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Mitch McConnell to Newsmax: It's 'Nonsense' Boehner and I Are Responsible for Trump's Rise

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By    |   Monday, 06 June 2016 08:11 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is strongly denying suggestions that the often-controversial positions he and former House Speaker John Boehner made on Capitol Hill helped create the explosive political atmosphere that launched the extraordinary success of Donald Trump.

"That's nonsense. What you have to do in Congress is do the best you can with the government you have and the government we have right now is divided," McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tells "The Steve Malzberg Show" in an interview Monday on Newsmax TV.

"We have a president who has a whole different approach to life than we do, so there's not a whole lot we can agree on but we do have to do basic work and we're trying to focus on things and while it may not make big headlines, need doing."

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Some political pundits claim that years of GOP head-banging with President Barack Obama and the Democratic minority has frustrated Americans so much that they have embraced Trump as a wild-card outsider who will not practice politics as usual.

But McConnell — author of the new book, "The Long Game: A Memoir," published by Sentinel — told Steve Malzberg there are a number of issues Republicans have successfully promoted with bipartisan support.

"Like rewriting 'No Child Left Behind,' which is very, very popular with conservatives, we even got Obama to sign it. Like passing a six-year or five-year highway bill. That hadn't been done in 20 years. Or cybersecurity or comprehensive energy or opioid and heroin addiction," McConnell said.

"Things that are important that we would get some agreement on and get a presidential signature. At the same time, we had big differences. We'd love to repeal Obamacare, we put it on the president's desk and of course he vetoed it.

"So I would say to conservative critics, you want to change America, you have to have a president who will sign the bills to change America, not one who will veto them."

McConnell was asked if the GOP essentially waved a white flag of surrender last year after it declined to approve a government shutdown as both parties haggled over expiring tax breaks, gun control research and healthcare funding for 9/11 emergency workers.

"Yeah, its saying we're not going to do stupid things that the public hates," McConnell said, referring to the two-week shutdown in October 2013 over funding disagreements concerning the Affordable Care Act.

"The public hates government shutdown, we tried that in the '90s. When it was tried in 2013 when I was not the majority leader, our party approval rating went down 10 points, its biggest dip in history. So yeah, I said we're not doing dumb stuff anymore.

"We're not going to shut the government down and turn off the public and make it less likely we win the next election…. I would say it again…. It took a whole year to recover from that. Our party label tanked 10 points during that ridiculous shutdown to get the president to defund Obamacare."

McConnell reiterated the Senate’s plan not to officially interview or vote on Merrick Garland, Obama’s moderate pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We're not going to allow this president on the way out the door to tilt the Supreme Court to the left for the next generation. We're not going to fill it, we're going to wait and see who the American people choose," he said.

"Donald Trump … has put out a list of highly qualified nominees, the kind of people he would nominate for the Supreme Court, I find that really reassuring. All the people in the country right of center find it very reassuring.

"We're not filling this vacancy with Barack Obama's appointment. It will be filled by the person who wins the next election for president."

McConnell has thrown his support behind the billionaire businessman, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and won’t hold him accountable for the violence that’s erupted at Trump rallies — melees some believe were instigated by Trump’s sometimes incendiary rhetoric.

"I don't want to cast blame at anybody. When you have big crowds like that, you're never quite sure who starts what," McConnell said.

"I do think that Americans need to remember that we have a peaceful democracy here, everybody's free to say whatever they want to, and nobody needs to throw any punches to make a point at anybody's rallies whether it's Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton."

McConnell said he has advised Trump to pipe down his often incendiary comments, including negative remarks about New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

Martinez, who has not endorsed Trump, said she was insulted by his comments about Mexicans, including an "unrealistic and irresponsible" plan to force Mexico to pay for a border wall. Trump responded: "Hey! Maybe I'll run for governor of New Mexico. I'll get this place going ... She's not doing the job. We've got to get her going."

McConnell said it is no longer necessary for Trump to be so combative.

"He’s won. What people expect of people when they win is to be gracious, to reach out, to try to bring those who oppose you in the past together. That's how you unify the party," McConnell said.

"Donald and I have had several conversations about this. I think the attacks on Republicans that he needs to unify and win the election ought to stop. It's not a smart strategy.

"I think particularly picking on one of the most popular and successful governors in the country, particularly one who also happens to be Hispanic, is the sort of thing that doesn't make any sense at this point. He needs to pivot to the general election, unify the Republican Party, and go after Hillary Clinton."

McConnell’s publisher calls his new book, a "candid, behind-the-scenes memoir" by a man who, despite tremendous obstacles, has worked for more than 30 years "to advance conservative values."

Those challenges include his battle with polio at the age of two.

"It was a challenging time. This is before the polio vaccine, obviously. My father was in the Army fighting the Germans in World War II, [and I come] down with polio in the left leg, a partial paralysis," McConnell said.

"The only good news about the story was we were about an hour's drive away from Warm Springs, Georgia, where President [Franklin] Roosevelt had set up a polio treatment center for other victims like himself.

"My mother took me over there, the nurses trained her in how to do physical therapy regimen for my left leg [and] said she needed to do that four times a day.

"[They also said] she needed further to keep me from trying to walk because they were afraid if I did what other youngsters that age were doing and trying to learn how to walk, the muscle would not have the kind of recovery that it would have the potential to have."

That tough regimen went on for two years, McConnell said.

"She … watched me like a hawk every waking hour and my first memory in life was the last visit to Warm Springs where they told my mother it looked like I was going to be able to walk without a brace and without a limp and be a normal kid," he said.

"So without her I would have had a dramatically different life and I think it was an early lesson for all of us, and that's why I shared it in the book — that if you work really hard, the chances are you can get where you're headed.

"I had a good friend who said the harder he worked, the luckier he got. So I think we can affect the outcomes in most of our lives with effort."

In his book, the 74-year-old father of three also discusses how his failure to become a professional baseball player led to his interest politics.

"I got interested in sports like most little boys. I worked hard, got pretty good at it and started feeling a little cocky and thinking maybe I was some, maybe even had professional potential here," McConnell recalled to Malzberg.

It was then, he said, that he had "my first really big humbling moment."

"We went in to play the city All Stars. They had a better field than we did, they were bigger than we were, and they were better than we," McConnell said.

"And I had a chance to watch that for a few innings, getting nervous, thinking about going in and pitching the second half of the game. So I go in and I walk, he bases loaded, and then I walk another guy.

"One run is in, and I thought, boy, I'm going to get the ball over and did I. The next guy hit a home run. So it dawned on me that probably my athletic career was going to peak at a fairly early age. I looked around and found some other way to compete, very similar to sports and baseball and that is politics."

McConnell ran for president of the student council at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, "and amazingly enough I actually won and one thing lead to another and I ended up in college being an intern in Washington a couple of years."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is strongly denying suggestions that the often-controversial positions he and former House Speaker John Boehner made on Capitol Hill helped create the explosive political atmosphere that launched the extraordinary success of Donald Trump.
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Monday, 06 June 2016 08:11 PM
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