May 18, 2021
Senate GOP Leadership Press Conference Transcript May 18: Israel, Unemployment
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders held a press conference on May 18, 2021. They addressed the crisis in Israel, unemployment, and more. Read the transcript of the full news briefing speech here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Are you concerned about equivocating Israel with Hamas?
Speaker 2: (00:03)
Yeah. First of all, this is real simple. If Hamas stops firing on Israel, there is going to be no more fire, because Israel is not going to fire back. So, there’s no equivalent here. These are two very different groups, one being a national country, the other being a terrorist organization.
Speaker 1: (00:29)
Thank you. And then last question is on the arms sale that has gone through with Israel-
Speaker 2: (00:34)
Speaker 1: (00:34)
… that Congress has signed off on, but now it’s looking like some leaders might be asking for that to be held. Can you just explain where that stands?
Speaker 2: (00:42)
Yeah. We’ve signed off on that. This sale has been in the works. It happens every year for many, many years. Four people have to sign off on it. Myself, as the Republican leader of the Foreign Relations Committee in the United States Senate. The Democrat leader also has to sign off. The same way in the House, the Republican and Democrat leader have to sign off. All four of us have signed off. This has been longstanding, and it’s in the works. None of this should affect this at all. In fact, if anything, what’s going on underscores the need for us to support as we are. Okay? Thank you. Thanks so much.
Speaker 3: (01:20)
Senator, are you concerned at all about what precipitated the unrest, though? Some of the concerns the Democrats have raised about the application of [crosstalk 00:01:28]-
Speaker 2: (01:26)
Yeah. I hope-
Speaker 3: (01:28)
… the disproportionate amount of deaths from Palestinians? We have about a dozen Israelis, and no loss of life. Just about a dozen Israelis. But we have several hundred Palestinians who have lost their lives, so there is a disproportionate impact in this conflict.
Speaker 2: (01:43)
When you’re using live fire like this into another country, you can expect live fire back. This is on Hamas. It is not on Israel. Hamas is using civilians as shields, and they actually locate their weaponry within civilian populations. There are going to be civilian deaths in that case, because Israel, or any other country, including the United States of America, would fire back if indeed people were endangering our citizens. So, that’s going to happen. It’s very unfortunate. This is not on Israel. This is on Hamas. Thank you very much.
Speaker 4: (02:19)
Guys, we’ve got to open this hallway up.
Leader McConnell: (08:18)
Good afternoon, everyone. First, an observation about the conflict in the Middle East. I’m really perplexed about the argument that there’s some kind of moral equivalency between Hamas, a terrorist organization funded by Iran, and Israel. There are all kinds of differences. Number one, when Israel strikes, for example, they call the building and say, “Please get out of the building, because we’re about to attack it,” in order to minimize civilian casualties. Hamas is lobbying rockets into Israel to kill civilians. There is no moral equivalency here, and those who are calling for a cease fire are basically suggesting that there is moral equivalency. I think we need to stand by our Israeli friends. Imagine what our reaction would be if somebody was lobbying these missiles into Washington. I think we’d be hitting back, but we’d be hitting back with precision.
Leader McConnell: (09:21)
Secondly, we had a good discussion at lunch about the January 6th Commission. I think I’m safe in characterizing our conference as willing to listen to the arguments about whether such a commission is needed. One thing I think we need to bear in mind is there are hundreds of arrests that have already occurred. The Attorney General is pursuing many more. There’s a serious criminal investigation going on right now. Query. Would the January 6th Commission in any way interfere with the criminal investigations and the law enforcement activities?
Leader McConnell: (10:13)
Number two, we need to read the fine print. Even though the commission appears to be balanced, my staff tells me that in fact, the majority, the chair who will be determined by Pelosi and Schumer, control all the staff [inaudible 00:10:33]. So, I’m not saying that we have decided this should not go forward. But if it’s going to go forward, it needs to be clearly balanced, and not tilted one way or the other, so we have an objective evaluation. So, I think it’s safe for you to report that we are undecided about the way forward at this point. I want to read the fine print, and if the majority leader puts it on the floor, we’ll react accordingly.
John Thune: (11:04)
Well, it’s nice to see some smiling faces again. I think proof and evidence that vaccines work, and I hope that the American people will see this and understand that the vaccines are safe and effective, and the best thing that we can do to get this pandemic behind us is to get everybody vaccinated. In South Dakota, vaccine rates are high, the unemployment rate is low, and the kids are back in school, and we’re glad that the rest of the country is starting to catch up.
John Thune: (11:37)
But what I see happening with the current administration and many of their policies is they’re moving further and further to the left, and making it harder and harder for the country to get back on its feet economically. I think there are several pieces of evidence about that. One is the inflation rate’s the highest that it’s been in 12 years, which means that everything from the food you put on the table, to the energy you use in your home, to purchasing a used car, all those things. Everything is going up. It’s more expensive for people in this country.
John Thune: (12:09)
Secondly, you had in the month of March 8.1 million job openings, and yet the April employment report recorded that only 266,000 people got jobs, meaning that there is a huge gap. A huge disconnect between the number of jobs available out there, and the people who are actually wanting to go back to work. And one of the reasons for that is the Biden administration has adopted and put policies in place, and keep policies in place, that make it harder and harder for businesses to compete with the federal government. The unemployment rate increase, which has been locked in now until September, is making it harder and harder for employers across this country to hire, and you’re going to continue to see that unemployment rate tick up until that changes.
John Thune: (12:58)
And so, I hope that the administration will realize that their radical policies, very leftist policies on the economy, whether it’s the massive amount of spending, the proposed tax increases, which would kill jobs and the economy, are not the right policies. That if we would stick to and adhere to the pro growth policies that were in place prior to their arrival at the White House, that we were seeing our economy grow and expand at the fastest rate in generations. Those are the types of policies we think need to be in place, and hopefully the administration will come to that conclusion.
John Barrasso: (13:29)
Well, inflation is actually roaring back. The price hikes are such that it’s the largest since 2008, and it’s hitting people in their wallets where they buy gas, where they buy groceries, you name it. Gas prices are now over three dollars a gallon. The last time we’ve had that in the United States was seven years ago. And when you take a look at the Biden administration, and their deliberate policies of attacking American energy, there’s no surprise that energy prices are up. This is predictable, and it would have been preventable.
John Barrasso: (14:05)
Right now we’re using more oil imported from Vladimir Putin and Russia that we’re using oil from Alaska. That’s a result of the policies of this administration. So, whether you need to either heat your home or cool your home, you’re going to pay more. We have one pipeline that shut down last week. It caused panic, it caused long lines, and we’re going to see more of this with this administration’s policies. So people are paying more, but it’s not just going to be about energy costs. We’re also seeing it for products. Used cars, used trucks up 10% in cost last month alone. Higher grocery prices.
John Barrasso: (14:44)
And it’s not just Republicans who are predicting it. President Obama’s Secretary of Treasury, Obama’s Secretary of Treasury, had said that this was going to happen, if you continue with this massive amount of spending of this administration. You saw this with the last so-called stimulus bill, a coronavirus relief which wasn’t about coronavirus relief. It was going to overheat the economy. That is exactly what happened. And President Obama’s Secretary of Treasury said the thing that was a surprise to him was that the inflation has gone up so quickly. So quickly, and faster than he would have ever expected.
John Barrasso: (15:21)
We’re going to see more of this if President Biden continues with these policies of taxing and spending. And guess what the House wants to do? More liberals came out and said, “No, $6 trillion isn’t enough.” Last night they came out with a counteroffer to their own offer, and they’ve gone up to $7.1 trillion. This is an administration and Democrats who absolutely have a misguided obsession with taxing and spending, and this is going to be to the detriment of the American people.
Roy Blunt: (15:51)
Well, for the first time in a long time at home, I think all of us are hearing about inflation. The other thing we’re hearing about, that we’ve been hearing about now for weeks and months, is people just don’t want to go to work. That there are more jobs than there are people that want to go to work, and a lot of that is caused by the federal government. If you add the $300 a week to the average state unemployment, your weekly unemployment, including that $300, is $618 a week. If you can make more than $15 an hour by staying home, a lot of people can’t make that right now going to work. That doesn’t mean that $15 an hour is the problem. It means paying people too much not to work is a problem.
Roy Blunt: (16:39)
I talked to a person last week who runs a theme park in Branson, Missouri. Been there for years. One of the great theme parks in the country, Silver Dollar City. He said, “We could hire 150 people in the morning, if we could find them in the morning.” I talked to a guy who runs a chain of hotels. He said, “Our problem is not the customers anymore. It’s being able to handle the customers.” He said, “We could rent more rooms. We could fill more rooms if we could clean more rooms, and we’re having to turn people away because we don’t have the staff it takes to run the hotel the way we’d need to run it.”
Roy Blunt: (17:18)
21 states have either already stopped or announced they’re going to stop accepting the $300 additional federal money. Washington, D.C. is creating a problem here that states are having to solve one by one on their own. It’s time we realized the problem we’re creating, both with inflation and a shortage of workers in the country, and we need to have that discussion.
Joni Ernst: (17:50)
Yesterday was tax day, and it should serve as a good reminder for all of us. Who is really paying for all of this extreme spending that the Democrats are doing? And that’s the American people. It’s hardworking American people. And what we see coming out of the Biden administration is some plans to start raising taxes on these very same hardworking Iowans and Americans. One of the provisions in Joe Biden’s tax policy plan is to eliminate a provision that allows farmers and small businesses to pass on their assets without incurring huge tax liabilities. That is really important for the folks back home.
Joni Ernst: (18:40)
We see another provision that would end the cap on the state and local tax provisions for our liberal coastal elites. And I’ve got to get this right. Their deductions. It would end repealing the cap on state and local tax deductions. Again, the salt. And I have to get this right. I’m going to quote this, okay? Everybody pay close attention, because the quote is from AOC, folks. AOC says this is a, quote, “gift to billionaires,” end quote, and a, quote, “giveaway to the rich,” end quote. And you get it here first, folks. This is probably the only time that I will ever agree with AOC. Okay? These tax provisions that are being promoted by the Biden administration, they really are in certain areas a giveaway to billionaires. Okay? If we have the extreme left saying, “These are giveaways,” and obviously, hearing from my hardworking Iowans back home that have worked their entire lives to put together their farms, their small businesses, they are pushing against these tax policies. I haven’t heard of many folks that believe this is the right thing to do.
Joni Ernst: (20:06)
So again, we’ve got to end the taxing and the spending. This is not good for our economy, not good for our recovery, and I hope that the Biden administration is not only listening to AOC, but also just plain old hardworking Americans.
Speaker 10: (20:26)
The phrase that best describes the Biden Democrat agenda is systemic socialism. You know, other than Bernie Sanders and AOC, they don’t like to talk about socialism, because they know the American public is completely against socialism. But let’s look at what they’re doing. They’re talking about redistribution of wealth. That’s socialism. Check. High taxes. That’s socialism. Bigger government. That’s what they want. Socialism. They want to take away our rights, the first Amendment Rights and Second Amendment rights. That’s socialism. And what else happens in socialism? Prices go up. If you just look over the last 14 months, lumber prices are up almost double. Meat prices, 16%. Gas prices, 49%. Bread and grain prices, 68%. Now, who does it hurt? It hurts the poor. It hurts somebody on a fixed income. Their wages don’t go up like that. And so, the Democrats say they care about those people, but see, opposite. Their systemic socialism hurts the poor, and hurts the people on a fixed income.
Speaker 11: (21:26)
Leader McConnell? Leader McConnell?
Speaker 12: (21:26)
You said recently that you thought an infrastructure package of about $600 billion to $800 billion, there might be something in that range. How firm are you on that upper limit, to go above it?
Leader McConnell: (21:36)
Well, I’ve asked Senator Capito to be our leader on that, and she’s produced a bill of around $600 billion that she thinks makes sense. As you know, five of our members met with the President on that subject. They are today meeting with the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Commerce, and I’m going to defer to her, as she’s in the lead on this, and I’m comfortable with where she’s taken us so far.
Speaker 11: (22:06)
Speaker 13: (22:07)
Speaker 14: (22:07)
[crosstalk 00:22:07] moving to bipartisan negotiations on the 1/6 Commission? Have you all proposed what you’d like to see in the changes with the House and with the Senate Democrats?
Leader McConnell: (22:12)
Yeah. I think I pretty accurately described where we are. We’re talking about this. You know, what is the composition of it? Is it truly balanced? And also trying not to ignore what’s already happening. The Justice Department is aggressively pursuing the people who encroached on the Capitol. Senator Blunt, Senator Portman, through the Rules Committee and Homeland Security are in the middle of a study. In the meantime, in addition to the January 6th Commission the speaker is apparently sending to us, she’s sending to us a supplemental as well, and we’re not sure what to spend the money on yet. So, I think we are pushing the pause button here. Taking a look. If both of these come over, both a January 6th Commission and the supplemental, we’ll take a look at them. But they’re going to have to make sense in the context of where we are with the criminal investigation, it’s very much underway, and the studies that Senator Blunt and Senator Portman are involved in.
Speaker 13: (23:23)
Leader McConnell: (23:23)
… you had previously suggested you were open to, you wanted an investigation to have a broader scope to look into what happened last summer. Are you open to a scope that’s looking specifically at the January 6th attack?
Leader McConnell: (23:37)
Well, Minou, let me try again. We are discussing this whole matter in our conference. We just had a good discussion on it at lunch, and we’re evaluating what is appropriate given where we are. And I don’t have an answer beyond that at the moment. Yeah?
Speaker 3: (23:56)
Leader McConnell, you have made your support, and Senate Republicans, for Israel expressly on the Senate floor this week. You specifically named a five year old Israeli boy that tragically lost his life, but you didn’t name the number of Palestinian children that have died. Is there even concern for the Palestinian children losing their life in this conflict as well?
Leader McConnell: (24:17)
Well, we’re concerned about all children, but the difference… Let me try one more time. The difference is, the Israelis actually call in advance if they’re going to make a strike, and suggest to their adversaries that they get out of the building, in order to try to avoid killing anyone. Hamas, which is a terrorist group, lobs shells into populace areas, with the purpose of killing innocent civilians.
Speaker 3: (24:48)
But 58 children have died on the Palestinian side-
Leader McConnell: (24:48)
Total lack of-
Speaker 3: (24:51)
… and you didn’t mention them.
Leader McConnell: (24:52)
Total lack of moral equivalency. There are a significant number of Democrats now who want to throw Israel under the bus, and act like there’s some equivalency here. There isn’t. Completely without moral equivalency. A terrorist group on the one hand… That exploits, by the way, the Palestinians themselves by frequently putting them in harm’s way… and the Israelis, who are going out of their way to make precision responses to defend their country and their citizens.
Speaker 16: (25:22)
Mr. Leader, how confident are you that there will be an appeal on police reform by next week, or in the deadline set by President Biden?
Leader McConnell: (25:31)
Well, you need to check with Senator Scott. He is in charge of our negotiation, and he could give you I think the best answer to how close we are.
Speaker 16: (25:39)
Have you been meeting with negotiators?
Leader McConnell: (26:21)