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Transcript of The AP’s interview with Mitch McConnell

October 10, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transcript of an interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, conducted by The Associated Press’ Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace and Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro:

JULIE PACE: Leader Mitch McConnell, thanks very much. I also want to take a minute to introduce my colleague Lisa Mascaro, chief congressional correspondent. We’ve got a great group of AP journalists who are here who are going to be joining us in questioning the senator.

There is no shortage of news to talk about, but obviously you’re coming off a really big victory. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, your second Supreme Court nomination of this Congress. Is this your legacy, getting to these two nominees on the Supreme Court?

MITCH McCONNELL: Well, you don’t get to write your own legacy. But I will say that what we’re doing in the area of the court, I think, is the most important thing we’re doing. I always reminded people, as much as we liked the tax bill. We did comprehensive tax reform in ’86 — it lasted four years. The president and his team have set up in my view an outstanding group of men and women for the circuit courts. At the moment we’ve confirmed 26 circuit court judges plus the two Supreme Court justices —relatively young men and women who believe the job of a judge is to interpret the law as it’s written, which is a very important, I think, long-term accomplishment for the country.

So I think it’s the biggest thing we’ve been involved in. Not that I don’t like the other things we’ve done.

JP: You mentioned the other nominations to courts that you’ve been able to confirm. You mentioned the tax bill. There are things that have happened over the last year that have been really central to the Republican agenda.

And yet you have senators, including long-time senators who are in your caucus, who say that the Senate is simply broken and that it’s just not that much fun anymore. Who bears responsibility for that?

MM: Well, we’re not there to have fun. By any objective standard, this has been an extraordinarily accomplished Congress — from tax reform to regulatory reform, modification of Dodd-Frank. And then we’ve had a significant number of bipartisan moments. I don’t mean to put you guys down, but when we do things together it doesn’t seem to be particularly newsworthy. The same week we were in this titanic struggle over the Supreme Court, we passed an opioid bill overwhelmingly. We passed a five-year FAA extension which hadn’t been done in years.

JP: All covered by The Associated Press.

MM: Yeah, no, I’m not saying you’re not covering it. It’s just not as — this is not a putdown, but it’s just not as newsworthy when we do things together that are important. Of course the most significant accomplishment in terms of just the functioning of the government, we actually funded 75 percent of the discretionary spending of the government before the end of the fiscal year. That hadn’t happened since the 1990s.

JP: But you must hear from your colleagues, because they do say it publicly to us, that they do feel like the institution is broken.

MM: Well it’s not broken by any objective standard. I mean it’s OK to have big fights once in a while. We have big differences. We had big differences over Obamacare and over taxes. But what is also going on at the same time is a lot of important accomplishments for the country.

And so you know looking at all these things we’ve done in the last two years, I can say without any fear of contradiction this has been the most successful two years of any time — I’m in my 34th year in the Senate. And if you’re like me and would prefer to see the country right-of-center instead of left-of-center, there has not been a better Congress since I’ve been here.

LISA MASCARO: Let’s talk a little bit about the Supreme Court confirmation. That was such a big moment for the Senate. What were you thinking when Dr. Ford, Christine Blasey Ford, was testifying? What was going through your mind?

MM: I thought she was very convincing. And I remember talking to the president after she spoke; he thought she was as well. And I said I think we need to ... see what Judge Kavanaugh has to say. And we did and afterward we talked again and my strong feeling all along here was given the nature of this attack on this man, he needed to have a vote. To have withdrawn at any point, I never considered withdrawing, but there were probably others who were thinking, “Oh my goodness, we ought to withdraw.”

JP: Does that include the president?

MM: No, I don’t think so. But Dr. Ford’s testimony was very convincing. All of us thought so, but there was another side of the story. We had not heard from Judge Kavanaugh yet. Given the charges and the explosive nature of the charges, it would have been a great disservice to him not to have had a vote. Secondly, we felt, and I said repeatedly day after day after day, that the very notion of presumption of innocence was on trial.

We had our colleagues, some of them on the Democratic side on the Judiciary Committee, saying the presumption of innocence no longer applies. My goodness, this is America.

So for all of those reasons, plus also the tactics, I thought the protesters were beyond what I’m accustomed to with peaceful protesting, and I’ve had plenty of protesters over the years. It was really an effort to intimidate senators as well. So I think for both of those reasons, it’s important to have a vote. And of course I’m thrilled that we won because I think we put a good person on the court.

LM: Do you believe her story?

MM: Well I thought it was very convincing. I thought he was very convincing. So then what do you do when you have two convincing people before you? You look for evidence. And there was no corroborating evidence. And that’s what turned it, I think, for the three members on my side who wanted to see the supplemental FBI report. They basically defined the boundaries. We had a meeting in my office the Friday before the Friday of the vote. Senator Murkowski was there. Senator Collins was there. Senator Flake is a member of the Judiciary Committee, he was there. And I said, “What do you guys need to go forward?”

We agreed a week was enough. We were not interested in a fishing expedition. They were not interested in a fishing expedition. They wanted to see the FBI talk to anybody Dr. Ford mentioned. And Ramirez, who came up in the course of all this discussion — not only talk to her but anybody she mentioned.

The FBI did all of that within a week and then the FBI report — which by the way is never copied. It’s not the property of the Senate, it’s the property of the executive branch. It was handled just like FBI reports are always handled in judicial confirmations — one copy. But I asked the committee staff to make it available on a 24-hour basis, and any member of the Senate who wanted to read it could and did. And after that was done, as you know, we got two out of the three members who in effect defined the scope and we won. And I think it was an important moment for the country.

LM: Republicans have sort of said two things about the way Senator Feinstein has handled this situation — on the one hand saying she held it too closely and then on the other hand saying well she should have, you know, she was the one who leaked it. Even last night, the president at this rally suggested she’s the one who leaked it. What should she have done? What would you have done in that situation?

MM: I haven’t criticized Dianne.

JP: Do you think she handled this the right way, though?

MM: I don’t really have anything to say about it. I do think that the fact that the desire for confidentiality was not honored was really not good. Identifying who did that, I have no idea. But it clearly was an example of others using her to try to create a kind of a last-minute controversy and it certainly did. And I’m just proud of my members for being able to work their way through that, and in my view do the right thing.

LM: And lastly, in the days since, you’ve really talked about this issue of the mob and the senators and you were not pleased with the way the public is handling itself over this. Tell us: Who is the mob?

MM: Well it’s running people out of restaurants. It’s getting up in your face in the halls of Congress. It’s going to your home and trying to intimidate you. We had a number of members who were intimidated at home. That’s my definition of mob. I’m not saying that there weren’t some well-meaning citizens who were inspired to come out and exercise their First Amendment rights. That does not mean trying to intimidate members and scare them into voting a particular way.

LM: And again at the president’s rally last night, there were chants of “lock her up” again, referring back to Senator Feinstein. Is that a version also of a mob?

MM: Look I’m not going to comment on rallies and tweets and that sort of thing. You guys have tried that for quite a while now.

JP: But to Lisa’s point, if you’re criticizing people who are going to members’ houses or who are chanting in restaurants, shouldn’t we also pay attention to the people who are doing things like this “lock her up” when the president talks about Dianne Feinstein?

MM: Well if you can feel free to ask the question, but I’m not interested in talking about the tweets or what people may say at rallies.

JP: Doesn’t mean we won’t keep asking that. This conversation has obviously very quickly turned to what you would do if there is a nomination in 2020. In 2016, you were very clear that you felt like the presidential election had to happen before a nomination could go through — that the will of the people needed to be heard. Why are you changing that rhetoric?

MM: I’m not changing anything. I’m just reminding you of what the history has been.

JP: You didn’t talk about this history in 2016 when this happened.

MM: Oh yes I did.

JP: Your rhetoric was, we have it here, really focused on the American people having the will of the vote.

MM: I talked about it also in the context of what history has been. You have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time when one party controlled the Senate and another party controlled the presidency and a vacancy created in a presidential election year was filled. That’s a fact. It’s an interesting hypothetical, it’s not the one before us. But every example we’ve had is exactly that Joe Biden said in 1992 — a presidential election year, Democratic Senate, Republican president — if there were a vacancy, he wouldn’t fill it. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid said 18 months before the end of Bush 43 — there wasn’t a vacancy, but you did have a Democratic Senate and a Republican president — if there was a vacancy they wouldn’t fill it. It’s an interesting hypothetical but the history has been, and I did mention this in 2016, that you have to go back to 1880s to find the last time in that situation a vacancy was filled in a presidential election year.

JP: Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last night that if he is still chairman in 2020 and there’s a Supreme Court nomination, he will not.

MM: Well it’s an interesting hypothetical and we’ll see what happens.

JP: Will that impact, if you do stay in the majority, will that impact who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee?

MM: It’s an interesting hypothetical and if we get a vacancy in 2020, we’ll all be talking about it, won’t we?

JP: Let’s just go back to one more thing from Kavanaugh’s testimony. He was sharply critical of the left. He called out the Clintons, said people were acting out of revenge for the Clintons. You had this really extraordinary moment where former Justice John Paul Stevens came out and said that was disqualifying. How concerning was that rhetoric to you from Justice Kavanaugh?

MM: Not at all. That was exactly what was going on and I can see why he was very upset about what was happening to him. His whole life was being called into question, the way he’s lived his whole life. I don’t know how he could have not been very assertive in that particular situation. No, it didn’t bother me at all.

JP: Do you think then that this was revenge from the left based on Hillary Clinton’s loss?

MM: Look, it’s pretty obvious that they were ready to go before there was even a name. The placards that were set up had blanks so you could fill in the name of whoever it was. We knew this was going to be a titanic struggle from the very beginning.

JP: You could argue that you were in the same position in 2016 before there was ever a nomination of Merrick Garland.

MM: But that was not about Merrick Garland. We never said a word about Merrick Garland. It was not about him. Totally different situation. Here, they tried to destroy the nominee, and Judge Kavanaugh was right, it was a search and destroy.

We didn’t say a bad word about Merrick Garland. The issue was who should fill the vacancy. And I decided, and my members backed me up consistent with history going back to the 1880s, that we would wait and see who the president was. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton would be making the appointment anyway. In fact I was criticized by my own side saying all you’re going to do is let Hillary Clinton make the appointment of somebody a lot younger than Merrick Garland.

LM: So, this is done and there is a new justice on the Supreme Court. The polls as we move into the midterm season are showing us that there is a gap for Republican voters with women. Do you worry at all that this issue and this Supreme Court battle has widened that gap or is maybe a short-term win but poses some long-term trouble for the party?

MM: I don’t see how it could be much wider than it already was. I mean in all of the public opinion polls there’s a wide gender gap. We’ve always had that to some extent. It clearly is wider than it used to be. What I do think, if you’re talking about the politics of the recent confirmations that we’re talking about here — whether that contributed to it. I think it did contribute to our side getting more interested. Because we’ve had a kind of a not only a gender gap but we’ve also had an enthusiasm gap. They were a lot more enthusiastic about the fall election than we appeared to be. I do think that the controversy over this ironically produced like an adrenaline shot for the people on our side and it underscores the importance of controlling the Senate.

If Senator Schumer has my job next year we won’t be confirming judges is my guess. And so I think it underscores to the people who would like for us to be in the majority — why is the Senate important and why is the Senate majority important? And it underscores that right before the election.

JP: I want to bring in some of our colleagues here but let me quickly follow up. Why do you think the gender gap is wider now than it has been?

MM: Well that’s an interesting question and something I’m not happy with and I hope we can improve in the coming weeks and years.

JP: But do you have a diagnosis for why Republicans are in that situation?

MM: If I did, I would not be wanting to go over it with you.

JP: OK, we’ll talk again after the election. OK, let’s bring in some of our colleagues here. Padma, do you want to kick us off?

Q: Thank you for being here. I cover health for AP Television, so you may see me chasing you in the hall sometimes carrying around a camera. One of the things that I have noticed these past few weeks, especially watching the hearings on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the lack of women who are represented by Republican senators. There are not a lot of Republican senators who are women. Why do you think that Republican women are not winning their Senate races? And in contrast, there are a larger number of Democratic women who have won their primaries and are running now for seats.

MM: It’s a frustration. With regard to the committee, I’ve tried to talk some of our Republican women into going on the Judiciary Committee and I’m going to try again at the beginning of the next Congress. They just haven’t been interested. They’ve had other interests that just haven’t aligned with going on the Judiciary Committee. As far as women candidates go, we’ve always had plenty of women candidates. We’ve had trouble winning as many races. We do have Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee and Martha McSally in Arizona. Very competitive races both of them, with a really good chance of winning. That would improve, increase our number and it would be a very good thing if it did.

Q: Thank you very much for being here. You know keeping with the theme of Republican women, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska was the only Republican to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. She ended up voting present but she made it clear that she opposes him. And President Trump wasn’t very happy about it and said that she’s never going to recover in Alaska. Do you think A, that that’s true or B, that that’s fair?

MM: Well she’s certainly going to recover. This is a woman who got elected with a write-in vote in 2010. She’s about as strong as you could possibly be in Alaska. Nobody is going to beat her. I’m proud she’s in the Republican conference and I would remind everyone she voted for Justice Gorsuch. She voted for all 26 of our circuit judges and she’s a Republican in our conference in very good standing.

JP: What did you say to the president after he tweeted about her?

MM: I don’t think we talked about her.

JP: What would you say about that?

MM: What I just said.

Q: There are some indications that there could be sort of a split decision of sorts in next month’s election with the House potentially going to Democrats and you potentially keeping the majority in the Senate. If that outcome comes to pass, what do you think the role of the Republican Senate would be next year in a divided government?

MM: Well, you know, I like to remind everybody we’re in the personnel business there. Twelve hundred executive branch appointments that come to us, our Democratic friends have made it very difficult. You probably already know this statistic but I’m going to bore you with it again. You’re going to go back six presidents, six of them. And the number of times that a majority leader had to file cloture on a nomination in the first two years, 24 cumulative. I’ve had to do it 117 times in a year and a half. So they’ve certainly made it difficult even to get, you know, like assistant secretaries of departments.

Far be it for me to complain about obstruction. I’ve done my share of it. But never this kind of mindless obstruction. You know who cares? Other than the nominee and their family who the assistant secretary or something is? And so it’s been a challenge, but the reason I bring that up if we are not in a position to do the kind of major legislation we would like to do — which would be the case if you had a split Congress — we’d be spending a lot of time on nominations. And that’s not unimportant. It’s not unimportant. There are a number of people just stuck on the executive calendar because without cooperation it could take me two days to do anybody — two days! And only good thing about that scenario you outline is that we’d have plenty of time to work on nominations. But obviously I’m hoping we don’t lose the House.

This has been ... you can go back 100 years and my party has only had the House, the Senate and the White House for 20 of the 100 years. So I woke up after the elections saying yeah, we got a chance here to do some things that we like that rather than just kind of reacting to initiatives from others.

And I don’t think we blew the opportunity — whether it was a comprehensive tax reform or major regulatory changes or different direction in personnel. The president, I think, has done a good job on personnel — the SEC, the NRB, things that have a huge impact on what kind of country you have. Not to mention what we’ve all been talking about here, the judges. So we’d be spending a lot of time on personnel would be my guess.

Q: Just to follow up on that, Democrats make clear that if they do win back the House they plan to launch many, many investigations into the president and the administration and have made clear that one of the lines of inquiry is going to be the president’s tax returns, the president’s businesses, the president’s hotel contract in the city. Do you think that that’s a legitimate line of inquiry for Democrats to be talking about?

MM: I think it’ll help the president get re-elected. I remember the price we paid for trying to — well actually we did — impeach Bill Clinton. I remember all the enthusiasm of a lot of Republicans in the House and Senate — boy, this is the ticket, this is going to make us have a great year in ’98 and set everything up. It worked exactly the opposite. The public got mad at us and felt sympathy for President Clinton. So this business of presidential harassment may or may not quite be the winner they think it is

JP: I’m sure you’ve seen the list that Congressman Nadler has put out of the investigations that Democrats are interested in launching if they do take the House. Is there anything though that you would think would be a legitimate investigation into this president or this administration?

MM: Well look, it’ll be up to them to decide what they want and what they want to investigate, if they’re in the majority. I hate to even assume the hypothetical. Normally I don’t answer hypotheticals, but that would be up to them. I do think as a matter of political tactics, which is what I think you were driving at, that it would not be smart. But frequently they aren’t, which is helpful.

JP: I do want to jump ahead to 2020 since you mentioned the president’s re-election prospects. There is a lot of discussion, chatter in Washington about whether a Republican might challenge the president in the primary. It looks like at least one member of your caucus, Jeff Flake, is at least exploring that possibility. Is there room for a Republican primary challenger in 2020?

MM: Well sure. I mean anybody can file who wants to. But I would think it would be very, very difficult to unseat the president in a primary. But there are those who might try and the Republican voters will make that decision.

JP: So you’re not necessarily discouraging somebody?

MM: Well I think it’d be a waste of time, frankly. But the people who would be likely to challenge the president would not be coming to me for advice, I don’t think.

LM: And 2020 is also your re-election. If you are running again, will you run, seek re-election?

MM: I’ve announced that some time ago.

LM: And do you want to run again for leader?

MM: I do.

LM: Talk to us a little bit about that. You’ve been leader of the Republican conference about the same amount of time that Democratic Leader Pelosi has led House Democrats. There’s a lot of talk, you know, on her side that it’s time to move on and pass the baton. What is the sort of shelf life for a leader?

MM: I liked the CNN poll yesterday, did you all see it? Among Republicans nationally, my approval rating went from 30 up to 62.

LM: Probably is that at the highest?

MM: By far! Because we know what happens. I had a really terrific approval rate until I became leader of my party. And then you just get beat up all the time and you end up not having very good approval ratings and then it’s used to recruit opponents for you. So you pay a price in terms of approval for accepting additional responsibility. So this is by far the high point of my leadership period, most of which I’ve taken slings and arrows from both the left and the right.

LM: Can you address that, though? What is, you think, the sort of proper time to pass the baton? When is it sort of, a leader has sort of done what they can do or should they just keep going till somebody else ...

MM: No, I think it depends on what kind of standing you have with your conference. And I think my conference been solidly behind me and I’m proud of that.

LM: OK, let’s go ahead and turn to some issues. Tariffs and the trade issue: A number of your Republican senators have talked to us about their concerns over tariffs — what it’s doing to the prices of commodities, particularly soybeans. They’ve worked a lot with the White House on this issue, but they still remain concerned or at least tell us they do. What do you think? Should they be worried about the tariffs coming from the White House?

MM: Well, I think there was a palpable sense of relief that the new agreement with Mexico and Canada came together. Skepticism about tariffs, but the president makes an argument that, you know, maybe this sort of thing helped him get there. The biggest problem we have is not with our European allies or with Mexico or Canada, it’s with China. And to the extent that the president can somehow get an improvement in our relationship from a commercial point of view with China, that would be a good thing.

LM: Do you think that that is coming? I know there’s a sense among senators that they’ve just got to sort of wait and at some point it will turn the corner and there will be improvements and improved deals, trade deals. How long?

MM: Well, that’s what we’re all hoping for here.

JP: Have you, when you talk to the president, thought about his tactics on this? Because there is a sense when you talk to economists that China can wait out the U.S. on a lot of this tariff policy.

MM: I’m not an expert in this field. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know the Chinese have been eating our lunch — particularly on things like intellectual property — for a long time. And to the extent that any improvement that comes out of this, it will be worthwhile.

JP: I want to switch to election security. A lot of concern heading into these midterms from campaigns that we’ve talked to, ... that don’t necessarily feel like they’re getting a lot of support or that they have the expertise to ensure that you don’t have a Russia, China or another state actor meddling in their elections. Based on what you have been briefed on, have you seen any signs of interference and meddling in our elections?

MM: Well, I’ve been very reassured by what the secretary of Homeland Security and her team — we’ve had several briefings. I’ve been reassured by what they’ve said about being ready. I don’t think there’s any question the Russians and maybe the Chinese as well, who knows, will try to mess with our elections. But one of the great things about American elections is they’re so decentralized. You know there isn’t some kind of national database. Every state does it differently. It makes it much less likely they can interfere with the basics, which is counting the votes. Propaganda is more complicated under the First Amendment, in this country it’s a complicated issue. I’m sure every, we’ve already seen examples of how they’ve tried to influence us by various news sites and other things too — as the president would put it, put out fake news. And that’s a challenge consistent with the First Amendment, to figure out how to do that because we don’t police speech in this country.

JP: Have you been satisfied by some of the initial steps that Facebook, Twitter other social media outlets have taken on this front?

MM: I don’t, I don’t have an observation about that yet. But at least they are alert to the problem.

JP: I want to go back to 2016, because there was an effort by the Obama administration starting in that summer to publicize the fact that there was something going on with the Russians, and you would not sign onto a bipartisan letter.

MM: I did.

JP: But there was nothing publicly that was put out.

MM: The speaker and I in both did sign a letter that went out to all of the state officials. But ever since then, Brennan and others have been trying to blame others for the fact that they weren’t ready. And so there’s been a lot of finger pointing going on since 2016 to try to blame others. And Brennan has kind of been fixated on trying to point the finger in every other direction.

JP: Do you think, though, that you were cognizant enough of what was happening?

MM: I was and the speaker and I — I’d be glad to just send you a copy of that letter.

LM: Yeah, but also to put a finer point on that, wasn’t there an interest by the Obama administration to actually say something more vocally about the threat — not just the letter that you all sent that advised the state election chiefs?

MM: Well, that’s what they’re saying since then. They’ve been quite busy trying to point the finger at myself and other Republicans since it’s pretty obvious they weren’t ready for the challenge.

JP: So let’s just correct the record on that. I mean, are you saying that they did not approach you to sign a bipartisan letter that summer?

MM: We did sign a bipartisan letter.

JP: A bipartisan letter that focused specifically on the fact that the Russians were meddling in the election?

MM: The speaker and I decided what kind of letter we were comfortable signing. I think it met the situation that we were confronted with.

JP: Let’s toss back to our audience here. Mary Clare has been covering election security quite a bit and also the Mueller investigation.

MCJ: I wanted to talk about Attorney General Sessions. Senator Graham and others have said that the president may fire Jeff Sessions after the midterms. Would you be OK with that, and also the replacement might come from somewhere within your own caucus?

MM: Oh it’s not going to come from our caucus. I can tell you that. 51/49, you can do the math. We’re not doing that.

Who the attorney general is is up to the president. We confirmed Jeff. Most of us worked with him for a long time. But in the end the president decides who the attorney general is and he’ll have to make that call himself. I’m not going to speculate about who he ought to put in his own cabinet. That’s his decision.

MCJ: So if he does fire him or if he fires Rod Rosenstein, you would have that power to confirm someone new. If there is a new nominee for either of those jobs, would the Senate want to ensure that that person protects the Mueller investigation?

MM: Why don’t we wait and see what happens after the election? It’s up to the president to decide how long people stay and who to appoint to replace them. Rather than sitting here and speculating about the hypothetical before the election, why don’t we wait to see what happens?

JP: Were you relieved when the president ... relieved when he said this week that he was not firing Rod Rosenstein, at least not now?

MM: I don’t think that would have helped the president to do that. I think it would not have been in his best interest to do that.

JP: I want to just get back to that for a minute. It does feel like we have not had action on the Mueller investigation in the last couple of weeks, at least publicly. Have you been advised at all that Mueller is waiting until the midterms wrap up before he finishes up with any indictments, an interview with the president?

MM: I don’t know.

JP: You haven’t been briefed at all?

MM: No. You know Mueller doesn’t brief people. He doesn’t talk. So we find out what he’s doing when he decides to take action. I think all of us would love to see this come to an end at some point.

JP: Do you think the president has to sit for an interview before that happens?

MM: Look, I’m not going to give Mueller any advice, I’m not going to give the president any advice about how to handle this.

JP: We’ve got a few more minutes here, let’s take another question.

Q: Critics say Trump has made a stream of comments over these last couple of years that have raised tensions, divisions within the country to dangerous levels that have weakened some of the basic institutions of government — when he criticizes the FBI, etc. And you, critics say, enable him by not speaking out frequently forcibly when he makes comments like this. What do you say to critics who say by not speaking out all the time ...

MM: Are you talking about comments about the FBI?

Q: FBI, Justice Department, comments about minorities, calling Democrats ...

MM: It’s not my job to do a daily critique of the president’s observations. I speak up when I think it’s necessary. With regard to the FBI, I think Director Wray has done a great job. He got confirmed unanimously. So you know you all have tried in the halls on a daily basis to get me to do a running commentary on one aspect of the president’s observations or another, and I’ve generally declined.

Q: Can you explain in what ways the country is better off when you choose to not comment on what he says?

MM: Well, I think the country’s better off because the economy is booming, we have two new Supreme Court justices. I think the record of the last two years has been extraordinary for the country. That’s why we’re better off.

JP: The president’s now been in office for nearly two years. What do you think he’s gotten better at?

MM: (Laughs) Well, look, he’s a unique politician. There’s no question about that. It’s hard to deny. If you are if you are an American who would prefer to see the country right-of-center, it’s hard to deny that this had been an extraordinary couple of years and I’m proud of it.

JP: Do you think he has improved on anything, though?

MM: I’m not going to critique that! Julie, that’s a good try.

JP: Well, quickly, before we wrap up here, I do want to switch to the lame-duck session of this Congress. It does feel like we could be heading for a shutdown. Paul Ryan yesterday promised a big fight over a border wall. Is there some sense that you’re going let the White House essentially have a shutdown fight after this election?

MM: We’ve got a lot of work left to do. That episode if it occurs would be in that portion of the government that we haven’t funded. 75 percent of it we did fund before the end of the fiscal year. We’ve got that, we’ve got some other issues that we need to wrap up, we still have this backlog of nominations. I think it will be a relatively lively lame duck. You know sometimes, they just sort of go to sleep after the election. I think we have too much work left to do for it to be a kind of quiet lame duck. And we’re committed to helping the president try to get the wall funding.

JP: What level of funding would you be comfortable with for a border wall?

MM: Well, we’re going to try to help him get what he’s looking for.

JP: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, thank you for joining us after what has been a really busy stretch here in Washington. And thank you for tuning in to AP Newsmakers.

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