By Mike Lillis - 02/01/13 04:14 PM EST
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week he has deep doubts that congressional proposals to restrict weapons would prevent gun violence like the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The Kentucky Republican, a long-time opponent of tougher gun laws, said he'll take a look at whatever violence-prevention legislation moves through the Senate Judiciary Committee, but suggested he won't support any new limits on firearms, as President Obama and many Democrats are proposing.
"I'm a strong Second Amendment supporter," McConnell said in a sit-down interview with Yahoo News. "I view the ability of the government to impact this problem through gun restrictions with great skepticism.""
Behind Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary panel on Wednesday staged its first hearing on gun violence in many years – a direct response to the Newtown massacre, as well as Obama's aggressive push for Congress to consider new gun controls.
Leahy said he hopes to mark up legislation this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he'll bring to the floor whatever package the Judiciary panel approves.
McConnell wondered aloud whether Reid would make good on his promise.
"These school shootings are just horrendous, I mean, it absolutely shocks and appalls everybody in the country," he said. "The question is, 'What can the government do about insane people doing horrendous things?' It's a very complex question."
McConnell also addressed the looming fight over immigration reform, which is yet another hot-button issue on Obama's priority list this year.
The minority leader declined to say whether an overhaul should carve out a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the country – the most contentious element of a bipartisan proposal unveiled earlier this week by a powerful group of bipartisan senators. But he did endorse improvements to the guest worker program, saying the agriculture industry simply can't function without access to low-skilled foreign workers.
"We need a good guest worker program. The one we have now is not working very well," he said. "In agriculture, for example, we basically can't get the crops in without guest workers, it simply can't happen. And so there's a practical reality to needing a guest worker program, but I'm sure that will be part of a final bill."
There's also a significant political component to this year's immigration debate, as Hispanic voters came out overwhelmingly in support of Obama in the last two presidential elections. GOP leaders are hoping a bipartisan reform bill would attract some of those voters to their side.
McConnell said he's hopeful Congress will send a comprehensive package to Obama's desk this year.
"There is no official Republican position on immigration any more than there's an official Democratic position on immigration," McConnell said. "What we do have, for sure, is a group of bipartisan senators working on a proposal … that begins to move us in the direction of taking up – and hopefully passing, depending upon what the various pieces of it are – comprehensive immigration reform.
"There's a bipartisan desire to do something important here," he added. "A feeling that our immigration system is broken – it certainly is – [and] a particular desire to strengthen legal immigration, importing the brightest, most capable people in the world.
"There's a lot of desire on both sides to move a comprehensive immigration bill."