McConnell Says Bipartisanship Could Help GOP

Posted January 23, 2009 at 2:35pm

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday called for greater bipartisanship in the 111th Congress and suggested his party would reap political rewards if it cooperates with an enhanced Democratic majority.

“If President [Barack] Obama’s promise of post-partisanship is realized, you need some cooperation from Congress,” said McConnell, who just hours before attended a bicameral meeting at the White House to discuss the economic stimulus package.

McConnell called on both parties to disregard interest groups, often to blame for holding too much influence over policymakers. While he refused to name any GOP-friendly groups, McConnell specifically pointed to the AFL-CIO and the anti-war organization CODEPINK — both of which favor Democrats — as examples.

“There is no interest group that owns my Conference,” McConnell asserted, with his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, sitting nearby. “Not like the AFL-CIO.”

Bipartisanship could even translate into electoral gains for Republicans, McConnell argued. Republicans must defend 19 Senate seats in 2010 compared to the Democrats’ 17.

“The best path for my party in the near future is to turn off the political machine and get down to business,” he said.

With former President George W. Bush out of the White House, McConnell said Republicans will not have the burden of campaigning on the coattails of an unpopular chief executive.

“A president’s popularity, or lack thereof, becomes absolutely critical to the success of the people wearing the label,” McConnell said. “I’m optimistic that the landscape for my party will be different in 2010 than it was in ’08 or ’06.”

McConnell said he has spoken with Obama about his top legislative priorities for this year, with an overhaul of entitlement programs ranking No. 1.

Quipping that “there is no education like the second kick of a mule,” McConnell said that his party would cooperate when Congress takes up health care reform to try to avoid the kind of legislative meltdown that occurred when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spearheaded the effort.

With all his talk of bipartisanship, the Minority Leader warned that Democrats — not Republicans — may pose the biggest threat to Obama’s agenda.

“I think most of his problems with be in the Democratic Party,” he said.