Transcript: Sen. Mitch McConnell on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the November 15, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

And, Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Good morning, Chris.

WALLACE: I want to ask you one question to button up the conversation we had in the first segment. You have long opposed sending Guantanamo prisoners to this country.

Is there anything that you can do — is there anything that you will do in the Senate — to try to block the president and the attorney general's decision to put these five alleged conspirators on trial in a civilian court in New York?

MCCONNELL: Unfortunately, we had that very vote on the Lieberman- Lindsey Graham amendment just a week ago, and 54 Democrats voted opposed, frankly, having the trials down in Guantanamo. So it looks to me like the administration is going to do this. They seem to be sort of hell-bent to do it.

I agree with the family of Daniel Pearl. You know, KSM murdered their son. And they said, "Why in the world would we want to give him the show trial that he desires?"

WALLACE: On a related subject, there's also a report today that the Obama administration is considering — it may buy a near-empty prison in rural Illinois to house perhaps dozens of Guantanamo detainees. Is there anything you can do — is there anything you will do — to try to stop that?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Senate went on record on that issue a couple of years ago 94-3 against bringing these people to the United States.

I can't imagine the people of Illinois would like to have these prisoners incarcerated in their state. There may be some local officials who are going to support it, but I expect it will be a huge issue up in Illinois, probably in the U.S. Senate race up there next year.

WALLACE: And is there anything you can do in terms of blocking funding for it?

MCCONNELL: Well, we'll be — we'll be looking for ways to do it, and hopefully the Senate and House will speak on this issue.

WALLACE: Let's turn to health care reform. Senate Democrats are expected to bring a bill to the floor this week. Do you have the 41 votes in the Senate to prevent them from even bringing it to the floor?

MCCONNELL: Well, what we do know for sure, Chris, is this is a bill that cuts Medicare, raises taxes and raises insurance premiums.

We know it's been in Harry Reid's office for six weeks and the other 99 senators have not seen it. I think we ought to at least have as much time for the other 99 senators and all of the American people to take a look at this bill as Majority Leader Reid has had.

The only way to guarantee that for sure would be to delay the process to allow everyone to fully understand what's in the bill.

And then if there are 60 senators who want to go to this bill, even though the administration's own actuary, somebody who works in the administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, has said that it will drive the cost of health care up and that it will hurt seniors — if they still want to go to it, then we'll have the debate.

And when we get on the — on the bill, if we do, there will be a lot of amendments over a lot of weeks. I mean, the Senate is not the House. You saw in the House three votes and it was over in one day.

Look, we spent four weeks on a farm bill in the last Congress, eight weeks on an energy bill earlier this decade. This will be on the floor for quite a long time. I think it ought to be on the floor at least as long as it's been in Harry Reid's office.

WALLACE: So what are you talking about, because that has been an issue? Do you think that health care reform, even if they have the votes, can and will get through the Senate before the end of this year?

MCCONNELL: The American people are overwhelmingly telling us, "Don't pass it." It will be up to whether the Democratic majority wants to listen to the American people or whether they want to pass this anyway just to basically ignore the opinion of the American population and go ahead with this bill.

I think it is yet to be determined, you know, whether there are 60 senators who are going to ignore public opinion and pass a bill that cuts Medicare, raises taxes and raises insurance premiums.

WALLACE: Let's talk about some of the key issues that are going to come up. And one of them is the Stupak amendment which was passed by the House, which basically will bar the use of federal funds in any way to provide health insurance that would cover abortions.

Do you believe that you will have 41 votes to block that in the Senate?

MCCONNELL: Well, what we do know is that the American people, regardless of how they feel about the abortion issue, don't think that taxpayer money ought to be used to pay for abortions. And so I think that issue will be hashed out on the Senate floor.

I think it would be very difficult to pass a bill that, in effect, either directly or indirectly provided tax money to pay for abortions.

WALLACE: So let me rephrase, because I kind of messed it up. Are you saying that you believe you have the votes to get the Stupak amendment added, which would further restrict the use of federal funds?

MCCONNELL: Well, we don't know what will be in the bill that Senator Reid produces. And I'm not going to predict the outcome of this.

What I am going to say once again is that we know where the American public is. They're overwhelmingly opposed to using tax funds, either directly or indirectly, to pay for abortions. Whether the Senate will reflect American public opinion on that or not, we'll have to see.

WALLACE: Just as a final wrap-up question on this, you obviously are constantly counting votes. As you look at the various key issues out there, whether it's tightening abortion restrictions, or fighting the public option, or increasing limits on illegal immigrants being able to have any access to the system, or the funding for it, where do you think is the Republicans' best chance of derailing, or at least changing, the health care reform bill the Democrats are going to put up?

MCCONNELL: Well, all of those are hot-button issues — abortion, immigration, whether or not the government's going to get in the insurance business. All of those are very contentious issues.

But of course, the core of the bill is very contentious as well — massive cuts in Medicare, huge tax increases on individuals and on businesses, and raising insurance premiums for 85 percent of the Americans who already have health insurance. All of these are at their core very controversial.

Let me tell you what we ought to do, Chris. We ought not to pass a 2,000-page bill. We ought to go step by step, regain the confidence of the American public, deal with the cost issue, and target the problems in our health care system, not scrap it, not have the government take over one- sixth of our economy.

WALLACE: Let's turn to another subject. The president has been meeting with his war council. He's had eight meetings over several months considering the way forward in Afghanistan.

Senator, if he decides to give the generals basically what they want, somewhere between 30 and 40,000 troops, will members of your party — will Republicans support the president's decision even over the opposition of some members of his own party?

MCCONNELL: I think so. You know, what we're a little frustrated with — you know, during the campaign last year, the president said the Iraq war was the bad war and the Afghan war was the good war.

Then he announced in March that he was going to send General Stanley McChrystal, one of the architects of the surge that was so successful in Iraq, to take over in Afghanistan.

We are a little bit perplexed about the length of time it's taking to make this decision. Even liberal columnists — for example, David Broder in the Washington Post is saying today, "It's time to make up your mind, Mr. President. Make a decision."

Part of being president is you don't have easy choices. You have a lot of choices you have to make among difficult options. None of them are perfect. We do know this for sure, Chris. We know that by staying on offense in the war on terror we have largely protected America since 9/11.

We know there are a lot of terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know what happened when the Taliban was in charge of Afghanistan before. I think the president, as difficult as this decision is, needs to make it, needs to follow the advice of his generals. And if he does, he'll have overwhelming support among Republican senators.

WALLACE: Let me turn, because I would — I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't ask you a few political questions, Senator.

Conservatives are now talking about launching primary challenges against candidates who are actually picked by the Senate Republican leadership in a number of states. We have them up on a map there — in Florida, in Connecticut, in Illinois, in California, and your home state of Kentucky.

In fact, it has gotten so serious that the National Republican Senate Committee has stopped endorsing candidates because it seems that it creates a grassroots backlash.

How concerned are you — how much of a threat is this split within the GOP to your chances in 2010, the way it kind of messed up things in that upstate congressional district in New York?

MCCONNELL: No threat at all. I mean, what you see here is enormous enthusiasm to run. People believe that getting the Republican nomination means you have a good chance of winning.

And so we've got, for example, a four-way primary in Connecticut for our nomination, a state we haven't been competitive in in a very long time. So our view is this is an indication of the shifting political environment.

We all know the Gallup poll just last week, in response — asked the American people if the election were held today would you vote for the Republican candidate for Congress or the Democratic candidate for Congress. Our side had a four-point lead. Among independents it had a 22-point lead.

The political landscape, Chris, has shifted dramatically in the last year...

WALLACE: But — but let...

MCCONNELL: ... since this administration, and that's...

WALLACE: ... but let me just...

MCCONNELL: ... why all of these — that's why all of these people want to run for office.

WALLACE: But let me just briefly ask you about the political landscape within the party, because it now seems that an endorsement by the National Republican Senatorial Committee is a bad thing, not a badge of honor.

MCCONNELL: Well, they generally don't endorse anyway. So it doesn't make any difference. I mean, we're happy that there are a lot of people running, and the reason they're running is because they think the nomination's worth having because they think they can win in November.

WALLACE: And finally, I got to ask you about the party's apparent rock star, Sarah Palin. Do you think that her criticism in her book of the McCain campaign staff is a good or bad thing for her political future? And do you think she has a political future?

MCCONNELL: I'm not going to give Governor Palin any advice. She's a very popular figure among Republicans and, actually, among the American people in general. She doesn't need any advice from me about how to go forward politically.

WALLACE: Do you think she has a political future?

MCCONNELL: If she wants one, as big a following as she's got, you bet she's got a political future.

WALLACE: I think you're actually supposed to say "you betcha," Senator, but that's close enough.


WALLACE: Senator McConnell, thank you. Thanks for joining us. And we'll see how things shake out this week on Capitol Hill.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Chris.

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