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 McConnellBudowsky: Pelosi can break shutdown stalemate GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight On The Money: Shutdown Day 32 | Senate to vote on dueling funding measures | GOP looks to change narrative | Dems press Trump on recalled workers | Kudlow predicts economy will 'snap back' after shutdown 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Using the Congressional Review Act, Congress has repealed 14 Obama-era regulations this year.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 TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing 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) ManchinGOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight Senate to vote on dueling government funding bills This week: Congress heading in opposite directions on shutdown plans MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (Ind.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party 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 McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall 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 ThuneRove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 MooreHillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Jones asks federal officials to investigate misinformation campaign tactics in Alabama Senate race MORE’s defeat of incumbent Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeDomestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Five things to watch in Mississippi Senate race 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) SandersPoll shows 36 percent support Trump's reelection, 43 percent prefer generic Democrat Trump's approval rating holds steady at 45 percent amid government shutdown: poll Senate Dems introduce bill to keep DACA info private 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.