In his first remarks since Republicans claimed control of the Senate in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell pointed to the upside of divided government and delivered a tacit rebuke to his party’s more extreme members.
“I always like to remind people that divided government is not unusual in this country,” McConnell said at a press conference Wednesday. “When the American people choose divided government I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything, I think it means they want us to look for areas of agreement.”
McConnell, who is likely to ascend to the role of majority leader next year after his party picked up at least seven seats in the upper chamber, said the government would not shut down or default on the national debt with Republicans at the helm in both houses of Congress. And he declined to commit to repealing the Affordable Care Act, suggesting he is already positioning himself as a moderate bulwark against tea party leaders like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has made no secret of his desire to push the Senate to the right.
While pledging cooperation with President Barack Obama in the new Congress, McConnell was hard-pressed to find many points of agreement with Obama. McConnell suggested there was bipartisan interest in pushing forth international trade measures and passing comprehensive tax reform, a perennial unicorn in Washington, D.C. But on immigration reform, a key policy priority for Obama, McConnell said unilateral action by the president would be “a big mistake.”
McConnell also reiterated his wish to move forward on the controversial Keystone pipeline, which is fiercely opposed by many of Obama’s supporters on the left. The president will now be under increased pressure to approve the construction of the pipeline, which McConnell called a key component of the “energy revolution that’s going on in our country.”
Responding to a question about congressional gridlock – one reason voters on Tuesday registered the highest level of dissatisfaction with government in nearly 25 years – McConnell laid blame on Democratic control of the Senate, which he said had prevented hundreds of bills from reaching the president.
“The House passed over 300 pieces of legislation, many of them on a bipartisan basis and nothing was done with them in the Senate,” McConnell said. “I think we have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate, and to begin to function again.”
McConnell suggested it was unlikely the newly Republican-controlled Senate would give up control of the filibuster, however. “It’s hard to unring a bell,” McConnell said, when asked about the so-called “nuclear option” implemented by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to make it easier for the majority party to swat down filibusters. “It’s a big issue and a big discussion we’re going to have in a few months.”