Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that funding the government is the top challenge facing him when he returns to the Capitol next week.
The Kentucky Republican said he would work with the White House to come up with budget levels to keep the government open past Sept. 30, conceding that President Barack Obama won't sign a measure with a rider defunding Planned Parenthood.
"The Senate Democrats have a big enough number to prevent us from doing things. They prevented us from doing any of the bills that appropriate money for the government, thereby forcing a negotiation when we go back in after Labor Day, which I'll be engaged in with the administration and others to try to sort out how much we're going to spend and where we're going to spend it," McConnell told WYMT in Hazard, Ky.
During the wide-ranging interview, McConnell also responded to a viewer who questioned him on cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood. McConnell said he had led on the issue, but that the numbers were against him.
"We just don't have the votes to get the outcome that we'd like," McConnell said. "I would remind all of your viewers: The way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it and the president has to sign it. The president has made it very clear he's not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that's another issue that awaits a new president hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood."
And McConnell said that in order to really make the changes he envisions on regulations, Republicans need a nominee at the top of the ticket who can win purple states — rattling off a list of places where he also needs Republicans to win Senate contests to continue as majority leader in 2017.
"Whoever our nominee is is going to have to appeal in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado, Nevada — those states that tend to go back and forth," McConnell said. "Looking at the polling data in those key states, I think people are ready to go in a different direction. We just have to nominate somebody that they find appealing."
Asked about the public's perception of Congress being significantly underwater, McConnell said he was not sure that would change any time soon.
"I'm not sure it's possible. People are not happy with the condition of the country, and so it is ... logical and normal, if you're not happy with the condition of the country, to blame the people you elect whose responsibility it is to try to do something about that," McConnell said. "The presidential campaigns also are largely negative on both sides. The people are more running against things than for things. Look, I think that atmosphere we just need to work through, and ... we've made substantial progress in getting the Senate back to work. I'm sorry that it's not noticed by more people, but that's a fact."
A Quinnipiac University survey released Monday showed Republicans on Capitol Hill had just a 12 percent approval rating, and McConnell said realistically people probably would not hear the message his Senate conference is putting out about the chamber's productivity.
"We are no longer just kicking the can down the road and not addressing any of the problems that exist. To expect that to be widely noticed, I think in the middle of a presidential campaign in which you've got candidates on both sides decrying the condition of the country and talking about how bad things are — pretty hard to turn the national mood around," McConnell said.
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