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McConnell’s Fighting Words

In a harsh assessment of President Barack Obama’s first year in office, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the administration’s “hard left” agenda has reshaped the political landscape in favor of Republicans while crippling Democrats’ chances of enacting meaningful legislation.

Democrats “fundamentally misread the mandate of 2008. I don’t think it had anything whatsoever to do with turning America into a Western European country. It was more, kind of fatigue with the previous administration,” McConnell argued during an interview this week in his Capitol office.

McConnell argued that as a result, a “sea change in the political environment” has occurred over the last year that has favored Republicans while causing increasing divisions within Democratic ranks.

“One thing I think is pretty safe to say is that there has been a sea change in the political environment and the confidence, if you will, of the majority that they are in sync with the American people,” McConnell said. “If you look at the political landscape from, say, November of ’08 and compare it to today, we were down 12 in the party generic ballot, and two weeks ago in Gallup we were up four.”

That shift has implications for the president’s agenda on Capitol Hill, McConnell argued, noting that electoral pressures and public interest in issues such as the health care reform bill are driving that change.

“That has an impact on what happens up here, because we don’t exist in splendid isolation here. We are constantly interacting with our constituents, looking at the published polls about how people feel about how we’re doing. ... That explains in my view the difficulty they’re having passing the health care bill. The anxiety is on their side, and the energy and the passion is on our side.”

McConnell argued that Democrats and the White House have, at least on the domestic policy front, pursued an explicitly partisan approach. “The domestic strategy was, unify the Democrats, try to pick off a few Republicans, give it a patina of bipartisanship and jam them. ... I think the bipartisan stuff with them is just talk,” McConnell said.

He also took issue with the numerous public shows of bipartisanship by the White House, including this week’s jobs summit, arguing that outreach is not the same as a commitment to working together.

“There’s been plenty of reaching out. The president’s a nice guy, people are friendly and all that. But it’s about policy, not personality. I think the core mistake they made, if they were truly seeking bipartisan consensus, was best reflected by the statement by the chief of staff at the beginning of the year that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And we all knew what that meant, that they were going to go hard left,” McConnell said.

McConnell did praise Obama’s decision to back an escalation in Afghanistan, the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak assessment of the administration.

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