Washington, D.C. – On Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren,” Greta interviewed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this afternoon. In his interview he discusses the current stalemate in the CARES Act negotiations and concerns of his GOP colleagues; he calls out the $150 billion already sent to state and local governments; the success of mail-in voting in Kentucky; his support of NATO and against moving U.S. Troops out of Germany.
The full transcript is available at the bottom of this article.
Click here for highlights:
Greta: Senator, the part of The CARES Act that has now expired is the part that has to do with supplemental federal unemployment benefits. And as I understand it, the House bill wants $600 a week for people who are eligible, and the Senate wants something different. What does the Senate want?
Mitch McConnell: Yeah, what this is about, the extra $600 put in The CARES Act ended up providing the opportunity for some people to make more by not going back to work than their neighbor did by going back to work. So unemployment insurance is important, but what we're trying to do is cure this disincentive to getting back to work in a time of high unemployment. Basic unemployment, extremely important. We also would provide a plus up, just not as generous because we still want to incentivize people to get back to work.
Greta: For some people, there will be no jobs. They are gone. Under the Senate proposal, will they not be able to get the $600? By no means would they get the $600 a week?
Mitch McConnell: Well, they'll all get over $1200, direct cash payment right into their bank account to help them get through this period.
Greta: Are all Senate Republicans in agreement on what should be done? Or is there still debate within your caucus?
Mitch McConnell: No, we're not all in agreement. There are 15 or 20 of us, I would guess, that feel that we've already added $3 trillion to the national debt. We now have a debt the size of our economy for the first time since World War II, and they're concerned about that. And I think that's a legitimate point of view. There are the rest of us who think that even as outrageous one would argue it is to have that amount of
cumulative debt, the economy simply needs another boost and I think that's the view of the chairman of the Fed as well. What we're not prepared to do is to add another 3 trillion on top of the 3 trillion we've already added back in March and April on top of it, which is what the House bill did, including a bunch of non germane issues. For example, providing a big tax cut for rich people in blue States.
Greta: Well, the Democrats would say that some of the Republican senators who don't want to add to the debt now were quite willing to vote for a tax cut in 2017, which added to the debt.
Mitch McConnell: Well, I know that's their argument, we felt like the tax cut paid for itself. It created an awful lot of jobs and opportunity. All you have to do is go back to February of this year to find the best economy America's had in 50 years, before the pandemic brought everything to a halt.
Greta: What do you expect the vote to be next week? You've called for a vote.
Mitch McConnell: Well, we'll see. We're still talking. The we, the principles here are Pelosi and Schumer and the administration. And that makes sense because in order to make a law, the president has to be on board because he's dealing the only one of the 330 million Americans who can sign something into law or veto it. So Secretary Mnuchin and the president's chief of staff are taking the lead, they're keeping me and my colleagues informed. But ultimately, there'll have to be a bipartisan agreement or we can't go forward.
Greta: All right, there's a global bill that's much more difficult to reconcile. It's a much bigger lift, but what about just simply does the Senate tend to vote on simply the issue of whether to extend some form of a federal supplemental unemployment benefits next week?
Mitch McConnell: Well, we're set up to do that. We'll see whether we can make some progress in the negotiation between now and then. We're set up to have a vote, but I'd rather get an outcome than have a vote. And we've got the space now to achieve that. What we wanted to make sure the American people understood by setting up this vote beginning today to occur next week, that Senate Republicans wanted to act, we wanted to break the logjam we wanted to deal with the immediate problem of unemployment insurance.
Greta: The Democrats have a red line. They say that there must be assistance in this bill to states and local governments. Many members of the Republica caucus say that's a bailout and they're not for it. Is there any wiggle room do you see in the Republican Senate?
Mitch McConnell: Well amazingly enough, the $150 billion that we've already sent down to state and local government hasn't been used by most of the states. In my state, for example, 94% of the money we sent down to the state hasn't been used. So what we're proposing to do in the Republican alternative is to provide flexibility for that 150 billion we've already sent them so they can use it for just about anything. It wouldn't have to be totally coronavirus related. And it's important to remember that in every state budget, the two biggest items are education and Medicaid. We provide even more money for education in our proposal than in the $3 trillion House wish list. That's aid to state and local government education.
Greta: Your governor has said that if there isn't aid, that Kentucky will have a $1.1 billion budget shortfall. That's about 10% of your entire state budget without any assistance. So are you not prepared to help Kentucky?
Mitch McConnell: Well yeah, I hate to get in an argument with the governor, but he hasn't used 94% of what we've already sent him, and this year's budget is balanced. First thing he ought to do is use the 94% of the money we've already sent him that he hasn't used yet.
Greta: Is it a red line for you, liability shields? You have said, and Republican senators have said, is that they want liability protection, for instance, health care givers or even businesses for coronavirus related lawsuits. Is that something that you're willing... Is there any wiggle room with you on that?
Mitch McConnell: No, not on that. And it's not just for businesses. It's for hospitals, doctors, nurses, colleges, universities, K through 12 educators. The last thing America needs is an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that we're dealing with, which isn't going to end anytime soon until we get a vaccine.
Greta: There's been a lot of criticism around the country about testing, and it seems in some areas, it's much better than in other areas. Would you be in favor of invoking The Defense Production Act, for instance, to help rev up even the production of these faster testing kits, these point of care kits?
Mitch McConnell: Well, we do need to have more testing across the country, and if it takes the implementation of The Defense Production Act, I would think the administration would want to do that. But we don't have adequate testing yet. It's getting better, but we don't have adequate testing yet. And we need to deal
with that, and is dealt with in the proposal that we have laid out in the Senate.
Greta: Can you give me some of the dynamics with Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Meadows and Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer, how they're working together.
Mitch McConnell: Well so far, no one has budged. And that's why apparently they made no progress talking to each other this week, unless something occurs toward the end of the week after I tape this segment. There's been no movement so far, which is why we've ended up going into this period with unemployment expired. Shouldn't have happened, we're prepared to try to deal with that issue only, they objected to that on
the floor of the Senate today. And so they're saying, "All or nothing." The whole $3 trillion or we'll let unemployment insurance expire. That's exactly what they've done as of the time you and I are speaking.
Greta: Well, it seems like we always go up to the cliff on many of these important issues, whether it's...
Mitch McConnell Yeah.
Greta: You always go right up to the edge. The HEROES Act that the house passed was May 15th. And your Senate bill, The HEALS Act that we just got the first proposal we saw on Monday. Why did it take the Senate until now?
Mitch McConnell: Well, I said after we added over $3 trillion to the debt back in March and April, maybe it'd be a good idea to stop and see how things worked out before we acted again and predicted the time to act would be in July. So we've been putting together what we thought made sense. It comes in at $1 trillion, not $3
trillion. It's focused on liability protection, kids back in school, jobs, and healthcare. That's the focus of our proposal. We don't have anything in there like tax cuts for rich people and blue States like the $3 trillion House proposal that has nothing to do with COVID-19.
Greta: It seems to me that Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Ben Sasse, and maybe another Republican or two, it'd maybe be a hard sell because they don't want to spend any more money. Some of the other senators might be more inclined for paycheck protection or whatever the different aspects of the bill is. You can't afford to lose a lot of Republicans to get the bill passed the Senate. Do you think that you can get some Democrats over to your side on this?
Mitch McConnell: Well, we can't pass it. Under the Senate rules, we can't pass it Republicans only anyway. And the senators you've mentioned are among those who are concerned about the amount of debt we've already racked up. I think it's a legitimate concern. I happen to be among those, along with the administration and the chairman of the Fed. We think that we do need another package, it needs to be much more targeted at the problem than the $3 trillion House wish list that they passed a couple of
Greta: Let me turn to another issue, Kentucky in its primary had an expanded mail in because of the coronavirus. What is your view on mail in voting?
Mitch McConnell: Well, I think we need to see what the conditions are in November. In Kentucky, we had to first delay the primary and then we had more mail in voting than we normally have. It worked out just fine in our particular situation. Mainly I think each state ought to decide, and they are responsible for voting under the Constitution, every state makes their own decision as to the best way to vote this November, not to be a federal mandate that everybody has to vote one way or another. Custom crafted election systems in each of the 50 States is consistent with the constitution. I think in Kentucky, we'll figure out how we ought to vote on November 3rd based upon the conditions a little bit later this year.
Greta: Are you in favor or not in favor of a federal mandate on masks? And I suppose people paid attention that now Congressman Gohmert has COVID, or at least he's tested positive.
Mitch McConnell: Yeah. Well, in the Senate we've all been wearing masks. It didn't require me to put out some edict. I think they have a different approach in the House. With regard to math wiring across America, I think that ought to be left up to the governors and to the mayors. But look, here's what we know for sure. If
you were just a regular citizen out there in America, and you're asking yourself, "What can I do to help?" It's wear a mask and practice social distancing. It's the single best thing we can do to help prevent the spread and get us through this period until we get a vaccine. So everybody ought to do it, whether there's a mandate or not.
Greta: President Trump is talking about withdrawing troops from Germany and redeploying some to parts of Europe. A lot of people have a different view of that. What's your view of withdrawing some troops from Germany?
Mitch McConnell: Yeah, I wouldn't have done that myself. Fortunately, they're not bringing the troops home. I gather they're going to other NATO countries. I think NATO is the most successful military alliance in world history. It's a shame that some other countries don't spend the 2% of their GDP on defense that we're all obligated to, but that treaty is very much in our best interest. It was put in place because of concerns
about the Russians. We have plenty of concerns about the Russians that haven't gone away with the end of the cold war. NATO is extremely important and ought to be supported in every possible way.
Greta: Finally, what's it like to work with President Trump? And I'm sure you noticed the tweet where he suggested that the election may be... Or he asked a question in a tweet whether the election should be delayed. What's your thought about that? And what's it like working with the President?
Mitch McConnell: Well, there's no way to delay the election under the constitution. It will go ahead on November 3rd. I understand the President has some concerns about the implementation of the election. That'll be left up to each state to decide how we vote, but I guarantee you the election will be November 3rd of 2020.
Greta: And working with them with him is what for you?
Mitch McConnell: I'm sorry?
Greta: And working with him is... What's your relationship with him?
Mitch McConnell: Well, we have a good relationship. I'm particularly proud of the nominees he sent up for the Supreme Court and for the circuit courts. We've put those on speed dial and confirmations in the Senate.
For the first time in 40 years, there’s not a single US circuit court vacancy anywhere in America thanks to the President’s terrific nominees and our Republican majority for quickly confirming them.