President Obama will likely become a “born-again moderate” after the
November elections, according to the Senate’s top Republican.
In an interview with The Hill this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged that Obama doesn’t call him very often. But he thinks that will be changing soon.
“Frankly, I think how much he calls me depends on how much he thinks he needs me,” McConnell said. “I don’t blame him for that. He’s had a huge number [of Democrats] in the House and a big number in the Senate, and I’m sure calling Mitch McConnell is not the first thing on his agenda every day.”
At times, the 111th Congress has been trying for McConnell. His close adviser, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), fell short in his primary bid and Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) publicly ripped McConnell for pushing him into retirement. McConnell’s handpicked successor to Bunning lost to Tea Party favorite Rand Paul.
McConnell is not a backslapping politician, but he is respected by GOP senators.
They say he retains their loyalty because of his clearheadedness, his attention to detail and his work ethic.
“I’m not sure anyone else could command the solidarity that Mitch has been able to,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). “It’s not a pound-the-table style. It’s a softer approach, but it’s very well-reasoned and thought-through.”
Republicans also point to McConnell’s encyclopedic knowledge of Senate rules and procedures — Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) calls him “a modern-day master of the Senate.”
That mastery has been put to the test often during this Congress, as McConnell has had an uneven record of blocking the Democratic agenda. A few Republicans backed the stimulus package as well as Wall Street reform.
On healthcare and campaign finance reform, however, there was not one GOP defection.
And on issues ranging from unemployment benefits to energy to small-business incentives, McConnell has maintained a united Republican front.
“[Senate Republicans are] making it difficult to do the wrong thing,” he said. “Even though some voters say, ‘Why can’t you guys all get along?’ I think the question is, ‘Get along and do what?’ ”
He says he never takes defections personally, adding, “The most important vote is the next vote.”
Centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said McConnell has never criticized her votes and that he is pragmatic enough to take the broader view.
“His interest is in having more Republican seats, and he knows that the state of Maine or the commonwealth of Massachusetts is very different than Kentucky,” Collins said. “He knows I’m with him more times than not.”
Conservative activists such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said McConnell’s success is based on using such pragmatics in developing relationships with each Republican.
“He’s not a Tom DeLay. He’s not a ‘Hammer,’ ” Norquist said, referring to the former House majority leader.
“The idea that you can tell Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe what to do is silly. What he does is build a coalition of the willing.”
McConnell stressed he is willing to work with the White House, noting that President Clinton moved to the center after the 1994 elections.
Clinton went on to pass welfare reform, balance the federal budget and implement a trade deal — all Republican ideas, McConnell said.
“As we all know, there’s some precedent. President Clinton started out pretty far on the left, and there was a mid-course correction,” a smiling McConnell said.