By Alexander Bolton - 08/05/10 03:04 PM EDT
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Thursday morning he expects to work more closely with President Obama next year.
McConnell met privately with Obama for the first time Wednesday afternoon to discuss next year’s agenda.
McConnell has been on a mini public relations blitz in recent days, raising his profile as Senate Republicans expect to play a more prominent role in policy making in 2011 and 2012, given anticipated electoral gains.
The GOP leader identified three areas of possible cooperation, two of which could serve as the underpinning of comprehensive energy reform.
“There are a number of areas of potential agreement,” he said.
McConnell said there is widespread Republican support for ratifying trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.
He also cited shared support for increasing nuclear energy production and expanding electrification of cars and trucks.
“I think he’s going to have newfound interest in reducing the deficit, and I think that provides an area for bipartisan agreement,” McConnell said.
McConnell cited expectations of a “mid-course correction” in the mid-term elections, referring to expert predictions that Republicans will pick up four or more Senate seats.
Republicans say Obama will have to negotiate with them more directly.
For much of this Congress, White House officials have focused their attentions on centrists such as Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), calculating that only a few GOP votes are needed to end filibusters.
That will change next year if Obama routinely needs six, seven or eight Republican votes to advance his agenda.
McConnell expects the president will have to negotiate with him more often, something that Republicans have urged over the past several months. The president could afford to shun Republicans in Congress for most of the past 18 months, McConnell said, but that is about to change.
“When he began his term, he was sitting on a
70-percent approval rating, he had a forty-seat majority in the House,
on the way to getting 60 in the Senate,” McConnell said. “He didn't feel
like he needed us and I don’t fault him for that. He was looking at the
political situation and the message that [White House chief of staff]
Rahm [Emanuel] was giving was go for it.”
McConnell predicted during an interview with The Hill Monday that Obama would become a “born-again moderate” after the November election.
The minority leader said recommendations from Obama’s fiscal commission, which are due by Dec. 1, could serve as the basis of a broad bipartisan agreement to cut the federal deficit.
He noted that Democrats and Republicans have already reached preliminary agreement to lower discretionary spending levels in 2011.
Democratic leaders are set to accept a spending cap for next year first that would limit spending in the 12 pending appropriations bills to $1.108 trillion, $20 billion less than Obama had requested.
McConnell, however, discounted the possibility of immigration reform, a high priority of Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush. He said the administration has not taken enough steps to secure the border and until it does, a bipartisan agreement on reform is unlikely.
“Until we get a credible answer to the American people on the question of whether or not we’ve secured the border, everything else in the debate is kind of frozen,” he said.
Obama tried to win over some Senate Republicans by pledging during a May meeting with them that he would deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border.
McConnell said the Democrats’ fall campaign strategy would have three prongs: tying Republican candidates to Bush; painting the GOP as ‘the party of no’; and demonizing the Tea Party.
“I don’t think that works,” he said.
McConnell dismissed a question about what Republican policies would mark a break with the Bush administration.
“The Bush administration ended two years ago, we’re moving forward, not living in the past,” he said.
McConnell has worked with House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) to frame the GOP agenda. They plan to unveil it at the end of September.
He also defended the Senate Republican opposition to Obama’s agenda and disputed the Democratic accusation that he has been unduly obstructionist.
He noted that 92 percent of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed or are pending in Democratic-controlled committees. And he pointed to statements by Obama lauding the productivity of the 111th Congress.
Obama said in May: “If we just stop now — in fact, if we had stopped last year, it would have already been one of the most productive legislative sessions in history.”
McConnell said his relationship with Reid has not been as strained as some Senate observers think.
McConnell called Reid one of his best friends in the Senate and reiterated that he would not travel to Nevada to campaign against the Democratic leader.
This post was updated at 11:40 a.m.