Elections

McConnell keeps agenda for a Republican Senate close to his vest

With four days left in Kentucky's combative U.S. Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a 30-year incumbent, makes a final appeal for votes during a stop in Lexington, Ky., Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The results of the closely watched Kentucky contest will be crucial in the midterm election that could shift the balance of power in Congress. The facility, SRC of Lexington, Inc., is a remanufacturer of engines, drive train components and hydraulics for industrial equipment. Ky. state Senator Alice Forgy Kerr at right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
With four days left in Kentucky's combative U.S. Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a 30-year incumbent, makes a final appeal for votes during a stop in Lexington, Ky., Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The results of the closely watched Kentucky contest will be crucial in the midterm election that could shift the balance of power in Congress. The facility, SRC of Lexington, Inc., is a remanufacturer of engines, drive train components and hydraulics for industrial equipment. Ky. state Senator Alice Forgy Kerr at right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP

Edging closer to his lifelong dream of leading a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell has been largely quiet about what specific agenda his potential new majority would pursue.

"This is not the time to lay out an agenda," McConnell told reporters Friday after an event in Lexington. "But I will say this: Divided government in the past has been pretty effective."

From the beginning, McConnell has employed a two-pronged strategy to defeat Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes and win a sixth term — tie her to President Barack Obama and convince Kentuckians that it's important to have one of their own leading the Senate.

With just days until the election and polls indicating that the GOP is likely to win the upper chamber for the first time since 2006, the open question remains: What exactly would Republicans try to accomplish?

"It's never a good idea to tell the other side what the first play is going to be, but I think it's safe to say we'll have a very different direction for the country," McConnell said after an event last week in Grayson.

"Number one, we're going to get the Senate back to normal, which means people can actually vote, both Democrats and Republicans," McConnell said.

On Friday, McConnell was asked again by reporters what Republicans would try to accomplish, and the senator cited a number of historic achievements that were gained when former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were forced to deal with congressional majorities led by their opposition.

"Just because the American people choose a divided government doesn't mean they're voting for nothing to happen," McConnell said. "In fact, I think the only way to make things happen is to change the Senate, because the Senate has done nothing essentially for the last four years."

If he becomes majority leader, McConnell said, "the Senate's going back to work, and our first goal will be to see if there are things we can agree on with the president. There may be."

When pressed by the Herald-Leader about what Republicans would pursue, McConnell said there are some "obvious things," such as voting on approval of the Keystone Pipeline, repealing the medical device tax, comprehensive tax reform and trade deals.

"We'd be voting on a number of things that I think there's a majority in the Senate for that the current majority leader simply won't schedule for fear that his members will actually vote for it," McConnell said.

In recent days, a number of conservatives expressed alarm that McConnell might be backing away from his commitment to try and repeal the federal health care law "root and branch" after he told Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto that Republicans would have to find different avenues to blunt the law.

Without 60 Republican votes in the Senate to override a filibuster and reverse a likely veto by Obama, a stand-alone repeal effort remains unlikely, McConnell said.

"So the question is, what can you do about it?" McConnell said on Fox. "Well, I would like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president's desk and make him take real ownership of this highly destructive Obamacare, which has done so much damage to the country, the lost jobs, the higher premiums, the higher co-payments, the higher deductibles."

When asked Friday what he would do if members of the Republican caucus attempt to push him toward pursuing an outright repeal of the law at any cost, McConnell chuckled.

"There's no way to push me any further to the right on Obamacare than I am," he said. "My goal would be to get rid of it, but practically speaking, with President Obama in the White House, that's probably not going to happen. But we'll certainly be voting on it."

To that end, the senator said he was open to using budget reconciliation, a vote that requires only a majority and not a 60-vote threshold, to financially gut the law.

"Anything that may work," McConnell said.

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