Media Stakeout With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senator John Cornyn Folowing The Senate Policy Committee Luncheon

Press Conference

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: April 28, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, obviously, we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat. He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he'd been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be reelected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as in independent, and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.

What this means, if we are not successful in Minnesota, as you know, is that the Democrats, at least on paper, will have 60 votes. I think the danger of that for the country is that there won't automatically be an ability to restrain the excess that is typically associated with big majorities and single-party rule.

We've all seen a lot of interesting surveys about the popularity of the president. And we certainly concede the popularity of the president. But it's also interesting to note -- if I may just pull out my poll here -- there was an interesting poll, national poll that was in the hot line last Friday taken by POS, which is the same firm as Senator Specter's -- has been using when he was a Republican.

And it was interesting. Even though the survey indicated that people were -- you know, liked the president, wanted the president to be successful, those same respondents, when asked the question, "Would you prefer to vote for a House 2010 candidate who will help the president and congressional Democrats pass their agenda or a candidate who can be a check and balance to Obama and the congressional Democrats?" 54 -- 56 percent preferred a check and balance and only 34 percent of the same people who like the president want him to have everything he wants.

So I think the threat to the country presented by this defection really relates to the issue of whether or not in the United States of America our people want the majority to have whatever it wants without restraint, without a check or a balance.

In terms of our plans to compete in 2010, I'd like to call on Senator Cornyn to make some comments about that. And we'll see if anybody else would like to make a statement.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): While we were disappointed by Senator Specter's decision to switch parties, he was very candid to acknowledge that this was simply nothing more, nothing less than political self-preservation. As Leader McConnell indicated, his own pollster told him he could not win the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, so his only options were to leave the Senate or to switch parties, since he was determined or he was convinced he could not win as an independent.

I will tell you that in 2010, we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party and run competitive races in blue states and purple states and in red states.

And we will be running competitive races in all of the states currently held by our Democratic colleagues. We're going to be running hard to support our Republican incumbents who are running again. And in those states where there have been retirements, we will be supporting our nominees in those states.

I believe that we will be able to regain our status as a national party by being competitive nationally, as we should be, and I do believe this decision by Senator Specter was a personal decision limited to his Republican primary prospects in Pennsylvania, nothing more and nothing less.

Q What issues --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Take a couple of questions, if there are any.

Q What issues, such as card check, do you think this will most affect?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, Senator Specter indicated to me he did not intend to change his position on card check, that he would be with us in voting to -- against cloture on a motion to proceed to that measure. So I think on card check it will have no impact.

You know, what kind of an impact it has on other issues that we confront here in the Senate we'll have to see, but it certainly sets up the potential -- the potential for the majority -- if it chooses to -- to run roughshod over the majority -- over the minority, to eliminate checks and balances and the kind of restraint that Americans have historically wanted from their government. It has that potential. The key to it obviously will largely be Democrats from red states and whether they choose to vote as they ran in '06 and '08.

Q Senator, without -- thank you. Without being able to call on 41 members, at least -- at least for now -- to use the filibuster as a negotiating tactic, does this mean you're going to reach out more to those red-state Democrats? What do you do strategically, going forward, to make sure that you're still relevant?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I think there'll be enormous pressure, as I just indicated, on red-state Democrats who ran as moderates to actually vote as moderate. To the extent that they give a left- leaning agenda a blank check, they will be voting differently from the way they ran. So I think all the pressure now will be on newly -- largely newly elected Democratic senators from red states, you know, who said in their campaigns in '06 and '08 that they were centrist -- and now they'll have a chance to prove that.

Q But Senator, you warn about the dangers of single-party rule, but what does it say about your party that a moderate Republican from a swing state felt that he couldn't run as either a Republican or an independent and hold that seat?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, that's a very good question. This is not a national story; this is a Pennsylvania story. Senator Specter indicated in our meeting -- he came to our meeting and talked to us, indicated to me yesterday, late yesterday afternoon and again this morning -- that he didn't have any problem whatsoever with the way he'd been treated by the Republican Conference here in the Senate. Senator Cornyn and I were on record aggressively supporting him for reelection as a Republican.

This is a Pennsylvania story about his inability, according to his pollster, to be renominated by the Republican Party or to be elected as an independent. And so he made a totally political decision, which I'm sure you've asked him, if you've already talked to him, or will have a chance to ask him. His conclusion was only as a Democrat would he have a chance of retaining this seat.

Q Senator, do you then reject the notion that a so-called moderate, or what we used to call a -- (off mike) -- Republican, may or may not have a role -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I reject that out of hand. We have moderates in our conference who have an enormous amount of influence. I can tell you -- and you know this, because you're around here all the time -- there's a good deal of difference between a senator from Maine and a senator from Mississippi. But we have a broad party.

We have not done very well in the Northeast the last couple of years. We haven't done as well any places as we would like to have done in the last couple of years. But as Senator Cornyn's indicated, we intend to be competitive on a nationwide basis. I do not accept that we're going to be a regional party. And we're working very hard to compete throughout the country.

Thank you.

Q Thank you, Senator.