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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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Joining me now is Senator Mitch McConnell. Thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it.

MCCONNELL: Glad to be here.

CROWLEY: Let me just talk a little bit about your new relationship with the president, and I want to bring up something that Senator Lugar told me in a recent interview with him. We'll play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R) INDIANA: I think that perhaps Senator McConnell, our Republican leader, and the president may see more eye to eye on how we ought to wind up this lame duck session than maybe do others in this situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So given what you said before the election about your political priority, given this tax package that you and the administration worked out, are you now BFFs with the president?

MCCONNELL: Well, the fact that the Republican leader of the Senate would like a Republican president a couple years from now shouldn't be particularly surprising. What the American people are interested in of course is what we're going to do between now and then. And I think we demonstrated on the tax package there are some business we can do. And the president's willing to come and adopt positions that frankly I and my members hold anyway, why would we say no?

This tax package was 76% Republican policy, 12% Democratic policy and you can argue about the policy, the balance of it. It was called a stimulus package in the intro. If you consider letting people keep their own money in stimulus, we plead guilty. I think it was a good package which settled tax question for two years now. CROWLEY: Well, how did you find working with the president? Does it feel different now or was this business? You've got an agenda, he's gotten an agenda and somehow you both have to move the country forward. MCCONNELL: Well, on this particular matter, I worked closely with the vice president and subsequently with the president. And I found working with them is just fine. As I said, we weren't sent here to do nothing and if the administration believes they need to go in a different direction, and it mirrors the things that I and my members believe is good for the country we're going to do it. And this was a good example of that.

And I think the overwhelming Republican majorities in the House and Senate indicate that our members thought it was the right thing to do.

CROWLEY: You know, there has been some flack as you know from Republicans, conservative Republicans, Tea Party and others who do look at this and say listen this is a stimulus plan, because it does maintain some of the things that were in the original stimulus bill, and it was, the president was being sparked because he couldn't have come up and said I need this much money to stimulate the economy. So, let me just read you something that Charles Krauthammer wrote recently, calling President Obama the comeback kid.

If Barack Obama wins re-election in 2012 as is now more likely than not historians will mark his comeback as beginning on December 6th the day of the great tax cut deal of 2010. He went on to say that Republicans were sprinkling the president's path sprinkling it with rose petals.

So you're sort of caught in this thing where people say well, now the president looks good. He's being bipartisan and this will help him get reelected?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me give you another point of view. I think Charles Krauthammer is very smart but on this he's totally wrong. The Tea Party group Freedom Works that put hundreds, thousands of people on the Mall, they supported the bill, Ron Paul the most famous Tea Party type member of Congress supported the bill, The Wall Street Journal, the National Review, The Weekly Standard, a majority of the presidential candidates of our party all supported this deal. Why do you think they did that? Well they did it because it was essentially Republican policy.

Let me make a second point, Candy, what we have done by ending the tax debate for two years, we know what taxes are going to do for the next two years, is that we will not allow the Democrats to link tax cuts and spending cuts. Back in '95 and '96, when we would send packages to President Clinton that had a combination of tax reduction and spending reduction, our good friends on the other side would say, oh, they're taking food out of the mouths of babes in order to give tax relief to people who don't deserve it. We've ended the tax debate for two years, going to concentrate, we're going to now on reducing spending and debt and I hope the president will join us in reducing both spending and debt CROWLEY: On the political side, though, do you concede that the president is having a really good month and in part he is doing it with the help of the Republicans, so everyone, political goal, and you're right it's not surprising you'd like a Republican president but it's helped him kind of get up off the mat?

MCCONNELL: Well if the president is willing to listen to the voters who expressed themselves pretty overwhelmingly on November 2nd, and pivot and do things that the voters approve of, why would we say no to that? The final point I would make about this tax deal between the president and us, 70% of the American people thought it was a good thing to do -- 85% of Republicans, 52% of Democrats and 60% of independents liked it. Why would we not want to do what the American people would like us to do?

CROWLEY: One of the things that Republicans did in banded together was also to kill the so-called continuing resolution, it was a big omnibus spending bill, sorry, that just said OK here's $1.1 trillion, here's how we're going to spend the money, boom in lieu of the separate spending bills that were not attended let's say during this past year. There were earmarks in it, some of them were yours over $113 million worth, looked like the Republicans were on board, suddenly you guys say no, we're not going to go with this, way too much spending, it's just pork barrel spending. The Tea Party is all over it. And the Democrats say this is hypocrisy. We had the Republicans on board that you specifically he said agreed to the $1.1 trillion figure, and suddenly you backed off. This looks like you're buckling to the Tea Party.

MCCONNELL: Look, what the message was here is the public doesn't want us any longer to pass 2,000 page bills that haven't gone...

CROWLEY: But had you agreed to it before?

MCCONNELL: May I finish?

CROWLEY: Sure.

MCCONNELL: All we agreed to was the top line, the total amount that was going to be spent in all the discretionary accounts. What we did not agree to is not taking a single bill across the Senate floor. What we did not agree to is adding up 2,000-page bill, putting in there funding of the health care provisions that were passed last year, which we overwhelmingly opposed, and passing it right before Christmas.

Look, the public is sick and tired of doing business that way. So we decided to defeat it. I think we got to quit doing business that way, if we're going to listen to the American people and the message they sent us on November 2nd, we quit doing that. There are 12 appropriation bills that fund the government, they ought to be done one at a time and the fact that this was the first time in modern history, Candy, that not a single appropriation bill went across the floor of the Senate and gave anybody a chance to amend it or look at it. CROWLEY: Are you and the majority leader close to coming to some understanding on how you're going to fund the government until the next Congress session?

MCCONNELL: Yes. We're going to pass a short-term continuing resolution over into March.

CROWLEY: Into March. So that's -- you all have agreed to that?

MCCONNELL: Yes.

CROWLEY: OK.

Let me ask you about S.T.A.R.T. which is being taken up on the floor today. What is your position on approving this treaty?

MCCONNELL: well, I've decided I can not support the treaty. I think the verification provisions are inadequate. And I do worry about the missile defense implications of it.

MCCONNELL: The McCain amendment yesterday, regarding missile defense was defeated. And I know the administration actually sent a letter up yesterday, indicating they're committed to missile defense.

But an equally important question is, how do the Russians view missile defense? And how do our European allies view missile defense? And I'm concerned about it. I think if they'd taken more time with this -- rushing it right before Christmas, it strikes me as trying to jam us.

I think if they'd taken more time -- and I know that the members of the Foreign Relations Committee spent a lot of time on this, but the rest of us haven't. And so all of the sudden we're once again trying to rush things right here before Christmas Eve. I think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me.

CROWLEY: Will it come to a vote before you recess?

MCCONNELL: It will be up to the majority to determine that. My assumption is we're doing it now because they intend to try to get us to vote on it before Christmas. I think it's not clear yet whether that will happen.

CROWLEY: And do you -- you have a pretty good handle on the pulse of your caucus. Are there enough Republicans to join with the Democrats and approve START?

MCCONNELL: Well, we're going to find out here in the next few days. A lot of our members who are not on the committee are getting deeply involved in this for the first time, as I just indicated, at the risk of sounding -- of being redundant.

I don't think this is the best time to be doing this. Members are uneasy about it, don't feel thoroughly familiar with it. And I think we'd have been a lot better off to take our time. We would have been willing to give them a time certain to complete this early next year. They turned that down. They want to do it now. We'll see what happens.

CROWLEY: But you are committed to voting against it.

MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm going to oppose it, yes.

CROWLEY: OK. Health care strategy, are you still committed next year to making some sort of move in the U.S. Senate to try to repeal health care? MCCONNELL: I'm hoping we will receive from the House of Representatives a full repeal of "Obama-care." It will be hard to get that through the Senate, but we will be working to try to get a vote on that, and hope that among those who have had maybe second thoughts in the Senate, including the 23 Democrats who are up for re-election in '12, there will be some openness to revisiting what I think was the single worst piece of legislation in my time in the Senate.

CROWLEY: And, finally, I mean, that -- we'll say that you and the president are going to disagree on that, but in our last 30 seconds, what's the next big thing you can see yourself working with the Obama administration on in terms of legislation?

MCCONNELL: Entitlement reform can only be done on a bipartisan basis. It can't be done one party only. We have enormous unfunded liabilities, Medicare, Social Security. I would love to sit down with the administration and see if we can do something to make certain that we leave behind the same kind of country for our children and grandchildren that our parents left behind for us.

CROWLEY: Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate, if we don't see you again, have a good holiday.

MCCONNELL: Same to you.

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