Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called repealing Obamacare a “pretty high item,” on the agenda for 2017, but he also cautioned those emboldened by the victory of President-elect Donald Trump against overreaching.
“I think it’s always a mistake to misread your mandate, and frequently new majorities think it’s going to be forever. Nothing is forever in this country. We have an election every two years right on schedule, and we have had since 1788,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We’ve been given a temporary lease on power, if you will.”
Along that line of reasoning, an infrastructure package could be one item that Trump has touted that could win broad bipartisan support, said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.
“That scratches Connecticut where it itches. If President Trump wants to spend money on helping to rebuild Connecticut’s roads and bridges and rail lines, then sign me up,” Murphy said during an appearance with fellow Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
“Listen, last night was a gut-punch for a lot of us. It was tough,” Murphy said. “It will be tough for a while to come but come January, I’m going to show up, ready to work with a new president when the things he proposes are good for Connecticut and I’m going to be there to fight him when I think the things he’s pushing are bad for the people that I, that we, represent.”
While public works projects might get bipartisan buy-in, the looming fights are obvious. McConnell declined to speculate Wednesday on what procedural steps might be taken if Democrats threaten to filibuster Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
But clad in jeans and taking an unusually large number of questions from a familiar Capitol Hill press corps, McConnell prioritized rolling back the 2010 health care law, which is one of few agenda items pushed by Trump and congressional Republicans that could advance overDemocratic opposition if there are rules changes.
Conservative outside groups praised McConnell on that point.
“With the repudiation of President Obama’s policies, conservative grassroots activists expect a Trump administration and congressional Republicans to follow through on their promises to repeal this disastrous law and offer a replacement that restores health care freedom, reduces regulation, and promotes economic growth,” FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon said in a statement.
Budget reconciliation rules would allow a simple majority of the House and the Senate to overcome procedural hurdles to advancing a measure that would effectively upend the 2010 health care overhaul, which McConnell calls the worst measure advanced during the two years of unified Democratic government.
But, the Senate rules require scrubbing the measure down to items that have a particular effect on the federal government’s bottom line. And to use the tool, Senate Republicans will need to muster the votes (50 of them, with a potential tiebreaker by Vice President-elect Mike Pence) to adopt a budget resolution that can pass both the House and the Senate.
As much of a challenge navigating internal factions may be, many of McConnell’s proposed action items for Trump don’t require legislative action by the Senate at all.
He told reporters that he would push Trump to roll back executive actions taken by Obama.
“We’ve had a tutorial here over the last eight years of big government,” McConnell said. “A lot of it was done by the president by himself.”
He added that he hoped the president-elect would quickly drop litigation in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
“Day one would be a good idea,” McConnell said of the legal action which he advocated for to stop the EPA’s program.
On the flip side, McConnell could play a key role in the case of executive overreach by the new administration.
“Mitch McConnell needs to meet with President-elect Donald Trump and talk about the Constitution, the separation of powers and the Congress as a co-equal branch of government,” said retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
Mikulski, who has long served with McConnell on the Appropriations Committee, said the focus should be on lawmakers to respect each other and the constitution then “see how it goes.”
While Trump throughout his campaign frequently made internal disagreements with fellow Republicans public, McConnell has an expectation that much more will be handled behind closed doors in the White House.
One area where Trump and McConnell disagree? Term limits for members of Congress.
“I say we have term limits now. They’re called elections.” McConnell said. “It will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”
Bridget Bowman and Rema Rahman contributed to this report.