Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the likely majority leader of the GOP-led Senate next year, vowed on Wednesday that Republicans would repair a Senate that has become dysfunctional after eight years under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"From an institutional point of view, the Senate needs to be fixed," McConnell said. "The Senate in the last few years basically doesn't do anything. We don't even vote."
Senate Minority Leader U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Republicans have to clean up a Senate that Democrats left in tatters. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Republicans have complained for years that Senate Democrats tried to protect President Barack Obama and themselves by stopping bills that make Democrats uncomfortable. That has led to a vaccuous chamber that has spent many weeks during the last four years voting on nothing but lower-level judgeships.
McConnell said Tuesday's midterm elections give Republicans a chance to fix that problem and many others that Democrats have allowed to fester in the Senate, which he said was the main reason Congress has done so little since 2010.
"The first thing I need to do is to get the Senate back to normal, and that means working more," he said. "I don't think we've had any votes on Friday in anybody's memory."
McConnell said allowing amendment votes and respecting committee work on legislation is a big part of his plan. Many Democrats have groused privately that the Senate has become useless under Reid, and McConnell said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) may be on the verge of losing his Alaska Senate race because he hasn't had a vote on any of his language in six years.
"I've... been called by three prominent Democrats since last night," he said. "They're anxious to be relevant again. They're anxious for committee work to be respected."
While McConnell agreed that Republicans and Obama are unlikely to agree on much, he said there are still many bills that might be passed now and even be signed by Obama. He said he spoke with Obama by phone since the election, and said there is likely a way to move legislation dealing with trade and tax policy that could be agreed.
"That doesn't guarantee that the president is going to agree with everything we do, but we're gonna go back to work, and actually pass legislation," he said.
Senate Republicans will vote next week on who the Senate majority leader will be in the next Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appeared to hint on Tuesday that he might not back McConnell, but McConnell said Wednesday:
"Let me just make a prediction for you. A week from now I'll be elected majority leader of the Senate."
His leadership may depend on catering to the likes of Cruz and other staunch conservatives, but McConnell said there are ways to do that. On Obamacare, for example, McConnell said he would prefer to kill the law entirely if he could.
But if he can't, he indicated that passing bills to chip away at the law might be possible, but as bills to repeal the medical device tax and eliminate the individual insurance mandate. "We'll be discussing how to go forward on this issue when we get back," he said.
On Tuesday night, Cruz said he would prefer a full repeal bill, but also admitted that smaller bills to repeal parts of the law make sense.
On immigration, McConnell warned that a decision by Obama to move ahead with his amnesty plan for millions of illegal immigrants would not be wise because it would make bipartisanship much harder.
"I hope he won't do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue," he said.
He also said Republicans will discuss whether and how to revoke a decision by Reid to let executive branch nominees be approved by the Senate in a simple majority vote. Republicans were outraged by the use of that so-called "nuclear option," and said it destroyed the rights of the Senate to offer advice and consent for these nominees.
McConnell said Republicans would not allow the government to shut down or default on its debt, and said hearings on the IRS targeting scandal are a sure thing.
"Oh, you can bet on that," he said.