MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a wish for 2018 - bipartisanship. He says it's the only way forward. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis and Kelsey Snell spoke with McConnell today about everything from immigration and infrastructure to the Russia investigation. The Republican leader acknowledges it will be difficult for the parties to work together heading toward midterm elections, but he says he's still hopeful even if that means changing House Speaker Paul Ryan's plans to cut entitlement spending. Here's part of Susan and Kelsey's conversation with Mitch McConnell.
MITCH MCCONNELL: This has not been a very bipartisan year (laughter). I hope in the new year we're going to pivot here and become more cooperative. Almost every other issue you can think of including immigration can't be done in one party only. The president's actually incentivized us by putting a time limit on the DACA program to come forward and see what we can agree to for not only a permanent change on that but also some other items as well. And there are constructive bipartisan discussions going on already. I put together a group with Senator Grassley, Senator Durbin and others to address that issue. And we have until March to do that, and I'm confident we will.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Do you share the speaker's enthusiasm for trying to do entitlement reform, specifically welfare reform, next year?
MCCONNELL: It's hard for me to envision frankly being able to do any kind of entitlement changes if we can't do it on a bipartisan basis.
KEITH: You could use reconciliation again.
MCCONNELL: We could, but I think entitlement changes to be sustained almost always have to be bipartisan. And I don't think one party only entitlement changes is something I'm interested in doing. The House may have a different agenda. If our Democratic friends in the Senate want to join us to tackle any kind of entitlement reform, I'd be happy to take a look at it.
KEITH: So what does that mean if you're less interested in looking at that - maybe infrastructure other more bipartisan things?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, I think infrastructure's a big item. You mentioned immigration. We obviously have to address that. I'm pretty excited - actually kind of a dull topic to most people, but I'm pretty excited about a bipartisan revisitation of Dodd-Frank that came out of the banking committee.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Not on that list was health care, and yesterday the president said that the tax bill effectively repealed Obamacare by zeroing out the mandate. Does that mean that you guys are fully moving on now from any plans to dismantle the ACA?
MCCONNELL: I think the repeal of the individual mandate takes the heart out of Obamacare. We want to steady the insurance markets if we can, and I think we'll probably be addressing that part of health care sometime next year.
SNELL: But the rest of it is not on your agenda or not on your...
MCCONNELL: Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate. We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues.
KEITH: The Senate Intelligence Committee is obviously continuing their Russia investigation. Regardless of how that ends, do you think that Congress needs to do something or anything next year in an election year to assure the American people that Russia or any country is not messing with their election?
MCCONNELL: Well, of course. And from the Senate's point of view, what we're taking a look at is what did happen. And what do we need to do? Your question, what do we need to do to make it less likely that happens in the future - I'm looking forward to a recommendation from them, and I'm hoping that it will be a bipartisan recommendation because if it breaks into pure partisanship, nobody's going to pay any attention to it.
KEITH: Would you like to see them conclude soon to give you time to figure out what those are?
MCCONNELL: I'd like to see them conclude when they get through (laughter).
KEITH: Are you confident President Trump's not going to fire Robert Mueller?
MCCONNELL: The only people that talk about that are the Democrats. I must say, I thought it was not great judgment for the special counsel to hire people who were donors to Hillary Clinton. But I don't hear anybody at the White House or any Republicans and, you know, certainly not in the Senate calling for Mueller to be fired. It strikes to me that's sort of a Democratic effort to protect him from something he doesn't need to be protected from.
MARTIN: That was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking today with NPR's Susan Davis and Kelsey Snell.
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