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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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EDWARD BROOKE (R), FORMERUS SENATOR: We can't worry that you all can't get together. We've got to get together. We have no alternative. There's nothing left. It's time for politics to be put aside on the back burner. (END VIDEOCLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in the top Republican in the Senate, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What did you think when you heard Former Senator Brooke say that?

MCCONNELL: He's in great shape. Ninety years old and articulate speaker. I agreed with him. I was hoping that health care was actually going to go forward in a bipartisan basis, but unfortunately that seems to have broken down.

BLITZER: What was the main reason it broke down?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think the problem here is the core of the bill. It's a half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, $400,000 billion in new taxes on individuals and businesses, higher insurance premiums for the 85 percent of American who have health insurance and now they may put in a government-run insurance company on top of it.

Wolf, that is not the kind of approach to this problem that is designed to generate bipartisan support. In fact, so far, the only thing bipartisan is the opposition to it. In fact, my counterpart, Senator Reed, is having a hard time convincing his 60 Democrats to even vote to bring the bill up.

BLITZER: Well, here's the question. Do you believe - given the lopsided majorities that the Democrats have in the Senate and the House - do you believe that there's any way you can prevent the president from getting some sort of health care reform legislation signed into law?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's a big majority they have in the House, and the 60 votes, which is what you need to control the Senate they have in the Senate, they ought to be able to do anything they want to, Wolf. The problem they're having is selling it to their own members. You know, in the Senate, you have to vote to go to a bill, and I'm reminded of that famous quote from John Kerry during the 2004 election where he said he voted for it before he said he voted against it.

Senator Reed is trying to convince a number of moderate Democrats to vote to get on the bill, knowing full well that they'll later have to explain why they first voted for it and then voted against it.

BLITZER: Well, you're definitely going to filibuster. In - in other words, that would up require 60 votes to break a filibuster, but what I hear you saying is that you as a Republican leader, you will definitely filibuster this?

MCCONNELL: Well, every - every measure in the Senate of any degree of controversy, whether my side has been on the majority or the minorities, is always subject to 60 votes. That is routine in the Senate (ph).

BLITZER: That's the filibuster law (ph).

MCCONNELL: That's routine in the Senate.

BLITZER: So - so you're definitely going to filibuster.

MCCONNELL: That was routine in the Senate, Wolf. That is the way we've operated for many, many years in the Senate. No matter who was in the majority, it's taken 60 votes, in other words, a supermajority to do virtually everything.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) as you know, some Democrats are saying if - if push comes to shove, they can go into this legislative procedure known as "reconciliation" which would require 51 votes to get it approved?

MCCONNELL: Yes, and the good thing about that is we - we'd get to start all over and that's really what ought to be done here. This matter is so controversial that we really ought to step back and start over with a truly bipartisan process that has an approach to this such as - that includes at least some of the things we've been recommending that, you know, it could get the kind of broad, bipartisan support that Ed Brooke and others would like to see.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the democrats were trying to paint Republicans as the "Party of No" - no to this, no to that. How worried are you that that could stick?

MCCONNELL: I'm not worried about it at all. They have a majority - a supermajority in the Senate. They can do anything they want to. Their problem is not with my side. Their problems is with their own side.

BLITZER: We - we did some checking your home state of Kentucky, according to the Census bureau approximately 575, 000 people who live in Kentucky don't have any health insurance at all right now. What - what do you - what do you - do you - do you want to help them get health insurance?

MCCONNELL: I sure do, and, you know, there's a better way to get at this, and one of the things we could do to be - would be to equalize the tax code. Right now if you're working at a company that provides health insurance, that company can deduct the cost of insurance on its corporate tax return. But if you're an individual purchaser of insurance out on the open market, it's not deductible to you.

There are number of things that we can reduce the number - to do to reduce the number of uninsured. There are 11 million Americans who are eligible for Medicaid, the program for the poor, they just aren't signed up. I mean, everybody would like to - to diminish the number of uninsured Americans. The question, Wolf, is is the - is the approach that the majority has taken the best way to do it? I think the answer is "no."

BLITZER: Do you support Senator Leahy's proposal to remove the antitrust exception for the health insurance industry?

MCCONNELL: I - I may well end up supporting that. I don't think it'll have much to do with the problem. What we really need is interstate insurance competition, which is another idea Republicans have been promoting. You know, why shouldn't an uninsured person in Kentucky be able to buy insurance from a company in New York, for example? Why don't we have interstate insurance competition?

That would probably be the best thing we could do and I'm open to discussing the other, but I don't think it'll have much of an impact on the problem that we're talking about.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain for a moment on Afghanistan, right now the president gearing up for a huge decision about potentially sending thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. Thomas Friedman, the columnist for "The New York Times," writes this today and I'll quote a line from it, "We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interest to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan." Is he right?

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm convinced that a counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to - to get the loyalty of the Afghan people is the only way we can possibly succeed. It worked in Iraq. It was difficult, but it worked in Iraq. I think it can work in Afghanistan. I think the best way forward, with all due respect to Tom Friedman, is to follow the advice of our military leaders as opposed to, you know, everybody else who's got a - got an opinion here.

And we need to remember that the 9/11 attacks were launched from Afghanistan. They were launched when the Taliban was in charge of the government, and do we really want to take a chance of going back to a time when a regime like the Taliban, which terrorized women and girls, was in charge in Afghanistan? And, by the way, the Taliban over in Pakistan is a threat to that government, too, and it has nuclear weapons.

I - I'm not sure we've got a good alternative but to deal with this problem at its source so we don't have to deal with it again here in the United States in years to come.

BLITZER: Senator McConnell, thanks for coming in.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.


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