Senator McConnell began to noting that the legislative agenda in the Senate it dominated by the majority party, the Democrats. Repeatedly stressing the importance of winning elections, the Kentucky Republican highlighted the challenges of pushing a conservative agenda when Republicans only control the House while Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Sen. McConnell stated,
“I think many active conservatives need to remember that when you only control a very small part of the government- the House of Representatives only- and the Democrats have the Senate, Democrats have Barack Obama in the White House…It’s very difficult to get outcomes that you would like to get. We need to win elections. That’s how we change policy because people who lose elections go home and people who win elections make policy.”
Sen. McConnell spoke frankly about the Republican opposition to Obamacare and noted that the president’s signature achievement coupled with his “demonstrably false” promise that Americans could keep their healthcare plans has “cratered his personal approval rating.”
“In all likelihood, the 2014 off-year election will be a referendum on how people feel about Barack Obama,” Sen. McConnell began. “Whatever internal differences we have among conservatives, we all agree on several things. Number one: We all agree that Obamacare is a disaster and that we’d repeal it the moment we had the votes to do it. And number two: we believe that Barack Obama’s done a lot of damage to the country and we know that we would be in a better position to stop him for the last two years of his term if we had both a conservative House and a conservative Senate.”
Sen. McConnell explained the divide within the Senate’s GOP as a difference of tactics. Discussing the efforts by Sen. Ted Cruz to block the implementation of Obamacare and the partial government shutdown that followed, Sen. McConnell explained,
“The tactical differences on how to [defeat Obamacare] are not nearly as important as the fact that all of us want to get rid of it and we all know that the way to get rid of it is to change the Senate and, ultimately, the White House; the way you do that is to not fracture, but unify and opposition to Obamacare is something that unifies us all.”
“I’m a big fan of the Tea Party. I think it’s brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table. It helped us win in 2010; it can help us win in 2014,” Sen. McConnell explained.
The Kentucky Senator stressed the importance of winning elections and admitted a divide in the GOP with regards to tactics, but emphasized the importance of Republicans working together to retake the Senate and, hopefully, the White House in 2016.
Hughes and Sen. McConnell discussed the hot topics surrounding Capitol Hill and noted the shortcoming of the recent Ryan/Murray budget deal, against which Sen. McConnell voted. The two also discussed the recent push by President Obama to implement “promise zones,” which Sen. McConnell explained serves as a drastically different approach than he and his fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would pursue.
“The difference is that the president is simply saying, ‘We’re going to focus funding we have already have on these particular areas.’ What Sen. Paul and I would do, rather than treat it, sort of, like a poverty program where you’re simply going to spend more in a particular area, we would go through reductions in taxes and regulatory burdens and turn those areas into places where it’s really incentivized to invest because if you go in and invest in these zones, you get tax breaks, you get regulatory relief. In other words, there’s incentive for you to put your business there and if you put your business there, you’ve got jobs and if you’ve got jobs, that’s the real way to help people.”
After having been accused by several conservative groups as not having been conservative enough, Sen. McConnell addressed his reputation as a conservative. When asked if he considered himself a Tea Party conservative, Sen. McConnell replied,
“People who have taken a look at my record and signed up for me are people like Rand Paul, people like Mike Huckabee, Hugh Hewitt, Lars Larsen. In the American Conservative Union’s rating last year, I was one of five senators who got a 100%. I don’t know how anybody can look at my record and conclude that I haven’t been a conservative. Everybody who serves around here believes that I’m the most conservative Republican leader we’ve ever had. So anybody that wants to run against me in a primary in Kentucky, claiming that I’m not conservative enough, does not have a very credible argument and it will not be successful.”
While conservatives and establishment Republicans remain divided on how to best make progress with a conservative agenda, the fact remains that with Republicans controlling only the House, the GOP can do little but help block or slow bad legislation. Winning elections, as Sen. McConnell points out, is the surest way to move the ball downfield as conservatives howl for reversals of disastrous fiscal policies pushed by Democrats.