Face the Nation transcripts October 20, 2013: McConnell, Graham, Warner

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on October 20, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., plus a panel featuring Gerald Seib, Rana Foroohar, Stuart Rothenberg, and Michael Gerson.

SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. We welcome to the broadcast the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator McConnell, Jim Baker, the former secretary of state who led five Republican presidential campaigns, described this recent brawl over trying to tie the defunding of Obamacare to shutting down the U.S. government -- he described it by recalling the words of a long-ago candidate who lost a Senate race in Texas who said, "We shot ourselves in the foot and then reloaded."

Will you ever let something like this happen again?

MCCONNELL: You know, one of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there's no education in the second kick of a mule. The first kick of the mule occurred back in 1995 when we were -- the Republican House shut down the government.

Look, shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy. I don't think a two-week paid vacation for federal employees is conservative policy. A number of us were saying back in July that this strategy could not and would not work, and of course it didn't. So there will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, how badly do you think the country was hurt by all of this?

MCCONNELL: Well, it certainly didn't do the country any good to have, you know, both a government shutdown and a pending fiscal crisis right on top of it. But, look, we're a big, resilient country. You just pointed out how the stock market bounced back immediately. I was pleased to play a role in keeping us from going to the brink. I think it was important to do the right thing for the country. And we did it.

SCHIEFFER: You know, while people here were giving you credit for being the one who was able to get together with the Democrats and broker this deal, back in your home state of Kentucky, the Tea Party folks went nuts.

I mean, you are going to have a Tea Party candidate opposing you in the Republican primary. They are -- say they are now more determined than ever to beat you. They even accused you of taking a kickback. They said that...

(LAUGHTER)

... in this legislation, there is a provision that provides a way to get $2 billion to fund a dam project in Kentucky. What -- what is that all about?

MCCONNELL: Well, as has been widely reported, it was a provision requested by the president and the Corps of Engineers and suggested by a senator from Tennessee and a senator from California that actually saves the taxpayers $160 million. Rarely, in a spending bill, do you have a provision that saves $160 million for the taxpayers.

SCHIEFFER: But did you have anything to do with putting that into this legislation? MCCONNELL: It was put in by Senator Alexander and Senator Feinstein, senators from Tennessee and California, because it saved $160 million for the taxpayers.

SCHIEFFER: And -- though you have lobbied for that project before. I mean, it is a Kentucky project.

MCCONNELL: In past years -- yeah, in past years. It's a dam that sits in the -- an important inland waterway passage between the Mississippi and the Ohio. It's been a longstanding project. It doesn't just benefit Kentucky. It benefits the whole inland waterway system. It is extremely important to the commerce that flows down the central part of the United States, yes.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about Senator Ted Cruz. He led this effort to tie the defunding of Obamacare to shutting down the government. He said he is not backing away. He says he will continue to do -- and these are his words -- "anything he can" to stop what he calls "the train wreck that is Obamacare."

How are you going to deal with that?

MCCONNELL: Well, I certainly agree with Senator Cruz that Obamacare is indeed a train wreck. I mean, a visit to the website is kind of like a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state. People can't -- even if they can access the website, there's no way to -- to get quotes.

Even those who may be fortunate enough to sign up are going to find that the premiums are hiring and the choices are fewer.

One thing that all Republicans agreed on back in 2009 is that we thought Obamacare was a terrible mistake for the country. We still think that, and we're going to do everything we can in the future to try to repeal it. But that requires a Republican Senate and a different president.

We have a math problem in the Senate in getting rid of Obamacare. It's that -- it's the following math problem, 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. We only control a portion of the government, and so that limits our ability to get rid of this horrible law.

SCHIEFFER: But let me get back to what do you do about Senator Cruz? How do you deal with him?

Trent Lott, your predecessor, the very conservative Republican from Mississippi, was asked by The Washington Post, and he said, "You gotta roll him." He said "We've got to have more pushback against these people who come to Washington and suddenly announce they have all the answers."

What do you -- when Senator Cruz tries this again, how will you respond to that?

MCCONNELL: Look, we've got a big conference with 45. I'd like to have 51. That would make me the majority leader instead of the minority leader. We have a lot of people with different points of view.

We had some tactical differences about how to get at the repeal of Obamacare. But the fact that we have some tactical differences doesn't mean we don't all share the same goal. Obamacare is the worst piece of legislation that's been passed in the last half century, the single biggest step in the direction of Europeanizing our country. We need to get rid of it. And if the American people will give us a majority in the Senate and a new president, that's exactly what we're going to do.

SCHIEFFER: I have to tell you that the White House, as late as last night, was telling me that one of the reasons for all these problems with this website is that it has been overwhelmed with people that want this insurance. And they're saying that they are enrolling people into this program and that, like all new programs, the glitches will have to be worked out.

MCCONNELL: Well, let me quote Robert Gibbs, the president's former press secretary, who said it's "excruciatingly embarrassing for the administration."

In Oregon, no one has signed up; in Alaska, seven. It's -- they've had three or four years here to get this ready. God only knows how much money they've spent. And it's a failure. You know, the government simply isn't going to be able to get this job done correctly. And even if you were lucky enough, Bob, to get on to sign up, you're going to find you've got fewer choices and higher premiums. This is a very bad deal for the American people.

SCHIEFFER: You have primary opposition. You have Tea Party people who now say you are public enemy number one. It seems to me, though, this is -- this is something that goes beyond Mitch McConnell and the right side of the Republican party in Kentucky. Are we seeing a war now for the soul of the Republican party?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCONNELL: Well, just let me say this about the primary in Kentucky. I've -- I've endured millions of dollars of attack ads that have been calling me a right-wing fanatic over the years. I think my opponents in the primary are going to have a hard time convincing Kentucky primary voters that I'm some kind of liberal.

You know, I enjoy the support of the most famous Tea Party senator in America, Rand Paul. I'm supported by Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, two other Tea Party favorites who were elected in 2010. I have the support of Mike Huckabee and Bill Bennett. I think they're going to have a hard time convincing Kentucky primary voters that Mitch McConnell is some kind of liberal.

In fact, we took a poll last month to check that out, and only 2 percent of Kentuckians thought I was a liberal. So I think that's a pretty hard sell. And it's almost certainly going to fail.

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