'We're Going To Assess the Mood of the Place When We Get Back'

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, November 9, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Welcome back to The Beltway Boys.

Joining us to talk about the new Republican majority in the Senate and how it'll impact the president's agenda is Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, just overwhelmingly re-elected and soon to be the Senate majority whip in next week's leadership elections.

Welcome back to the show, senator.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Glad to be back with you.

KONDRACKE: Now. We got a lame duck session coming up. Who is going to be the Senate majority leader? It all seems to depend on interim Minnesota Senator Dean Barkley. Do you have any idea whether Senator Lott or Senator Daschle's going to be in charge?

MCCONNELL: I think Senator Barkley's going to make that determination. If it's a fairly short session, it may not make a whole lot of difference. What we're hoping is to be able to, as a result of the election, get the homeland security issue wrapped up, clear the docket of appointments, and, you know, maybe get terrorism reinsurance. I don't know about the energy bill.

But I don't see much sentiment for a lengthy session. We do want to honor the president's request to get through with homeland security, and I think the voters have spoken on that. It seems to me the Democrats got the message, particularly in Georgia, that the president really ought to get his way on this very, very important issue of protecting us here at home.

KONDRACKE: Well, have you done enough spade work to know whether the Democrats have -- are going to yield on that issue?

MCCONNELL: No, I don't think any of us know. We're spread out around the country, we all come back Tuesday, and I think we'll find out what the mood if the place is. It could be anywhere from anger to compliance. So I don't know what the mood will be.

KONDRACKE: …one more lame duck question. There seems to be a difference of opinion between the president and Trent Lott over whether appropriations bills, there are 11 of them backed up, including some that have extra money in it for the FBI and homeland security and the port security and all that…kind of stuff, whether those appropriations bills should go through, or whether you're going to just fund these various departments at last year's level with a continuing resolution, which is what Senator Lott seems to want.

How is that going to get resolved?

MCCONNELL: I'm not certain the president would like a long session, long lame duck session. We'll resolve it all next week. If at the end of the day the president wants us to stay in November and December and thinks that'll be productive, I'm sure that's what we'll do.

Frequently, though, the record of lame duck sessions is not great, and I think we're going to have to kind of assess the mood of the place when we get back. Elections do have an enormous impact on the attitudes of people who serve in Congress, and I think we'll have a better sense by Tuesday or Wednesday of just -- or -- of just what might be achievable during the lame duck.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Senator, let me ask you about Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia. Is there any chance that he might switch to the Republican Party, pull a Shelby rather than a Jeffords? We know he didn't -- he wouldn't want to do it to change control of who controls the Senate, but he's obviously in more ideological sympathy with the Republicans than Democrats.

MCCONNELL: Well, I -- we've made overtures to Zell since he got in the Senate, and he has been helpful, particularly on homeland security is a good example, from time to time. He was the most helpful Democrat. But his response always was, I'm 70 years old, it's a little bit late to be changing.

I don't know what his view will be, but I'm sure he noticed what happened in Georgia.

BARNES: I'm sure he did.

MCCONNELL: He did everything he could to protect his colleague Max Cleland from an obvious line of attack, which was that Cleland was siding with the public employee unions over the president of the United States on the issue of how best to protect us here at home. Max went on the ads, defected -- I mean, Zell went in the -- on the ads, you know, protecting Max Cleland.


MCCONNELL: I think the voters of Georgia got the message that the president was on the other side.

BARNES: Senator, Nancy Pelosi, the congresswoman from San Francisco, is likely to become the House Democratic leader now that Dick Gephardt is stepping down. She's very liberal. Don't you think that will drag Democrats to the left? And I think if they -- if that happened it would help Republicans.

MCCONNELL: I agree with you. I think the Democrats are really perplexed as to whether or not to follow the Clinton model, which is to preempt Republicans on issues that are popular in the polls and stay with Democratic positions on the same -- on different issues that are popular in the polls.

Pelosi seems to be more of a -- what we used to call a San Francisco Democrat, and interestingly enough, that's exactly where she's from.

So I don't know whether she'll move to the center, or try to pull the party to the left, which is where, of course, she's always been.

KONDRACKE: Now, senator, as, as I guess most viewers know, it takes 60 votes to pass anything really important in the United States Senate, not, not, 51. The Republicans do not have 60 votes. So a lot of things could be filibustered, and the president's agenda blocked, like making the tax cuts permanent, doing something about reforming Social Security or creating personal savings accounts and so on.

I mean, how, how are you going to break through that? Is there a, is there enough bipartisan spirit, it -- prevailing in the Senate that you could actually get 60 votes on these things?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, no -- neither side has had 60 in the 18 years I've been in the Senate, so having 60 is pretty unusual. I think it depends on the issue. There are some issues upon which we'll be able to put together an overwhelming majority of Republicans and a few Democrats to advance a position. I think that's what's going to develop, for example, on prescription drugs.

Now that Al Gore decided to ignore the advice of Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan about, you know, individual retirement account approach to -- for younger workers in Social Security, I don't think we're going to move on that issue, and I think that'll be a bridge too far.

BARNES: Senator, thank you very much.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

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