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Location: Unknown

May 1, 2003 Thursday


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, KENTUCKY: Well, I think it was time to say to the American people, the hostilities in Iraq have ended but the war on terrorism is not over, and there's much left to be done. I think this is the perfect place to do it. Surrounded by the young men and women who had enormous success. In this case, not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that's people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight?

And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously.

What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a super sonic plane, and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin, like an actual jet pilot?

MCCONNELL: Well, President Bush is not the first president to understand the importance of a visual depiction. Of what—the point you're trying to make. And I think this is a good way to bring home to the American people the role these young men and women played in bringing freedom to Iraq and to Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically for just a secretary, the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in term of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basicly that of commander-in-chief. That is role, that if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take away from him.

MCCONNELL: Look, it's not the only issue. I was in a meeting with the president, along with the house leadership, the day before yesterday. We spent most of our time talking about ways to jump start the economy, and to get president's growth package through the Congress. So the president has more than one responsibility. He certainly demonstrated that he's an outstanding commander-in-chief. He did a wonderful job in the area of foreign policy and defense. He knows that none of that none us are satisfied with the growth rate in the country right now, nor are we satisfied with the unemployment figures. And he is spending a heck of a lot of time on the domestic side as well, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What would you like to see him achieve?

He's won the war, you wanted to see that.

What do you think he has to achieve by next year to be the uncontested leader of the country in terms of the economy?

What would be a goal for him in term of the unemployment rate, the stock market?

What does he have to do?

MCCONNELL: We want to get a higher growth rate than we've had. We're not in a recession but it's tepid growth. We want a higher growth rate. We want to get these unemployment figures lower than they are. And we want to get stock market moving again, which is why the president's proposal to eliminate the double taxation of dividend makes so much sense. Over 50 percent of Americans are in the stock market now. And the stoke Markets been down since the last year of the Clinton administration. I think the jump starting the stock market would mean a lot, not only to the 50 percent of Americans who own stock, but to everybody else in term of the perception of things coming back.

MATTHEWS: Is that a dead or alive kind of thing, senator, where he has to get this elimination of the dividend tax or else he won't have a program this year?

Does he have a fall-back position if that doesn't get you?

Is he stuck with nothing if he doesn't get that program through?

MCCONNELL: No. It won't an nothing. We are going to get at least $350 billion in tax relief. A growth package to help jump start the economy. Some of us would like to see a higher figure. The House would have a higher figure. Hopefully we can meet somewhere in between. And hopefully, we can front load that to get that relief...

MATTHEWS: In other words...


MCCONNELL: Yes. As much as the relief is possible, get into the economy as soon as possible in order to have an impact.

MATTHEWS: Can this president get reelected if the economy doesn't get better?

MCCONNELL: Of course. Yes. The economy isn't the only issue. It's a very important issue and the president is spending an enormous amount of time on it. But there's more than one issue. President has a lot things they have to do. This president has to continue the war on terrorism. It's not over. It is unlikely to be over in the next two years, so that continues.

MATTHEWS: I think you're right.

Thank you very much, Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky.

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