Jun 30, 2020
Mitch McConnell & GOP Senators Press Conference on Russian Bounty Reports
Transcript of Mitch McConnell & Republican Senators’ June 30 press conference discussing reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers. McConnell said Russia should not be admitted to G-7, and warned Democrats against changing filibuster rules.
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John Thune: (00:00)
Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else than politics. The Democrats had an opportunity to debate a bill that would have addressed an issue that the American people were asking us to address. Republicans were prepared to address it, and the Democrats decided, rather than to take on this issue and have a meaningful debate and to get a solution, they decided to play politics. It’s unfortunate. Hopefully we’ll get another opportunity, but it’s going to require them to come to the table and to sincerely sit down and try and solve a problem that the American people are asking us to solve.
John Barrasso: (00:36)
People are going back to work. The economy is waking up, but we have seen a spike now in people testing positive for coronavirus. It’s not a surprise with that many people coming back, that there would be a bit of a spike, but we’re also seeing a record number amounts of tests being done today. Today there’ll be about 600,000 tests done in America for coronavirus, the tests. That’s about 4 million for the week. These are historic numbers of tests being done. And that’s the way we can most safely get our young people back to school, parents back to work and do it smartly as well as safely.
John Barrasso: (01:12)
When I think of what’s happening with coronavirus, we need to make sure that we have the tests and we have vaccines. We need to be smart about coming back. We need to get back to the basics of making sure we wash our hands, personal hygiene, social distancing, and of course, wearing a mask. We also have to be careful to make sure we’re protecting our most vulnerable, our seniors and people with medical conditions. And there is a role for Congress to play in all of this.
John Barrasso: (01:41)
You know that with the CARES Act, it was very successful, still lots of money has not yet gone out. I’ve been back in Wyoming visiting with people this past weekend, talking to legislators, talking to members from our tribes. And what we see is that so much of the decisions being made at the local level of how to spend the money, some hasn’t gotten there. With our tribes only about 60% of the money has actually gotten to them. A lot of it is still sitting here in Washington.
John Barrasso: (02:06)
The test that I’m going to put to myself and to others in terms of a next piece of legislation, is, will it save lives? Will it help people and young people get to school and to work safely and smartly? Can we do that? Will this help in terms of testing in terms of treatment, in terms of vaccines? Will it provide the kind of liability support that we need for our healthcare workers, for our schools and for our mom and pop businesses?
John Barrasso: (02:34)
Now we know that Nancy Pelosi and the House has passed a $3 trillion bill, all borrowed money. That’s never going to pass the Senate, but what we’re going to do as we’re home, and until we come back here, is continue to assess the spike in cases, the return of the economy and looking for the best ways to help America resume their normal life. All of us as Americans, safely, smartly wisely. And is there an additional amount of money that’s going to need to be spent to allow that to continue?
Roy Blunt: (03:07)
Well, and I think on that topic, we will be putting together a bill when we come back, so a month from now, we should be in the final stages of getting that bill together. We’ll have more information than we have right now. I’ve already asked my appropriating subcommittee that does the health and education and labor appropriating, to begin to put a package together that will ensure we have more testing that we have continued work on therapeutics and we have the money we need to move forward with the vaccine.
Roy Blunt: (03:37)
I think Dr. Barrasso said a couple of times in meetings he and I were in. And so was the other here behind me, that the most important thing we do to resume normalcy is to get people back to school. You’re not going to do that, particularly in a residential setting, without millions of tests that people can take dozens of times. That’s very practical. It’s very possible. We’re going to have hearing this Thursday with Dr. Collins from NIH and the head of Barta, the investing group and Dr. Redfield from CDC, to talk about how those rapid efforts moving forward will still produce safe tests, safe therapeutics, and maybe most importantly, a safe vaccine. And our willingness to move forward before we know that all of these are going to make it to the final stage of approval, so that when we do have a final approval, we have that particular vaccine already ready to get out.
Roy Blunt: (04:38)
And one of the things I’m going to talk to Dr. Redfield about Thursday is, after developing the vaccine, the next thing that may be almost equally important is a plan to get that vaccine out quickly and fairly, in a way that people will think the whole country is adequately and appropriately served by it. We’ll be doing that Thursday. We’ll be doing lots of other things this week and while we’re home, to collect the information we need to have that next COVID package in mind when we get back here. And I think the timing is going to be just about right for us to know what we need to know for a package that moves us into August, September and October.
Joni Ernst: (05:25)
I have long, long said that Russia is not our friend. And even so much so, a couple of years ago, I said that I wouldn’t trust Putin any further than I could throw him. My staff did an analysis and they determined I can’t throw him. We should all learn the lesson that you cannot trust Russia. You can’t trust Putin. I was at the White House earlier today with a number of my colleagues and we received a briefing from intelligence officials, including the DNI.
Joni Ernst: (05:59)
And after that briefing, the evidence that I have seen and have heard, shows no corroboration between what was posted in the New York Times article. That is very concerning. However, with that being said, we certainly want to make sure that our troops on the ground are adequately protected and making sure that they are safe and that should always be a priority. If we really do want to push back on Russia, the Democrats can join us in passing this National Defense Authorization Act.
Joni Ernst: (06:36)
There are a number of measures included in the Defense Authorization Act, like the development of hypersonic weapons, the development of technologically advanced missile defense systems. All of those things are included in the NDAA, so we want to see this great bipartisan bill pushed forward if the Democrats really are serious about pushing back on Russia. It would help us as a nation. It would help NATO. It would help our European allies. We all need to come together on that.
Joni Ernst: (07:11)
Now, there are other things in the NDAA as well. Everything from female body armor all the way to treating those that have traumatic brain injury. There really is something for every one of our men and women that have worn the uniform. We’re looking forward to getting that done. I want to thank Chairman Inhofe for being such a tremendous leader in this initiative. And just as a closing note, I would remind everybody that tomorrow is the day we see full implementation of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement. And my folks back in Iowa are so thankful, so we appreciate that. Let’s get out onto NDAA. Thank you.
Todd Young: (07:58)
As a United States Senator, who was elected by the people of Indiana to a separate and independent and coequal branch of government, with the executive branch, I believe in checks and balances. I believe in them very deeply. Over the weekend, we had some major newspapers that reported on bounties. That according to the reports, the Russians were giving to members of the Taliban, in order to kill American service men and women.
Todd Young: (08:33)
I took this reporting very seriously and I contacted the administration in furtherance of my oversight responsibilities, demanding answers. The administration commendably responded quickly. I was able to review within a secure setting, intelligence materials that were right on point and educate based on my experience as a Marine Corps Intelligence Officer. And today, I was invited into the situation room to be briefed by, among others, the National Security Advisor and our Director of National Intelligence.
Todd Young: (09:08)
I’ve concluded the following. Number one, this administration, and this president has drawn on all available intelligence to keep our men and women in uniform safe. That intelligence finds its way out into the front lines and informs our force protection protocols. Number two, those major national newspapers. I mentioned, including the New York Times and the Washington Post reported on unverified and inconclusive intelligence as though it had been conclusively determined that Russia paid bounties on US troops.
Todd Young: (09:48)
Number three, every single member, Republican and Democrat alike of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is aware, should have been aware of the intelligence that I was briefed on. It’s long been available. Look, President Trump has consistently been hard on Russia. I have itemized the litany of areas in which he has been difficult for President Putin. And he has, in contrast to the previous administration, been incredibly responsive when things rise to a strategic level and require a modulator response, vis-a-vis Russia and its leadership. And the president, to my mind, is taking this matter very seriously.
Speaker 6: (10:43)
Leader McConnell, were you ever briefed before this week about this Russian bounty intelligence and what did you make of it?
Mitch McConnell: (10:53)
Well, at the risk of echoing my colleagues, the briefings that are being offered are appropriate. Everybody who wants to go to briefing is able to do it. I recommend we do it committee by committee, if we choose to. I don’t have an observation about what may have happened in the past, but listening to the people who’ve been briefed, and it appears as if this is not a conclusion that’s been reached to such a level, it might’ve even made it to the top. [crosstalk 00:11:33]
Speaker 6: (11:33)
Do you think Russia should be allowed back into the G7?
Mitch McConnell: (11:38)
Speaker 8: (11:42)
Is there any reason that you believe that the president should have been briefed on this intelligence? And do you have any knowledge of whether or not this information was included in his briefing materials?
Mitch McConnell: (11:55)
Look, I don’t have an observation to make about that. What you’ve heard our colleagues say is conclusions apparently were not reached in this matter. And I can’t imagine whether the president is subjected to every rumor that may be unsubstantiated. I really don’t know what happens in his presidential daily briefings.
Speaker 9: (12:21)
Mr. Leader, you had Mr. Luntz in lunch today. My question for you, do you think that the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has A, hurt Americans, but B, hurt your own political prognosis?
Mitch McConnell: (12:36)
Well, what I can tell you is what Senate Republicans did was respond to the crisis by beginning to write the CARES Act in my office, which ultimately became law without a single dissent, which has done a great deal to prop up the economy. And as you’ve heard, suggested, I said back in March, we’d take another look at this, probably in July, take a snapshot of where we are, both on the health front and on the economic recovery front. And decide at that point exactly what needs to be done further. What I can tell you without fear of contradiction, is the focus will be kids, jobs and healthcare.
Mitch McConnell: (13:28)
What I can tell you without fear of contradiction is any bill that passes the Senate will have liability protections on it. And without picking any of you out, you’ve been mischaracterizing What this is about. It’s not just for businesses. This is liability protection for everyone. Hospitals, doctors, nurses, businesses, colleges, universities, K through 12 educators, everybody who interacted with this pandemic about which we knew nothing, before it hit. Unless you’re grossly negligent, or intentionally engaged in misconduct, we’re going to see to it that you don’t get sued on top of everything else you’ve had to deal with in trying to get through this.
Mitch McConnell: (14:15)
That’s a prediction I can make about a bill that we’ll make a final decision on in July when we got back. I think it is exactly the right time, exactly the right time to address this issue.
Speaker 10: (14:31)
Do you support Congress, taking any action against Russia, any sanctions legislation, or anything like that?
Mitch McConnell: (14:37)
Look, it’s no secret. The Russians are up to no good. They have been throughout Putin’s tenure. Various administrations have tried to warm up to Putin, it;s clear that he’s not somebody you can warm up to. I can’t verify the current rumors that all of you are writing about, but would I be surprised if the Russians were doing something like this? Absolutely not.
Mitch McConnell: (15:08)
They are trying to create a problem for us everywhere. They particularly want us out of Syria and out of Afghanistan. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that they’re going to try to create as many problems as they can for our continued presence in the middle East, or for that matter, anywhere else in the world that they can stick their thumb in our eyes. Yeah?
Speaker 11: (15:30)
Do you expect a bill before August? Do you expect to bill a pass before August, a COVID relief bill?
Mitch McConnell: (15:36)
Yeah. We’re going to stay on the schedule that I announced earlier in the year, which means we will not be here in August. So I think the time to focus on this, as I said, three months ago, and as others have said today is that period in July. Which also, I think dovetails nicely with the perfect time to take an assessment of the economy and the progress we’re making on the healthcare front and see if there’s additional assistance needed for our healthcare providers. See if there’s additional incentive needed for the rapid effort to develop, as Senator Blunt pointed out, make sure we have enough testing, are the treatment options improving? How much more, if anything, do we knew needed to do on the vaccine front? Because we all know the only way we ever put this in the rear view mirror is with a vaccine.
Mitch McConnell: (16:34)
In the meantime, what we’re all trying to demonstrate for everybody, in the country is the single most important thing you can do, not only to protect yourself, but protect others until we get a vaccine, put on the mask. It’s not complicated.
Speaker 12: (16:49)
Senator, can I ask you, some Democratic senators are already discussing getting rid of the legislative filibuster if they win the Senate, what is your response to that? And also if you keep the majority, will you consider getting rid of the legislative filibuster?
Mitch McConnell: (17:02)
Well, I consistently said no to the current president on that issue. And he tweeted about me a number of times, which I greatly appreciated. And let me say, I think the important thing for our Democratic friends to remember, is that you might not be in total control in the future. And anytime you start fiddling around with the rules of the Senate, I think you always need to put yourself in the other fellow shoes and just imagine what might happen when the winds shift.
Mitch McConnell: (17:36)
With regard to the changes that have occurred on the executive calendar, really that’s a very recent phenomenon, even though it was possible on the executive calendar to filibuster nominations, it just wasn’t done, until Bush 43 got elected. And ironically, the current democratic leader of the Senate was the ringleader and starting to filibuster on the executive calendar. And then Senator Reed undid that, and where we are today on the executive calendar is right back where we were for 200 years, prior to Bush 43. That’s not really a revolution.
Mitch McConnell: (18:11)
What would be a revolution and turn the Senate into the House, would be to change the legislative filibuster. I’m not through. Do I feel strongly about it? You bet. And if there are any responsible Democratic senators left, who aren’t going to be stampeded by the hard left, they ought to take a pause and think about whether they really think it’s a good idea for the country, to put the one institution that guaranteed that America stayed in the middle of the road into the same place as the House. I’m going to take one more, somebody was trying to speak up. Yeah?
Speaker 13: (18:55)
On the COVID package, I’m curious of what you expect the unemployment benefit provisions to look like after the 600 expire in July. And are you open to another round of direct [crosstalk 00:00:19:05].
Mitch McConnell: (19:05)
No, it’s a good question. Unemployment is extremely important and we need to make sure for those who are not able to recover their jobs, unemployment is adequate. That is a different issue from whether we ought to pay people a bonus not to go back to work. I think that was a mistake and we’re hearing it all over the country. This made it harder, actually to get people back to work. But to have the basic protections of unemployment insurance is extremely important and should be continued.
Speaker 13: (19:39)
Would you be open to another 1200 check?