Obama congratulates McConnell in call

 

President Obama on Wednesday called Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee This week: GOP picks up the pieces after healthcare defeat The Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over healthcare MORE (Ky.) to congratulate him on his party’s resounding midterm victory and discuss moving trade agreements and tax reform.

Obama later praised McConnell at a press conference as “straightforward” and having a dead-on sense of what can pass muster with the Senate Republican Conference.

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McConnell also received congratulatory calls from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a Tea Party favorite who has often clashed with the GOP leader over strategy.

“Trade agreements,” McConnell said when asked at a press conference in Louisville about what proposals could attract bipartisan support. “The president and I were just talking about that before I came over here.

“We think it’s good for America so I’ve got a lot of members who think international trade agreements are a winner for America,” he said. “I think he’s interested in moving forward. I said, ‘Send us trade agreements, we’re anxious to take a look at them.’”

McConnell said he and Obama also discussed a shared desire to move tax reform as well.

“The president’s indicated he’s interested in doing tax reform. We all know having the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world is a job exporter,” McConnell added in reference to U.S. companies moving overseas for tax purposes.

“He’s interested in that issue and we are, too, so those are two very significant areas of potential agreement,” he said.

Obama said at a press conference later in the day that he wants to reach out to the new Senate majority leader.

“I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” he said, praising their working relationship.

“He’s always given me realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can’t,” Obama added in an tacit knock on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who misjudged the willingness of his own conference to pass a debt deal in the summer of 2011.

McConnell said he has received calls from other prominent Democrats who are eager to work with Republicans to move legislation after nearly four years of gridlock in the upper chamber.

“I’ve been called by three prominent Democrats since last night,” he said. “They’re anxious to be relevant again. They’re anxious for committee work to be respected. They’re anxious to be able to offer amendments on the floor of the Senate and actually get votes.”

Under Reid’s leadership, much legislation was handled primarily through his office instead of through the committees. Reid gave rank-and-file lawmakers few opportunities to amend legislation on the floor in order to protect vulnerable Senate Democrats from tough votes. The strategy didn’t work, however, as three Democratic incumbents lost on Tuesday and two more, Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (La.), are seen as likely to lose.

McConnell on Wednesday vowed to change the Senate by giving committee chairmen more authority, scheduling more votes on the floor, and keeping the chamber in session for more hours and days during the week.

He said the Senate has been primarily responsible for gridlock in Washington.

“The Senate was the problem, not the House,” he said. “The House passed over 300 pieces of legislation, many of them on a bipartisan basis and nothing was done with them in the Senate.

“The American people have changed the Senate so I think we have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate and begin to function again,” he added.