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Mitch McConnell Discusses George W. Bush's State of the Union Address and the Democratic Response

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SHOW: News Special (10:06 PM ET) - NPR

HEADLINE: Mitch McConnell discusses George W. Bush's State of the Union address and the Democratic response

ANCHORS: ROBERT SIEGEL

BODY:
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We're going to turn it over to a leading Republican in Washington right now, the Senate majority whip, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Senator McConnell, big difference between President Bush's State of the Union address and obviously the much shorter Democratic response. The Democrats were talking a great deal about unfairness, that wealthier people are getting a better deal, big contractors are getting a better deal; the person who plays by the rules and works hard isn't getting a fair deal. Do Republicans not view that the same way, that there's some element of disparity of benefits nowadays in America?

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Majority Whip): Well, everyone in America is doing better. The economy is booming. Every single indicator is heading in the right direction. And of course, that benefits all Americans, just like the tax relief that we passed benefited all Americans.

SIEGEL: What do you say to the observation that the president's speech didn't contain any grand overarching new initiative or vision?

Sen. McCONNELL: Well, the major legislative achievements of this administration are already in the accomplishment column, and the president recounted them: the No Child Left Behind Act, the most important federal elementary and secondary education legislation since the federal government got into this field in the 1960s; two significant tax relief packages that have produced growth and jobs for our economy; the prescription drug Medicare reform bill, the most significant Medicare bill since Medicare was created in the 1960s. Those are the domestic, you know, bellwether accomplishments of the Bush administration. They're already in the accomplishment column.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about something else the president said about marriage. He said that while he supports the Defense of Marriage Act already signed into law, if judges insist on interpreting it, presumably too broadly, then there should be recourse of a constitutional amendment. Some would say in Massachusetts judges have done that; they've already interpreted the law in a way that permits same-sex marriage, so it's time for a constitutional amendment. Is it? Do you support it? Should the president support it?

Sen. McCONNELL: Well, I don't think any of us view amending the Constitution as a first choice. But 80 percent of the American people think that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that's a very fundamental part of our culture and our society. If it takes a constitutional amendment to achieve a statement of the obvious, then so be it. You know, you can support the notion that marriage is, you know, between a man and a woman without being hateful or without discriminating against other Americans. But this is a very basic American institution and needs to be protected. Now I heard the president saying, if there were no other way to do it other than through a constitutional amendment, he would consider that.

DANIEL SCHORR (NPR News Analyst): Senator McConnell, Dan Schorr. While the president was charting the road ahead for the administration, Congress is meeting and apparent is not able to get very far even on the stopgap budget bill. Are we going to have a lot of trouble with gridlock in Congress?

Sen. McCONNELL: I believe the remainder of the appropriation bills to which you refer will be passed this week, so we will wrap that up and then move on with this year's agenda.

SIEGEL: Senator McConnell, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

Sen. McCONNELL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

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