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MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Legislative Protocol, Immigration Reform, and Tax Reform

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DAVID GREGORY: Now to respond, the leading Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senator, welcome back to you. Having a difficult time hearing you; we'll try to establish that. Let me get my first question out. Your reaction to hearing your colleague say, "Look, this is different. Changing the rules here is not like it's been in the past, with regard to judicial nominations. It is appropriate for the majority to be able to get the work done at once."

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah. The reason we call it the nuclear option, David, is because it's breaking the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate which majority leader, as you've pointed out, in his book indicated was something we should never do.

Rather than getting down in the weeds on the rules, what is the problem here? The president has had 1,540 of his nominations confirmed; only four defeated. He's not lost a single member of the cabinet. He's getting them faster than President Bush was at the same time in his second term. The majority leader needs to bring these nominees up; most of them are going to be confirmed.

It really kind of comes down to three appointments that the federal courts have told us were unconstitutionally recess appointed. Two members of the N.L.R.B. and the C.F.P.B. We need to talk about that. And we're going to talk about it at a rather unusual joint session in the old Senate chamber, on Monday, of all senators. And we need to start talking to each other instead of at each other, and see if we can't resolve this in the same way that we did ten years ago when Republicans had genuine provocation.

We had had five of President Bush's circuit court nominees defeated by filibuster. Here, nobody's been defeated. They've all been confirmed. And that's why we're wondering why the majority leader's thinking about the nuclear trigger when all of the president's nominees are being confirmed.

DAVID GREGORY: But just as there were past statements that Senator Reid made that speak to sort of the folly of Washington in a lot of people's minds, here you are, back in March of 2005, on CNBC, advocating for the thing that he's talking about now. This is what you said.

[Tape: McConnell/2005]

"What they did last Congress was change 200 years of history during which we had never killed an executive branch nomination by use of the filibuster. They introduced that. It's a terrible precedent. The Senate with 51 votes, not 60, reversed that precedent. And I believe that it's time to do that. I believe we will go forward with that at a time of the majority leader's calling.

DAVID GREGORY: So you were for it then; you think it's outrageous now.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, I'm glad we didn't do it. The provocation was that five circuit court nominations had been defeated with a filibuster for the first time in American history. The Democrats invented that. We went to the brink and we pulled back because cooler heads prevailed, and we knew it would be a mistake for the long-term future of the Senate and the country.

That's what I hope is going to happen here, David. We have an opportunity to pull back from the brink in this joint meeting that we're going to have of all senators in the old Senate chamber Monday night. I hope we'll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate. We have never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of Senate in order to diminish the voices of individual senators. We've never done that, and we sure shouldn't start it now, particularly since every one of the president's nominees that would be subject to this rule change have been confirmed.

DAVID GREGORY: Do you really believe that your old friend and colleague Harry Reid is the worst Senate leader ever if he goes forward with this?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: No, he won't be if he pulls back from the brink, as we did ten years ago. We had much more serious provocation then than he has now. He's a reasonable man, he's a good majority leader. And we're going to have a chance to air all of this out in a joint conference with all of our members Monday, and I'm hoping we won't make this big mistake.

DAVID GREGORY: One more on this. Secretary Napolitano of Homeland Security is now stepping down. Do you now see a nomination fight over a key security post, secretary of homeland security, depending upon who the president puts forward? Particularly with the immigration debate, a key component of what the secretary of homeland security does.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, guys in your line of work tend to use the word "fight" when we're having a debate. Some of the president's nominees have been quite controversial. I mean, that's what we do in the Senate: We have big debates over big issues. They've all been confirmed.

We'll have to take a look at whoever the new secretary of homeland security is. I can't guarantee you there won't be a spirited debate. Look, we've got over 300 million people in this country. We don't all agree on everything, and they elect all of us to come to Washington, and we have some big disagreements and big debates. But sooner or later, when it comes to nominations, as I've indicated, the president hasn't lost anybody. He hasn't lost anybody.

Are they saying they don't want us to even debate these nominations? And C.R.S. says they're getting them more rapidly than President Bush got his. That's why we're wondering why this threat to blow the Senate up, when the president's getting his nominees.

DAVID GREGORY: On the issue of immigration, which I just referred to a moment ago. How important is it to you to act this year to get some kind of reform?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I hope we can. As you know, David, I'm the proud husband of an immigrant. A young girl came here at age eight, not speaking a word of English. In fact, her parents didn't have enough money for a plane ticket. They came over on a freighter with the freight. And my wife, Elaine Chao, became secretary of labor, and was in President Bush's cabinet.

Look, I'm a big fan of what legal immigration has done for our country. I hope, even though the Senate bill, in my view, is deficient on the issue of border security, I hope we can get an outcome for the country that improves the current situation. I don't think anybody's satisfied with the status quo on immigration. And I hope the House will be able to move forward on something and we can get this into conference and get an outcome that will be satisfactory for the American people.

DAVID GREGORY: How do you deal with 11-12 million illegal immigrants in the country now without a pathway to citizen? Is that dead on arrival--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well--

DAVID GREGORY:--if that remains?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, you know, I think the stickiest issue actually is border security. The question is can we actually get the border secure and not have this happen again? That's the stickiest issue. And I think the House will concentrate on that, I hope they will. We need to seriously beef up the border security part. I think that's the key to getting a final outcome.

DAVID GREGORY: I want to talk about Obamacare and the implementation, which of course is controversial. A lot of senators on your side talking about repealing Obamacare. As they've tried to publicize this law and getting people familiar with what is possible, as they're setting up exchanges around the country, this is a letter that you wrote to the NFL commissioner, one of the leagues that were going to help in publicizing this.

You wrote: "Given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of this bill, it is difficult to understand why an organization like yours would risk damaging its inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to its promotion."

I read the letter, Leader McConnell, and it was striking how political it was, that letter you wrote to them. You refer to it as a bill; it's actually the law of the land, which has even been affirmed by the Supreme Court. How can you write such a letter at a time when don't you feel the need for people to understand what the new law is?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, the president himself seems to not think parts of the law ought to be implemented. I mean, he is selectively delaying parts of it as if it's all just kind of a smorgasbord of options for him to figure out, you know, which ones to execute, and which part of the law--

DAVID GREGORY: Well, but a delay--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:--is not a failure to execute. A delay is not a failure to execute.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, for example, they just decided to say "never mind" on the employer mandate. Well, what about the individual mandate? Does the president get to decide which parts of the law to comply with and which parts not? It's a massive, complicated, unpopular bill. Obviously, if we had the votes, we would repeal it. But the president--

DAVID GREGORY: But, Leader, it's not--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: --himself--

DAVID GREGORY:But you support the democratic process. This is not a bill. This has--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:-- the law.

DAVID GREGORY:--been passed; this is the law of the land. You refer to it--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:--as a bill. Doesn't that undermine? I mean, if the shoe were on the other foot and it were a law that was passed by Republicans in Congress, would you not refer to it as the law of the land and want to see it implemented as best it could be, despite the fact you disagree with it?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, of course it's the law of the land. And I wonder why the president himself is delaying various parts of it. He, you could argue, is not executing or implementing the law that he thinks is such a wonderful thing for the country. Look, this is a big, controversial issue. It's not going away. It's, in all likelihood, going to be the premiere issue in the 2014 election. The American people dislike it even more now than they did when it was passed. And they hope that the Congress will respond to their desire to stop this train wreck before it happens.

DAVID GREGORY: Final point here, another divisive issue, and that is a potential part of the Republican agenda this year, and that is tax reform. Are you for tax reform? Or might you even support some in the Republican caucus, and others, who are calling for an abolishment, to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: What I would like to see is the same kind of premise that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, a Republican and a Democrat, had back in the '80s. And the premise was this: We're going to do tax reform but it will be revenue neutral to the government. In other words, the government doesn't gain revenue for itself. It's for flattening out the tax rate, making our country more competitive.

If we can agree, in advance, that the exercise will be conducted within those parameters, that it's not a tax increase for the federal government, then I think it would be a very good thing for our country to do comprehensive tax reform, lower the rates, and make America more competitive in the global economy.

DAVID GREGORY: All right. Leader McConnell, a lot of debates on a lot of issues that will continue. Appreciate your time this morning.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Thank you.

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