Senate Majority Leader-elect McConnell says some Democrats "anxious" for new leadership

11/15/2014 04:19 PM

FRANKFORT — Tuesday’s vote in the U.S. Senate on legislation directing President Barack Obama’s administration to move forward on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will likely reveal a handful of Democrats who’ve grown tired of following the president’s directives, Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell told reporters Saturday.

McConnell spoke to the Republican Party of Kentucky’s executive committee on Saturday and said half of those in the U.S. Senate who called him in the wake of last week’s midterm elections were members of the Democratic caucus.

“I’m not telling you they were happy I won, but they are anxious, since it happened they are anxious to be under new management where their work has a chance to be heard, and we’re going to do that,” McConnell said. “You can’t, you shouldn’t try to micromanage 100 different people of different parties and different persuasions. They ought to have a chance to offer their ideas.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, McConnell called Tuesday’s vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline bill, which was approved by the GOP-controlled U.S. House on a 252-161 vote, “an early indicator” of Senate Democrats dissatisfied with Obama’s agenda.

McConnell will need those Democrats in the upcoming Congress to reach the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans picked up eight seats in the chamber in last week’s midterms, giving McConnell’s caucus 53 members next year.

That majority may add another member following the Dec. 6 runoff election in Louisiana between Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

McConnell noted that many have dubbed the Keystone XL oil pipeline vote next week “a Hail Mary” for Landrieu, who led Cassidy 43 percent to 42 percent on Election Day but failed to top 50 percent to avoid a runoff. The Hill, which obtained an internal poll conducted for Cassidy, reported Thursday the Republican held a 16-point lead in a head-to-head with the incumbent.

“I’m pretty optimistic we’re going to win in Louisiana,” McConnell said. “There’s no question this was a Hail Mary, but I think we handled it rather smartly too because the House sent the Bill Cassidy bill over, as you may have noticed, yesterday, and that’s the one that will actually go to the president for signature if we get it out of the Senate.”

McConnell said a number of national issues have gone unaddressed in the Senate under the leadership of Democratic Senate Minority Leader-elect Harry Reid of Nevada.

“A number of them, honestly, are not all that partisan,” he said. “We need to get a long-term transportation fix. There’s a lot of discussion in the banking committee about what to do with regard to the problems that led to the meltdown in 2008, with regard to GSEs, government-sponsored enterprises. We need to get back to work, which involves, as I said before the election, the majority leader bringing the bill up on Monday and saying we’re going to finish it this week.”

McConnell also contends his desire to curtail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority isn’t a partisan issue, and he’s banking on garnering enough support among Democrats to help his cause.

The EPA, particularly the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” was a frequent target of McConnell’s criticism on the campaign trail, and he’s pledged to use the budget-writing process to rescind some of the agency’s authority in implementing new limits on carbon emissions.

“They’ve declared a war on coal. I’m declaring a war on the EPA,” McConnell said, drawing cheers from the Republican crowd. “And I can tell you from having talked to my new colleagues and my colleagues who are already there in the Senate this week that complaints about EPA are not just in Kentucky. This is a widespread anger across the country, and the American people have given us an opportunity to try to begin to change that.”

With Obama’s expected executive action on immigration reform, McConnell again bristled at the president’s apparent unwillingness to alter his leadership style after a GOP wave washed Democrats out of control in the Senate, though the soon-to-be majority leader said he’s still seeking middle ground with Obama in the president’s final two years in the White House.

“I’m going to be more inclined to judge what he does rather than what he says,” McConnell said. “… I certainly don’t think anything he’s said since the election is encouraging, but it’s too important to begin to make progress from the country to just write him off. He is the president. You can’t write off the president.”

To that end, McConnell is still holding out hope for a bourbon summit with the president.

Just don’t ask him which of Kentucky’s brands will be poured between the two if such a meeting occurs.

“They keep asking me which bourbon, and I said that’d be like saying which of your daughters is your favorite?” McConnell said. “You want me to pick among all these great bourbons that are being made in Kentucky? I think we’ll go to draw straws when we have the bourbon summit. Whether it’s anything beyond a PR gimmick remains to be seen.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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