Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was still basking in his party’s crushing midterm election victory when he appeared for a nationally televised press conference in Louisville on Wednesday.
With his characteristic grin and chuckle, he calmly swatted away questions from reporters eager to learn about his phone call with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the tea party firebrand who has declined to voice support for him as majority leader.
“Earlier today I got a call from the President, also from Senator Reid and the Speaker. And Ted Cruz, too. Which I thought you’d be interested in,” he said, with a smile. “It was a very cordial conversation. I appreciated the call.”
Asked if Cruz pledged to support him as leader, McConnell said, “Let me just make a prediction for you. A week from tomorrow I’ll be elected majority leader.”
Nobody doubts it. McConnell has spent 30 years waiting for this moment, and the eight-year leader of the Senate GOP is unlikely to face any challenge. Republicans ended the night having won 52 Senate seats, a number that could rise to 54 if they win lingering races in Alaska and Louisiana.
McConnell struck a statesmanlike tone, promising to work with his arch-rival President Barack Obama and restore the Senate to functionality with plenty of votes, open amendments, deference to committees, and working on Fridays.
“From an institutional point of view, the Senate needs to be fixed,” he said.
He downplayed his notoriously chilly relationship with Obama, saying, “we don’t have an acrimonious relationship,” and pinpointing trade agreements and tax reform as “two very significant areas of potential agreement.”
“There’s only one Democrat who counts: the president,” he said. “Democrats in Congress will support whatever he agrees to do. And look, we were very much inclined to support President Bush, as well. This is not unusual.”
Unmistakable was the fact that the old-school Republican, having achieved his dream on Tuesday night, wants not to be a pawn in a fruitless partisan game. He wants to leave a legacy. The question is whether he can overcome staunch differences in his upcoming majority caucus — from a hard right flank featuring several presidential contenders, to a slew of senators facing reelection in Obama-won states in 2016 — and unite his members.
McConnell declined to say if he’ll reverse Senate Democrats’ “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for most nominations, saying he’ll discuss the issue with his members once Congress returns next week.
“It is hard to un-ring a bell,” he said.
The Kentucky Republican also reiterated his intent to use the power of the purse to “push back against [Obama’s] overactive bureaucracy,” although he complicated that stance by categorically ruling out a government shutdown.
“Let me make it clear,” he said. “There will be no government shutdowns and no default of the national debt.”