McConnell emphasized that he does not expect a Republican majority to approach 60 votes, a projection in line with various forecasts of the 2012 Senate elections. That could be why he is vowing to bring up legislation to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law as his first action if he becomes Majority Leader, but he is not making similar promises in regard to its passage.
“My guess is the Senate will be narrowly controlled by one side or the other and the solutions will still have to be largely in the middle,” McConnell said. “I do happen to think that it makes a big difference who sets the agenda. And that is an advantage you get — even though it takes 60 to control the Senate, 51 does give you a better position because you get to kind of decide what the schedule is, decide what your priorities are and I’ve already told you that Obamacare would be my No. 1 priority.”
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed concern in recent weeks that the protracted and negative GOP presidential primary could hamstring the party’s efforts to hold the House and win the Senate in the fall. The subtle moves toward former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney last week among Members who have been hesitant to back him revealed a desire to unify Republicans and turn the GOP’s focus to ousting Obama.
“I think a lot of Members would like to go on and wrap it up, but it’s not up to us,” McConnell said. “The American people who vote in Republican primaries are going to make this decision.”
But the 70-year-old, five-term Kentuckian contended that his drive to become Majority Leader has not been complicated by the GOP presidential primary nor the actions of House Republicans, who are at times at cross purposes with the Senate GOP. McConnell said he is confident that Senate Republicans’ political prospects haven’t suffered from the recently high volume of intraparty GOP warfare because they have a common foil in Obama.
“What we’re focused on mainly, if you want to just talk the politics of this, is what kind of shape is the president in?” McConnell said. “I think we all agree the president inherited a difficult situation. But he made everything worse. You pick the issue: He made health care worse, made the debt worse, made the deficit worse. It’s hard to pick an area that he didn’t make worse, which is why, if you wanted to sum up what his campaign’s about, [it is]: ‘It’s not my fault.’”
Democrats hold a 51-47 edge in the Senate, leaving Republicans just four seats shy of picking up the majority. Democratic prospects for maintaining control have been boosted in recent weeks with moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire in Democratic-leaning Maine and former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s (D) move to seek his old seat in Republican-tilting Nebraska.
But the Senate playing field is still loaded with opportunities for Republicans. McConnell, a former two-term National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, cited potential pickups in Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Virginia, as well as a “potpourri of good shots” in Florida, Hawaii, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.