CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski interviewed incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Dec. 5. A lightly edited transcript follows.
Q: I’m pleased to have the chance to talk to you a little bit about the way forward for next year and, and what’s going to change around these parts when you switch titles, although not offices. Literally. And I think I first wanted to just start with: you’ve talked a lot about how to get the Senate functioning again. And I saw the interview that you did yesterday with Greta. And I’m just curious how much you think that that’s actually realistic? That, that, that you’re not going to run into a scenario where, a couple of months down the road, you’re facing a predicament of trying, of having to fill the tree because things get unruly or something like that?
McConnell: Well I think it is achievable. A reasonable percentage of the calls — up to half the calls I got after the election were from Democratic senators. I’m not implying that they were happy I won, but they were awfully curious as to whether I really meant it early last year when I pointed out that we needed to run the Senate in a very different way. So I think it’s not just Republicans who would like to see the Senate run differently. I think there are a reasonable number of Democrats as well. And I think you know what that means. You call up a bill, it’s open for amendment, always a bit chaotic.
But you process a number of amendments, particularly the ones that are the most significant to both sides, and you move to a completion of the bill. I’ve never said I would never fill up the tree but I think it ought to be an exception rather than the rule, and that we ought to give members an opportunity to participate. And we intend to do that and I think there’s going to be bipartisan gratitude — for having a chance to be relevant, to not be marginalized. And the classic example I’ve used — I’m sure you’ve heard me say it before — was Mark Begich in Alaska who was here for a full six years and never had a roll call vote on an amendment on the floor of the Senate, which Dan Sullivan tells me he used on virtually a daily basis. So the notion that protecting all of your members from votes is a good idea politically, I think, has been pretty much disproved by the recent election. So I do think that can be accomplished. I think there are — if you look at the Keystone vote I think that the pool of folks who were anxious to actually make legislation … rather than just scoring points every week, actually try to get outcomes.
Q: If you look at your agenda — I was looking at the calendar. With the Senate convening on January the 6th and, and running pretty much through President’s Day weekend nonstop, what is your plan for an agenda for that first sort of work period?
McConnell: Well let me say, we, we’ve been planning this going back to the Spring of 2014. I’ve had multiple meetings with then-ranking members, telling them what I will now tell you. The worst experience any majority can have is that you convene and you look around and nothing’s ready to go. So what I said to the members who hoped they would be chairmen: let’s don’t have that problem. Be thinking now about legislation that you have, preferably that enjoys some Democratic support because we certainly didn’t think we were going to have 60 and we don’t.
McConnell: You know there are not many things, other than the budget, that we’re going to be able to do with 54 votes. So clearly we’re looking for things that we think would make a difference, improve the country, and enjoy some bipartisan support. And, by the way, we intend for you to bring it out of committee. Amazingly enough, I’m not — there may be occasions where I feel like I have to Rule 14 something that I’ve crafted here, but I want that to be an exception too. We want committees to actually function.
Q: Are there things that don’t necessarily need to go through committee because everyone knows what they are —
McConnell: Well there may be —
Q: — like medical device or Keystone or something?
McConnell: There, there may be occasions, but, but, but we want to — look, what happens in committee if the committee functions, more often than not, not every time but more often than not, a bill comes out with bipartisan support. If that happens, then there’s an interest out here on the floor in actually passing it. (Chuckle) And so I think there were two messages in last year’s election. One is pretty obvious. People were mad as hell at the president — and wanted to send a message. We all got that. Our new members were also hearing, and I was hearing as well, that people didn’t like the fact that the Congress was dysfunctional. Now they may have been confused about where the dysfunctionality was cause the president kept pointing to the House. Factually, that’s not accurate. The dysfunction was in the Senate. And so we didn’t make much progress on the country’s agenda. And in my view it’s because the Senate basically hadn’t done much of anything, with a couple of exceptions, for the last four years. And that’s going to change.
Q: One of the things you mentioned, the budget resolution is one area where you don’t need Democratic votes. How aggressive are you going to be or would you like to be in terms of rolling back Obamacare as part of the reconciliation process?
McConnell: Well I would say two things. Number one: we certainly will have a vote on proceeding to a bill to repeal Obamacare… it was a very large issue in the campaign. And, the reconciliation process does present an opportunity and we’re reviewing that to see what’s possible through reconciliation.
So, we’re certainly gonna keep our commitment to the American people to make every effort we can to repeal it.
It is a statement to the obvious, however, that Obama — of Obamacare — is the President of the United States, so I don’t want people to have [unrealistic] expectations about what may actually become law with Obama — of Obamacare — in the White House. But we intend to keep our commitment to the American people.
Now, that doesn’t mean we might not also want to target parts of the law that we know enjoy bipartisan opposition. It is a lot of concern about the 40-hour workweek, a lot of concern about the individual mandate. We actually have a show vote on the medical device tax as you know.