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Stakeout Following The Senate Republican Policy Committee Luncheon With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl And Senator John Ensign

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think I can safely speak on behalf of all Senate Republicans that we thought the inauguration could not have gone better yesterday. We all listened carefully to what President Obama had to say.

And we believe that, regretfully, the stimulus package seems to be drifting off -- as a result of the package that we've observed that the House Democrats have approved -- kind of drifting in a different direction from what President Obama seems to be suggesting. For example, the CBO has issued a report on the appropriations portion of the House Democratic stimulus package which indicates that less than 40 percent of the stimulus will be used in the first 18 months.

I would remind everyone that I think Speaker Pelosi had it right when she said a stimulus package ought to be timely, temporary and targeted. And it's our view that we need to try to craft this package in such a way that it is truly stimulative in nature and not exacerbate the problem that we all know exists.

I would make one other point. There is a substantial portion of the package that the House Democrats have approved that actually increase spending permanently, in other words, expands entitlements. And we all know that permanent increases, when we're looking at a $1.2 trillion deficit this year before we even pass the stimulus is something we need to think very seriously about the appropriateness of doing.

Let me say one other word. Senator Coleman was here today.

It remains the view of every single member of my conference that the Minnesota Senate race will, indeed, be decided in Minnesota and not in Washington. And as all of you know who are following that, the litigation is under way, and we hope that it will be completed in the near future so we can determine -- so the people of Minnesota can determine who, in fact, they elected on November 4th.

With that -- Senator Ensign?

SEN. ENSIGN: Want to make a couple of comments on the legislation that we have in front of the United States Senate. We call it the Trial Lawyer Bailout Bill. That is the legislation, as you know, trying to overturn the Supreme Court decision on Lilly Ledbetter last year.

Yesterday, President Obama challenged the country and challenged the Congress to try to get this economy going, to focus on things that are going to create jobs in the United States. Bailing out trial lawyers, creating more burdens on small businesses, is the exact opposite of what this Congress should be doing. This legislation will kill jobs, not create jobs.

As a small-business owner myself, you could not afford to hire lawyers when other groups, especially class-action groups, bring lawsuits against you. You just can't afford it. And in tough economic times, the last thing you want to do is to put more burdens on small businesses.

Last point: All economic recoveries in the United States come from small businesses, not large businesses. The -- you come out of recessions with small businesses. So the Democrats' trying to pay back their trial-lawyer buddies is a huge mistake, because putting other burdens on small businesses and killing jobs is not a way to grow our way out of this economy.

MR. : Anyone else?

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

Q How do you -- Senator Kyl? Senator Kyl?

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, with regard to both the attorney general nominee and the secretary of the Treasury nominee, the committee work is not completed yet. So I think we can say the record is incomplete. I think most all Republicans feel that all the appropriate questions ought to be asked. And you can do that without prejudging the final outcome of both of those nominations.

But there are legitimate questions that have been raised, and efforts are under way in both committees to ensure that the questions are answered.

And that's about as far as, I think, any of us could go today, unless anyone wants to add.

Q Senator Kyl, can I ask you, sir? You were at the hearing too.

Senator Kyl, what did you think of his answers about his tax problems. And did they satisfy you enough that you'll support him? And do you agree with what seems to be conventional wisdom, that this is embarrassing but not a fatal problem for him?

SEN. KYL: First, let me agree with the leader that answers to questions are important before you vote on a nominee. And because of the importance of getting these nominations resolved as soon as possible, after the inauguration of the new president, the time frames have necessarily been truncated significantly. And it's been difficult to be able to get and assimilate and then respond to the answers that have been provided, by both Mr. Holder and Mr. Geithner.

So that's just a problem that's built into the system that we have right now. And you're certainly not seeing any effort, on the part of Republicans, to deliberately slow anything down. We understand the importance of both the secretary of Treasury and the attorney general taking office as soon as possible, but also important to get key questions answered. And you pointed to one series of questions that have been very much in the news relating to Mr. Geithner.

I very much wanted to support his nomination for a variety of reasons. But I must tell you that I was troubled by his testimony today. And he's going to be providing some more written material to the committee. And I think it will be important to review that material certainly before I make up my mind.

Q What troubled you, Senator Kyl? And is there anything that you can do, in the Senate Finance Committee, that's similar to Judiciary, to delay the vote for at least one week, to give you time?

SEN. KYL: I'm not sure that I know what you mean by delaying the vote.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. KYL: Oh, I understand. I'm not sure that we would do that. There were two general areas that concerned me. I'll just speak of it generally.

First, he went out of his way to defend the stimulus bill that the leader had just talked about, which I think is pretty indefensible. And I was troubled by the way he attempted to defend the stimulative effects -- aspects of that bill which pretty clearly at least to a lot of us don't involve stimulus. They may or may not be good ideas. But they're not something that provide investment and job creation.

And secondly I provided him the opportunity to explain, with a little more clarity, some of the issues relating to his tax liability. In my mind, he was not clear in his answers. And I -- it's hard for me to figure out why he was not willing to be more clear than I was at least seeking him to be.

Q Were you suggesting that Mr. Geithner should take on some extra liability for those other two years and perhaps give money that the IRS has not -- had not requested?

Or what were you -- what was your response?

SEN. KYL: Let me respond specifically to that. The answer to the question is -- and I -- if you were there, you heard me say very clearly that every taxpayer has the right to rely upon the statute of limitations. And in his case, his liability was cut off at a certain point. The statute of liability -- statute of limitations protected him from any liability for the years 2001 and 2002.

He would have been perfectly -- it would have been perfectly appropriate for him to rely on the statute of limitations not to pay that money. Now, eventually, he paid it, after he was nominated for the position of secretary of Treasury. And I commend him for that.

What I was trying to get at is the rather implausible testimony that he didn't think about that until he was nominated. And all I was asking him was: Isn't it more likely that you simply relied upon the audit stating your liability, the statute of limitations cutting off any previous liability, and that was that?

But I believe at the end of the day, if the transcript is read closely, it will say that no, he did not think about the liability for the year 2001 and 2002 until he was nominated for the position.

Q And that seems implausible to you, Senator?

SEN. KYL: It does.

Q (Off mike) -- you consider Mr. Geithner to be under oath, as he's testifying --

SEN. KYL: He was under oath. Yeah.

Q Sir --

SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm going to take one more. Back here.

Q Where do you stand on the nomination of Senator Clinton at this time? And do you believe that her husband's continued -- the fact that foreign governments will continue to donate money to former presidents --

SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm having a hard time hearing your question. I think it's about Senator Clinton. As you know, we're going to be voting on her later today, the first day of the Obama administration. So I think she'll be speedily considered.

Q (Off mike) -- the fact that foreign governments will continue to donate to her husband's foundation will undermine her credibility as secretary of State?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we're going to have some discussion of that on the floor. I intend to support Senator Clinton, myself. I think these are legitimate questions as to how her husband's activities will be reported, how frequently they'll be reported. And hopefully she'll be willing to listen to some of the suggestions that we've made along that line that may comfort everyone, shall I say, about what we all realize is potentially a significant conflict.

Thank you.

Q Thank you.


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