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Media Stakeout with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)


Location: Washington, DC

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I know you've already talked to the majority leader. It was his decision that we turn back to the issue of Iraq. I've had an opportunity to discuss not only with the Republican leadership of the Senate but also the Republican membership of the Senate, and I think our view is pretty uniformly that we welcome a discussion about Iraq. We intend to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to the proposal, which would give us a chance to talk about the extraordinary progress that's been made in Iraq over the last six months, not only on the military side but also with civilian reconciliation beginning to finally take hold in the country.

So we welcome the debate, look forward to it. We do think however that it's important, and I've got Senator Bond here to further underscore that, that the House of Representatives, which includes a bipartisan majority for the Protect America Act, the Terrorism Surveillance Act, to take it up and pass it and send it to the president. If we want to keep the homeland secure, obviously we need to get all of the tools in place. An overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate has spoken on that issue, and we think the House ought to speak soon as well.

With that, let me turn to Senator Kyl.


SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll take a couple of questions.

Q Mr. Leader?


Q Mr. Leader, does the prospect of helping Senator McCain resolve his public financing issues encourage you to perhaps accept Leader Reid's votes on the FEC nominees?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the way forward on the FEC is quite simple. All four of the nominees need to be approved in tandem. This is the way we've always done it. The FEC has three Republicans and three Democrats on purpose. It prevents either side from exploiting the other. We've been prepared for literally months to approve all four, but regretfully, the -- some of the Democrats, at least, want to dictate to the Republicans who the Republican selections will be. That isn't going to happen. We've always -- they picked theirs, we picked ours, and we approved both sets, and that's the way this will go forward, if it goes forward this time.

Q Are you concerned the impasse may cost Senator McCain in terms of resolving his public financing question?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I really don't have any comment on that because I don't think I understand it well enough to do that. I do know the problems are on the Democratic side. You might ask them if they have in mind trying to create problems for his campaign. It wouldn't surprise me if maybe that's what they do have in mind.

Q How does -- (off mike) -- on the housing bill?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the housing bill that you just raised is sort of a work in progress. We've seen one version which was Rule 14ed, and later in the week I guess we'll get a sense of what they really have in mind and what the procedure for going forward on a so- called housing bill might be. But it's a little early in the week.

We're, at their insistence, dealing with two more Iraq votes. I think I may have mentioned a while ago we had 34 Iraq votes last year. This will bring us to 36. But they're in charge of the schedule, and so we'll deal with Iraq first, and then we'll get around to that.

Q Senator, some of your conference seems to be saying that is a waste of time, and you just seemed to indicate this is kind of -- I don't want to say pointless, but you said it's the 36th time we'll have this debate. Why, then, are we having the debate? Why do we --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, if they want to -- it's their decision to decide what we turn to. And our view, after considerable discussion in the last couple of days, is there's been so much improvement in the situation in Iraq, since they're -- since they are the ones who want to turn back to the subject, we'd like to spend the time talking about the dramatic improvements in Iraq. But it's not our decision to go to this measure. It was theirs.

Q On FISA, if you're so eager to see a surveillance bill, why aren't you all meeting with the Democrats or having formal meetings to work out differences --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the Senate has acted.

Q Right, but so did the House, in October. So they have a bill too. So normally you would go to conference.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah. But what we know for sure is that a majority of the House, on a bipartisan basis, is for passing exactly what the Senate has already passed. We know that the president will sign that bill. We know that any other bill will probably not get a signature, and the question is, do we want to protect America or not? The speaker and House Democratic leadership ought to bring up the bill that enjoys the majority of support of the House of Representatives, pass it, send it to the president for signature. That's the way to --

Q (Off mike) -- that there's a third version that could get the majority support of both?

SEN. MCCONNELL: (Chuckles.) We've had six months to work -- well, going back to last August, there's been plenty of time to try to figure out how to get there. We have a bipartisan proposal. It was the Rockefeller-Bond proposal. It came out of committee, 13 to 2. It got 68 votes in the Senate. This is about as bipartisan as it gets around here. And we know it'll get a signature. The message to the House is, take it up and pass it.

SEN. BOND: Mr. Leader, I --

(Cross talk.)


SEN. BOND: Let me point out that the bill that the House passed has been clearly stated by the intelligence community as being unacceptable. There are many problems with it. There are so many problems with it. It's very different from our bill. But there are a whole list of reasons why that bill frankly would never pass the Senate. We've -- by an overwhelming vote, 68-29, we passed the bipartisan compromise here.

This is a bill that would be signed. It adds civil liberties protections. And it's time for the House to move on it.

To answer Senator Alexander's questions from his constituents, as I said a week or so ago, maybe if al Qaeda was on steroids, the House would be interested in dealing with al Qaeda and the FISA bill.

Q Do you intend to block the (housing ?) stimulus package unless the bankruptcy -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCONNELL: (Off mike) -- deal with it later in the week, after we get through dealing with --

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCONNELL: No. We will be -- after cloture's invoked on Feingold one, we will have 30 hours to discuss the matter. So there will only be one vote today. I'm assuming cloture will be invoked. I imagine the Democrats will vote for it, since they brought it up. And cloture will be invoked and we'll have a discussion for 30 hours or so.

Q Do you feel that you're in stronger -- (off mike) -- position now on the issue than you were back in July when the Webb amendment was --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, let's put it this way. When even The New York Times is writing front-page stories about how things have improved in Iraq, I think we can all agree that things have improved in Iraq.

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