depends upon whether the President is willing to work with us on things where we might have some agreement, things like comprehensive trade agreements and comprehensive tax reform. He says the right things. We’ll see whether there are some areas we can agree on. There’s much we will not agree on. We’re certainly going to pass a budget he won’t like. And we’re certainly going to send him appropriation bills he probably won’t like. But maybe on trade and tax reform, we can find some areas of agreement.
HH: What about reining in EPA and the rest, and the IRS and the VA, and reforming the CDC and the Secret Service? I mean, the federal government is broken pretty thoroughly.
HH: Can you get any agreement on fixing it from him?
MM: Well, that’s what we’re going to do through the appropriations process. We will be able to control the budget, how much we’re going to spend, and we will push back against the bureaucratic incompetence and overreach through the funding process of the federal government.
HH: I want to close by talking politics on the map. Coming up a little big later in this hour is David Perdue. I had Tom Cotton on yesterday. It looks pretty good, but you’re in charge of this whole machine. How do you feel about getting to 51 or more a week from today?
MM: Well, we’re hopeful. I mean, the single biggest factor in a year like this is the President’s approval rating. It’s pretty bad, and virtually every state where we’re competitive. So we’re hoping the American people after six years of the Obama administration want to go in a different direction. And I always remind people that the only thing that can be done in 2014 to begin to change the country is to change the Senate.
HH: And are the resources evenly matched, because early in this cycle, in fact, through September, Democrats and their allied IE’s were outspending Republicans fairly dramatically?
MM: I think that’s been cured. I think a lot of people are on the outside who are sympathetic to us have stepped up and filled that gap. If we’re not successful, I don’t think it’ll be because we were outspent.
HH: Last question, Senator, if you are the majority leader, how much do we have to fear from a lame duck session, because a lot of people are worried the President will take the pen out and sign an executive order on immigration, he’ll just push through every single nominee and left wing that he can to fill the courts up. How do you stop the lame duck from becoming a runaway train?
MM: Well, the things he thinks he can do on his own, he could do whether in the lame duck or later. I don’t fear any legislation during the lame duck, because we have a Republican house which would prevent anything legislatively from being done. It’s no question he’s deferred some things that he intends to do on his own. We don’t like that, and our only tool in pushing back against that will be next year’s appropriation bills where we appropriate money for the government. And we’ll tell them what they can and can’t do by cutting off their money.
HH: Senator McConnell, thanks for spending time with us, look forward to being in the Bluegrass State with you.
MM: See you tomorrow, Hugh. Thanks a log.
End of interview.