Saturday, November 15, 2014

McConnell: 5 to 10 Democratic senators appear ready to vote with GOP on some issues; EPA still top target

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Saturday that half the senators who have called him since his re-election have been Democrats, giving him hope that he can create bipartisan coalitions as the chamber's new majority leader, especially to block Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

McConnell at meeting
"They're anxious to be under new management, where their work has a chance to be heard, and we're going to do that," McConnell told a meeting of the state Republican Party Executive Committee, adding later, "It's apparent that a number of the Democrats have had it up to here with Barack Obama themselves." He told reporters later, "I think they're getting a little bit tired of doing the president's bidding."

"That's the good news," McConnell told his partisans. "The bad news is, I haven't heard anything from the president since the election that indicaytes he has an interest in changing anything." He added later, "I keep waiting for Obama to get the message and move to the center."

He said to applause that just as Obama has declared "war on coal," he will "declare war on EPA."

McConnell made clear during his campaign that he would use budget bills to keep the agency from pursuing proposed limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, but he said there are issues other than coal: "There is a widespread anger over the country" about EPA's overreach, he said. He told reporters later, "Coal is the most conspicuous example if it, but it's happening in a lot of other areas."

The other example he cited is EPA's proposal to redefine "waters of the United States," a seminal phrase in the Clean Water Act, in ways that have confused and angered many agricultural interests.

Republicans will hold at least 53 of the 100 seats in the new Senate, and McConnell said "I'm pretty optimistic" that a 54th seat will go their way after a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana. Asked if he thinks he can assemble the 60 votes that he said would continue to be needed to pass significant legislation, he said "I think there's a pool of five to 10 Democrats" who could create a center-right coalition.

McConnell said that number may become clearer after the Senate votes next week on the bill that would order completion of the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. "We don't know," he said, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has prevented votes on such legislation, including coal issues. Here's a video clip from cn|2's "Pure Politics":

Whatever bills the Republican-controlled Senate and House may pass, Obama could veto, and McConnell has said that Republicans will not shut down the government by holding appropriations bills hostage.

Asked if GOP leaders might authorize continued operation of essential government services but exclude EPA from that, he said the question was too hypothetical to answer. Asked if a bill that combined a number of issues could get the 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto, he said "I have no idea."

He told the party committee that he expects to have the "bourbon summit" with Obama that has been discussed since the president said he would like to meet with the senator over Kentucky's most famous beverage, but "Whether it's anything beyond a p.r. gimmick remains to be seen."

He concluded his remarks to the committee by saying, "It's harder to be the offensive coordinator than the defensive coordinator . . . It's a responsibility I welcome, and I'm going to carry it out as best I can."

McConnell then told reporters, "I'm going to be more inclined to judge him by what he does than by what he says. I don't want to minimize this opportunity for the country." He said many items that need attention, such as a long-range transportation plan and regulation of government-sponsored financial enterprises, "are not all that partisan." Here's a cn|2 video:

McConnell reiterated that he will support Sen. Rand Paul if he runs for president, but said Paul would certainly seek re-election in 2016. State law bars someone form being on the same ballot for both offices, and Paul's camp has suggested a way around that would be to replace the Republican presidential primary with a caucus. McConnell said he had given no thought to that idea.

That issue would be decided by the party committee that McConnell addressed first.

The senator said that since he was speaking to a room full of "political junkies," he wanted to mention a few exit-poll results; the one he highlighted was that he won the votes of women by 3 percentage points even though he had a female challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes: "I think we successfully made the argument to women that while gender's not unimportant, it's not the only reason to cast a vote in an election."

The crowd appreciated McConnell's digs at Bill and Hillary Clinton, who campaigned repeatedly for Grimes and may think that Kentucky is on the list of states she can carry in the 2016 presidential race. "I don't think she'll ever be competitive in Kentucky," he said. "This is not 1992 or 1996," when her husband won the state with pluralities, the last one 0.9 percent of the vote.

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