Video: After post-election pause, fighting words from GOP

  1. Transcript of: After post-election pause, fighting words from GOP

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now we return to politics. No putting it off any longer. Just two days after the election that ushered in sweeping change in Washington , and tonight, the Senate 's top Republican made it clear to President Obama just where he stands. Our chief White House corespondent Chuck Todd with us tonight with that story. Hey, Chuck. Good evening.

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Well, good evening, Brian . That's right , that post election detente, well, it lasted all of about 24 hours, as today the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear to the White House his focus is on 2012 .

    President BARACK OBAMA: Things are a little less ideological...

    TODD: President Obama used his first post- midterm election Cabinet meeting to talk about lessons from his party's Tuesday drubbing.

    Pres. OBAMA: And they want a change of tone here in Washington , where the two parties are coming together and focusing on the people's business as opposed to us scoring political points.

    TODD: He said he's serious about developing a, quote, "better working relationship with the Republican congressional leadership." But two hours later, across town at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation , Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spoke of a different mandate.

    Senator MITCH McCONNELL: If our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all of those things is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things.

    TODD: The two messages from President Obama and McConnell today couldn't have been more different.

    Sen. McCONNELL: If the administration wants cooperation, it will have to begin to move in our direction.

    Pres. OBAMA: What we need to do is make sure that everybody's pulling together, Democrats and Republicans and independents.

    TODD: McConnell also used his speech to shore up his standing with tea party conservatives, like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint . The two senators were on opposite sides in quite a few Republican Senate primaries during the campaign, including in McConnell 's home state of Kentucky , where the tea party pick Rand Paul defeated McConnell 's candidate. In an interview with the National Journal , DeMint said he was satisfied with McConnell and his team for now, but did hint that he won't be a bystander. He said, "Any leadership changes would be a year or two down the road, I suspect. We just need to change our focus from the appropriations process to one of creating national policy."

    Mr. RON FOURNIER (National Journal): The leaders in the House and the Senate , the incoming leaders in the House and the Senate , the Republican leaders, everything they do they got to do while they're looking over their shoulder, their right shoulder, at the tea party movement.

    TODD: Now the president officially invited the Speaker-to-be John Boehner , Mitch McConnell , plus the Democratic leadership over to the White House for more than just a photo-op. He said he's hoping to have dinner with them right after he comes back from Asia . And quickly, Brian , a little election news, overtime that is. In the state of Illinois , the president's home state, he went one for two. Pat Quinn , the appointed governor who got it. He now won a full term on his own over Republican Bill Brady , very narrowly, but he won. A little feather in the cap for the president after what's been a tough election week.

    WILLIAMS: And we still wait for two big Senate races. Chuck Todd at the White House tonight. Chuck , thanks.

msnbc.com news services
updated 11/4/2010 7:22:20 PM ET 2010-11-04T23:22:20

The Senate's Republican leader has a simple postelection message for President Barack Obama: Move toward the GOP or get no help from its lawmakers.

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Two days after Republicans scored big victories in congressional elections, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday offered an aggressive assessment of the results, calling for votes to erode the reach of the health care law that was a signature of the Obama administration.

"That means that we can — and should — propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly," McConnell said.

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McConnell's remarks, in a speech delivered to the conservative Heritage Foundation, acknowledged that Obama would veto such legislation, which probably would be blocked by the president's fellow Democrats in the Senate anyway.

He said the only way Republicans in Congress can achieve their goals is "to put someone in the White House who won't veto" a repeal of Obama's health care reform, spending cuts and shrinking the government.

More realistically, McConnell said Republicans, who will hold a majority in next year's House of Representatives, should aim to hobble the healthcare law by "denying funds for implementation" of the measure. Annual spending bills for agencies, including ones that implement the healthcare law, are normally written first in the House.

McConnell said the results of the midterms were not about Republicans but instead about Democrats, who he said got an "F." He said he expects Democrats will begin peeling off of their base to start supporting GOP initiatives.

"Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle have a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday," McConnell said. "I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do."

McConnell eyes Democrats up for re-election in 2012

McConnell's confrontational tone was in sharp contrast to the chastened posture Obama took Wednesday in the face of a new Republican controlled House and Republican gains in the Senate.

On Wednesday, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner said the he promised to be honest with Obama and the two agreed to work together on cutting spending and creating jobs, even though Republicans campaigned on vows to turn back much of Obama's agenda.

Democrats accused Republicans of putting the interests of large corporations ahead of families.

"It speaks volumes that the first thing on Republicans' 'to do' list is to give power back to big health insurance companies," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Story: Nixing — or 'fixing' — health law? Don't hold your breath

Kim Monk, a healthcare analyst for Capital Alpha Partners in Washington, suggested Republican efforts to repeal parts of the new law could run up against the harsh reality of huge U.S. budget deficits.

"Even tweaks are going to cost money and that's a problem because it's a deficit-cutting environment," she said in a telephone interview.

Instead, Republicans most likely would continue speaking out against the law "just to keep the message alive. This is all about 2012 (election) strategy," she said.

The healthcare law, passed this year over Republican objections, provided the most sweeping reforms of the U.S. healthcare industry in decades. It aims to provide coverage to millions of people who have been going without insurance.

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It imposes tough new standards on health insurers such as Aetna Inc and WellPoint Inc and requires all Americans to buy health insurance policies starting in 2014 or face fines, among other changes.

The Senate Republican leader said that he would attempt to stage votes in his chamber next year "against its most egregious provisions" of the law.

Those could include measures that penalize large employers if they do not offer health insurance to their workers and mandates on individuals to purchase health insurance.

McConnell's own approval rating, per a September NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, is 12 percent positive, 20 percent neutral and 18 percent negative, with another 50 percent responding that they did not have an opinion.

This article includes reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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