FOX News Talk’s Guy Benson sat down for an exclusive interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to discuss the confirmation of judges, immigration, & more. Listen here:
Guy Benson [00:00:00] Joined now by the majority leader of the U.S. Senate Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky Senator great to see you again.
Sen. McConnell [00:00:06] Good to be with you. So last time we sat face to face my very first question was may I call you cocaine Mitch. You said yes but you’ve now accumulated some more nicknames since then there’s nuclear Mitch you’ve been called the Grim Reaper which makes you almost sound like a villain in professional wrestling. I’m wondering what you make of this new this new image that you have the Democrats saying that you’re presiding over a legislative graveyard. Have you leaned into any of these nicknames you have one that you have.
Sen. McConnell [00:00:36] This is not a recent development I’ve called myself Darth Vader. Back during the campaign finance wars and so I’ve kind of enjoyed playing off of my enemies over the years. And in fact the Grim Reaper Title I gave myself and I was in a in an appearance in which I was pointing out that the Democrats now you know fully embrace socialism and as long as I was the majority leader of the Senate I’d be the Grim Reaper and we wouldn’t be passing anything like the Green New Deal or Medicare for all. And that was the firewall against socialism in this country.
Guy Benson [00:01:14] Interesting that you came up with the nickname and they’ve sort of gone with it. Yeah he did. He’s leading even on his own nicknames.
Sen. McConnell [00:01:19] Happy to embrace it.
Guy Benson [00:01:21] So let’s talk about something you said last week caused a bit of a stir. You were asked a question what would happen if there were a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020. You said the Republican majority would fill that vacancy. Everyone started pointing out that in 2016 you defended blocking or stonewalling President Obama’s nomination Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia. Your argument was it’s a presidential year. The American people should be able to vote Choose the next president then the Senate would consider a nominee. Now there’s President Trump a Republican in office. Some of your critics are saying you’ve completely reversed yourself. How do you respond to the hypocrisy charge and are there some meaningful factors or differences that would make 2020 different.
Sen. McConnell [00:02:03] It reminds me of when they became agitated when I said I wanted to make Barack Obama a one term president. They conveniently left out the rest of what I said because he had two years left in his first term and as in the meantime there are things we need to tackle on a bipartisan basis to get the country headed in a better direction. And the only major reporter in town who covered the rest of it was Bob Woodward which I always appreciate it. So here they’re conveniently cherry picking what I said in 2016 what I pointed out was that you’d have to go back to the eighteen eighties to find the last time a Senate controlled by a different party than the president filled a vacancy on the Supreme Court created in the middle of a presidential election I said it then. I’ve said it repeatedly and I was shocked that this seemed like news. And next year there will be a Republican Senate and a Republican president. I have no idea whether there will be a Supreme Court vacancy knowing how the left of center members of the Supreme Court feel about The President of The United States. I think it would take a significant life ending event to create such a vacancy but I would do the same thing Joe Biden said in 1992 Democratic Senate Republican president he said he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee said if their vacancy occurred they wouldn’t fill it. I would be consistent with what Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid said 18 months before the end of Bush 43 years eight years when they said of a vacancy occurred they wouldn’t fill up 18 months before the end of the term. So yeah we would fill a vacancy that occurred. I don’t expect it to but if it occurred yes we would go forward.
Guy Benson [00:04:00] So the difference is the party control?
Sen. McConnell [00:04:03] Yeah because the Constitution is quite clear that only the president doesn’t have an exclusive on Supreme Court appointments. There are two roles he gets to pick. We get to decide whether to go forward. We have every bit a right to assert ourselves as he does to assert himself. And so we have a constitutional role. It’s been there since the Constitution was written and we would fully exercise it next year.
Guy Benson [00:04:33] I think the judiciary and the reshaping of the federal judiciary is in my view. I don’t wanna be presumptuous but I think it’s your legacy and your reputation for a long time here in town was one of a cautious institutionalist. But you’ve become I think increasingly bold when it comes to this particular issue. My questions are was there a moment in these battles that you decided that the Republicans needed to match the Democrats hardball approach to confirmations and relatedly, were you surprised when your counterpart Senator Schumer and his caucus decided to filibuster Neil Gorsuch speech rather than maybe waiting for a potentially higher stakes vacancy to play that card.
Sen. McConnell [00:05:19] With regard to your last observation. I think that probably was a tactical mistake. He didn’t have the courage to stand up to his left and so this is probably not the best time to filibuster a well qualified Supreme Court justice. Had they not done that we would not have needed to lower the threshold and I would remind your listeners that was the Democrats in 2013 who lowered the threshold from 60 to 51 to fill judicial vacancies. The Democrats did. They only left out one Supreme Court and.
Guy Benson [00:05:53] Was at the moment the 2013 nuclear option from Senator Reid where you sit where did they go. Did that change the game for you?
Sen. McConnell [00:05:59] From what I said to myself was OK I don’t like the way they did it but all they did was take us back to the way the executive calendar you know the senators on the personnel business for twelve hundred executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation the most important are judges until the year 2000. No judge was ever defeated with a filibuster until the year 2000 when George W. Bush was elected. No cabinet member ever been defeated by a filibuster. This is a recent invention and the guy who started it was Chuck Schumer so it was kind of fun to watch him squirm frankly because he started this whole battle and we ended it and right now where we are Guy is we’re back where we were until Bush 43 got elected executive counter’s done with a simple majority and I think it’s the right thing for the institution and it’s I’m sure it will benefit them you know.
Guy Benson [00:07:00] Numerous Democrats running for president are talking about changing the Supreme Court adding justices packing the court bringing the number up to 15 is one of the proposals I saw. What do you make of that?
Sen. McConnell [00:07:11] I think they are genuine threat. I think this is another thing in addition at times like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all that they will do the next time they get a handle. It’s important to remind people that the number of Supreme Court justices is set by statute. The last time it changed was 1869. So that could be done by a simple statute on oh by the way they plan to make D.C. a state and Puerto Rico a state that’s four new Democratic senators they plan long term to take over this government take us far to the left and turn us into a socialist country. They’ve got to be stopped. And that’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper. As long as I’m in charge of the Senate it’s always on the majority leader of the Senate this stuff is not going to pass.
Guy Benson [00:07:54] Well let’s talk about the Senate calendar and what may or may not get votes. Just yesterday House Democrats took a brief hiatus from their bickering over impeachment. They actually passed something which is this dream act on immigration. It was a standalone DREAM Act. Will that bill get a vote in the U.S. Senate as written?
Sen. McConnell [00:08:14] Probably not. Immigration is an area that there is bipartisan responsibility for failure to act. I think it’s important to remember when the Democrats lost control the entire government the White House the House the Senate 2009, 2010 no brought the subject up. So makes me wonder if they really want an outcome or they want an issue. I think the dreamers have a sympathetic case. There are circumstances under which I and others would be happy to support that. But we need to do more than that. You know there’s some genuine fixes on the legal immigration side and on the illegal immigration side that need to be addressed.
Guy Benson [00:08:54] So you’d want the Dream Act paired with.
Sen. McConnell [00:08:56] I would. I would. I think there is a perfectly legitimate case for the DREAMERS. These are your listeners or the kids who were brought here by their parents who’ve been raised as Americans and deserve to be Americans at some point. But I think we need to do more than just that. And that’s the context in which I would deal with that issue in the Senate.
Guy Benson [00:09:17] You spoke this morning on the floor about another immigration issue the ongoing crisis at the border are broken asylum status quo. Senator Graham has a bill on this. Do you get a sense that there’s any bipartisan thrust to actually fix the problem and do you expect Graham’s bill or someone’s bill to come to the floor for a vote.
Sen. McConnell [00:09:38] Well the first thing we need to do is deal with the humanitarian crisis here you have the New York Times editorial page. And Donald Trump on the same side. We’ve got a humanitarian.
Guy Benson [00:09:50] That’s very rare.
Sen. McConnell [00:09:51] Yeah. Believe it or not there are headlines that give Trump the money they’re talking about this rush of folks coming to the border that we don’t have the capacity to take care of the short term problem that needs to be addressed through a supplemental appropriation. They strip that part out of the supplemental that we passed just last week to deal with storms in Puerto Rico and Florida Georgia and Alabama Nebraska and Iowa. That would’ve been a logical place to add this humanitarian relief. What Lindsay is trying to do is to get some legal challenges that we absolutely need to make. I hope he can get some Democratic support in committee and if he can put something together on a bipartisan basis that helps us solve the legal problems we’re confronted with. That’s just how long can you detain people. That would be a good subject to bring up.
Guy Benson [00:10:48] President’s now linking the border crisis with trade policy threatening tariffs on Mexico. There are reports that there might be an emerging bipartisan veto proof majority to undo those tariffs should they be implemented based on what you’re seeing from your caucus. Is that true?
Sen. McConnell [00:11:06] Let me just say there is a lack of enthusiasm among Senate Republicans for what would amount to a tax increase frankly on working class people. I mean drives up the cost of goods that you would be purchasing at Walmart other places. So I’m hoping this can be avoided. There’s a Mexican delegation in town as you and I are speaking trying to see if they can reach some agreement to do a better job of keeping folks most of these people who were coming up or coming from Central America not from Mexico and they’re traversing the entire of Mexico that the Mexicans could do a better job of preventing them from crossing the border in the southern part of Mexico and also try to enhance their effort on the border. Maybe all of this can be averted.
Guy Benson [00:11:53] Last question House Democrats appear poised to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt possibly next week. What is your assessment of the Democrats treatment of the attorney general and your assessment of the job he’s doing.
Sen. McConnell [00:12:06] I think the attorney general is doing a great job. The Democrats just can’t let it go. You know the case is closed. The only objective investigation with the Mueller Report. You know the public knows there’s not going to be an objective investigation in Congress. Each side will try to politicize it. They need to let it go. I mean I think that the reason the speaker is so reluctant to see them go down the impeachment path is that the American people are not interested in it. If you’ve got a grievance with Donald Trump you’ve got a vote coming up next year. Why would we need to in effect veto the election the American people conducted in 2016 that legitimately elected it.
Guy Benson [00:12:49] Senator McConnell thank you so much for your time.
Sen. McConnell [00:12:51] Thank you.