Back in May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made headlines when he pledged to put 100 percent of his focus on stopping the administration of President Joe Biden.
Three months later, McConnell is still committed to that mission, but adds there are opportunities where he would be willing to work with the Democrat president.
“I’ve never felt that the fact that I oppose most of what the Biden Administration is doing means we should do nothing,” he says. “So I’ve always felt we ought to look for the areas we can agree on and do something
That opportunity came when McConnell joined 18 other Senate Republicans to approve the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in early August. Some in his party argue the package doesn’t do enough for rural America. But McConnell says the bill represents the best deal Republicans could get from Democrats who control Congress and the White House. He also says it will likely fund two priority projects for his home state: A bridge crossing for I-69 at Henderson, and a bridge project from northern Kentucky to Cincinnati.
“I thought it was the most we could hope for given the government we have,” he says. “I think it was the right thing to do for country and for Kentucky, and that’s why I voted for it.”
But that’s likely where the spirit of bipartisanship ends for McConnell, who voted against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act back in March, which he contends spurred inflation and encouraged people to stay out of the workforce. He also opposes the proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure to address climate change and expand the nation’s social safety net with funding for child and senior care, early childhood education, expanded Medicare benefits, paid family and medical leave, and other items.
“They want to create programs… what they call human infrastructure that’s important but shouldn’t be financed by the federal government in such a massive way,” says McConnell. “I think it is a big step in the direction of turning us into a socialist country.”
In addition to opposing what McConnell calls “permanent entitlements” the country can’t afford, the Minority Leader also rejects the corporate and individual tax increases the Biden Administration proposes to help pay for these investments. The Republican says he’s particularly troubled by a plan to change how capital gains are taxed on inherited property and assets. McConnell says the increase in value of the asset from when it was originally purchased to when it is inherited is not currently taxed.
“What that does is protect family farms and small businesses from having to be sold in order to get down to the next generation,” the Senator says. “So the current estate tax law is very favorable to a state like ours.”
Democratic leaders in the House expect a vote on the reconciliation bill by October. If approved, it will then go to the Senate where it would only need a simple majority to pass. McConnell says the measure will receive no Republican support in either chamber, and he believes the only way it will pass the evenly divided Senate is if moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona pare down the bill to get to a price tag they can support.
McConnell says he and his GOP colleagues will also oppose both Democratic bills on voting and elections. The For the People Act proposes to make voting easier as well as address campaign financing and election security. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the requirement that states with a history of voter discrimination pre-clear changes to their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The rationale they’re using for both bills is that somehow states are involved in efforts to suppress the vote based upon race. There’s no evidence of that, none, zero,” says McConnell. “The fact that all the Democrats are for it and all the Republicans against it ought to tell you something: They’re trying to rig the game to give them an advantage… That’s what this is about and it’s not going to pass.”
The U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan
The Republican has nothing but criticism for President Biden’s move to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan and end America’s 20-year war there.
“I disagree with everything about this – the decision to leave was a mistake,” says McConnell. “It wasn’t broken and it didn’t need fixing but having made the decision to withdraw, you could only conclude these people couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.”
McConnell says America should have “stayed the course” and kept a small contingent of troops in Afghanistan as a counter-terrorism force and to provide ongoing training and support to the Afghan army. He says the 2,500 service members deployed there before the pull-out cost only about 1 percent of the total Pentagon budget. He also says it’s important to remember the original mission for going into Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t to create a Jeffersonian democracy,” McConnell says. “It was to keep the barbarians, the Taliban from running the country so they could enable groups like Al Qaeda to attack us here at home.”
For 20 years now, that mission been successful, says McConnell. He says he argued with former President Donald Trump over his plans for a troop withdrawal. He also says he thinks President Trump made a mistake in negotiating with the Taliban.
Now the Senator says President Biden’s “botched” exit from the country makes it look like the Taliban defeated the United States, which he contends leaves a “stain on our national honor” that’s worse than the 1975 evacuation from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
With the formal withdrawal concluded, McConnell says the nation now must help the Afghanis who assisted the American forces over the last 20 years.
“We have an obligation to take care for our friends, to give them a chance to start a new life, some of them in America, some of them other places,” he says. “We owe it to them.”
The Senator agrees with calls to help Afghani refugees resettle in Kentucky and says he would be “happy to have one in my neighborhood” in Louisville.
The “Facts” about COVID Vaccinations
McConnell touts his efforts to encourage Kentuckians to get vaccinated for COVID-19. In July, the Senator said he would spend some of his campaign funds to purchase radio ads across the state to promote vaccinations.
“What I have been completely perplexed by is the difficulty in getting people to take [the vaccine],” he says.
The Republican acknowledges that vaccine disinformation is a problem, especially on social media. But he contends the vaccines are safe and effective.
“I can only say what I know to be the facts – that 90 percent of people in hospitals are unvaccinated,” says the Minority Leader. “That’s not spin, that’s not opinion, that’s a fact.”
At the same time, though, McConnell opposes government mandates for vaccinations and masks, saying they create more resistance than they are worth. He argues a better solution is to let individual businesses and local school boards decide whether to require those mitigation strategies.
The Senator also downplays a connection pushed by some Republicans that the current surge in Delta variant cases is being fueled by unvaccinated and untested migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We do have a crisis at the border and many of those people are infected, but that seems to me a separate subject from whether or not Americans are taking good advice and getting vaccinated,” McConnell says.