I’m here at CPAC, where I’ve had the opportunity to meet briefly with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell to talk over current issues. After a strong speech (which you might ultimately be able to find here), McConnell addressed questions from several bloggers.
To me, the most notable answer from McConnell came in response to a question from Fausta – when she asked his thoughts on Michael Steele’s suggestion that the RNC might not support the re-election of Senators Snowe, Collins and Specter, given their votes for the Obama-Reid-Pelosi Debt Spending Plan. McConnell first threw cold water on the idea – saying that he would support the re-election of his Senate GOP colleagues. Then he predicted that Arlen Specter would be a more dependable vote in the future, saying:
On most issues going forward, I expect that among those three, we’ll have the support of the Senator seeking re-election in 2010. I think you’ll see that in particular on votes on the president’s budget.
There was no follow-up, so make of it what you will. It’s unclear to me whether this is an indication that Specter has given some private assurance(s), or just a statement that Senate Democrats are moving too far Left for even Arlen Specter. Time will tell.
I later asked McConnell about his vows (in his speech) to block the closing of Guantanamo and the imposition of huge new tax increases, as well as other extreme elements of the Obama agenda. I asked what lessons he had learned from the debate over the stimulus that he could use to hold onto 40 votes on other parts of the agenda. McConnell’s answer belied some of the confidence he showed earlier:
Elections have consequences. And we are paying the price for the second bad election in a row. The fact is that Senators from Maine and similar states have different views than Senators from Alabama. If you look at the votes on which we prevailed last Congress, it wasn’t because we held the votes of all 49 Republicans. It was because we held 40 or 41. And I expect that Senators are generally going to behave as they have over their careers. I don’t have enough soldiers in my Army.
On the facts, McConnell is right. It’s hard to ask any Senate leader to hold virtually all of his conference in opposition to a President whose approval rating is around 60 percent. At the same time, if McConnell believes that he can block Harry Reid and Barack Obama on the most extreme elements of his agenda, that’s what he’ll have to do.
In other noteworthy questions, Jennifer Rubin of Pajamas Media asked McConnell about Card Check. On this, McConnell grew noticably brighter — and he seemed very confident of his ability to block it:
I’m somewhat optimistic we will have everyone on Card Check… Add Card Check [to a weakened economy], and we turn into France pretty rapidly. But we will remind Democrats in Right to Work states that a vote for Card Check may not be healthy for their political careers. No compromise ought to be allowed. And no part of Card Check is acceptable. And given the interest in the three Sentors who voted yes on the stimulus, I’ll say I’m hoping for an epiphany for [Senator Specter]. Senators Snowe and Collins will be with us.
It seems like it all comes down to 41 (or 42) votes. On some key issues, McConnell sounds very reassuring. On others… I wonder if we should get our hopes up.
Update: Here’s an excerpt of McConnell’s speech