OTR Interviews

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: We became 'dysfunctional, a place where nothing happened,' Obama's executive amnesty 'counterproductive'

Exclusive: The soon-to-be Senate Majority leader on what it will mean to bring normalcy back to the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid's political miscalculation, his meeting with President Obama


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 4, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now, Senate GOP leader soon to be Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is going "On the Record" in his first TV interview since Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.


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VAN SUSTEREN: And I suppose I should say congratulations, big victory in Kentucky and big change in the U.S. Senate.

MCCONNELL: Yeah. It was really one of my better months, actually. We're excited about the confidence the American people have expressed in us. We know they didn't fall in love with us. But we know they want to go in a different direction. We know they wanted to send the in president a message. But they also wanted us to try to accomplish things again and that's what we're going to try to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said in the day or two after your election that you wanted to return the Senate to normal.


VAN SUSTEREN: What is that? What's normal?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, that's kind of lost on the general public. But the Senate sort of frequently didn't vote anymore for the last four years. And the reason for that was the president figured he got all the legislation he wanted the first two years. And after that, he wanted to be left alone. And Harry Reid and the Democratic majority basically guaranteed he never got anything, that even made him think twice. And so we became dysfunctional, a place where nothing happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: So why weren't there votes? Was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision or the president's, or they were working in concert and talking back and forth?

MCCONNELL: I think the president didn't want anything to come to his desk that he didn't like, so it served his purpose for the Senate not to vote. And Reid convinced his members that these would be bad votes that would hurt him in the election. It was to their advantage not to vote, proved to be a very bad miscalculation.

For example, the Democratic senator in Alaska running for reelection at the end of the first term, been there for six years, never had a roll call vote on anything he offered in six years, and his opponent who won the election brought it up on a daily basis. So, I think it was a bad election strategy, served the president's purposes because he never got anything on his desk that he was uncomfortable with.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the nuclear option? That was something that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked nuclear option so there would no longer be filibuster on nominations, is that something that you intend to continue? I know that one time on the floor, you sort of warned that, you know, the next majority, whether it was majority leader you or anybody else that maybe that would be applied to all legislation.

MCCONNELL: Well, you never know. It was a very bad precedent but the majority leader did basically break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the senate. The precedence is there for the future. It's like trying to unring a bell. We're going to have a big discussion about what if anything to do about that next week.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said repeatedly there is going to be no government shutdown.


VAN SUSTEREN: How do -- how do you have no government shut down if you and the president are deeply divided on any particular issue? How do we -- how do we as a nation avoid that?

MCCONNELL: Yeah, Let me tell what you do. You pass each bill that funds the government separately. In those bills, if you object to bureaucratic regulations of one kind or another or presidential actions of one kind or another, you literally write into the spending bill restrictions. But if you do each bill separately, you take away from the president the argument that you are shutting down the government. Because if he vetoes a particular bill, you haven't shut down the government, you may have entered into an argument about a portion of the government and its activities.

But you haven't brought the whole government to a halt. In recent years, with democrats in control in the Senate, we haven't passed individual appropriation bills. So we have been balling them all up into one big bill, which gives the president all the power to make the argument that you are shutting down the government. So, this is a way process impacts argument. But what we intend to could next year is pass each of the 12 bills that fund the government separately. Put them on his desk separately. In each of them, where there is bureaucratic overreach, we will be writing into the bills what's called riders that restrict the activity. Now, he may veto the bill but if he does, he doesn't have cataclysmic impact all across the entire government.

VAN SUSTEREN: ObamaCare, Affordable Care Act, you have said and others have said that it's not going to be -- the vote isn't there to repeal it, is that correct?

MCCONNELL: We may have that vote. I don't think that there are six going to join 54 republicans and pass it. That's just a prediction of the outcome. But there are pieces of it that are very, very unpopular. They eliminated the 40-hour workweek, the individual insurance mandate, the medical device tax, the health insurance tax, and by the way, Greta, there is a case, you are pretty good lawyer.

VAN SUSTEREN: King versus Burwell.

MCCONNELL: Yeah. There is a case before the Supreme Court on the issue of whether or not states that did not set up exchanges are entitled to the subsidies under ObamaCare. We'll find out what the Supreme Court says about that by June. If they decide the law means what it said, if the plain language of the law is in fact the law, then I think congress is entirely back in the whole debate about the whole thing, which is empower us to use the golfer term to have a mulligan, a do-over on this whole issue. And the Supreme Court could well decide that we get a second chance.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if the Supreme Court does rule with King against HHS Burwell, and if you repeal the medical device tax, which many democratic senators are also in favor of, and if the insurance tax goes down, and if you do the 40-hour workweek, there seems to be no money to fund ObamaCare, right? I mean, where is the money coming from at that point? I mean, doesn't it just collapse under its own weight at that point?

MCCONNELL: I think it's on the way to collapse, yeah.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then what happens?

MCCONNELL: Well, we go back and do it right.



VAN SUSTEREN: Right now, only on "On the Record," more of our interview with soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


VAN SUSTEREN: You met with the president yesterday. You don't want to shut down the government, right?

MCCONNELL: It's not the Bourbon Summit. I can tell you after we had the meeting, he said is this the Bourbon Summit? I said well, it wouldn't be good for either one of our careers to be sipping bourbon in the middle of the afternoon.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. Better wait until nighttime. So how did the meeting go yesterday?

MCCONNELL: Yeah, well, the reason people were curious about it is that it happens so seldom. It would probably not been an easy event had we met more frequently. We tried to focus just on the things that there might be some agreement on. I mean, for example, he has talked about trade agreements. He has never sent us a single trade agreement in six years. Most of my members and myself included are very much in favor of international trade, America always wins in these trade agreements. That's a possible area of agreement. We all know we have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world is a great cause of the export of American jobs overseas.

In principle, that's an area where hopefully we can do some business, maybe on infrastructure. We have a crumbling infrastructure in the country as bipartisan desire to try to do something about that. We talked about the areas of agreement. There are plenty of areas of disagreement. He knows I disagree with almost everything he has been doing. And it wouldn't have been a very productive conversation if we just sat there and talked about the things that we disagree on.

VAN SUSTEREN: The president right after the election has the executive action that was pretty much poking a stick in the eye of many republicans, at least they thought on immigration. I mean, it was very hot issue.

MCCONNELL: Yeah, it was not helpful. I mean, in fact, almost everything he said against -- since the election makes it look like he was totally unaffected by the outcome of the election. So it's not helpful. So what you have to do is you have to decide am I going to decide not to do things that are in the best interest of the country because I'm mad at the president? I don't think that's a rational response. I do think that on the immigration issue, it really makes it very difficult to go forward on that and we all think he made a big mistake if he was interested in actually getting some kind of results on immigration.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, is there any sort of open conversation like look, we he have a problem here?

MCCONNELL: I have been talking quite publicly about what he did. And I mentioned it again yesterday, but it's obviously an area of disagreement. What we were trying to do is talk about the areas where there is potential agreement.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you convey to the U.S. senators who are Democrats that you want to work with them that this is not just, you know, us against them or you know, war?

MCCONNELL: Well, interestingly enough, about half the calls I got after my election were from Senate Democrats. Now, I'm not telling you they were happy I won, but I think what they were happy about was they thought I would run the Senate differently, respect the views of members, regardless of party, give them an opportunity to vote on amendments that they offer, their ideas, and were pretty excited about the fact that, you know, we intend to get the Senate back to the way it operated for a very long time before the last four years.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think people in my hometown in Wisconsin, now that this sort of shift of power, now the republicans will take control of the Senate? How is it going to be different to them? As they sort of watch from afar and watch what goes on in Washington, how is it going to appear different to them?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me tell you how I think they will notice a difference. There were two issues this year. One, people were obviously angry at the president. We all got that. The second thing was they really got the correct sense that the place wasn't functioning again. Now, they may have been confused about who was the cause of the dysfunction because the democrats kept saying it was the house.

But if you look at the facts, it was the Senate. The House passed lots of legislation, much of it on a bipartisan basis. It was the Senate that wasn't doing anything. Now, what I hope that the American people will figure out is that we are functioning again. We are actually addressing, for example, joblessness.

Under the Obama economy, the average American, medium income and below is $3,000 a year worse off than when the president came to office. And ironically, the people who have done the best during the Obama years have been the 1 percent, the people at the top. We want to start addressing the economy and jobs and you do things like -- I mean, you address that by doing things like approving the Keystone Pipeline, putting people to work, embracing the energy revolution that's going on in our country. We are now the number one natural gas producer in the world, the United States, not somewhere else. Embrace the energy revolution. It's good for the country. Create jobs and opportunity to benefit people at the middle and lower income levels, not just the guys at the top.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think it is tough for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to be soon leaving his job and becoming Minority leader. Is that tough?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's an adjustment. It's going to be an adjustment for me. It's like if you are a football fan like the difference between the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. They're both important jobs. But you got a better chance to score on offense and the Majority leader is the offensive coordinator. He gets to call the plays, determine what we're going to debate, and of course, my agenda is going to be very, very different from Harry Reid's agenda.

VAN SUSTEREN: If I was back in high school, talking to your high school friends and I said some day that guy is going to be senate majority leader, would they say oh, yeah, we expect that or would they say you're kidding?

MCCONNELL: I think they would probably be surprised.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anyway, thank you, senator. I hope that you'll invite us back up again. Thank you, sir.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Greta.