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

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CROWLEY: It will never get by congressional Republicans.

Joining me from Louisville, Kentucky, senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Thank you, senator, for joining us.

I want to talk to you about gas prices. I know that you have suggested that this seems like a weird political move for the president to be making, that you don't think it will be popular. And I want to show our viewers a recent CNN/ORC poll, and it's about who do you blame for these gas prices? Oil companies, 55 percent, foreign countries 34 percent, the situation in Iran 28 percent.

And here's what I want to ask you about. President Obama's policies, 24 percent blame him for the rising gas prices. But 21 percent, just 3 percent fewer, blame Republicans.

So this does not look like a clear-cut case of a political blunder. A lot of people blame Republicans.

MCCONNELL: Well, why don't we just look at the facts, regardless of how polls may reflect about how people feel about the oil industry, which is not at all surprising. The Congressional Research Service, which is not a polling operation, but analyzes objectively legislation, says if you raise taxes on oil production, the price of the gas at the pump goes even higher. So this is an absurd suggestion when you've got $4 gasoline.

What the president ought to be doing is approving the Keystone pipeline. This is this massive private sector project that will bring energy down from our friendly neighbor, Canada, to the United States. He's blocking it. What he's got to do is increase public production on public land. Land in federal -- within the federal jurisdiction, production is down 14 percent.

He points, however, to increased production that he had nothing to do with. It's up 96 percent on state owned land and private land.

The president is simply standing in the way of increasing domestic production.

The American people know that it's absurd for the most energy rich country in the world to be locking up such a huge percentage of its resources.

CROWLEY: But, senator, just in terms of the fairness issue, which is very important to Americans and to politicians, one hopes, the oil companies are making record profits, and yet taxpayers are paying for these loopholes for oil companies, which are basically tax breaks. And so just on the face of it, sir, it certainly does seem to a lot of Americans that people who are making record profits shouldn't be taking taxes that we're paying on April 15th, to get their tax breaks.

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, with all due respect, you're using all the Democratic talking points. And that's all quite interesting.

CROWLEY: Well, I use the Republican ones for a Democrat. So, you know.

MCCONNELL: All right.

But let me make the point again in case anybody missed it. The issue is the price of gas at the pump. If you raise taxes on the producers of gasoline, you drive the prices even higher. Does anyone think we need higher gas prices when they're already at $4 a gallon?

I mean, this is not the way to lower the price of gas at the pump. This is not so much about a diversion, about discussion of fairness. We do need to reform the whole tax code. We're in favor of that. It's been 25 years since we actually reformed the tax code. As of today, we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. As of April 1st, the highest corporate tax rate in the world. And some people may think, gee, that's great. All that does is make our companies uncompetitive. And even the president himself has said we need to get a corporate tax rate down.

At the same time, he's trying to selectively raise taxes on some corporations, and to do that would drive the price of gas at the pump even higher. This is a terrible idea.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the economy in general and something you said to me at the end of January when we last spoke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: Candy, there's no mistaking, we are living in the Obama economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The Obama economy, to an increasing number of Americans, is looking pretty good -- GDP is up, gross domestic product is up, unemployment is down, the housing still remains a problem, but we've seen record activity on Wall Street. As we move into September, does this not make it a lot more difficult for you all to run on Obama-nomics or whatever you want to call it? Doesn't it make is it difficult for Republicans to say the economy is not working, when, in fact, it does seem to be at this point?

MCCONNELL: I certainly hope we are seeing signs of recovery. And there's a modest recovery, apparently, underway. What we do still have, though, is 8.3 percent unemployment. What we have is an increase in the national debt of 43 percent under this president. Our national debt now is the size of our economy. That is not a prescription for a healthy economy long term.

Almost no one is predicting that we're going to get back to what most Americans consider sort of normal unemployment rate of around 5.5 percent any time in the foreseeable future.

So yes, we're encouraging by the fact that the economy seems to be gaining some momentum.

CROWLEY: And we're not on the cliff anymore, correct?

MCCONNELL: Is that good enough? We're used to having a vibrant, robust economy. More and more businesses tell me this is not any longer the best place in the world to do business. We're driving jobs overseas because of too much government, too much taxation, regulation.

Look, this is not an administration that's friendly to those people who create jobs and make the economy grow for all of us.

So, yeah, I think the economy is still going to be an issue in the fall. We're certainly pleased there's some signs of growth.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you what you think of Mitt Romney.

MCCONNELL: I think he's going to be an excellent candidate. And I think the chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee. It seems to me we're in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination. And most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do, that it's time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: So why not endorse him?

MCCONNELL: Look, the people of Wisconsin are going to speak Tuesday and the District of Columbia and Maryland. I have not felt that they needed any advice from me as to what to do, but I think it's absolutely apparent that it's in the best interests of our party at this particular point to get behind the person who is obviously going to be our nominee and to begin to make the case against the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: But wouldn't the endorsement of the Republican leader in the Senate move you toward your goal, which is it's time to make our case against the president and wrap up this primary? I guess that's why I'm a little confused.

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, the Kentucky primary is in late May. I'm not sure the voters of Wisconsin or the district or Maryland need any advice from me, but it is clear that we are moving toward having a nominee. I think he will be an outstanding nominee. I think he can win the election.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you one final thing by playing something that congressman Paul Ryan had to say about the military and their budget proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don't think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Do you agree with the congressman?

MCCONNELL: I think we have to take the generals' word as they give it to us. There has clearly been dissent within the Pentagon about the administration's recommendations for steep defense cuts. I know there's been a big debate within the Pentagon. We hear about it. We're aware of it. We're going to move in the direction of making sure that America still is number one in the world in defense, and the defense sequester, which I suspect Congressman Ryan was referring to, is something that many of us are looking at as something that could put us in a position to no longer be number one.

CROWLEY: OK. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, thanks for your time this morning.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

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