The Hill Interview: McConnell: 2017 a great year for GOP

The Hill Interview: McConnell: 2017 a great year for GOP
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress Parkland father calls out Trump, McConnell, Ryan after Santa Fe shooting MORE (R-Ky.) is hailing 2017 as a year of major Republican accomplishments, dismissing the unpopularity of the Republican tax bill as the influence of “left of center” press coverage.

The anticipated passage of tax reform gives McConnell and his party a much-needed triumph at the end of  a year in which the GOP has at times struggled to govern.  

“If you look at 12 circuit judges, a new Supreme Court justice, the regulatory relief and now comprehensive tax reform for the first time in three decades, by any objective standard it’s been one heck of a good year for us,” McConnell told The Hill in an interview Tuesday.  

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McConnell said the tax legislation, conservative Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and other confirmations to the federal bench “are a good thing to take to the American people” in the 2018 midterm elections.

 

The Senate has confirmed 12 appellate court nominees this year, the most during a president’s first year in office since 1891. 

Using the Congressional Review Act, Congress has repealed 14 Obama-era regulations this year. 

Some Republicans, however, are worried about polls showing weak public support for the tax bill at a time when President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo to outline post-deal strategy on Iran Trump asking aides whether he should proceed with North Korea summit: report Stopping Robert Mueller to protect us all MORE’s approval rating is mired at 35 percent. 

McConnell blamed the bad poll numbers on staunch Democratic resistance and what he called slanted media coverage, predicting the bill will become more popular after it becomes law. 

“Anytime you come out with a new proposal, at least new to the public, it gets beat up a lot. Most of the press, left of center, hit it pretty hard. Of course the Democrats all doubled down against it,” he said. 

He said the debate over the tax measure is far from over. 

“The argument is still being made,” he noted. “We’re confident this is a good issue to take to the American people.”

“Those other guys didn’t see it that way,” he said, referring to Democrats. “One of us, I guess, will be proved wrong next fall.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say they are happy to debate taxes in 2018, claiming the tax bill significantly helps the wealthy and is filled with giveaways for corporate America. 

McConnell predicted the tax bill “will be a big issue” in the races of vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump to hold Nashville rally amid efforts to boost GOP Senate hopeful Voters Dems need aren't impressed by anti-waterboarding showboating Overnight Finance: House rejects farm bill in conservative revolt | NAFTA deal remains elusive as talks drag on | Dodd-Frank rollback set for House vote MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyVoters Dems need aren't impressed by anti-waterboarding showboating Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers MORE (Ind.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillCalif. gov candidates battle for second place Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee Five votes to watch in fight over Trump's CIA nominee MORE (Mo.). Not one Democrat in Congress backed the tax-reform legislation that is expected to be signed into law soon. 

He said it will provide $2,000 in tax relief to a typical family earning $73,000 a year and $1,300 in tax benefits to a single parent with one child earning $41,000 a year.  

McConnell gave a preview of Republican political strategy in 2018 by declaring that Manchin, Donnelly, McCaskill and other vulnerable centrists have doubled down on the “status quo.” 

“I guess that tells you that they think we’re doing just fine and there’s no way we can do better,” an ebullient McConnell told reporters at a press conference earlier in the day. 

The Senate was poised to pass the tax bill Tuesday evening with 51 Republican votes. Lawmakers were still debating the measure at press time. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain How House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe MORE (R-Ariz.), who was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, is back home receiving treatment and was expected to miss the vote. 

McConnell said the expected victory ranks close to the confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court earlier this year. 

Gorsuch’s confirmation was a coup for the leader after he took heavy fire from Democrats last year for holding open the seat formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia until after the presidential election. 

Tax reform gives McConnell the ability to declare 2017 a success, something he couldn’t do after legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare failed in late July. 

A low point came during the August recess, when Trump repeatedly bashed McConnell on Twitter for the failure of health-care reform and even suggested that his days as leader might be numbered. 

Asked in August about McConnell’s future, Trump warned that “if he doesn’t get taxes done,” he would utter a pronouncement on whether the leader should keep his job. 

Coming back from the August recess, McConnell and his leadership team knew they needed to get a tax-reform win. 

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePost-Zuckerberg, tech CEOs under pressure to testify Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers target Chinese tech giants | Dems move to save top cyber post | Trump gets a new CIA chief | Ryan delays election security briefing | Twitter CEO meets lawmakers Twitter CEO meets with lawmakers to talk net neutrality, privacy MORE (S.D.) said, “Everybody felt we really needed to deliver.” 

He said McConnell made it clear to colleagues that falling short on the tax bill would incur grave political consequences.

That was underscored by Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreTrump yuks it up to deflect Senate critics Alabama congressional candidate holding a drawing to win an AR-15 These three Democrats are no sure thing in November MORE’s defeat of incumbent Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeSenate GOP relieved after primary wins Blankenship: I’m Trumpier than Trump National GOP pours in money to stop Blankenship in West Virginia MORE in the Sept. 26 Alabama Republican special election primary.  

“I don’t know there was any particular thing he said other than ‘Failure is not an option,’ ” Thune said, recalling McConnell’s message to the conference. 

McConnell said the high point for him, personally, came when McCain, the man who derailed the ObamaCare repeal bill with a surprise “no” vote, announced his support for the tax legislation. 

“I think particularly given the way the last ObamaCare effort failed, it was, to me, a high point leading up to the final passage, with John McCain coming out foursquare for it,” he said. 

He lauded the measure on Tuesday as “important to the country” and “geared toward the middle class.” 

The wily Kentucky legislator emphasized the doubling of the standard deduction, the increase in the child tax credit and the lowering of individual tax rates. 

Democrats have attacked the bill by arguing that while the corporate tax cuts are permanent, the individual tax relief measures will expire after 2025. 

McConnell didn’t go so far as to guarantee that Congress will renew them, but warned the chances of individual tax breaks expiring are much higher if Democrats take control of the Senate.

Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHarvard law professor: Impeachment could worsen political dysfunction, polarization Gun control debate shifts to hardening schools after Texas shooting Bernie Sanders: NRA to blame for lack of action on gun control MORE says if Democrats take over in 2018, they’re going to rescind virtually all of this well before 2026,” he said, referring to the independent Vermont senator, a prominent liberal who may run again for president in 2020. 

McConnell argued that it would also “make our companies internationally competitive again” by setting a 21 percent corporate tax rate and discourage them from moving jobs overseas by moving to a territorial tax system. 

“Add it all up and you got all the tools to make America more competitive,” he said. 

When asked if, in light of the recent accomplishments, he could envision wrapping up his Senate career when his sixth term ends in 2020, McConnell said, “There’s always more to do.”

“We’ll talk about next year later,” he said.

McConnell, 75, announced at a press conference in Louisville earlier this year that he plans to run for reelection.