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Press Conference with Senator Mitch McConnell; Senator Lamar Alexander; Senator Jon Kyl - The Result of the Republican Senate Leadership Election

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Location: Washington, DC


Press Conference with Senator Mitch McConnell; Senator Lamar Alexander; Senator Jon Kyl - The Result of the Republican Senate Leadership Election

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, good morning, everyone. Our purpose is to introduce you to two people you already know: that -- the newly elected whip of the Republican Conference and the newly elected conference chair of the Republican Conference. Senator Jon Kyl is our new whip, and I'm going to call on him for some comments. And Senator Lamar Alexander is our new conference chair, and he will follow Senator Kyl.

Jon?

SEN. KYL: Thank you, Leader.

First of all, let me just give you a little bit of an idea of what I said to my colleagues after my election. We have one leader -- that's Mitch McConnell -- and my job is assistant leader. And I appreciate that point. Trent Lott made that very same point, and he also will be a very hard person to follow, as everyone in our conference fully appreciates. And I assured my colleagues that I would work as hard as Trent, that I would do everything I could to assist our leader in the work that we have to do in the remaining days of this session and of course throughout the next session.

And the final point I would make is that sometimes elections like this, when you have a great leader depart, as Trent Lott has been, causes us to look within ourselves to determine how we can best proceed to succeed. And I think the Republican conference under Mitch McConnell's leadership is very united to work on behalf of the American people, try to bring this session to a conclusion in a very successful way, and then to move forward next year with our Republican agenda, working as hard as we can, with our friends on the Democratic side, on behalf of the American people.

I'm very proud to represent the Republican Conference at this time.

SEN. MCCONNELL: (Off mike.) Lamar?

SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Mitch.

Back -- oh, excuse me.

SEN. : (Hold on for a minute ?).

SEN. ALEXANDER: I messed that up.

Back in Tennessee, I often say that I have been nominated by the Republicans and I've served by the grace of the Democrats and the independents. And that sums up my job, I believe, as chairman of the Republican Conference. My job is to help our caucus express our beliefs and our principles in a way that rallies Republicans but attracts Democrats and independents. And I believe I can help do that. I've spent a long time doing that. I look forward to doing that, in support of our leader, Mitch McConnell.

I want to say one other thing. I came to the United States Senate 40 years ago, in 1967. I met my wife at a softball game between Senator Tower's staff and Senator Baker's staff. I have a lot of affection for this institution. I want the Republican Conference to be as effective as possible, but I want the Senate to be as effective as possible, and I think most Americans do as well. And I look forward to working with our leadership team to help do that. Thank you.

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll take a couple of questions, if there are any.

Q What was the vote for conference chair?

SEN. KYL: The result was 31 to 16 for the conference chair, and mine was not contested.

Q Thanks very much.

Q Senator McConnell --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yo.

Q -- on a different issue, actually, there's ongoing stories about the NIE report and intelligence, and who knew what when. Are you satisfied that you're getting the most direct sense of what is in -- what -- where Iran is, when it started and when it stopped its weapons development?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I'm certainly satisfied that Iran is a serious threat. This is one of the international issues upon which there's widespread agreement. Our Sunni Arab allies, like the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Jordanians, agree with our Israeli allies, agree with our British, French and German allies that Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon capability.

So the NIE, frankly, I did think was a bit confusing, but I don't think it fundamentally changes what appears to be the goal of the Iranian regime, which all of these countries that I just mentioned continue to oppose.

Q You say it was a bit confusing. There may be some charges, of course, from the other side that -- you know, how much did the president know or how much did the intelligence community know, when did they know it, and why didn't they -- why did the president go on to make some of the statements that he made going through the spring and summer?

Do you think that there's a sense of -- that the White House or the intelligence community are being -- (inaudible) -- with the Congress?

SEN. MCCONNELL: You'd have to ask them about what -- about that.

Q How do you feel about it?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I've already given you my answer.

Q Senator Alexander?

SEN. ALEXANDER: Yeah?

Q This is a week when the rhetoric so far has been anything but friendly -- talk about puppets, especially violations of -- (inaudible). I mean, is this a moment when you think that the conference is open to a more conciliatory --

SEN. ALEXANDER: Well, I visited with every single Republican senator, and every single Republican senator said to me they're here not to just play games but to make things happen. Our leader has said that all year. And there's a tremendous opportunity for this Democratic Congress to deal with some big issues -- to go work on energy, on the farm bill, on a variety of things. And I want to help make the Senate effective to do that. So the answer is yes, I think we can raise the level of discussion here. I want to help Mitch do that, help our leadership team do that, but it takes some cooperation from the other side.

Q What do you think of the rhetoric?

SEN. ALEXANDER: I haven't been paying much attention to it, to tell you the truth. I've been visiting with Republican senators.

Q Senator McConnell, can you talk a little bit about how you envision leadership changing with the new folks working with you and what it's going to mean for you to be working with Senator Kyl and Senator Alexander?

SEN. MCCONNELL: What is the question?

Q How do you envision, you know, the job of leadership changing with these new people moving in or up in these new jobs?

SEN. : (Inaudible) -- work with. (Laughter.)

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, you know, I'm enthusiastic about these folks standing behind me. We've been friends for a long time, the elections are over, and we're going to roll up our sleeves and all get together and head in the same direction.

Okay, thanks. (Laughter.)


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