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

Interview

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CROWLEY: Joining me here in Washington, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator, thank you.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Good morning.

CROWLEY: Let's start first with some congressional business. That payroll tax break needs to be extended by the end of February or people will see their payroll taxes come up. What do you think this final package is going to look like? And we should say that the sticking point has always been how you're going to pay for this thing.

MCCONNELL: Well, there's broad agreement on doing the payroll tax holiday through the end of the year. Republicans, Democrats agree on that. As you indicated the problem is the paying for it. The reason we ended up only doing the two-month extension earlier, Candy, was because our good friends on the Democratic side don't want to pay for anything. They'd love to do this...

CROWLEY: Well, they do. They just don't want to pay for it in the same way you do.

MCCONNELL: They don't want to cut spending. They just don't want to cut any spending.

CROWLEY: They would like to raise taxes on the wealthy.

MCCONNELL: That's what made it problematic. And -- but we'll get it done. We'll get it done by tend of February.

CROWLEY: What will it look like?

MCCONNELL: I don't know, it hasn't been negotiated.

CROWLEY: What is unacceptable to you in terms of paying for it?

MCCONNELL: Well, we don't believe that taking somebody's money and spending it on a bank like Solyndra is a good idea. We think the government, the administration wants to take somebody else's money, particularly people who've been successful and squander it on things like Solyndra. And we just don't think the government has this problem because it's taxes too little, we think it has the problem because it's spending way too much.

CROWLEY: Well, tax revenues have been down. A certain argument for a later time.

MCCONNELL: Yeah, but we know the economy...

CROWLEY: Right. So, but the question here is, if there is -- would you pay for it partially with any kind of tax increase? Would you agree to that?

MCCONNELL: We have this problem at the risk of being repetitious, because we spend way too much. We now have a debt the size of our economy. We look a lot like Greece. We're heading toward western Europe. If you want to see what happens, just look across the Atlantic. That's the direction we're headed in.

Under this administration, we've run the national debt up 43 percent in just three years. CROWLEY: But you're not saying no, which is interesting to me. I mean, usually...

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm not going to...

CROWLEY: ...you all flatly rule out any kind of tax increase and you're not.

MCCONNELL: I'm not going to negotiate this agreement with you this morning. But I want the American people to understand that we now have a debt the size of our economy. And how significant that is.

CROWLEY: Let me show you, and this actually loops into what we're talking about now. This is a comparison of President Obama's job performance, the polling on that approval or disapproval. It is now at 48 percent. So for the first time in a long time, in seven months, more people approve of President Obama's job performance than disapprove. It has gone up steadily.

A lot of people think that's because Republicans overplayed their hands, that Democrats have successfully framed republicans as standing in the way of everything for purely political reasons and standing on the side of rich people. Would you accept that analysis of why the president's poll numbers are up? MCCONNELL: Well, let me tell you what they've been doing. They've been trying to pretend like the president just showed up yesterday, just got sworn in and started fresh. In fact, he's been in office three years. He got everything he wanted from a completely compliant congress for two of those three years. You don't hear him mention any of that.

So what he's been engaged in since the bus tours began last August is try to convince the American people that somebody else is standing in his way.

CROWLEY: But doesn't that seem to be working?

MCCONNELL: Well, the election isn't until November and we'll find out how people feel about the record of this administration.

Do they like the stimulus? Do they like Obamacare? Do they like the new taxes? Do they like the size of the debt? This election will unquestionably be a referendum on his performance. And he owned the government the first two years. He got everything he wanted. And, Candy, there's no mistaking, we are living in the Obama economy.

CROWLEY: I want to play you something from Senator Lee, who I know you know who is upset with the recess appointments that the president made for consumer board and other things that he did while you were out of town. You were not officially in recess, but nonetheless, the president made ahead and made these recess appointments. And here's Senator Lee on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MIKE LEE, (R) UTAH: I find myself duty bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the president takes steps to remedy the situation. The president will not continue to enjoy the same nearly complete cooperation unless or until he rescinds his unconstitutional recess appointments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: OK. So part of what the Democrats have tried to do is frame you all as obstructionists. And here you have a senator on the floor saying until you take back these recess appointments I'm not going to let any nominations go through. Is that OK with you?

MCCONNELL: Well, we all know the president wants to pick a fight with congress. Liberal presidents have always found the congress inconvenient. Woodrow Wilson thought the framers of the constitution got it all wrong and didn't make the presidency strong enough. Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court. This president even more brazenly just ignores the constitution altogether.

But we've had a good deal of discussion about the appropriate response to that. And we think what he's really picking a fight with is the American people. Let me finish, there's already litigation regarding his appointments to the NLRB. We understand there will be litigation regarding his appointment to the CFPB, the new agency that answers to no one. That will be in court. You can look for Senate Republicans to join that litigation as amicus, that is filing briefs in support of that litigation. And the courts will have to decide, frankly, whether the president acted unconstitutionally or not.

CROWLEY: So have you asked Senator Lee to back off here? Are you going to allow...

MCCONNELL: Oh, senators -- senators put holds on nominations from time to time. That's as common as...

CROWLEY: But do you think it's a good tactic here given...

MCCONNELL: It's been done from time to time on senators from both sides, because they want to address some issue or some problem. That's not particularly unusual. But what is unusual here is the president's unconstitutional action. In other words, asserting that he has the authority to decide when we are in session. I don't find that in the constitution. And I think the courts are going to have to resolve this issue.

CROWLEY: But you're not willing to tell me whether you think what Senator Lee is doing is a good idea.

MCCONNELL: Senators put holds on nominations all the time. That is very common.

CROWLEY; And a quick political question for you, senator. Bob Dole, who I know you know, put out an editorial not that long ago, a statement saying that he has huge concerns with Newt Gingrich. That Newt Gingrich is not qualified to be president of the United States. Do you agree with that?

MCCONNELL: I don't think the American people need any advice from me about the presidential election. Republican primary voters are in the process of getting a nominee. And I think it's going to be someone who can win.

CROWLEY: Mr. McConnell, thank you so much for joining us, senator, we appreciate it.

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