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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): Good morning.

MR. GREGORY: Developing story here, so much to talk about. In terms of Egypt, what is your reaction to hearing Secretary Clinton this morning and the administration's stance?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I don't have much to add to what Secretary Clinton said. We, we all know Egypt has been an extraordinarily important ally of ours. The Suez Canal has been kept open for commerce. They have worked with Israel to prevent, to a large extent, arms from going into Gaza because the Gaza-Egyptian border's been a sensitive subject. And of course, we're grateful for the 30-year peace agreement with Israel. So they are an indispensable ally. And we hope that at the end of the day, when whatever changes are going to occur do occur, that we'll still have an important ally.

MR. GREGORY: But you've been pointed in your comments about Hosni Mubarak in the past. In 2004 you wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, and part of what you said is, "It's past time" for "President Mubarak" that he "demonstrated the courage and commitment to lead Egypt into a new era of freedom and prosperity. To do anything less will only strengthen the hands of extremists." He has failed in that effort, hasn't he, to democratize.

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I--like president--like Secretary Clinton, a lot of the rest of us, I've said that to President Mubarak over the years, the last time in, in 2009. I was there, and we had a chance to talk about this issue. As Secretary Clinton said, it's been on the agenda for a long time. And a lot of us felt that had he moved on some of these issues, we'd have had a much smoother transition than we're witnessing now.

MR. GREGORY: Can he stay in power?

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, it's not up to us to, you know, to give the Egyptians advice about this. You know, hopefully this transition will occur relatively peacefully. And at the end of it all, I hope we still have an important ally in the Middle East.

MR. GREGORY: And you'd be prepared to recognize--whether it's Mubarak, whether it's Egyptian Brotherhood, whoever takes control in Egypt, the United States will be an ally of?
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SEN. McCONNELL: It's up to the Egyptians to determine what their leadership is, and we'll take a look at it after that.

MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to some of the other big matters in Washington.

SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: And, you know, I guess the, the overarching question in terms of a new foreign policy test for this president, how important--what's important about how he handles it for you?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I, I think--I don't have any criticism of the way the president's--you're talking about the Egyptians.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah, I, I don't have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point. I mean, they know full well that we can't give the Egyptians advice about who their leadership is. That's beyond the reach of the United States. And I think we ought to speak as one voice during this crisis, and so I'm not prepared...

MR. GREGORY: What about, what about U.S. military aid, over a billion dollars, $1.3 billion? Is that on the table? Should that be withheld if things don't go the way we'd like it to go?

SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah, look, answering those kind of hypotheticals is not a good idea. We need to wait and see what emerges in Egypt.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let's turn to some of the other matters. The State of the Union this week...

SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah.
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MR. GREGORY: ...was what we were all talking about until this really got out of hand. And one of the big issues is, what are Republicans prepared to do as we move forward into this year in terms of working in this era of divided government? Rand Paul, the junior senator from--excuse me, sorry. Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, the junior senator from Kentucky, talked this week and pointed up some of the divisions within the GOP ranks. This is what he said.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Some said when people who came from the tea party were elected that Washington would co-opt us. The interesting thing is, is I think we're already co-opting Washington.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You talk about earmarks, you talk about some of the sentiment about spending. Is the tea party sentiment driving the GOP now?

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, I, I find great unity among Republicans. Not only the members who are already here, but the new members who came are interested in tackling spending and debt and getting the private sector going again. I think the most interesting unreported divisions in this town are among Democrats. I mean, if you look at the Senate, for example, we have 23 Democrats, a significant majority of those who are running in the next election, looking at the results of the last election, and I think they are--have a growing awareness that what they did the last two years was rebuffed by the American people.

Let's look at what went on the last two years. You know, we added $3 trillion to the deficit and lost three million jobs. We took government spending from 20 percent of gross domestic product, domestic GDP, up to 25 percent of GDP. Look, what we've been doing doesn't work. And I think the message from the American people was clear, "Don't do that anymore." We're going to give the president an opportunity to reduce our annual deficit, which is completely out of control. And I hope, David--I agree with The Washington Post editorial this morning. I was disappointed in the president's unwillingness to, to address our long-term unfunded liabilities.

MR. GREGORY: Well, that's very interesting because I've also detected a great deal of caution on the part of Republicans who, who campaigned on the idea of spending cuts. And yet, when it comes to a program like Social Security--it was Speaker Boehner who told a group of us this week, "Well, look, we need to spend more time defining the problem before we get in the boat with the president here and say that we've got to make long-term changes." Is that your view?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, we have, we have two problems here. It's our annual deficit, completely out of control. We're going to send the president a lot less--we're going to allow him to sign onto a lot less spending than he recommended the other night and that he's likely to send us in the budget. Then with, with regard to long-term unfunded liabilities, the entitlements, Speaker Boehner's correct, you cannot do that on a partisan basis. President Bush tried doing that in 2005 with regard to Social Security's problems. And by the way, the announcement this week that Social Security's gone into deficit, it will run a $45 billion deficit this year and for as far as the eye can see. Look, entitlement reform can only be done on a bipartisan basis. It's happened before. Reagan and Tip O'Neill fixed Social Security in '83. Reagan and the Democratic House did tax reform in '86.

MR. GREGORY: So, but if the president were to say, "OK, Leader McConnell, if, if you're prepared to deal with some revenue increases, we can also deal with some benefit cuts. Let's take a balanced approach to Social Security," you could support that?

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, you know, you've tried this before. I, I'm not going to negotiate the deal with David Gregory. I'd be happy to negotiate it...
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MR. GREGORY: I keep hoping you'll change your mind.

SEN. McCONNELL: I'd be happy to try to negotiate the deal, and Speaker Boehner would too, with the president and the vice president and others.

MR. GREGORY: But does the president have to go first before you'll take on entitlement reform?

SEN. McCONNELL: We have to go together. We have to go together. The American people are asking us to tackle these problems. I think the president needs to be more bold. We're prepared to meet--I've got a lot of new members, and Speaker Boehner does as well, who came here to tackle this big problem. We were waiting...

MR. GREGORY: But you're saying, "Be bold on entitlements and Republicans will meet you halfway"?

SEN. McCONNELL: We're happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform with the president. We know Social Security is in trouble. It was just announced by CBO this week. We know Medicare is on an unsustained path. They took a half a trillion dollars out of it to fund this healthcare program that they enacted. Look, we need to get serious about this.

MR. GREGORY: Is the prospect of a government shutdown over any potential fight over spending, is that an option in your mind? Is it a viable alternative?

SEN. McCONNELL: We, we have two opportunities coming up. We have the continuing resolution on March 4th, and then the president has asked us to raise the debt ceiling. So we have two opportunities here to do something important for this country on the issue of spending and debt. We ought not to lose that opportunity. The president ought to work with us on both those occasions to address this important issue.

MR. GREGORY: Is a government shutdown a viable alternative in your mind?

SEN. McCONNELL: As I said, we have two opportunities, opportunities...

MR. GREGORY: Right.
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SEN. McCONNELL: ...both the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling, to try to accomplish something on a bipartisan basis on both our short term debt and our long-term unfunded liability.

MR. GREGORY: But you won't take shutdown off the table if it comes to that?

SEN. McCONNELL: We have two opportunities to do something important for the country on spending and debt. We ought not to miss this opportunity. The president ought to step up to the plate with us and tackle it together.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Wish we had more time. Senator McConnell, Leader McConnell, thank you very much, as always.

SEN. McCONNELL: Thank you, David.

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