CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Speaks with CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” Today
WHEN: Today, Monday, September 30, 2019
WHERE: CNBC’s “Squawk Alley”
The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” (M-F 11AM – 12PM) today, Monday, September 30th. The following is a link to video of the interview on CNBC.com:
Watch CNBC's full interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
CARL QUINTANILLA: Ukraine, impeachment, the ongoing trade war dominating headlines out of D.C. That’s not stopping Republican leadership from try to focus the conversation on other issues. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is out with a new op-ed yesterday, calling on Democrats to move ahead with the U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement and Senator McConnell joins us exclusively now to discuss. Leader, it is good to have you with us. Good morning.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Your piece is sharply worded. It does make me wonder whether or not you think passage is in jeopardy here.
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, you know, it is a tough thing for Pelosi. She, as you know, opposed trade promotion authority back when President Obama was in office. I actually helped President Obama get trade promotion authority over the opposition of Pelosi and Reid at that particular time, so she’s not pro-trade to begin with on the other hand, the argument for USMCA is very, very compelling you know, 176,000 new jobs, $68 billion increase in gross domestic product we have 12 million jobs already related to our trading relationship with Canada and Mexico. So, I think it is going to be pretty hard for her not to take it up, even though voting for a Trump trade deal I gather is a bitter pill for them
CARL QUINTANILLA: She was on our air with Jim Cramer last couple of weeks, said she hoped she was on a path to yes regarding USMCA she made some comments last week suggesting even with the inquiry in the House that she can continue to work with the White House on some legislation. Can the House Democrats not chew gum and walk at the same time?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I sure hope so. Right now, they have a thin record of making something become law the way you make law, it has to pass the House, Senate, be signed by the President. They have been marching through their whole array of left-wing proposals. Obviously those are not going anywhere in this current divided government if she wants it to be said that she did nothing in the next two years but try to impeach President Trump, that’s a position we’re happy to argue about. We think we ought to be able to do more than just create controversy here.
JON FORTT: Senator, good morning your critics would say you’ve done as much as any modern legislator to extract political leverage from votes that were once routine, 8 years ago, you and the rest of the Republican leadership used debt ceiling legislation to advance your party’s political goals. Three years later, nearly happened again why is this any different?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, look, during the Obama years I made three major deals on taxes with Joe Biden. Three very significant deals so when you have divided government, you need to look for things you can agree on and do those. And I don’t see much of that happening right now so I know the House has been on this impeachment addiction since the day the President was sworn in, but I hope they can turn their attention to something else. USMCA ought to be right at the top of the list, it is good for the American people.
MORGAN BRENNAN: Senator, just to dig into that a little more all of the oxygen in the room seems to be going to the impeachment inquiry. What does it do to congress’ ability to legislate whether it is USMCA whether it is safeguards regarding China, prescription drug reform, even getting actual funding for fiscal 2020 Federal budget which begins tomorrow.
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we did reach an agreement on a bipartisan basis obviously on how much the government is going to spend both this year and next. And I think we’ll be able to honor that agreement, it has not been as smooth in implementation as I hoped we are working on getting prescription drug costs down there are other issues that we can hopefully reach some agreement on if I were the speaker, I wouldn’t want to go into next year’s election having it credibly said all you did for the whole congress was harass the President, try to remove him from office.
MORGAN BRENNAN: That said, Senator, what does happen in the Senate if the House gets through with the inquiry, and decides they are going to impeach President Trump?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, under the Senate rules we are required to take it up, if the House does go down that path and we will follow the Senate rules.
CARL QUINTANILLA: There have been some discussion about people literally going back to the constitution, arguing there’s no mandatory act on behalf of the Senate looking back at an interview you gave in march saying you would have no choice but have a Senate trial if the House passed an article or more. You’re saying if they did, the Senate would move ahead.
MITCH MCCONNELL: It is a Senate rule related to impeachment that would take 67 votes to change I would have no choice but to take it up how long you’re on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a senate rule on impeachment.
JON FORTT: Senator, I want to go back to trade for a moment there’s been this trade war going on with china in particular you talked about the importance of USMCA to jobs are you feeling comfortable with the way the president is pursuing this policy with China and the American farmer’s ability to buck up under that?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I would sure like for it to reach some resolution soon it has been very tough on American agriculture as you know, my party is very deeply based in rural America and small town America I hope the President can get a good outcome here. The Chinese have been stealing our intellectual property and not playing by the rules a long time so I admire what he is trying to do but I hope we can get a conclusion to this soon. Rural America needs it and rural America also needs the USMCA. I mean, this is a big deal for American agriculture to get the new and improved deal with Canadians and Mexicans as well.
MORGAN BRENNAN: Senator, I want to go back to the rules around impeachment, if this is something that does come up in the Senate there’s been speculation that you might seek to change the rules, have those practices changed. Just to confirm, you are saying you would not do that?
MITCH MCCONNELL: No, the Senate impeachment rules are very clear the Senate would have to take up an impeachment resolution if it came over from the House.
MORGAN BRENNAN: Okay. And then there’s also been reports from "The Washington Post" that you are the person that urged the White House to release that call transcript between trump and the Ukranian president. Is that actually the case, and if so, do you feel that was the right move?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I’m sorry, I had a hard time understanding what you were saying. What did you say?
Brennan: there was a report last week from "The Washington Post" that you were the person that urged the White House to release the transcript of the call between President Trump And the Ukranian President. Was that actually the case, and if so, do you feel that was the right move in hindsight?
MORGAN BRENNAN: Well, I did say, on numerous occasions, I had called the secretary of state and the secretary of defense wondering what the hang up was ongoing forward with the aid to Ukraine, which I have very much supported. And I was curious as to what the delay was, but at least it all ended well. Fortunately the aid was released. And I think that was an important step for our Ukrainian friends.
MORGAN BRENNAN: Possible curbs on investment between the U.S. and China, that’s been in focus, especially the last couple of days, focusing on the treasury. But there has been an effort in the Senate to increase oversight of both Chinese and other foreign companies that list here in the U.S. Do you support such legislation, and I guess, how does it speak in general to how lawmakers in the Senate are thinking about china in the future?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we’re worried about the Chinese and their involvement in this country in some respects, but the Treasury Department has made it clear they’re not interested in de-listing, if you will, Chinese companies from U.S. Stock Exchange or from doing business in the country. That could end up hurting us. And whatever tactics we use with regard to china need to not be ones that punish us.
MORGAN BRENNAN: If we get an actual trade deal between the U.S. and China, what would that do to all of the legislating around that country now, including Chinese companies like Huawei?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we are concerned about Huawei. There is no question about it. And there are national security concerns here that we have to balance with our commercial interests. We don’t want actually – obviously, to make it more difficult for American companies to do business in China and for Chinese companies to do business here. But these national security implications are important. Huawei was right in the cross-hairs of what we’re talking about here, that’s a good example.
Carl Quintanilla: When it comes to your op-ed today, leader, you talk about House Democrats picking fights, running out the clock, using delay tactics. But you yourself have talked about being the grim reaper for bad legislation on the House side, whether it is Medicare for all or other things. Could you blame Pelosi if she came out and said, ‘I will be a grim reaper myself’?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, what I am talking about is things we can agree on. Here – the USMCA is something we can agree on. Look, I don’t expect her to take up measures that we think are important all by ourselves, meaning the Republicans. Nor will I be taking up this whole litany of left-wing proposals they have been passing in the House. That’s not designed to make law. That’s designed to take a position. And they’ve made it clear, today’s democratic party is on the far left of virtually every issue.
But, we do have divided government. When the American people elect a divided government, they’re saying, why don’t you look for things you can agree on and do those? USMCA is right at the front of that list of things that we ought to be able to reach an agreement on, that are good for the American people. That’s not the kind of thing seems to me we ought to be slow walking or refusing to take up.
CARL QUINTANILLA: The stock market would argue that infrastructure is not far behind and we’ve had multiple years of hope that something like that could also be attained. Is that dead?
MITCH MCCONNELL: No. We’re going to do a transportation bill, maybe later this year. It probably won’t be as bold as the president was talking about, because it would inevitably, if it were that bold, involve a whopping gasoline tax increase which is very regressive, it hits medium and low-income people very hard. But we will do a transportation bill. It will be more along the size of a traditional every four or five year transportation bill.
JON FORTT: Senator, I want to ask about election security. You recently threw your weight behind more funding for election security, saying that there’s been more than $600 million allocated to that since fiscal 2018. Is that enough? Is that the right piece of spending? And how are you gauging, given all of the threats, particularly digital, that the United States faces, whether we are secure enough in our election?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah. Well, first of all, the 2016 election, when President Obama was in office was not handled well at all. And we all know the ramifications of that. What people refuse to talk about is how successful the 2018 election was. The trump administration did a terrific job of pushing back in 2018. Where were all of the stories about election interference? Basically nonexistent. What I am in favor of, and have consistently been in favor of, is giving states enough money to do the job.
What i am against, and what we’re not going to pass in the Senate, is an effort to take responsibility away from the states who, under our constitution, are responsible for conducting elections. We want to provide assistance, and the $600 million, the additional $250 on top of $380 million we did last year, will provide additional assistance for states. I have always been in favor of that, still in favor of it. That’s what we’re going to do.
JON FORTT: Will there be oversight as well though, at the Federal level, to be sure the money is spent in a way that truly does secure the elections? Or are you advocating giving states money, and expecting them to do the job to whatever standard they see fit?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, Department of Homeland Security did a terrific job in 2018 working with the states, and they know what they’re doing. It was very impressive. By the way we had a classified briefing for all senators by the administration on the 2018 election. And behind closed doors, there was bipartisan applause for the great job they did in 2018. And then our Democrat colleagues walked outside and told the press exactly the opposite. Look, 2018 was a big success story, I am convinced we’re ready for 2020. Any foreign country that messes with us will have a serious problem in return.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Finally, Leader McConnell, I know the focus today is your piece about the USMCA, but when the president is tweeting about attacking the whistle-blower or suggesting that Adam Schiff should be arrested, or Tweeting about civil war, do you have a view of his rhetoric in the last, say, 48 hours?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, what I want to do is spend our time accomplishing things for the American people. USMCA, as leader McCarthy and I pointed out in "The Wall Street Journal” today, is something we can agree on, something we ought to do. It makes a difference -- it makes a difference for the American people. The House wants to spend – they spent the last three years harassing this president and I gather we’re going to get another chapter of that with the impeachment episode, but we need to find other things that actually make a difference for the American people and try to accomplish as much as we can. That’s what I want to do and that’s what we’re in the process of trying to encourage the house to do by taking up USMCA.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Leader McConnell, we don’t get to have you on air that often. It’s good to have you. We hope you’ll come back.