NBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: May 16, 2010
Location: Unknown

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MR. GREGORY: Joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY):

Good morning, David.

MR. GREGORY: I'd like to begin with the Kagan nomination. You have questioned her qualifications, suggesting correctly that she does not have judicial experience, she's never been a judge. And yet, back during the ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers by President Bush, you were on the floor of the Senate and you said the following, "She will bring to the Court a lifetime of experience in various levels of government at the highest levels of the legal profession. ... She is well qualified to join our Nation's highest court." She wasn't a judge either, and yet you were for her.

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I think we learned from the Harriet Miers nomination that when you're a friend of the president and you don't have any judicial experience, it makes it important to make, to make sure that you're not just going to be a rubber stamp for the administration. Really, we've had plenty of Supreme Court justices who have not had judicial experience who've done an outstanding job. It just raises a red flag. Frankly, I'm a good deal more troubled by two other things.

Number one, the, the case that Chuck Schumer mentioned, the Citizen's United case, which was a blow for the First Amendment, a very important free-speech case. Solicitor Kagan's office in the initial hearing argued that it'd be OK to ban books. And then when there was a rehearing Solicitor Kagan herself, in her first Supreme Court argument, suggested that it might be OK to ban pamphlets. I think that's very troubling, and this whole area of her view of the First Amendment and political speech is something that ought to be explored by the judiciary committee and by the full Senate.

Secondly is the issue of the military recruitment at Harvard. She took the position that Harvard should not allow military recruiters at the law school, later supported that position in a decision in the--in a, in a case in the court system that ended up with the Supreme Court ruling 8-to-nothing against the position that she took. I think these are two areas that need to be...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. McCONNELL: ...explored and will be explored by the committee.

MR. GREGORY: I, I want to unpack that a little bit, Senator, but let me go back to this issue of qualifications. Are you then satisfied that she has the level of qualifications to be on the Supreme Court?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, I think that's what we go into in the hearings. There'll be lots of records that'll be reviewed from her time at the Clinton administration, from her time at Chicago Law School, at Harvard Law School. We need to let the process play out here, an orderly process, a fair process, not a rush to judgment.

MR. GREGORY: But don't you think a lot of people look at Washington and say, "This is the kind of politics that I hate." Here you were, you stood up for Harriet Miers despite the fact that she was a friend of the president. You stood up for her despite the fact she didn't have judicial experience, but when it comes to a Democratic nominee you say, "Oh wait a minute, these are real problems here that have to be explored."

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, David, the Republicans have treated Supreme Court nominees a lot better than the Democrats have. I can't think of a single Supreme Court nominee by a Democratic president who's been treated the way Robert Bork was, the way Clarence Thomas was, the way Sam Alito was, who was filibustered by the president, the vice president, the Democratic leader and the chairman of the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. I've never filibustered a Supreme Court nomination.

MR. GREGORY: And do you think there's any impediment to Elena Kagan being confirmed this time around?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, what I think we need to do is to find out what her record is. That's why--the hearings are not a sham. They're serious hearings. So the record will be developed before the Judiciary Committee, and then the members of the committee and, subsequently, the Senate will have an opportunity to tell us how they feel about it.

MR. GREGORY: Let's go to this--the other concern that you raised about her position about the military. So she's dean of Harvard Law School, she opposes military recruitment on campus because of the anti-discrimination policy that, that she was supporting with regard to the prohibition against gays and lesbians serving in the military. Do you think that position makes her a radical with regard to her views in the military?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, you left out the most important point, and that was that the law, the Solomon Amendment, required that military recruiters be allowed on campus or the university give up their federal funding. So I think a more appropriate response might have been to follow the law. I think it's something we're going to look into at the committee because the decision was apparently made, "We'll take our chances on federal funding by not allowing those recruiters at Harvard Law School."

MR. GREGORY: Right. But they did, of course, have access to students through other military groups and, and veterans groups associated with campus. But my question is, do you think, as some Republicans have suggested, that she's got radical views about the military, or do you think that's an overstatement and unfair?

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, I don't know, all we know is the issue with regard to the Solomon Amendment. And I think the committee ought to look into it. I--this--the record is yet to be developed.

MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of the BP oil spill, which the president was quite angry about after the appearance by CEOs on Capitol Hill this past week, including the CEO of BP. You heard Senator Schumer say there ought to be more effort on the part of the government to look over the shoulders of the oil companies. What do you say?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, we're all angry about it. This is a--an environmental disaster of gargantuan proportions, but the president's spent a whole lot of time pointing the finger at, at BP--and you should point the finger at BP and the other companies involved in it. We're also interested in knowing what the administration did. Was the Mineral Management Service a part of this administration that approved this site? It also approved this spill response plan. What kind of oversight did the administration provide during the course of the drilling? There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and there'll be adequate time for that. But the administration's involvement in this will be a big part of the inquiry. In the meantime, we need to do everything we can to stop this spill.

MR. GREGORY: What about the issue of legitimate claims, as BP said, that it will honor? Do you think that the cap for damages should be higher now, higher than $75 million, as you heard Senator Schumer say they would propose?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, the danger in that, of course, is that if you raise the cap too high, there will be no competition in the Gulf and you'll leave all the business to the big guys like BP. What BP has said they need to be held to, which is they're going to pay for this. They ought to pay for it, and they will pay for it. But the danger of taking the cap too high is that you end up with only massive, very large oil producers able to meet that cap and produce in the Gulf. And look, we can't walk away--and the president's not suggesting this either--from offshore drilling. As horrible as this is, it's important to remember that we get 30 percent of our oil from the Gulf and, if you shut that down, you'd have $14 gasoline.

MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to Kentucky politics, something I'm sure you're thinking about this week. This is the race that you've been engaged in, the Senate primary between the secretary of state of Kentucky, and that, of course, is Trey Grayson, against Rand Paul, who's got support from Sarah Palin and from the tea party movement. And right now, Senator, as you know, it is Rand Paul's to lose. He's up double digits. And The Washington Post had this headline this past week, and that is "The old Kentucky reign: Who will join McConnell in the Senate? Depends on how much voters like McConnell." You have really put yourself out on a limb on this race ,and the voters appear to be rejecting that. Is this a referendum on you and the establishment Republican Party?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, it reminds me of when the president went in to Massachusetts, a state he carried by 26 points, and tried to elect the candidate running against Scott Brown. I don't think anybody seriously thinks the president won't carry Massachusetts next time. This is a race between two non-incumbents. There's been a lot of discussion about incumbency. We'll find out maybe something about incumbency Tuesday in Arkansas and, and Pennsylvania, where we have two Democratic incumbents in serious races. We don't have incumbency on the line in Kentucky. We have two non-incumbents running for an open seat. One of our senators is supporting one candidate, and one is supporting the other candidate. Whichever one ends up running the best race, I guess, will be the nominee. But most importantly, in terms of the Kentucky scene, we will have a unity rally at the state party headquarters on--next Saturday to get behind the winner and win in November.

MR. GREGORY: You're not going to be in Kentucky on election night, are you?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, the Senate is in session on Tuesday, but I'll be at state headquarters next Saturday with the winner, and we'll all lock arms and go out and win in November.

MR. GREGORY: But you're, you're suggesting that your efforts to help Trey Grayson have not paid off, you expect Rand Paul to win?

SEN. McCONNELL: No, I don't know who's going to win. I hope it will help. I think Trey Grayson would be a stronger candidate in November. But I expect Kentucky's going to be in a pretty Republican mood this fall, and I'm optimistic that whoever wins the primary will be the next senator from Kentucky.

MR. GREGORY: What does it say, though, about the strength of the tea party movement? However large and vast that movement is, it certainly has been in evidence in the support for Rand Paul.

SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah, I think so, and it's an important movement in the country, and I think it's really going to help us in November.

MR. GREGORY: President Obama has made the point and begun to frame the argument for the midterm race, and he did it at a campaign event the other night, about how Republicans will have to hear from Democrats, how Democrats will run in the fall. This is what he said.

(Videotape, Thursday):

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Now, after they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. No! You can't drive! We don't want to have to go back into the ditch. We just got the car out. We just got the car out.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How do you respond to that?

SEN. McCONNELL: Sounds like he wants to run against George Bush one more time, doesn't it? I mean, look, the administration's--the, the American people have taken a look at what this administration's done. They're running banks, insurance companies, car companies. They nationalized the student loan business, which will kill 31,000 private sector jobs. They've taken over health care. They're in amount--they're about to do to financial services what they did to health care. Their appointees over at the FCC are trying to take over the Internet. They've doubled the national debt in the last--will double the national debt in the next five years, triple it in 10. The American people are appalled by this. And in your own NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who participates in that, and I'm paraphrasing, basically said the American people have made up their mind and it'll be very, very hard for the Democrats to change their mind. We're looking at a midcourse correction here. We'd like to see the president be the moderate he campaigned as. And I think they only want that's going to happen is that the American people send us more Republicans in the House and Senate to move this administration back to the middle in what I hope is the last two years of its only term.

MR. GREGORY: Before you go, Senator McConnell, if the economy continues to produce jobs--573,000 between January at April--it's a projected 1.72 million jobs created over a full year. If that happens, do you think President Obama deserves credit?

SEN. McCONNELL: What we know right now is there have been 3,000 private sector jobs lost when the president--since the president came to office. We know they've added 260,000 government jobs. We know the only boomtown in America is Washington because they're exploding government employment, hiring new government workers by borrowing money from our grandchildren. That isn't likely to change by November. I hope the economy is beginning to come back, but it'd have to come back a long way for anybody to believe the stimulus plan, which was sold to us to keep unemployment at 8 percent, has worked. Unemployment is at 10 percent. We're not making a whole lot of headway so far.

MR. GREGORY: Leader McConnell, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

SEN. McCONNELL: Thank you.

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