TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Mitch McConnell talks ISIS, Trump and U of L with WDRB's Lindsay Allen
ISIS, Obama's Supreme Court nominee, and a private conversation with Donald Trump were among the topics of discussion when WDRB's Lindsay Allen had a one-on-one interview with Sen. Mitch McConnell Tuesday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell is in Louisville during the Senate recess -- and today he spoke with WDRB's Lindsay Allen in a one-on-one interview about ISIS, the state's heroin epidemic and why he's blocking the Supreme Court Nominee.
Below is a transcript of that interview:
ALLEN: Senator McConnell, I think we have to start with terrorism. We're about a week out now from the situation in Brussels and we now know that a Kentucky native, Stephanie Shults, was a victim in the attack at the airport. Are we doing enough to challenge the threat of ISIS and can Congress be doing more to change the strategy?
SEN. MCCONNELL: No, we're not doing enough. The only way to get a handle on this problem and begin to get it in decline is to go after ISIL at their headquarters. Unlike other terrorist groups, they wanted to have a state -- they call it a caliphate. It's part of Syria and part of Iraq. Al Qaeda never wanted to control territory. They didn't want to have to pick up the garbage or any of the things that go with being a government. So we have here an unusual group that controls a significant part of the Middle East, highly sophisticated and very deadly. In order to begin to push that into a decline, you have to take out the headquarters, in effect. And this President is not going to do that.
What a President -- this one or the next one -- should do is the following: "Okay, we're gonna lead. Here is the plan. Egypt, we want you to supply so many troops. Saudi Arabia, we want you to supply so many, Jordan and the Gulf States, the French, the British, here is the plan. We'll provide the leadership, special operations, and the superior airpower that we have, and we're going to take them out. And while we're there, in order to stop the refugee flow, we're going to establish at least two safe zones inside Syria so the refugees have someplace to go. The refugee flow is never going to stop as long as people fear for their lives. We already have huge refugee camps in Jordan -- in Turkey. Refugees are flooding into Europe. You have to stop the refugee flow.
Now look, that isn't going to prevent every single attack, but at least you go after them where they are and stop the refugee flow by having a safe place for refugees to be.
ALLEN: With President Obama in office, is there more of a strategy that Congress can take though, in the ISIS fight?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well Congress is not in charge of a strategy. What we can do is recommend. He is the CEO. He is the one who determines what the military strategy is -- we can't do that under the Constitution. But I think there would be significant support if the President were to step up to the challenge. And look: it's going to have to be done at some point. It looks like it's going to be by the next President, whoever that may be. Otherwise, the problem continues to metastasize.
And I don't want to overstate this: it doesn't necessarily end all acts of terrorism, because they're very sophisticated in their use of the Internet in recruitment, and we're probably going to have additional events, not only in Europe, but here.
ALLEN: It's not 'if,' but a 'when?'
SEN. MCCONNELL: I mean, no action is not a plan. And the limited involvement we have now is good, but not good enough.
ALLEN: I want to talk about the war here at home, because here in Louisville, Kentucky, it has got to be the heroin epidemic. And I know that the Senate just passed the CARA [Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act] bill. So tell me what that bill does, and Senator McConnell, does it go far enough to really tackle this heroin problem -- this epidemic that we're dealing with in Kentucky -- and is Congress acting a little late in the ballgame here?
SEN. MCCONNELL: No -- I think this overwhelmed the country. Two years ago, I had the President's Drug Czar down in northern Kentucky -- which I naively at that point thought was the worst situation in the country -- only to find out that my colleagues from other states were saying the same thing.
I had 10 people running for President in the Senate come back from New Hampshire, saying that the biggest issue in New Hampshire was the heroin epidemic. So we did a dramatic plus-up of federal funds last December and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act -- that you mentioned that I called up and we passed in the last couple of weeks -- specifies how that money will be spent: all kinds of grants and assistance to organizations like the Volunteers of America here in Louisville that I visited a week ago, that are dealing with a particularly vexing part of this whole issue, and that's pregnant young women who are addicted. They're doing a good job with that. They'll be the kinds of groups that will apply for these funds.
In addition to that, we have these high-intensity drug areas on the law enforcement side. We have several of them in Kentucky that I worked to get established that really bring the focus of federal, state and local government together to go at the problem. It's horrendous -- as I'm sure you've reported.
ALLEN: Every day we report on it --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah. More people are dying of overdoses than car wrecks in Kentucky.
ALLEN: And you're confident this bill goes far enough?
SEN. MCCONNELL: No I'm not. But it's a big first step. This is a horrendous problem. I'm not telling you that it's going to solve the problem, but we're all going to work on it.
ALLEN: You have repeatedly explained your position about President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. You will not be bringing up confirmation hearings in the Senate. Your critics call you an obstructionist. So why are they wrong?
SEN. MCCONNELL: The Constitution, with regard to Supreme Court appointments, provides shared responsibility. It's not something we have to ask permission for. The President nominates and the Senate decides whether to confirm. So let's look at the history of vacancies created in the middle of a Presidential election on the Supreme Court. There hasn't been one filled in 80 years. You'd have to go back to 1888 -- Grover Cleveland was in the White House. You remember that well, right?
SEN. MCCONNELL: -- to find the last time a vacancy on the Supreme Court created in the middle of a Presidential election was confirmed by a Senate of the opposite party.
If that were not enough, Vice President Joe Biden, when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1992 -- a Presidential election year -- said to President Bush, 41, if there were a vacancy on the Supreme Court, they would not confirm it. Harry Reid, my counterpart, the Democratic leader, said 10 years ago, the President can nominate, but the Senate doesn't have to vote. Chuck Schumer from New York, who will replace Reid next year as the Democratic leader, said they wouldn't have approved one of Bush 43's appointments in the last 18 months.
So we know what the history and the tradition has been. So the Senate is not obstructing anything. The Senate is choosing not to act in the middle of a Presidential election year because the American people should decide who should make the appointment. And they're doing that right now in this Presidential election year.
ALLEN: But a follow-up question to that, because if this election cycle has taught us anything, particularly on the Republican side, it's that the American people seem to be rejecting the idea of politics as usual. They want this -- I'm gonna quote it here -- "the outsider candidate." So is this not a very example -- the back-and-forth between you and the President -- an example of the 'politics of usual' that people are trying to reject?
SEN. MCCONNELL: You mean like in Bernie Sanders' campaign against Hillary Clinton? I mean, there are plenty of people angry and upset these days, and they have every right to be, because the average American is about $3,000 a year worse off now than at the beginning of the Obama years. So I understand people being upset. But the last election, the people elected a Republican Senate majority. That's the last time the people spoke. They were not saying, 'Go to Washington and give the President everything he wants.' And particularly were they not saying, 'Go to Washington and fill a vacancy appointed by Barack Obama in the middle of a Presidential election year when a new President is coming in when you know the other side wouldn't do it as well.'
So this is not obstruction. This is an example of the Senate carrying out its Constitutional responsibility. This has been a very productive new majority in the Senate -- everything from a rewrite of elementary and secondary education, to a five-year highway bill which hadn't happened in 20 years, to cyber security, to Internet tax moratorium -- this has been a very productive Congress, because we've looked for the things that we agree on, and there are a lot of things that we do agree on.
ALLEN: It has been widely reported that you had a telephone conversation with Donald Trump a couple of weeks ago. What can you tell us about that conversation? What did you discuss?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well he's called me a couple of times and the last time he called was about a week ago. I'm not going to tell you what he said -- I figure that's up to him to characterize his own views. I'll tell you what I said. What I said was, "I think it would be a good idea for you and all the other Presidential candidates to be condemning violence, no matter who starts the fight." It doesn't really make any difference who starts the fight. I think all the Presidential candidates and their rallies ought to be encouraging people to have a civil discourse, which we're used to doing in this country, and have done for hundreds of years. And that was my advice to him. It was a pleasant phone call.
ALLEN: Any other advice you'd like to share with us that you gave?
SEN. MCCONNELL: That's about all I said to him.
ALLEN: Okay. Will you support Donald Trump if he's the Republican nominee?
SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm gonna support the nominee of our party. And the way that works is, when you get 1,237 delegates, you're the nominee. Now there are some people out there saying, "If you're ahead, you ought to be the nominee." I think you ought to follow the rules. And the rules of the convention are, when a candidate gets to 1,237 votes, they're the nominee. And I'm going to support the nominee of our party.
ALLEN: Is there any truth to the chatter out there -- and you can watch the cable news shows forever -- is there any truth to the chatter that you are working behind closed doors to make sure that he is not the nominee?
SEN MCCONNELL: Well there aren't any closed doors -- that's the problem. People assume that there is some way you could fix all this if you wanted to. It's all quite transparent. It's very open. They're out there competing all across the country. The rules of the party make it clear how you get a nominee. There's no way to fix that. There's no back room negotiation that could determine who the nominee is. The American people in voting in Republican primaries and delegates chosen in various states, at some point, whether it's on a first ballot, or a subsequent ballot, are going to nominate somebody with 1,237 votes.
ALLEN: So Congress really isn't like House of Cards? [LAUGHS]
SEN. MCCONNELL: [LAUGHS] No, it really isn't.
ALLEN: Just a couple of local questions here. You know, the VA Hospital, people are always curious about the progress of that. At one point...construction was supposed to have started by now. Is that new hospital ever going to be built?
SEN. MCCONNELL: It's embarrassing. You know when this was announced? 2006. Anne Northup was still the Congressman from this district. John Yarmuth hadn't even been elected yet. He's now been there 10 years. This is a good example of how incompetent the VA has been. An announcement in 2006 -- and as far as I know, they still haven't broken ground. Someday, I assume, we will see this facility. The money is there to begin to build it. But it certainly illustrates how broken the Veterans' Administration is.
ALLEN: Anything you can do to speed the process along?
SEN. MCCONNELL: We've been beating them up for years. Beating them up for years. And it's pretty hard to overcome the incompetence. Now I will say the new VA head is an improvement over the last one. And we are working -- Senator Isakson from Georgia, the head of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, is working on yet another bill that really does give the secretary of the Veterans' Administration the option to remove people who have been incompetent. And there are plenty of them who have been incompetent.
ALLEN: It's well known that you are a U of L fan, and I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about what's going on over at the University of Louisville. It seems President Ramsey is fighting for his job, and it is the subject of many U of L Board of Trustees meetings, and I'm wondering if you can weigh in in any capacity about what's going on at U of L.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, I have much on my plate in Washington, as a proud alumnus who's got a program out there called The McConnell Center, I do care about the future of U of L, but I'll let that be sorted out by those who have real responsibility for the outcomes.
ALLEN: Last question from me: Senator McConnell, in 2014 when the people of Kentucky reelected you to the Senate, you promised that you would get the Senate working again. Are you fulfilling that promise?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Absolutely. Dysfunction in the Senate is over. The last year before the new Republican majority, we had 15 amendments -- roll call votes on amendments the whole year. We had over 200 last year. Four of the last five years under the Democratic majority, no budget. We did that last year. Dysfunction is over. Not only have we ended dysfunction, but I gave you a litany of things that we've passed, which have been hung up for years -- everything from elementary and secondary education to multi-year highway bills, to Internet tax moratorium. We had an explosion of legislation which illustrates that even though we have big differences with the President, there are plenty of things we do agree on. So what I've tried to do is to focus on the things that we do agree on, that are worth doing, and do them. And we have. So I think most members of the Senate -- regardless of party -- are feeling very good about a very productive Senate. Now you wouldn't think that if you watch the Presidential candidates. You'd think absolutely nothing is going on. Of course that's all -- frankly -- campaign BS. It's just ignoring the facts.
ALLEN: Anything you'd like to talk about that I haven't asked about?
SEN. MCCONNELL: You've pretty well covered the waterfront.
ALLEN: I covered the basics? Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it. It was an honor.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Thank you.
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