Mitch McConnell On Campaign Finance & the President’s Dismal Economic Record
HH: I am joined this hour by United States Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the United States Senate. Senator McConnell, welcome back, it’s always great to have you.
MM: Good afternoon. Glad to be with you.
HH: I want to begin with a statement made by your colleague in the Republican leadership, John Cornyn, just a couple of days ago to United States Attorney General Eric Holder. He called on the Attorney General to resign. Do you agree with Senator Cornyn that Eric Holder ought to resign, Senator?
MM: Well, he’s certainly done a poor job. You know, I had a bad feeling about Holder when he was nominated. I voted against his confirmation. I’ve been extremely unsettled, if you will, with his responses to these legitimate questions not only about Fast & Furious, but also about White House leaks. And I’ve not yet called for his resignation, but I’m certainly not happy with his performance, and frankly, the more he continues in this job, the more I thought I was correct, and think I was correct in voting against him.
HH: Does he need to appoint a special counsel either for Fast & Furious or for the leaks, or two of them, one for each?
MM: Well, we need at the very least a credible investigation. And there is some skepticism associated with these two people who were chosen. One apparently was an Obama campaign activist and contributor. Both are in the direct line of authority of the Attorney General. In other words, they report directly to him. How independent any of this could be raises some suspicions from the get go, so it doesn’t strike me as the best way to have a credible investigation. Of course, they know we’re all going to be watching them, and they deserve to be watched after his performance so far as attorney general.
HH: And a last question on this subject, Senator McConnell, are you considering, are you weighing calling for his resignation? And if so, when do you think you’ll make that conclusion?
MM: I don’t know. I’m going to watch this as it goes along, and I’m going to defer to the judgment of Senator Cornyn and others who are closely involved in this, and see where it leads us.
HH: Now Senator, I want to turn to the economy. President Obama spoke in Cleveland today. Governor Romney spoke in Cincinnati. Here’s a bit of what the President had to say about the problem facing the country.
BHO: And what is holding us back is not a lack of big ideas. It isn’t a matter of finding the right technical solution. Both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see. What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate.
HH: Senator McConnell, is there a stalemate in Washington that he’s talking about here? Do you see that?
MM: You know, I think I agree with the President. We certainly have different points of view about the future of the country. I’ll give you our take. He tried it his way in 2009 and 2010. His party had a 40 seat majority in the House, 60 votes in the Senate, which gives you total control. They ran up the debt, they ran up the deficit, they took over American health care, they nationalized the student loan program, they hired an army of bureaucrats crawling all over every business in America. And the American people now have an opportunity to evaluate how that has all worked out. And I think it’s not irrational to conclude that that is a failed approach. We now have a debt as big as our economy, which makes us look a lot like Greece, we’ve had 40 straight months of unemployment above 8%, and we have an incredibly tepid growth rate. This is the poorest recovery after a deep recession in American history. Yeah, we have different views about what the appropriate direction is for America to take, and in that regard, I certainly agree with the President. And I think this November, the American people have to make a decision, a fundamental decision here. What kind of country do you want to have? Do you want to have a Western European country in which you have declining population, high unemployment, way too much entitlement spending, no growth? Or do you want to have an opportunity society in which people can realize their dreams, where the sky is the limit, and where yes, there are some risks to be taken, and you know, one can always fail in an opportunity society. But in America, failure is rarely permanent. You brush yourself off, and you get up and you try again. I want America to be an opportunity society. I think it’s the only way we can have the kind of country for our children that our parents left behind for us.
HH: Senator McConnell, I want to talk to you about the President’s overall approach to this campaign. After the speech today, Reuters columnist, or Bloomberg columnist, Jonathan Alter, said this in analyzing the speech.
JA: I thought this honestly was one of the least successful speeches I’ve seen Barack Obama give in several years. It was long-winded. He had a good argument to make, and at the beginning of the speech, he seemed to be making it in a fairly compelling way. But then, he lost the thread, and the speech was way too long, and I think he lost his audience by the end.
HH: So that, 54 minutes, he lost the thread according to one of this strongest supporters, Senator McConnell. Last, a week ago tomorrow, he said the private sector is doing fine. Wisconsin voted dramatically against his allies and his policies. Is the President losing it?
MM: Well, he’s certainly on a different planet from most of the rest of us. You know, we’re not going to get out of this economic trough without private sector growth. And the President and his administration think if you’re making a profit, you’re up to no good. You must be cheating your customers or mistreating your employees, and this army of bureaucrats is out crawling all over every business in America. That’s one of the principal reasons we have such a tepid growth rate. So look, you know, my view, and I hope the view of the American people this November, is that we need to have less government, less spending, less debt, less regulation, and not have a tax increase in order to get this economy going again. So yeah, you know, I think we’re clearly at a crossroads here, and I think the President and Governor Romney represents two distinct points of view about what America’s future ought to look like.
HH: The week began with an article in the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza. Have you had a chance to read that yet, Senator McConnell?
MM: No, I haven’t.
HH: Well, it argues at great length, and he quotes most of the senior members of the administration by name, and some are not quoted, but they’re obviously quite highly placed, you can see the fingerprints of Axelrod here, as saying the problem is really the Congress, that you folks are obstructionists, and the President keeps repeating if we could only break the fever, assigning to you a kind of illness, you and of course Speaker Boehner and the troops that follow you in the Senate and the House respectively. What do you make of that kind of rhetoric and that sort of argument that it’s all the fault of the Republicans for obstructing what otherwise would have been a smooth takeoff to a rosy future?
MM: Yeah, you know, the theme to their campaign ought to be it’s not my fault. I mean, over the course of the last nine months, the President has cited the tsunami in Japan, the debt crisis in Europe, of course, those pesky Republicans in Congress, rich people, Wall Street, the Supreme Court, and oh, by the way, there’s a war on women, and Mitt Romney is Gordon Gecko. Everybody’s gotten in his way, and so why is he running the it’s not my fault campaign? Because his record is so poor, and the American people do not approve of the debt, the deficit, the Obamacare, the stimulus, the unemployment. His record is pathetic, and so what he wants to do here is to change the subject, hope that the American people will conclude that this election is about anything other than him. And of course, blaming Republicans in Congress is one of the litany of excuses that he’s laid out over the last nine months in the it’s not my fault campaign.
HH: Senator, I want to switch to another area in which I’m sure you are in disagreement with. The President is doing nothing to divert the sequestration of $100 billion dollars from the Department of Defense. Your colleague, frequent guest on the show, Senator Kyl, has been warning about it, you’ve been warning about it. But he’s doing nothing to stop it. It’s sort of like a self-inflicted Pearl Harbor on our Defense capacity. Has anyone from the administration approached you as the leader of the Republicans in the Senate to put together some kind of a deal to prevent a devastating blow to the national security?
MM: No, I don’t think they’re interested in talking about it. They probably want to use this as an excuse to get us to raise taxes. And my guess is that all that will come together sometime after the election. We do need to cut spending, we need to cut spending, not a penny less than the $2.1 trillion we promised the American people we’d reduce spending over the next ten years. But we ought to reconfigure it in such a way that it doesn’t have the kind of adverse impact it’s going to have on our number one responsibility at the federal level, which is the defense of America.
HH: Now I want to turn, Senator, to campaign finance. The issue has come up in Wisconsin that the Democrats lost there only because of Citizens United. You’ve been a longtime proponent of stopping the federalization of campaign law, and limiting people’s rights to speak. What do you make of their argument that the Citizens United decision undid the people’s will in Wisconsin?
MM: Well of course, that’s nonsense. What the Citizens United decision did was level the playing field for corporate speech. Prior to Citizens United, if you were a corporation that owned a newspaper or a TV station, you could say whatever you wanted to about anybody at any time. But if you were a corporation that didn’t, you couldn’t. None of this means that corporations can contribute to candidates or parties at the federal level. They still can’t do that. But they’re free to speak, free, like any other group of Americans. And so I think it was a wonderful decision. And the only difference, really now, from before? The political left has been speaking a lot. They did it in 2004 and 2008 through outside groups, rich people like George Soros and others. The only difference now is that people on the right have gotten concerned. They’re worried about the future of the country, they’re speaking out and getting involved, and the Democrats no longer own the playing field. They’re not able to raise more money than Republicans, they’re not able to drown out our speech with theirs, and they don’t like the competition. And so what they want to do is to try to shut us up. And so they’ve been harassing donors, using the federal government, the FCC, the FEC, the SEC, and other agencies, to try to intimidate private citizens into not speaking up and exercising their 1st Amendment speech rights. This is a terrible administration. To show you how far they’re willing to go, Axelrod, the President’s chief political advisor, said only in the last day or two that the President would be in favor of altering the, amending the 1st Amendment for the first time in history, the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech, amended for the first time in history so the government can silence its critics. That’s how radical these people are.
HH: They are radical. Every day, many times a day, I urge people to go to the Act Right button at Hughhewitt.com, Senator, because we need small donors and large donors alike involved in this. But they are radical. My question is you’ve been in Washington for a long period of time. Have you ever seen anything quite this hard left across so many different issues as is evident in the Obama administration?
MM: Yeah, it’s a radical left wing administration full of people who want to police all of America – the private sector, political speech. They want to have total control. Fortunately, the American people in 2010 made it impossible for them to have total control, but they still have a lot of power, particularly through the executive branch. And I’m hoping the American people will give us a chance to take this country back after November.
HH: A couple of concluding questions, Senator. If Mitt Romney becomes the president, and you get the four or more seats that you need to become the majority leader in the United States Senate, and Speaker Boehner remains the Speaker, will the Republicans be able to move quickly, and according to the agenda being laid out by the President, in order to set this economy right? In other words, is there a way out of this mess?
MM: I think so. You know, I would advise the new President Romney on day one to issue a one year moratorium on all new regulations, and indicate you’re going to go back and review this massive amount of regulations that’s been promulgated during this administration. If I were the majority leader, and the Supreme Court does not strike down Obamacare, repeal of Obamacare would be the number one item, because then I would be able to set the agenda instead of Harry Reid. We would begin to remove as rapidly as we could the impediments to the private sector so that the private sector can do what it does best – grow and innovate, and hire people, and lift us out of this recession.
HH: Will you use the reconciliation process if you need to, Senator McConnell, as majority leader, to repeal Obamacare?
MM: Absolutely. To the extent that parts of it are reconcilable, which is kind of Senate talk here, your listeners may not understand, but there are some things that we may be able to do with a simple majority, which is what you’re referring to, and we will certainly explore all of our options. We want to get rid of whatever is left of Obamacare if it’s still there after the Supreme Court deals with this issue sometime this month.
HH: And a last question, I go abroad for the Supreme Court of Egypt today, ruled that the Islamist majority in the new Egyptian parliament is unconstitutional and dismissed the parliament. They are facing elections there. The Muslim Brotherhood are running into a confrontation with the old guard. Do you see the President leading in this regard? Or is this more leading from behind as marked the Libyan misadventure and the passivity in the face of the Syrian slaughter?
MM: Well you know, the honest answer is I’m not sure what ability we have to affect the outcome of something as dramatic as what’s happening in Egypt. But certainly, the developments today are unsettling. But I don’t think any foreign country, even one as big and influential as ours is likely to be able to dictate the outcome. But it’s very concerning.
HH: Do you think Israel can rely on the United States in these troubled times?
MM: Absolutely. It’s an unshakeable alliance. But it’s got to be very unsettling in Israel to see the uncertainty in Egypt which at least under the old regime, as bad as it was, had a peace agreement with Israel that could be depended upon. The Israelis are probably even unsettled by what’s going on in Syria, even though the Assad regime has been an enemy of Israel, it’s at least had some level of stability. So these are always, it’s a challenging neighborhood for our Israeli friends.
HH: Very last question. Do you believe that the government of Israel can rely on President Obama to the extent they could rely on George W. Bush, or that they might be able to rely on Mitt Romney in the future?
MM: I hope so, but you know, President Bush, as unpopular as he may have been in the U.S., could have been elected prime minister in Israel. And I don’t think you could say the same for President Obama.
HH: Mitch McConnell, thank you for spending so much time with us, Mr. Leader, and we look forward to calling you Majority Leader in a few short months.
MM: Thanks a lot.
End of interview.