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GOP Wins Senate; Mitch McConnell News Conference

Aired November 5, 2014 - 14:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: David Gergen, there's plenty of gridlock here in Washington. So now there's a new dynamic going on. The Republicans, the majority in the House and the Senate. There's two years left for President Obama in the White House. Is there a moment here - and you worked for four U.S. presidents, Democratic presidents, Republican presidents -- is there a moment now to break that gridlock or is it sort of a done deal that the gridlock will continue these final two years?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, all the newspapers today are reporting that we're going to be more mired in gridlock. But I do think, Wolf, that there is a moment. It will be brief. It has to be well used. Both parties have to be aggressive to get there.

I think one element we left out of the conversation so far here is that the president also has to start working with Democrats in his own party. He's going to have a more fractious Democratic Party. A party that feels like he's a lame duck. This is not the fourth quarter, but a lame duck period. And they're going to go looking for their own ways to protect themselves because they saw what happened if they got, you know, if they got too closely tied to Obama this time around, even in thee Obama states like Colorado and Iowa. So it's -- I think the president needs to reach out both ways, and I think it's very much in the Republicans' interest to show they can become a governing party as well -- and more than just an opposition party. This is a moment for them to - it's a very big testing for the Republicans.

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by to hear from Mitch McConnell. He's expected to become the next Senate majority leader. He's about to make a statement at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, his home state.

Later this hour, the president of the United States will be holding a full scale news conference in the East Room of the White House. He'll open with a statement. We'll see if he uses a word like shellacking or thumping or whatever. That Democrats suffered a huge, huge setback, not only in the Senate, but in the House of Representatives and a lot of governors' races as well, Jake.

And a lot of people have been asking me, not only here in the United States, but they've been tweeting me, e-mailing me, what happened? Why did the Democrats lose so badly yesterday?

JAKE TAPPER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of reasons. I mean, first of all, it is traditional that at this point in a president's second term, he loses a number of Senate seats, his party loses a number of House and Senate seats. But also I think that this was a particularly horrible year for President Obama. A horrible couple of years, really. You had the disastrous rollout of Obamacare. You've had the rise of ISIS and the exit polls showed 70 percent or 80 percent of Americans were scared of a terrorist attack. You had Ebola. You had the Secret Service scandal. You had questions about what whether CDC responded appropriately to the Ebola scandal. I know I'm missing them, but there are so many -





TAPPER: The VA scandal. The IR -- questions about the IRS.


TAPPER: And then there was - I did - I did say that one.


TAPPER: And then there is - there were questions about his leadership, whether or not he was a decent manager, whether he was a decent steward. And then, of course, there's still this consisting (ph) question about the economy, even though we see improvements in the economy and many, many months of economic growth and a much lower unemployment rate, wages are stagnant. A lot of people dropping out of the workforce and that's kept the unemployment number down. But it's still in the real life for a lot of people but they're underemployed and people do not feel good about the economy.

Bottom line is, when you're looking at an election, you look at the right track/wrong track numbers. What - what do people -

BLITZER: Is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction.

TAPPER: Right direction or is it on the wrong track.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: And the vast majority of the people who voted yesterday think it's going - think it's on the wrong track.

One other point, the electorate in midterm elections is whiter, more male, and older. And that worked to the advantage of the Republicans.

BORGER: You know, I think, in talking to Republican and Democratic strategists, they both - they point out this turning point in this election, which is, they believe that they had already established a narrative of a lack of competency in this administration for all the reasons you just listed at great length. But they believe that I guess it was late summer when the president said, misspoke, they say, at the White House, but said he had no strategy for ISIS in Syria and then later on said that, you know, that they underestimated ISIS. That that fit right into their strategy and they saw the poll numbers shift dramatically.

And lots of Republican candidates were running on national security, foreign policy. This played right into that. And then, of course, you had Ebola right after that. So that's fed the frustration and the anxiety in this country that was already a pre-existing condition. And then you had this and the country said, wait a minute, the president is not leading properly and so we're going to give the other guys a chance. You know, we seem to have these change elections a lot more than we used to.

You know, when Republicans took control of the House, when Newt Gingrich became speaker, it had been 40 years since the Democrats controlled that chamber. Now we have change elections every couple of cycles it seems and because the voters are done. You know, they say, look, we want - we're going to -- if you don't - if you don't make government work, we're going to give the other guys a shot at it, and that's what keeps going back and forth in this country right now.

BLITZER: And we're showing the viewers a live pictures - Ana, hold on one second - live pictures. You see the microphone there. The expected Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, after the huge Republican wins yesterday. He's expected to make a statement shortly. We're, of course, standing by for live coverage.

And later this hour we'll hear from the president of the United States. President Obama has a full scale news conference coming up. Here's Mitch McConnell about to begin.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Good afternoon, everyone.

I'd like to introduce Dr. Ramsey. He's the president of the university who's here. Jim, thank you for joining us today.

And you may recognize these youngsters over here. They're in a scholarship program that I worked on with the university over the last 20 years. It's the best and brightest program for the students inside Kentucky, not non-residents. Ten each year. And they're here today to witness what we may talk about.

So let me just make a couple of observations. I think what the voters were saying yesterday was a couple of things. Number one, they are obviously not satisfied with the direction of the administration. But at the same time, I heard a lot of discussion about dysfunction in Washington. I think there are a lot of people who believe that just because you have divided government, it doesn't mean you don't accomplish anything.

Earlier today I got a call from the president. Also Senator Reid and the speaker and Ted Cruz too. I thought you'd be interested. All of them, I think, have the view that we ought to see what areas of agreement there are and see if we can make some progress for the country. I always like to remind people that divided government's not unusual in this country. We've had it frequently. I think maybe even more often than not since World War II. When the American people choose divided government, I don't think it means they don't want us to do anything. I think it means they want us to look for areas of agreement.

Reagan never had the House in eight years. Clinton didn't have the House or the Senate for six of his eight years. I can think of at least four fairly significant things done. Reagan and Tip O'Neill saved Social Security for a generation, did the last comprehensive tax reform. We need to do that again. Bill Clinton and the Republicans did welfare reform and actually balanced the budget three years in a row. So I think we ought to start with the view that maybe there are some things we can agree on to make progress for the country.

From an institutional point of view, the Senate needs to be fixed. I made a speech back in January, not widely covered, probably shouldn't have been widely covered, but a lot of people inside the Senate paid a lot of attention to it. The Senate, in the last few years, basically doesn't do anything. We don't even vote. Senator Begich, who may have been defeated yesterday, had the handicap of trying to explain to the people of Alaska why in six years he hadn't had a roll call vote on the floor on an amendment.

The first thing I need to do is to get the Senate back to normal. That means working more. I don't think we've had any votes on Friday in anybody's memory. It means opening the Senate up so that amendments are permitted on both sides. And it means occasionally burning the midnight oil in order to reach a conclusion. I can remember the way we used to get bills finished was for the majority leader to announce on Monday we were taking up a particular bill and we were going to finish it. Finish it Thursday night, Friday morning or Saturday, but you have to mean it. And it's amazing what happened around midnight on Thursday. People who were very aggressive on Tuesday morning were awfully anxious to leave Friday morning and amendments would go away and bills would pass.

Another thing that sounds astonishing to all of you, the committees need to be relevant again. If a bill comes out of committee on a bipartisan basis, then that means you've got both Democrats and Republicans who are interested in seeing it pass. So there's a bipartisan constituency for moving forward.

Now, having said that, there are differences. And we will certainly be voting on things as well that we think the administration is not fond of. They seem to have had no interest, for example, in doing anything serious on the energy front. We haven't had an energy bill in seven years. When you say energy these days, people think of the Keystone pipeline, but that's only part of it. We need to embrace the energy revolution that's going on in our country, promote it. It's hugely advantageous to America, not only in the area of energy independence, but employment. I mean the employment figures connected with Keystone are stunning if we would just get going.

So there's certainly going to be areas of disagreement, but that's not unusual going back to the founding of the country. So with that, let me just throw it open and see - Nora (ph). QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) based on (INAUDIBLE). Many say they want to see gridlock end. What can you do and can you assure the American people that gridlock can end under your leadership?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Senate was the problem, not the House. The House passed over 300 pieces of legislation. Many of them on a bipartisan basis and nothing was done with them in the Senate. The American people have changed the Senate. So I think we have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate and to begin to function again.

That doesn't guarantee that the president is going to agree with everything we do, but we're going to go back to work and actually pass legislation. I've, by the way, been called by three prominent Democrats since last night. Prominent Democrats. They're anxious to be relevant again. You know, they're anxious for committee work to be respected. They're anxious to be able to offer amendments on the floor of the Senate and actually get votes.

So, yes, that's the way you get rid of gridlock. Now, it doesn't guarantee you've got a presidential signature on absolute everything. Presidents do have the right to veto. Something the president hasn't had to do. I think he's vetoed two little bills in six years. The first two years he loved everything he got and the last four years the current majority made sure he never got anything he didn't like. So, that's how you cure gridlock. Jeff.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell, after all this gridlock, how can the American people believe you, believe -

MCCONNELL: Well, we have to demonstrate it.


MCCONNELL: We have to -


MCCONNELL: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: What are a couple -- what are a couple of specific examples of things you can (INAUDIBLE) with the president on?

MCCONNELL: Yes. Ah, trade agreements. The president and I were just talking about that right before I came over here. Most of his party is unenthusiastic about international trade. We think it's good for America. And so I've got a lot of members who believe that international trade agreements are a winner for America. And the president and I discussed that right before I came over here and I think he's interested in moving forward. I said send us trade agreements. We're anxious to take a look at them.

The president's indicated he's interested in doing tax reform. We all know having the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world is a job exporter. All this talk about job exportation, well, it's exporting jobs is having the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. He's interested in that issue and we are too. So those are two very significant areas of potential agreement.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell -

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) he wants to work with you or do you believe that he will be pulled by his own party to (INAUDIBLE).

MCCONNELL: Well, look, there's only one Democrat who counts, the president. Let me illustrate the point. When Joe Biden and I negotiated the fiscal cliff deal at the end of 2012, the thing I wanted the most that I thought would be the most important for Kentucky was a $5 million per person estate tax exemption. A lot of people who have family farms and small businesses look like they're worth a lot of money, but they really aren't. And if you're lucky enough to have children who want to continue to farm or continue the small business, you can't get it down to them -- you could not in the past because of the estate tax exemption. A $5 million exemption index for inflation permanent law would save 99 percent of the small businesses and farms in my state from having to be sold.

The leader of the Democrats in the House made it quite clear to me that if that was in the final deal, House Democrats wouldn't vote for it. I thanked her. It was in the final deal and only 15 House Democrats voted against it and only three Senate Democrats. The point I'm making is, the Democrat who counts is the president of the United States. Democrats in Congress will support whatever he agrees to do. And that was a perfect example of exactly what I'm talking about.

So - and, you know, we were very much inclined to support President Bush as well. This is not unusual. When you have the White House, the most important member of your party is the person in the White House. So we'll see whether we can work with the president. I hope so. That's what he says and I -- we'll find out.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell -


QUESTION: Senator McConnell, except for a few deals that you've worked out mainly with Vice President Biden, the president and congressional Republicans don't really have a good track record for working things out. You talk about how you think a united Republican Congress would possibly have the ability to send the president bills (INAUDIBLE) force to veto or sign might alter the dynamic.

MCCONNELL: Yes, well, I'm not sure he's going to sign everything, but we're going to function. We are. We're going to pass legislation. Some of it he may not like but we're going to function. This gridlock and dysfunction can be ended. It can be ended by having a senate that actually works.

QUESTION: Do you think you have a better opportunity for forcing negotiation with the House (ph) that might be fruitful as opposed to the way it's been so far.

MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, the veto pen is a pretty big thing. You know, the president of the United States can deliver the members of his party to vote for a deal that he makes or he can veto legislation. And he's a player. That's the way our system works.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell -

QUESTION: Senator McConnell -

MCCONNELL: Karl (ph).

QUESTION: Yesterday as he was talking about you before you came out on stage for your victory speech, Senator Paul said that the Senate would sending bill after bill to the president to repeal Obamacare until he, quote, "wearies of it." Seeing as how that probably one the president's likely to veto, what other powers of the purse tools can you use to reform or reduce or slowdown (INAUDIBLE)?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's no secret that every one of my members thinks that Obamacare was a huge legislative mistake. It's fouled up the health insurance market. It's put states in a deep hole in terms of the Medicaid expansion and their own ability to finance it a few years from now. If I had the ability, Karl, obviously I would get rid of it.

Obviously, as you -- it's also true he's still there. So we'll be discussing how to go forward on this issue when we get back. I will say this for sure, there are pieces of it that are deeply, deeply unpopular with the American people. The medical device tax, which is exported an enormous number of jobs. The loss of the 40-hour workweek. Big, big mistake. That ought to be restored. The individual mandate. People hate it. So I think we will be addressing that issue in a variety of different ways.

QUESTION: Senator -- Senator McConnell - Senator McConnell, your, as you know, you're going to be, regardless of what happens in the last few races, you'll still be short 60 votes in the Senate. You have a pretty ideologically diverse conference, including a number of blue state Republicans who are up for re-election in 2016. How realistic is it and should your base - and should it be a reality check for your base on how far you can go in pushing a conservative agenda in the new Congress?

MCCONNELL: Well, we'll find out. I mean you -- what you state is a statement of the obvious, that it takes 60 votes to do a lot of things in the Senate. But there are some things we can do with 51 votes. A budget is an extremely important thing. The president does not sign the budget. And that determines how much we're going to spend. I think it's within our ability, within our power, to pass more appropriation bills which fund the government. And there's no secret that I and most of my members think that the bureaucrat strangulation of our economy is a real - is a huge factor in the slow growth that we've experienced after the deep recession of 2008. And so I think it's reasonable to assume that we will use the power of the purse to try to push back against this overactive bureaucracy.

And, of course, we have a huge example of that here in this state with the war on coal, not authorized by Congress. Cap and trade couldn't get the votes to pass when our friends on the other side own the place. When they had huge majorities in the House and Senate, they couldn't pass cap and trade. The president tried to do it anyway. I think there's widespread opposition to that and you can look for us to go after those kind of things through the spending process, which I think is our best tool in our governmental system.

QUESTION: Like the reconciliation process too?

MCCONNELL: Well, we'll see how we do.

QUESTION: Senator -

QUESTION: Senator -

MCCONNELL: Paul. Paul Cain (ph).

QUESTION: In the debt ceiling fight, afterward you told me that it was a hostage not worth shooting, but it was a hostage worth holding for some ransom. The debt ceiling is coming up sometime in the spring, in the summer. Are we going to have another brinkmanship moment there or are those sorts of crisis going to end?

MCCONNELL: Let me make it clear, there will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell -

QUESTION: Will you insist on cuts as part of a debt ceiling (INAUDIBLE)?

QUESTION: One of the issues I don't believe you mentioned is immigration, (INAUDIBLE).


QUESTION: We expect that he will move forward with some sort of action on -


QUESTION: Executive action in this area. What would the Republican response be and would you seek to move a Republican (INAUDIBLE)?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me say, I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake. It's an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively. And it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, if you guys don't do what I want, I'm going to do it on my own. And the president's done that on Obamacare. He's done it on immigration and threatened to do it again. I hope he won't do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue.

QUESTION: But how would you anticipate Republicans responding (INAUDIBLE)?

MCCONNELL: I wouldn't do that to you.

QUESTION: Senator McConnell, could you tell us a little bit more about --

QUESTION: Senator McConnell, can I ask - you, obviously, have worked with the president for a number of years now. You've had communications with him. Sometimes cordial, sometimes not so cordial. What do you sense, having talked to him today, about what he's willing to do? Everyone talks about -- you mentioning Tip O'Neil and Reagan. That was sort of a wonderful, Camelot moment, I guess, in this country with bipartisanship. Can that be achieved between you, the Republicans and the president?

MCCONNELL: Look, the relationship I have with the president has always been cordial. I mean there's no - not a personality problem here or anything like that. I think my attitude about all this at this point is trust, trust but verify. I mean, let's see, the American people have spoken. They've given us divided government. The question for both the president and for the speaker and myself and our members is, what are you going to do with it? And I've already said, I want to first look for areas that we can agree on. And there probably are some. And that's what we're going to be talking about in the next - in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Senator - senator -

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE), sir, you said you - you - did you basically say you promised there will not be a government shutdown? And is that holding out an olive branch to the president do you feel (ph)?

MCCONNELL: Yes, we're not going to be shutting down the government or default on the national debt.

QUESTION: Senator, has the president invited you to come to the White House? And (INAUDIBLE) --

MCCONNELL: We're going -- we're going to a lunch Friday that I think you're already aware of.

QUESTION: Senator -

MCCONNELL: Nora (ph), you have the next question.

QUESTION: Senator, do you have any concern about those members of your conference who might want to run for president, would like to step outside of your leadership, how will you handle them?

MCCONNELL: Look, I know a lot of people who want to run for president. What I tell them all is, the best day you'll have will be the day before you announce. It is short of being in combat and being shot at with real bullets. There isn't anything harder than running for president. Unless it's running for re-election if you're a leader of one of the parties in the Senate.

Look, I have no problem with people's ambitions. I serve in a body with a bunch of class presidents. They're all ambitious or they wouldn't be where they are. A lot of folks with sharp elbows and big egos and, look, I'm - am not troubled by ambition and I think we can accommodate that and still make progress for the country. QUESTION: Even if thwarts your own goals?

MCCONNELL: You're asking me a whole lot of hypotheticals that I'm not willing to indulge in.

QUESTION: How about your colleagues - I want to ask, it's been suggested that a Republican Senate would bring the nomination process to a grinding halt. One, will it? How do you expect to handle the president's nominations? Many very important ones still lingering. And, two, what are your thoughts on rolling back and getting rid of the nuclear option?

MCCONNELL: Yes. Yes, I will address the second issue. I have said to my members going back to November 13, when the trigger was pulled and the rules of the Senate were broken, that that's something we ought to address if we're given the majority. And we have been given the majority and we will address it.

QUESTION: But no decision yet on -

MCCONNELL: No. We're going to -- I'm going to discuss that with our colleagues. It's a big issue. You know, largely lost on the general public, but the most significant thing about what the majority leader decided to do was to break the rules of the Senate, which require 67 votes to change the rules of the Senate. By overruling the parliamentarian who said, you can't do that with 51, it was a huge, huge mistake in my view. It is hard to un-ring a bell. You know, they've now established a precedent. It's a big issue and a big discussion that we're going to have in the coming months.



QUESTION: How was your call with Senator Cruz. You mentioned that he called you today.

MCCONNELL: He just called to congratulate me on my election and was impressed with the margin. And I was pretty happy about it myself.

QUESTION: Did he send -

MCCONNELL: We had a good -we had a good, friendly conversation.

QUESTION: Because you believe that he will be -

MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Because you believe that he will be, and some of those other Republicans who are running for president, will make it more difficult for you to have to have this (INAUDIBLE) governing majority that you mentioned in length.

MCCONNELL: We've got all kinds of people in a 50 - I hope 54-member Senate. We'll see where we are at the end of the voting.

QUESTION: Did he pledge to work with you thought or did he say, no, we have different -

MCCONNELL: You can talk to him. It was a very cordial conversation. I appreciated the call.

QUESTION: In that conversation (INAUDIBLE) about switching over to your side?

MCCONNELL: He called to congratulate me on my election. No, I've not talked to him about that. He's a pretty independent guy. I think he's probably going to announce today what he's going to do.

QUESTION: Senator, you said twice now that you wouldn't - that there would not be a default. But would you insist on cuts to correspond with any debt ceilings increase the way that John Boehner has in the past?

MCCONNELL: Well, we have the opportunity now to pass the budget, which has to do with how much you're going to spend. So I think we have other mechanisms that were unavailable to us with the previous configuration of the government. And I think that's a pretty important tool.

QUESTION: Senator, do you -


QUESTION: Can you talk about your phone call with Harry Reid. You two have had the most acrimonious relationship --


QUESTION: Of any. Oh, no, you've had the most open acrimonious relationship of any two leaders in a long time.

MCCONNELL: We've had some spirited debates on the floor of the Senate about the way the place is being run. But we don't have an acrimonious relationship personally. I mean - (INAUDIBLE), what was your question?

QUESTION: What was that conversation like and are you two going to work better together in the coming year?

MCCONNELL: Well, he called to -- obviously having been a leader in a tough race himself, he called actually to compliment me on what a skillful campaign we ran. He obviously paid very close attention to it. And as many of us have discussed before, that's sort of been the new paradox since Daschle was defeated, that you get kind of presidential level campaign if you're a leader of the Senate. And so Harry said, you know, he followed it very closely and complimented me on a campaign well run.

QUESTION: Will you return the favor to him in 2016?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not - I didn't get involved the last time he was up and I don't intend to be involved this time.

QUESTION: Senator, can you talk a little bit about foreign policy? Will you talk a little bit about foreign policy and what your objectives will be as Senate majority leader?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think the immediate concern in the health area is obviously the Ebola crisis and what, if anything, the administration feels they need further on the financial side. With regard to the authorization to help the Syrian rebels, as you know, we insisted on that terminating at the end of this year so we could have a new discussion with the administration about sort of where the administration sees the battle against ISIS. And so I think that's one of the things the president mentioned today is going to be on his agenda at our lunch on Friday, sort of where we are and what recommendations he may have to make about the way forward.

QUESTION: Well the Senate (INAUDIBLE) on the IRS?

MCCONNELL: Oh, you can bet on that. Yes.

QUESTION: Senator, what about Dodd-Frank? Can you --

QUESTION: Senator, can you - can you talk about how much of a window you see yourself having to pass big legislation next year and how willing are you to (INAUDIBLE) reconciliation tool to try and --

MCCONNELL: David, I think that's - we've got to finish this year's session first. By the way, Harry Reid is still the majority leader. And I think the immediate discussion we're going to be having is, what should we try to wrap up during the lame duck? I mean there are a number of things that have been sort of put off that -

QUESTION: Do you have any preference for how the next spending bill is handled, the one that expires in December?

MCCONNELL: Say that again?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) expires in December.

MCCONNELL: We've been talking about whether to do a CR (INAUDIBLE). We'll be talking about whether to do the tax extender package. There are a number of things that have sort of stacked up. And, I mean, I think I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Senate hasn't been doing anything. So there's a whole lot of unfinished business sitting there, some of which it might be advantageous to get out of the way. Democrats may want to do it. We may want to do it in order to clear off some of the necessary work that's been undone in the dysfunctional Senate.

QUESTION: What about Dodd-Frank? Do you expect to see rollbacks of those reforms?

MCCONNELL: The Banking Committee is certainly going to look at Dodd- Frank. I called it frequently "Obamacare for banks." The big guys are doing just fine under Dodd-Frank. The community bankers are struggling. And I do think the Banking Committee will want to take a look at how much damage it's done to the little guys who had nothing whatsoever to do with the meltdown in 2008. I would be surprised if the Banking Committee isn't going to take a look at it and they may well send something our way. QUESTION: Senator, you said, in 2010, you were surprised that

President Obama did not shift more toward the center. Does he have a responsibility after the message from the American people last night to do that now, and did you communicate that with him on the phone call?

MCCONNELL: Well, I hope that's what he does because you can't really do anything without a presidential signature. Several, you mentioned it. The veto pen is a powerful tool. I think both Reagan and Clinton are good examples of accepting the government you have rather than fantasizing about the government you wish you had.

You know, the president has a choice. I think because of the strength of the veto pen, he can probably stay on the current course he's on. Just vetoing any effort we make to pushback against what he's doing and having people who work for him do his bidding, or he could say let's see if there's some areas of agreement. And I mentioned a couple that I think are pretty big and important issues that I think we have potential areas of agreement, trade and tax reform, so we'll see.

QUESTION: Senator, you're asking the president to move toward the middle. Are you willing to meet him there, and how will you preserve conservative members from moving back?

MCCONNELL: I'm pretty familiar with our conference, including new members that are coming in. The vast majority of them don't feel that they were sent to Washington to just fight all the time. And as I've said repeatedly here, divided government is not the reason to do nothing. Divided government has been pretty productive. I think the vast majority of my members would rather make progress on things that they think the country needs to be dealt with than not. But in our system, the president is the most important player because of all of the obvious constitutional advantage he has, and so it will require his complicity to do that. And he's been protected from having to do that the last four years by the dysfunctional Senate, which doesn't pass anything, doesn't send him anything that he doesn't like. And now he's going to have a Congress that's going to be more challenging for him. But the choice is really his. I'm hoping that he will decide to move to the center.


QUESTION: As recently as last night, Ted Cruz declined to say whether or not he would support you as majority leader. I wonder when you spoke to him, did he pledge his support to you?

MCCONNELL: Let me make a prediction for you. A week from tomorrow, I'll be elected majority leader of the Senate.

Thanks a lot, everyone.