Was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, serious when he said his top priority was making sure that President Obama was a one-term president?
Sen. Harry Reid, his frequent opponent on the other side of the aisle, told All Things Considered co-host Michele Norris he doubted it.
But in a separate interview, McConnell told ATC co-host Melissa Block he definitely meant what he famously said last year.
It was just one more glimpse of the alternate ideological universes occupied by Democrats and Republicans. The two leaders were a continuing study in disagreement.
Reid downplayed McConnell's comment about Obama. And the Democrat struck an optimistic note about being able to work with Senate Republicans:
I know my friend Mitch McConnell has said his number one issue was in this next Congress was to get rid of Obama. I don’t think he really means that.
I think we should be concerned with jobs and doing something with energy, importing this oil from all these characters we wouldn’t want to import oil from. I think we have to be concerned about getting tax incentives for small businesses. So I think that’s what we should focus on. And I feel comfortable about my relationship with McConnell and the Republican caucus and that we can get some good things done.
If that was intended to soften McConnell up, it apparently failed. Asked if he stood by his vow to keep Obama from a second term, the Republican said:
Yeah, I do stand by it. I don’t think there’s anything surprising that the Republican leader of the Senate would want a Republican president in January '13. But that’s only half of the story. The question is what can we do between now and then for the American people.
McConnell said the tax cut-unemployment insurance compromise reached during Congress' lame-duck session in December was a template for how the two parties can sometimes reach agreement:
... I think the tax relief measure that vice president and I were able to broker back during the lame duck was a good example of the kind of bipartisan cooperation that we can engage in in the next year or so.
That comment was noteworthy in that McConnell didn't give credit to Reid. For his part, the Senate majority leader suggested that his legislative skill deserved some of the credit:
I don’t want to be boastful here but I think I know what the rules are around here and I was able to do some things and got votes we normally wouldn’t have votes on.
The health care law now under attack from the House GOP was, unsurprisingly, another area where Reid and McConnell were like parallel train tracks, running alongside each other and never intersecting.
REID: ... Do they want to go back and say if you have a pre-existing disability you can’t get insurance? Do they want to tell the senior citizens that the doughnut hole (the gap in prescription-drug coverage) is not going to get smaller, it’s going to get bigger?
... This is nonsense. Repeal of this bill would put, let’s see, I want to get the number right, 32 million more people would be uninsured; 32 million. What are they talking about?
And from the Senate minority leader:
MCCONNELL: The American people took a look at the 2700-page monstrosity that cleared the Senate back in Christmas eve 2009 with not a vote to spare and it was a huge issue in the Nov. 2nd election.
The American people expect us to try to repeal to this hopelessly complicated proposal that will drive up costs and complexity and make American health care much more difficult. So i’m pleased the House is going to take it up and we’re going to make sure that the senate has an opportunity to vote on it as well.
McConnell actually did agree with Reid about something, that parts of the bill are popular. In McConnell's view, throwing the baby out with the bathwater could be avoided. He told Melissa:
We need to not only repeal this bill. We need to replace it with something else. And some of the insurance reforms that you mentioned are very likely to be in a replacement bill that would be much more simple, more easily understood and crafted in such a way to drive down costs.