Transcript: Sen. Mitch McConnell on "Face the Nation," October 7, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that aired Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who joins us from Louisville Kentucky this morning. Mr. Leader let's start with something you said to The Washington Post you said, "I want to thank the mob because they've done the one thing we were having trouble doing which is energizing our base." Who is the mob?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well the people that were attacking our members at their homes and in the halls. It was really quite a display of aggressiveness far beyond what I would consider peaceful protesting. They were trying to intimidate members of the Senate not only in our home states but also up here actually in- in the Capitol and at our homes here in Washington. And I'm really proud of my members for not knuckling under to that- those kind of mob like tactics.

JOHN DICKERSON: Is it possible in your mind for a senator to have voted against Judge Kavanaugh in good conscience?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Oh, I'm sure. I'm not going to question the motivation of the senators' votes. It was a close vote an important vote. I think we were able to establish that the presumption of innocence is still important in this country and that the Senate is not going to be intimidated by these kinds of tactics.

JOHN DICKERSON: Senator, the- the- President Trump said that Lisa - Senator Lisa Murkowski is never going to recover. Should she be punished for voting against Judge Kavanaugh?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Look I'd rather talk about the success that we had. Senator Murkowski is a Republican member of our conference in good standing. We're happy that we won. I'm sorry that we lost her, but we got the votes of all the other members of my conference and those who wanted the additional FBI investigation for a week took a look at the report, found no corroborating evidence, and were comforted to vote for Judge Kavanaugh. Senator Collins' speech was one of the most consequential and outstanding speeches I've ever heard in the Senate in support of Judge Kavanaugh.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you this: Joe Manchin voted for Judge Kavanaugh. Will you recommend to the president that he not campaign against Joe Manchin who is up in 2018?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Joe Manchin's still a Democrat and we're trying to hold the majority. We appreciate his vote for Judge Kavanaugh. I think it was the right thing to do. But we're trying to win seats. And ironically the behavior of- first Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and then the overreach of the protesters at the Capitol have actually energized the Republican base particularly in the red states where we're trying to pick up seats out across America. So I want to thank- I want to thank the other side for the tactics that have allowed us to kind of energize and get involved our own voters.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about that. You said after the tax cut bill passed, "if we cannot sell tax cuts we should be in another line of work." Why after reducing regulations, passing a tax cut bill was the Republican base not energized and it required this?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well I mean we are still talking about those issues and I do think it's important. But everybody knows how energized the Democrats' side is for all- a whole variety of different reasons. And so our energy and enthusiasm was lagging behind theirs until this. And I think this gave us the motivation and the opportunity to have the kind of turnout in this off-year election that would help us hold the Senate.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about a piece of legislation as everybody has been more aware now of sexual assault. Senators have talked about bringing up again the bill that would change the rules for investigating sexual assault in the Senate. It's passed with bipartisan support but it's stalled. Is there going to be action on that now?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah I sure hope so. I mean that we've had difficulty negotiating our- our differences between the House and Senate but that- that's something I know we'll get done before the end of the year. And by the way --

JOHN DICKERSON: -- but isn't it up to you, Mr. Leader? --

SEN. MCCONNELL: --in spite of- no- no it's not up to me. We're negotiating a- a solution between the House and Senate. And I expect that we will get a result here before the end of this Congress. It's also important to underscore that in spite of our big fight over this nomination and over taxes last year, there's been an awful lot of bipartisan cooperation. We passed two overwhelmingly by-by overwhelming margins two bills just last week in the middle of the Kavanaugh dispute on opioids and a five year extension of the FAA. We've also done appropriations better on a bipartisan basis than any time since the1990s. So the notion that the Senate is somehow broken over this is simply inaccurate.

JOHN DICKERSON: But Mr. Leader those things have happened but this is of a different order and Democrats are pointing not only to the way this was handled but in the history of partisanship on the Supreme Court, your decision to block Merrick Garland is something they see as-as having kicked off a new stage in the partisanship associated with Supreme Court nominees.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah they don't know much history. You have to go back to 1880 to find the last time a Senate controlled by a different party from the president confirmed a Supreme Court justice to a vacancy created in the middle of a presidential election. They also conveniently forgotten that Joe Biden said in 1992 when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Democrats control the Senate, Republican in the White House. If a vacancy occurred they wouldn't fill it. They also conveniently forgot that Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, 18 months before the end of Bush 43 said if a Supreme Court vacancy occurred they wouldn't feel it--

JOHN DICKERSON: --But Mr. Leader--

SEN. MCCONNELL: --Talk about hypocrisy.

JOHN DICKERSON: Right, but Mr. Leader I don't think that's right. In 1956 Eisenhower nominated Brennan the- the 84th Congress was a Democrat controlled and also on the Biden rule, Joe Biden was talking in the abstract. There was no nominee, no nominee was blocked and he said to not have the nomination come up before the election, but that it could come up after the election. And so what Democrats say when they hear you doing this is they say he's creating new rules to essentially do what he wants to do. And as you've written in your book "The Long Game" when you do that, it actually hurts democracy.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, well that's not exactly- that- that's not at all what happened, John. You're- you're completely misconstruing what happened. What I gave you is the history of this. I know the history of this. I've spent a lot of time on this throughout my career. What I did was entirely consistent with what the history of the Senate's been in that situation going back to 1880.

JOHN DICKERSON: Well I- I think the 1956 example and also in 1968 later in the election cycle when a Democratic president put somebody forward, the Republican leader worked with him to get that person a hearing and get him towards the Supreme Court which is not something that you did, a vote at the time--

SEN. MCCONNELL: --Then there was a Democrat- then there was a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Senate.

JOHN DICKERSON: But the Republican leader--

SEN. MCCONNELL: --You are not--

JOHN DICKERSON: --at the time tried to help--

SEN. MCCONNELL: --you are not listening to me, John.--

JOHN DICKERSON: --the Democratic president.

SEN. MCCONNELL: John you are not listening to me. The history is- is exactly as I told you.

JOHN DICKERSON: Well we have- we have a disagreement about the history, but I greatly appreciate--

SEN. MCCONNELL: --Yeah, we do. We certainly do--

JOHN DICKERSON: --greatly appreciate you being with us here today. Mr. Leader, thanks so much.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay, thank you.