U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that the open amendment process used to pass a bill this week approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is proof of a campaign promise made and kept.
During his re-election campaign last year, McConnell repeatedly pledged to Kentucky voters that one of his top priorities was to return the Senate to working order by allowing both sides to propose and debate amendments.
In an interview Friday with the Herald-Leader, McConnell said that "the first job here was institutional repair," and that compliments about the process from Democratic senators confirmed that he has moved the Senate in that direction.
Earlier this week, Democratic U.S. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said on the floor of the Senate that "what we've seen over the last several weeks is the Senate I remember, the Senate I was elected to, the Senate where there was active debate, deliberation, amendments."
"For some members, it's a new experience," Durbin said. "I hope that in our role as the minority, we can work with you in a feeling of mutual respect to achieve at least debate on the floor, if not some significant legislation."
McConnell said those remarks, along with a comment made by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., as reported by WHAS-TV, are reflective of the new Senate.
"We had a good month," McConnell told the Herald-Leader. "When you're being praised by people like Durbin and Donnelly, that's not a bad way to start."
Whether McConnell can continue to keep the process as open as he did with Keystone "depends on the bill," he said, noting that time and other constraints could cause him to change course in the future.
But what he promised, and what he said Friday he will continue to prioritize, is making an open amendment promise "the rule rather than the exception."
"It's important for people to remember there are not many things we can do with a simple majority in the Senate," he said. "We don't have the luxury of doing things as one party only."
The Hill newspaper wrote this week that "the Senate under McConnell has already held twice as many roll-call votes on amendments as the chamber held in all of 2014."
Other Democrats remained critical of McConnell in his short tenure as the leader of a new Republican majority. Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, posted on Twitter that "the first month of the Republican Senate is littered with Sen. McConnell's broken pledges. ... McConnell has already bypassed committees, shut down debate on the Senate floor and failed to hold a single Friday vote," according to The Hill.
While hailing passage of the Keystone bill as an early success, McConnell acknowledged that President Barack Obama is unlikely to sign the bill, and he said that the president has already issued nine veto threats this year.
But, McConnell said, "we can't allow his veto threats to set our agenda."
The bill has to pass the U.S. House of Representatives or, if changes are made, be worked out in a conference committee between the two chambers before it would go to the president's desk.
Ultimately, McConnell was able to win the support of nine Democratic senators for the Keystone bill, still five short of the 67 that would be needed to override a presidential veto.
McConnell acknowledged that a veto override is unlikely.
"It doesn't look like it," he said. "We got nine votes, and I don't expect we'll be able to, but hope springs eternal."