Here’s the audio and transcript of my interview with Senator McConnell from today’s first hour:
HH: Pleased to welcome back now United States Senator Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republicans in the Senate from the great state of Kentucky. Leader McConnell, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to have you on.
MM: Yeah, glad to be back.
HH: Congratulations on holding the Republicans in the Senate together. It’s a fractious bunch, occasionally, and I know there’s been some tensions. Do you expect that they will continue to hold together throughout this impasse over the budget and the debt ceiling?
MM: I do. We had some differences of opinion on tactics, but not on the outcome, on Obamacare. We all think it’s the single worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last half century and ought to be pulled out root and branch. Our fundamental problem is a math problem. There are 54 Democrats committed to it, and 46 Republicans who want to repeal it. So it’s hard to get the outcome we’d like to get on that issue with this kind of Democratic intransigence. The House of Representatives, you know, ended up sending us a pretty modest proposal at the end. We had hoped to defund it. When that didn’t work out, they at the end sent us a one year delay. That didn’t work out. They sent us a delay of the individual mandate. The President had already decided to delay the impact of the bill on businesses, why not individuals, they argued. And we haven’t been able to get the Senate to adopt any of these efforts to slow down the Obamacare train wreck. But look, we’re united. We’ve been united on Obamacare for four years, and we still are. We’re not going to give up until the American people hopefully give us enough votes to repeal it, pull it out root and branch.
HH: Senator McConnell, in yesterday’s meeting at the White House, did you see anything to indicate that the President is willing to do anything except dictate terms to you?
MM: Yeah, he said in private, Hugh, pretty much what he said in public. He’s not interested in negotiating over the debt ceiling. I pointed out to him once again that going back to the 1950s in the Eisenhower administration, presidential requests to raise the debt ceiling have carried very important legislation related to the subject of deficit and debt, things that people remember, like the Gramm-Rudman Congressional Review Act, the Budget Control act in 2011, the Bill Clinton Republican Congress deal in ’97, which led us to three balanced budgets in a row. All of those were done in connection with a president’s request to raise the debt ceiling. So I would argue it’s more irresponsible to argue, to suggest that the debt ceiling ought to be raised without doing anything about the debt than to use it as an opportunity to try to address one of the biggest problems we have. We now have a gross debt the size of our economy, which makes us look a lot like Greece.
HH: Here’s what the President said earlier today at a construction company outside of D.C., cut number 11.
BO: There will be no negotiations over this. The American people are not pawns in some political game. You don’t get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the government running. You don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running. You don’t get to demand ransom for doing your most basic job.
HH: Senator McConnell, how do you react to that? That’s strident.
MM: Well, that’s what the President’s best at, attacking people and dividing the country. Look, he’s the president of the United States. He ought to be talking to us. He’s willing to talk to the Iranians, he’s willing to talk to the Russians. Why wouldn’t he talk to us?
HH: Now in terms of the end result here, do you see a possibility that the Republicans will simply fold and pass what is known as a clean CR and a straight debt limit? In other words, just collapse in the face of the President’s stridency?
MM: No, I don’t think there’s any chance of that. Look, it would be irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling at any point, and particularly at a time when you have a president whose added more debt than all the presidents from George Washington down to George Bush without trying to do something about the debt. And so you know, there’s not going to be a clean debt ceiling. The American people are willing to raise the debt ceiling, but they think it should be accompanied, all the polls indicate, it should be accompanied by a serious effort to do something about the debt. And the President does not control this Congress. This is not the Congress he had in 2009 and 2010 that did his bidding every day. He’s got divided government, which means he can’t get his way all the time. And no matter how much he attacks us and divides the country, at the end, he’s going to have to deal with a Congress that he does not entirely control.
HH: Are we approaching an Article I sort of crisis, Senator McConnell, where the Article II, the executive, is simply trying to dictate and render you a junior partner in what is supposed to be a separate but equal division of power?
MM: Well, all presidents would like more power than they have. This one in particular, it seems to me, has a voracious appetite for power. He’s used the bureaucracy across the federal government at an unprecedented level interfering with business all across the country. It’s one of the principal reasons we have such a slow growth rate. So he’s been pretty bold. When he didn’t get his way in the 2010 election rather than moving to the political center like Ronald Reagan had to do, and like Bill Clinton had to do, he’s hung out on the left, demonized us, and tried to do through the executive branch what he couldn’t get through Congress.
HH: You’ve been there a while. Has any president ever sounded this strident?
MM: Well, they have occasionally during a campaign, but the campaign is over. The President won. Congratulations. Now you’re got to be president for the next three and a half years. What possible good does it do to try to continue to be the divider-in-chief when what the country is looking for is a president that brings us together and gets solutions to our problems? And the single biggest problem that we have, looking to the future, is the size of our debt.
HH: Now the House has sent over bills to fund the National Institute of Health, a bill to fund veterans, and a bill to fund parks. Are your Democratic colleagues really going to keep the NIH, the Veterans Administration and the parks closed?
MM: So far, it looks that way. I offered this morning to take up and pass the House bill to protect the veterans, and the majority leader objected to it. And several of my colleagues brought up the other bills the House passed yesterday, and they objected to them. So far, they want to inflict as much pain as they can on the broadest array of people, and the whole goal, obviously, is to try to stuff, basically, the House of Representatives without any negotiation whatsoever.
HH: Now I know that you’ve got a lot of veterans in Kentucky, and maybe some of them have made the honor flight up to the memorial, and maybe they’ve gotten through. But Normandy was closed. This government has actually closed the Normandy Cemetery. They’ve closed the Martin Luther King memorial. I’m astonished by this. What are you hearing from your voters in Kentucky who have sent you to represent them? And what do they want you to say to this president?
MM: Well, I thought it was particularly outrageous that the World War II veterans, many of them now in wheelchairs, had to storm the barricades to get to see their own World War II memorial. I mean, what kind of nonsense is that, to put up barricades around public, easily-accessible memorials? So fortunately, the World War II vets, even in their wheelchairs, were still able to storm the barricades and get to see their memorial in spite of the efforts of this administration.
HH: Last question, Senator McConnell, I just want to be clear, then. You do not see any way, do you, that a clean CR and a straight debt limit with no conditions attach pass the House and the Senate?
MM: No, that will not happen.
HH: And thank you so much, Senator McConnell. We’ll talk to you again soon.
End of interview.