Columns

McConnell: Presidential Candidates 'Not Going to Dictate' Senate Agenda

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks from the chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said there was a “potpourri of discussions about a variety of different issues” on the table during his Oval Office meeting today with President Obama and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Two of them that I highlighted, in particular, were the opioid epidemic, which we’ll be addressing in the Senate in the very near future, and the Zika virus,” McConnell told reporters outside a closed policy luncheon on Capitol Hill today.

“We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don’t end up — you know, having the kind of feeling across the country that we’re sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola.”

He added that they covered “everything from criminal justice to Puerto Rico,” and also covered the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Obviously it’s a very important issue. I would simply repeat what I’ve said publicly: I have some problems with the agreement,” McConnell said. “And it’s pretty obvious to anybody who will state the obvious that with both the Democratic candidates for president opposed to the deal and a number of the presidential candidates of our party opposed to the deal, it’s my advice that we not pursue that, certainly before the election.”

“And then some would argue it’s not fair to the voters for them not to consider what you might do after the election. So what we agreed to do is continue to talk about it.”

McConnell added that they came to the meeting with some common ground: “The speaker’s a free trader. I’m a free trader, and obviously, the president is as well. There are a number of flaws here. We’re gonna keep on talking about [TPP] and seeing if there’s a way forward.”

Asked about far-left and far-right members of the Senate tying Hillary and taking first in the GOP Iowa caucus on Tuesday, McConnell simply replied, “I’m watching the presidential campaign with great interest and occasional enjoyment.”

He did stress, though, that “the presidential candidates are not going to dictate the agenda in the Senate.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama “spent some time sort of highlighting five of the priorities that he’s hopeful that we can work with Congress on this year.”

Those are the Puerto Rico financial crisis, TPP, opioid abuse, the State of the Union vow to cure cancer, and criminal justice reform.

“The president’s not going to be the ballot in 2016, but all the Republicans in the House of Representatives are going to be, and a third of the United States Senate is going to be on the ballot too. And there will be a lot of voters who are asking those members of Congress exactly what they’ve been doing for the last two years and what they’ve done to earn their vote, particularly when you consider that Republicans with a lot of fanfare, captured strong majorities in both houses of Congress in the last election,” Earnest said. “And I think a lot of voters are going to be asking incumbents what exactly they’ve done with that privilege.”

Earnest said the pressure is on Ryan and McConnell “to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration.”