McConnell talks tax cuts, Muller probe and budget clawbacks
This is a rush transcript from "Your World," April 17, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You just heard Nancy Pelosi there that it is a scam. Cory Booker echoing a theme that Nancy Pelosi used some weeks back, telling a New Jersey audience that it indeed is crumbs for the average person.
I have a feeling Mitch McConnell might slightly disagree with that.
He joins me now right now as my special guest.
Sir, very good to have you. Thank you.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-K.Y., MAJORITY LEADER: Well, 80 percent to 90 percent of the American people get tax relief out of this bill. Not a single Democrat voted for it, as you pointed out in your introductory observations.
They want to take this to the American people. And we're happy to do that, to see whether the American people think it`s a good idea for us to let them keep more of their hard-earned money, rather than sending it to us to be spent on whatever we choose to spend it on.
I think it really kind of sums up the major differences between the parties these days, Neil.
I got a letter from all but three of them before we passed the tax bill saying what kind of tax reform they would be willing to support. And it was all about class envy and wealth transfer. It had nothing to do with actually getting the economy growing.
And, in the end, of course, even the three who didn't sign the letter didn't vote for it. So, there's a clear line of demarcation.
CAVUTO: She`s calling it a scam. She has promised, if Democrats take over, that they would do everything they can to gut this, start over again.
CAVUTO: ... do that something she argues, others have argued would be fairer.
Do you feel that you everything you and your Republican colleagues put together could be just undone if she and Democrats take over?
MCCONNELL: Well, not as long as President Trump is in the White House.
But there is no question they didn`t like this proposal, and that they would undo it if they could. They have already come out for repealing most of it. So, I think we're going to have a referendum this fall, Neil, on whether or not people think they`re better able to make decisions about their own hard-earned money, as opposed to Washington politicians redistributing it.
CAVUTO: But it's a tough sell, right? And you had kind of reminded your Republican colleagues that, if they can't make that pitch and sell tax cuts to the American people, they should find another line of work.
MCCONNELL: Yes, I don`t think it`s a hard sell at all.
CAVUTO: Well, apparently, it is, right, because it's still not polling well. It's better than it did initially.
CAVUTO: But under half of Americans, when polled on it, still think it`s a mistake.
MCCONNELL: We`re having this discussion with the American people.
But, in the end, I think, particularly on the Senate side in states like Montana and North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, where we have competitive races, I think it`s a pretty good argument to make that, you know, we allowed you to keep more of your hard-earned money than sending it to Washington.
CAVUTO: All right.
Now, the battle back and forth, Wall Street has been loving it. These companies have been loving it. They have been reporting much stronger earnings as a result of this, Senator.
Do you get a feeling, though, that that is getting missed, that something is getting missed or that this has turned into class warfare that it did tilt disproportionately to corporations or upper income?
How do you counter that, especially when your candidates go to the polls?
MCCONNELL: Well, on the corporate tax relief, Democrats during the Obama years were for that. So was President Obama.
It was only when the president changed that all of a sudden they didn't support lowering corporate rates.
And the reason during the Obama era that President Obama was for that is the same reason we're still for it, which is to create more jobs and opportunity, make our corporations competitive in the world economy.
We now have a competitive tax rate. We can compete with other countries. That means more jobs, more opportunity for Americans. And it means more jobs come into this country, rather than being set up someplace else.
CAVUTO: Nevertheless, you had expressed some concern about the president's tough trade tack vs. the Chinese, particularly on tariffs.
Do you think that jeopardizes the gains you have had from the tax cuts?
MCCONNELL: Well, I am concerned about tariffs.
We all know the Chinese have been stealing our intellectual property for years. And whatever we can do to turn that around is a good idea. But...
CAVUTO: So, maybe the approach he is taking is working?
MCCONNELL: But, you know, we have got -- we have got a lot of agricultural exports. Much of it goes to China, many of them from farm states that voted overwhelmingly for the president.
Whatever we're going to do on trade, I would like to see it wrapped up by late summer, so we can get back on message here on tax reform.
CAVUTO: You talk about tax reform and everything that's going on, sir.
There seems to be -- I don't know if a battle is too strong a term, but a difference of opinion from your House colleagues to your Senate colleagues. Paul Ryan had said not too long ago: 'I'm proud of the House consistently passing these bills. The Senate didn't, so there is more to do. But I do feel like it did a lot to advance the cause.'
Now, of course, you have more parliamentary mechanisms and problems as a result. The president said it, you have got to end the filibuster, so that it's a simple majority vote on a host of things. In fact, you have got to do it fast, because you never know how long that majority will last.
You have resisted. Still?
MCCONNELL: Well, that wouldn't solve any of these problems.
Everything that we passed last year, we did on a party-line basis and we did it with a simple majority. So, whether it was confirming Neil Gorsuch or lowering taxes or repealing regulations, every one of those things, we did with a simple majority.
The Senate has a lot more responsibility than the House. We're in the personnel business. There are 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to the Senate for confirmation. So, a lot of our time is used confirming nominees to the SEC, to the NLRB, to the Food and Drug Administration, to the Supreme Court, to the circuit courts.
It takes longer to do things in the Senate because we have vast personnel responsibility that our colleagues in the House simply do not have.
CAVUTO: So, when you put you up on a bullseye and say, you are the reason this stuff isn't getting done, and even months back, when the president was zinging you, did that hurt?
MCCONNELL: Well, I just remind everybody of Neil Gorsuch and the fact that we confirmed 12 circuit judges last year, U.S. circuit judges. That's a record for the first year of any president since the circuit court systems were created in 1891.
Match that in terms of having a long-term impact on the future of the country, young, conservative, principled judges who will be on these courts for a lifetime.
CAVUTO: Did you remind the president when you two had that little disagreement, and he was publicly naming you and criticizing you, that you did get the Gorsuch thing?
MCCONNELL: Well, we haven't had any disputes in quite a while. And I have enjoyed this period.
CAVUTO: But when you say quite a while, what is that?
CAVUTO: Oh, OK. All right.
CAVUTO: You know, Speaker Paul Ryan is leaving. He is not running for reelection. Another congressman today indicating that he is stepping down, Congressman Dent of Pennsylvania, in maybe a few weeks.
That marks 40 now Republicans who are leaving. What is going on, Senator? Is it a -- are they just getting out of Dodge before the blue wave, or what?
MCCONNELL: Well, I'm the majority leader of the Senate.
And let's concentrate on holding the Senate. We have 26 Democratic seats up in this election this fall, only nine Republicans. We think we have an opportunity, a good opportunity, to hold this majority, maybe even expand it.
And so I`m going to worry about and concentrate on what I can have an impact on. And that is holding the Senate, because, with a full four years of the Trump administration, if we still have the Senate, we can still confirm judges. We can still put his appointments in place.
Losing the Senate would mean to truncate a large portion of the Trump administration for the last two years. I don`t think the American people want to do that.
CAVUTO: In midterm elections, senator, it's often said the president is on the ballot, even if his name is not on the ballot. Do you think this is -- this midterm will be about Donald Trump?
MCCONNELL: Well, it may be.
But we would like to make the election about that in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, and West Virginia. There is no question -- and the Democrats would even concede this -- that the president will be an asset.
CAVUTO: You say an asset.
But, as you know, with the Bob Mueller investigation, and now the president's attorney having his office rifled through, his home rifled through, and, of course, it just spins out of control.
The president is frustrated with it. There is a move afoot among some of your colleagues just to make sure the president doesn't get rid of Mueller, to institutionally shield Mueller from being fired.
How do you feel about that?
MCCONNELL: Well, that's not necessary. There is no indication that Mueller is going to be fired. I don't think the president is going to do that.
And, just as a practical matter, even if we passed it, why would he sign it?
CAVUTO: So, you don't think it's a good idea.
CAVUTO: And you don't think it's something the president would entertain or should entertain?
MCCONNELL: Well, I don't think he should fire Mueller. And I don't think he is going to.
So, this is a piece of legislation that's not necessary, in my judgment.
CAVUTO: But, obviously, enough of your colleagues fear it enough to say it should be in there as an insurance policy.
MCCONNELL: Yes, but I'm the one who decides what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as the majority leader. And we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate.
CAVUTO: Would you being shocked if he did fire him?
MCCONNELL: Yes. I don't think he should, and I don't think he will.
CAVUTO: Part of the genesis of this argument, as you know, senator, is that it has gone out of control, this investigation.
No one knows -- what started out presumably to be about Russian collusion has now extended to the president and his lawyers, business ties going back years. Do you think the president has a legitimate beef to say, this is out of control?
MCCONNELL: Look, what I`m trying to do, Neil, is to concentrate on what we can do here in the Senate.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is engaged in an investigation about potential Russian collusion in the election. That is their sole responsibility. The Justice Department has a whole different line of inquiry that we're not involved in.
And so I'm going to concentrate here in the Senate and have my colleagues voting on things that are relevant to moving the ball toward the goal line on every single issue that we think we can pass and put on the president's desk between now and November.
CAVUTO: Are you surprised Jeff Sessions is still on the job?
MCCONNELL: No. I think Jeff Sessions is doing a good job. And I think he should stay right where he is.
CAVUTO: Why do you think he stays in that job with all the abuse he gets?
MCCONNELL: Well, that`s the president`s decision. He works for the president.
CAVUTO: Would you take that day in and day out if the president were knocking you and saying you are this or that?
MCCONNELL: ... I'm glad Jeff Sessions is where he is. I served with him for 20 years in the Senate.
I think he is doing a good job as attorney general. And I'm glad the president is keeping him right where he is.
CAVUTO: Switching to Syria, Senator, a number of your colleagues as well want to remind the president, on the Republican and the Democratic side, that you have got to be a little careful here, that you just can't willy-nilly go bringing us into foreign conflicts without any endgame or consulting Congress.
Do you think the president was justified taking the action did he in Syria, first off?
MCCONNELL: I did. And it's eerily similar to what President Obama did and what President Trump did a year ago.
The message is, if you are going to use chemical weapons in the 21st century against your own people, or against anyone, for that matter, the rest of the world needs to send you a message. And this was done very cleanly with our allies the British and the French.
CAVUTO: So, if he were to do so again, senator, on the belief that they -- Assad was not getting rid of the chemical weapons or whatever, it would be justified again?
CAVUTO: This measure, again, by Senator Tim Kaine, Bob Corker to rein that in or to check with Congress would be overreach?
MCCONNELL: Well, that's a different issue...
CAVUTO: I understand.
MCCONNELL: ... whether or not we pass an authorization for the use of military force.
My own view is, the administration clearly has the authority to do what they have been doing, not only these kind of strikes, but we have some personnel in Syria. We did when President Obama was there.
My own view is that the existing authorizations for the use of military force are adequate. I believe that's the view of the administration as well. There are those on the Foreign Relations, Committee, as you suggest, who want to do a new what we call AUMF, authorization for the use of military force.
MCCONNELL: We will have to see whether they report something out, and we will take a look at it.
CAVUTO: All right, the president, meanwhile, is looking at $1.3 trillion spending measure, wants to rescind a lot of that spending. Are you OK with it?
MCCONNELL: Well, he agreed to it. He was involved in the negotiation and signed the bill.
CAVUTO: But he warned, I'm never going to do this again.
MCCONNELL: Yes, but we had an agreement with the Democrats. And I don`t think...
CAVUTO: Were you surprised by what he said, when he came out and criticized?
MCCONNELL: You can't make an agreement one month and say, OK, we really didn`t mean it, and come back the next month and say, oh, we really didn't mean our agreement.
CAVUTO: So, was his shock legitimate, when he claimed that he was stunned by what was in there?
MCCONNELL: Well, he may have been.
But he and his people were involved in the negotiation. They agreed to it, and he signed the bill.
CAVUTO: Do you follow the stock market as much as the president? Do you like what you are seeing?
MCCONNELL: No, I don't.
CAVUTO: Do you think it's a mistake when he quotes it a lot?
MCCONNELL: Look, I mean, he can follow whatever he chooses to.
I think he is doing a good job on a whole lot of things that are important to the American people, keeping his commitments on judges, on taxes, on regulations.
And I think the American people are vastly better off than they would have been had Hillary Clinton been elected president of the United States.
CAVUTO: And you are looking at these tax cuts one year into this, on Tax Day, that more Americans are going to see it and appreciate it by the time they get to the polls in November, enough to protect majorities in the Senate, where you are, where it looks a little more likely, and in the House?
MCCONNELL: Yes, I think it's an asset for us going into the fall election, a clear asset.
CAVUTO: All right, Senator McConnell, thank you very, very much.
MCCONNELL: Thank you, Neil.
CAVUTO: It's amazing, in this room where history was made, very quiet right now.
CAVUTO: All right, thank you very, very much.
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