In his first official speech as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell finally stepped into his role, laid out his vision, and addressed his upcoming battle against President Obama head on.
“If President Obama is interested in a historic achievement of his own, this can be his time as well,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I appreciate that bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the president. The president’s supporters are pressing for militancy these days, not compromise. They’re demanding the comforts of purity over the duties of progress.”
A day after Obama threatened to veto legislation for the construction of the Keystone pipeline—the Senate’s first effort of the new session—McConnell made it clear that he was not backing down.
“Threatening to veto a jobs and infrastructure bill within minutes of a new Congress taking the oath of office—a bill with strong bipartisan support—is anything but productive,” said the Republican from Kentucky.
While McConnell acknowledged that trade, infrastructure, and tax reform were areas he was willing to work with Obama on, he also made it clear that it was not his job to “protect the president from good ideas.”
“A little creative tension between the executive and the legislature can be healthy in a democracy like ours,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s overarching message was simple, however: It’s time to make the Senate work again.
A three-decade veteran of the body, McConnell is fully aware that the Senate can be slow, unwieldy, and stubborn at times. But he made it clear that in his new role, he would try to restore some of the fundamental rules of the body.
“It’s time to change the business model,” McConnell said, a dig at the way the Senate was run under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We need to return to regular order. We need to get committees working again.”
Republicans in the 113th Congress often complained that there was not ample opportunity to offer amendments on the floor. McConnell said that would change.
“Sometimes, it’s going to mean working more often. Sometimes, it’s going to mean working late,” McConnell said. “But restoring the Senate is the right thing to do.”
But McConnell’s job, will be much more challenging than simply moving funding bills and infrastructure legislation along in a regular order. The American people are disenchanted with Congress. A CNN poll released Tuesday showed that just 37 percent of voters believed that a Republican-controlled Congress would be able to accomplish more than a Democratic-controlled one did.
“The people we represent have lost faith in their government. They no longer trust Washington to do the right thing,” McConnell said. “In an era of divided political control, we’re going to have to work hard to meet expectations, and we’re going to have to work together.”