McConnell: A bottle of bourbon for Obama 'not a bad idea'

LOUISVILLE — For two years, Mitch McConnell talked about being the "defensive coordinator" as U.S. Senate minority leader and how much he hoped Kentucky and the rest of the nation would give him a chance at a new role.

At his home Thursday, McConnell was eager to show off a new addition to his wardrobe that illustrates his mission as majority leader after next week's Senate leadership vote.

The sweatshirt, a gift from longtime ally Todd Inman of Owensboro, reads "United States Senate Offensive Coordinator," complete with the Louisville Cardinals mascot.

McConnell discussed at length how he will approach his new role in a news conference with state and national reporters on Wednesday, pledging to search for common ground with President Barack Obama and end dysfunction in the Senate. Then he returned to his Louisville home and sat down in his living room to watch Obama's post-election news conference, during which the president said he'd like to have a bourbon with McConnell.

"We could have a unique opportunity here in the next two years to do some important things for the country, but we can't do it without him," McConnell said of Obama Thursday in an interview with the Herald-Leader. "I know the spin after his press conference yesterday was he's not going to change. We'll see."

McConnell, the biggest winner on an election night full of Republican victories, said "you could dismiss everything that was said yesterday, if you were a cynic, by saying 'after an election that's what they always say.'"

"And it is probably what's always said afterwards," McConnell said. "So I wouldn't read too much into what he said yesterday. The question's going to be not what he says, but what he does. And we're going to have plenty of opportunities to talk to each other, a lot more than we have in the past, because as I said, I don't stop."

As he did throughout his campaign, McConnell lamented that outgoing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had prevented legislation from reaching the president's desk, making it unnecessary for the White House to engage Republicans.

"I think those days are over," McConnell said. "He really has to deal with us directly. And the question is will he stand up to his own left and do things in the center? If he's willing to do that, I think we have a chance to have a very productive couple of years."

To that end, McConnell said it's "probably not a bad idea" to take the president a bottle of bourbon.

But McConnell cautioned that bourbon summits and golf games aren't really how progress is made.

"People have a tendency to think it's personal," McConnell said. "It's not personal. It's just that he's a pretty liberal guy. He's been able to stay on the left because of the Congress."

He continued: "Now we'll get a genuine test of whether he's willing to move to the center. If he isn't, we're going to have an unproductive couple of years because we're obviously not interested in doing most of the things that he's been trying to do. None of it. Don't like any of it. But there are a few areas where he's shown a little leg."

Both McConnell and Obama have cited trade agreements and tax reform as areas where the two parties might be able to find common ground.

But on Thursday, McConnell expressed some skepticism about their ability to compromise on tax reform, arguing that Democrats are only interested in corporate tax reform.

"That's because they want to continue to stick it to individuals," the senator said. "We're more interested in comprehensive tax reform, which is what Reagan and Tip O'Neill did. But at least it's an area of discussion."

The senator said he expects U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to present "a serious, meaningful tax reform bill, so there will be a vehicle there."

"The country desperately needs it," he said.

McConnell said he still believes that raising the minimum wage is a bad idea in the current economy, noting that his re-election effort would have been easier had he agreed with calls to raise the wage and neutralized one of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' central campaign themes.

"Obviously, if I had thought it was a good idea, it would have been a lot easier for me politically," he said. "So obviously I felt strongly it was the wrong thing to do right now, so that's not going to be on the agenda."

Having reached his lifelong dream of becoming majority leader of the Senate, McConnell said he wasn't content to have just won the title.

"It's not just a question of getting the job, it's what are you going to do with it," he said. "And obviously, yeah, sure, I really wanted to have this chance (to lead the Senate). I really did. But not just so I can put it on my resume. A lot of what we're able to do the next couple of years is dependent on the president of the United States."

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