With 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at his side, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday seized on remarks made earlier in the day by President Barack Obama and defended his current opposition to raising the minimum wage.
Romney, who won Kentucky two years ago with more than 60 percent of the vote, announced his formal endorsement of McConnell at a fundraiser for the senator at the scenic Donamire horse farm near Lexington, telling reporters at a brief press conference that he is "very anxious" for Republicans to win control of the U.S. Senate.
In opening remarks, Romney said re-electing McConnell and making him majority leader if Republicans are able to retake the Senate for the first time since 2006 "will be good for Kentucky and will be good for America."
"And what you're going to see when there's a Republican Senate, and Mitch McConnell is the leader, you're going to see pieces of legislation the American people want to see passed," Romney said. "They're going to make it through the House, they're going to make it through the Senate, they're going to land on the president's desk. And he'll have to decide whether to sign them or veto them. But I think the American people are tired of a lot of talk that hasn't gotten things done."
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McConnell opened his remarks by noting that earlier Thursday, in a speech in Chicago, Obama said that while he isn't on the ballot this November, "make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them."
"I couldn't agree more," McConnell said. "This race here in Kentucky, and the races across the country, are about Barack Obama's agenda. Barack Obama's agenda for America is reflected in the Democratic candidates across the country."
Tying Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes to Obama has been central to McConnell's campaign strategy, and Grimes has struggled to distance herself from the president, refusing three times Thursday at an event in Lexington to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012.
When Romney and McConnell, joined by McConnell's wife and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, took questions from the press, the senator disagreed with the suggestion that there was any difference between what he has said publicly about raising the minimum wage and what he told a Koch brothers retreat when he was secretly recorded saying the Senate won't be voting on "gosh darn proposals" like raising the wage if he is majority leader.
"I haven't said anything in any private meetings I haven't said to all of you publicly," McConnell said. "If I'm the leader of the majority next year, we'll have a new agenda. It will be an agenda that's related to creating jobs, not destroying jobs."
For examples, McConnell said he would hold votes on the Keystone Pipeline, repealing the medical device tax and imposing sanctions on Iran if talks over the country's nuclear program break down.
Romney, who had his own problems with secret recordings during his presidential bid, said in an interview with MSNBC in March that he favored raising the minimum wage.
When asked Thursday if he shared McConnell's view that raising the wage would cost jobs, Romney pointed to McConnell's response, saying "you just listened to the minority leader, who I hope soon becomes the majority leader, explain the conditions under which he would support a minimum wage increase. He's the guy running for office, and I surely support him."
"I had the occasion, you may recall, of running for president in 2012," Romney said. "But I'm not running now, and so I'm not going to get into all the details of policy."
Before the press conference, a handful of protesters gathered outside the farm's main entrance, shouting "Shame on you!" at cars that entered the fundraiser and waving signs that blasted McConnell as "working for billionaires; not Kentuckians."
Bill Londrigan, president of Kentucky's AFL-CIO and a close ally of Grimes' campaign, joined the protesters and told the Herald-Leader that the farm had "wealth written all over it."
"And it just shows you who McConnell's friends really are," Londrigan said.
When asked about the margin Romney won the state by in 2012, Londrigan said he wasn't worried.
"As far as Romney's reputation or his stature here in Kentucky, I don't think it really measures on the meter," Londrigan said. "I think that any votes that Romney got were probably votes against Barack Obama."