Politics & Government

Amid shutdown thaw, McConnell says it's time for 'come together' moment

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Commerce Lexington Public Policy Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Ky., Friday, January 18, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Commerce Lexington Public Policy Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Ky., Friday, January 18, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

WASHINGTON — As the standoff over the federal government shutdown appears to be thawing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that it is time for a "come together" moment.

McConnell, in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader in his Capitol office, noted past agreements he has brokered with Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats, and he said "that's what we're going to need to do again now, sometime soon."

While the state's senior senator has come under criticism from Tea Party Republicans for folding while lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, continue to rail against Obama's health-care law and demand purity, McConnell said that compromise is the only way forward in a divided government.

"If you paid any attention to my recent history, I'm not opposed to reaching agreements with this administration," McConnell said, noting his role in deals reached over the 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts, the August 2011 Budget Control Act and the fiscal cliff crisis last New Year's Eve.

"I brokered all three of them with Joe Biden," the senator said. "I do not have the view that it's inappropriate to talk to Democrats."

While Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes awaits as McConnell's likely Democratic opponent, Republican challenger and Louisville businessman Matt Bevin has repeatedly assailed McConnell as spineless in the face of Obama.

When asked about the challenge from Bevin and its effect on his ability to reach across the aisle in Washington, McConnell was philosophical, noting the realities of Washington.

"I've fully demonstrated that as much as I would rather have a Republican president and would rather be the majority leader of the Senate, I'm willing to work with the government we have — not the one I wish we had," McConnell said.

McConnell shook off the suggestion that compromise on the shutdown and the looming debt ceiling could be a liability as he looks to protect his right flank ahead of next year's primary.

"Look, I'm just gonna do my job," McConnell said. "The American people have elected divided government. They've made me the leader of a consequential minority in a body that requires 60 to do most things. And where we can find common ground and advance the country in the right direction, I'm gonna look for it."

The senator added that "just because people elect divided government doesn't mean they're voting for no outcome."

"And it's our job to see where we can come together and advance the country's interests," McConnell said, referring again to the deals he made with Biden. "And we're in one of those situations right now where it's going to require some sort of coming together here to get past the current impasse. And I'm going to continue to work on that."

Polls in the last week have shown with consistency that Americans largely blame Republicans for the current mess in Washington, but both parties are taking a hit.

McConnell said he agrees with the sentiment that Americans have toward Washington, arguing that's why compromise is key moving forward.

"Washington is rarely popular, and in my view ... we deserve the low marks we're getting right now because we're not getting the kind of results that people would like to have," McConnell said. "And in order to get a good result, we have to do it through divided government."

McConnell said flatly that he thinks "it's time to get the government back to work and to begin to solve some of the seemingly intractable problems the country has."

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