Sep 14, 2021

Senate GOP Leadership Press Conference Transcript September 14

Senate GOP Leadership Press Conference Transcript September 14
RevBlogTranscriptsSenate GOP Leadership Press Conference Transcript September 14

Senate Republican leaders held a press briefing on September 14, 2021. They discussed the Afghanistan withdrawal, inflation, the reconciliation package, and more. Read the transcript of the press conference here.

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Senator Mitch McConnell: (00:00)
Well, good afternoon everyone. It’s been a month or so since we were together in this particular forum, and much has happened. We spent most of our lunch today talking about the botched exit from Afghanistan. We had General Keane come by and give us his take on it. And while we all know there are divisions about whether or not we should have left Afghanistan in the first place, I think it’s pretty unanimous no matter how you felt about the ongoing deployment, which in my personal view was working very well, you could not imagine a more botched exit than the one we witnessed.

Senator Mitch McConnell: (01:01)
From giving up Bagram Air Force Base, to allowing the Taliban to in effect dictate when we got out, to this ongoing effort of trying to deal with a new government, if you will, that has four Gitmo alums in the government, plus somebody from the Haqqani network. The terrorist, the barbarians, are back in charge, and there are still Americans there. And there are Afghan allies there. So the administration having created this crisis has full responsibility for the way forward. And we’re anxious to hear from them just how they intend to get Americans who were left behind enemy lines out and how they intend to get our Afghan allies, who deserve the opportunity to go somewhere in the world and start a new life, out of this horrible situation.

Senator John Thune: (02:15)
To the leader’s point, I think the one thing that people more than anything else want out of their government is competence. And what we saw in Afghanistan was a picture, vividly displayed, of incompetence. In traveling South Dakota over the August break, like a lot of my colleagues who were back home in their states, people were just outraged at how poorly executed this exit was. And they want accountability and they deserve accountability. The American people deserve answers. And there are hearings underway already this week in the Senate foreign relations committee and hopefully armed services committee. There are some closed hearings this week, but there needs to be a public accounting by the diplomatic, the military, the intelligence leadership in this country to the American people, who deserve answers.

Senator John Thune: (03:11)
And if you look on every front right now, you see incompetence. The border is another good example, over a million illegal crossings just this last year and no end in sight and no solution out of this administration, except to basically continue with the failed policies that they’ve implemented since they took office. It did away with the policies of the past administration that had been fairly effective in controlling that flow.

Senator John Thune: (03:41)
Instead, what they seem to be focused on is a massive expansion of government, paid for with huge tax increases and lots more borrowing and debt. This is unprecedented in terms of what we’ve seen in our country. You look at the, three and a half trillion dollars is sort of the number that’s being thrown around out there, but if you look at what the committee for responsible federal government says, they’re talking five and a half trillion dollars. And so we think again, that this administration, Democrats in Congress are completely out of step with what the American people care about. They don’t care about a huge run-up in spending right now. They care about inflation. They care about America’s pride. America’s dignity when it comes to the situation in Afghanistan, and they care a lot about controlling the border. What they don’t care about is spending another five and a half trillion dollars on growing government here in Washington, DC.

Senator John Thune: (04:46)
So I hope that over the course of the next several weeks and months, as we deal with some big issues here in the Congress, that the American people will begin to weigh in and start holding their elected leaders accountable and make them responsible for the issues that are important in their lives and not continue down this path of incompetent leadership that we’ve seen so vividly displayed over the past several weeks.

Senator John Barrasso: (05:15)
President Biden on the day that the last US soldiers were evacuated from Afghanistan called it an extraordinary success. To me, that is the lie of the 21st century. It’s untrue. It’s dishonest. And if President Biden believes it, he is delusional. Never again, will be able to say that America never leaves Americans behind, because Joe Biden did just that. And today in the foreign relations committee, Secretary of State Blinken said there are still over 100 Americans trapped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan.

Senator John Barrasso: (06:03)
United States is less safe now than we were over the last 20 years. And Afghanistan is now a haven for terrorists. Our enemies are emboldened, our friends are furious and President Biden wants to wash his hands of this entire thing and get it behind him, in spite of how many people have been left behind to be captured, tortured and killed. President Biden has blood on his hands. And no matter how hard he tries, he cannot remove the stain of this from his hands or from his reputation.

Senator John Barrasso: (06:41)
For the last 20 years, we’ve had soldiers serving and suffering and sacrificing, and today the Taliban has a better set of weapons. They’re the best militarily equipped terrorist group in the history of the world. And where are the weapons come from? Well They’re our tanks and our MRAPs and our helicopters and our planes, and 600 American guns, 600,000 American guns.

Senator John Barrasso: (07:07)
On just about everything that president Biden said, he’s been wrong. He said, very little chance and likelihood that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan. He said, you’d never see a situation again like we saw in Vietnam with helicopters on the roof of the embassy, but that’s exactly what we did see. He said under no circumstances would we, and he said this on national TV, would we let people stay behind, would we leave Americans behind even if we had to keep the troops on the ground longer. This is worse than Benghazi. It’s worse than the Iranian hostage crisis. It is worse than Vietnam. It’s heartbreaking.

Senator John Barrasso: (07:49)
The Washington Post had a comment, an editorial, said it was a moral disaster. I think it was a moral disgrace. Of the 13 service members that was killed, one of them Rilee McCollom was from Wyoming. His wife is pregnant with a child that he would never meet. I stood on the tarmac in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with Riley’s family, with his pregnant wife on Friday as his flag draped casket was brought home for his last trip home to Wyoming. And yesterday his wife delivered a little baby girl. Now the American people, through a GoFundMe page, have raised over a million dollars for Riley’s wife and baby daughter who will never get a chance to meet him. And today I have a lot more faith in the American people than I certainly do in this disgraced and incompetent president.

Senator Roy Blunt: (08:50)
Well, with the backdrop of what was happening in Afghanistan, the other thing I think 100 senators saw at home, certainly I know every Republican Senator saw at home, were help wanted signs, now hiring, bonus to fill out a application. I think it was announced the 8th of September that there were 10.9 million job vacancies in America. There were 8.4 million Americans who said they were looking for work. That’s a pretty dramatic statistic, more jobs out there to be filled then people looking for work. Inflation is real. Input costs are up everywhere. We’ll see if it’s short term or not, but we know for sure that it’s driven by more government money going into the system. And we’ve got to get real about government spending and government programs and how much we can afford to do.

Senator Roy Blunt: (09:51)
Apparently governors, Democrats and Republicans, have gotten real about the extra $300 a week that was in the March bill, the Democrats passed by themselves. At a time when the economy was clearly coming back, there was no reason to incentivize people to stay at home. And that ended Labor Day weekend. The administration had already announced that governors could take their COVID stimulus money and replace that $300 with their COVID stimulus money. Not a single governor has stepped forward to do that. And in fact, the democratic governor of New Jersey explained his decision not to do it by saying, “We must ensure that we were appropriating these funds judiciously for the greatest possible long-term recovery.”

Senator Roy Blunt: (10:48)
So that Democrat governor and others have made the same decision that Republican senators here made on this topic, which was don’t do it. It doesn’t produce the right result, and there are jobs out there. Obviously all the jobs and the skills don’t match. We need to be very focused on that, but we need to do what we should do here not to make the current problems of job vacancies… NFIB, the National Federation of Independent Business said one half of all small businesses reporting they were having jobs that they were having a hard time filling. We need to figure out how to solve that problem instead of continue on the course that makes it worse.

Senator Joni Ernst: (11:41)
Over this state work period, I was able to wrap up the 99 county tour that I do every year in the state of Iowa. This is following the full Grassley that Senator Grassley does every single year and has for the past number of decades. I did finish a day behind him though, so he did win the sprint to the finish line. I celebrate a little different then Senator Grassley, I always get a slice of Casey’s pizza. But it was really great to be out on the road and talking to Iowans, and those last several town halls that I had, they were pretty heavy. And I have to say that Iowans are very concerned about what they see in their federal government.

Senator Joni Ernst: (12:24)
One of the top issues is that reckless tax and spend bill that will be coming back up at three and a half trillion dollars. Iowans are really concerned about this and what it will do to their pocketbooks, through increased inflation, as well as increasing taxes. The other big issue that you’ve heard time over this afternoon, the other issue is Afghanistan. Many Iowans have invested very heavily in Afghanistan and to see the withdrawal go the way it did, just hasty and haphazard, was heartbreaking to so many. A number of my friends, fellow soldiers, have reached out just to say how disheartened they are by what president Biden has done. One of the young men that was killed in the Kabul airbase attack grew up in my hometown of Red Oak.

Senator Joni Ernst: (13:14)
My best friend texted me not long after the attack. And she said, “Wendy Ty’s son had been killed in that suicide bombing attack.” So we will be attending his funeral this Friday in Omaha, Nebraska. And I have to say that his death was one that did not have to happen. It did not have to happen. And so my greatest condolences to all those that lost their loved ones in that attack and those that have lost loved ones through the global war on terror. And as always my sincere thank you and gratitude to every service member that has served during the global war on terror. Because of them, our Homeland has been safe for the past 20 years.

Senator Rick Scott: (14:04)
As I’ve talked to Florida families the last few weeks, they’re really concerned about the direction of the country. Number one, they’re furious over what happened in Afghanistan. They cannot imagine an American president would leave American citizens behind. They just can’t… It’s just unfathomable to people. They just can’t imagine this happening. Why was all this equipment left behind? Why were our allies left in the lurch?

Senator Rick Scott: (14:28)
On top of that, they don’t understand why the federal government can continue to just borrow money, borrow money, borrow money when they can’t do it in their own personal lives. And why doesn’t the federal government, why doesn’t the Biden administration, care about this inflation that’s happening? They see their gas prices up, their food prices are up, their car prices are up and the Biden administration does nothing about it. They have no idea why the Democrats want to spend trillions of dollars more, that they know is going to increase the debt. Their new bill is going to take, the Democrats bill is going to take the debt to $45 trillion. Americans know we can’t pay for that. So I tell you, in Florida, they think we’re headed in the wrong direction up here.

Speaker 7: (15:10)
Republicans used the reconciliation process for healthcare, [inaudible 00:15:18] a couple years ago you used it for the tax bills. When you look what the Democrats might try to do with using this for immigration, when there are, they say, credible GDP and deficit reduction issues through immigration, why would you oppose that if they were to get a ruling in their favor from the Senate parliamentarian on reconciliation?

Senator Mitch McConnell: (15:36)
Well look, the honest broker on establishing what the Byrd rule requires of any particular effort to insert into reconciliation is the Senate parliamentarian. The way the process works, if the majority, which is trying to move a bill through reconciliation works, tries to insert something that’s of question, is basically like an oral argument before the parliamentarian. And the parliamentarian, both sides agree, is the final word. Can’t blame the other side for trying to use the reconciliation as expansively as they want to. That’s always the temptation of the majority, using the reconciliation process, but abiding by the rule, the ruling of the parliamentarian is essential to the function of the Senate. So the parliamentarian will decide that issue.

Speaker 8: (16:35)
Senator, on voting rights-

Senator Mitch McConnell: (16:38)
I can’t hear you.

Speaker 8: (16:39)
I said, on voting rights yesterday, Martin Luther King III and Reverend Al Sharpton said they were seeking a meeting with you. They tried to deliver a letter to your office and they say they were refused. Can you explain what happened, number one? And number two, do you think there is any appetite within your party for this revamped voting rights bill, the freedom to vote act?

Senator Mitch McConnell: (17:01)
Let me say for the umpteenth time, going back to discussions about federalizing the way we handle elections after the 2016 election, that there is no rational basis for the federal government taking over how we conduct elections in this country. Secondly, the voting rights act was not struck down by the Supreme Court. It’s still in existence. That is one area where the federal government does say, you cannot keep people from voting based upon race. Beyond that, this is not something the federal government has historically been involved in, for good reason.

Senator Mitch McConnell: (17:43)
Every state conducts elections differently. You’re watching some states pass new laws based upon the experience we had last year during a 100 year pandemic. What do all these new laws have in common? None of them, not one, is designed to suppress the vote based upon race. So there is no reason for the federal government to take over how we conduct elections. It is a solution in search of a problem, and we will not be supporting that.

Speaker 8: (18:17)
Can you explain what happened, sorry, with my question what happened with Reverend Sharpton-

Senator Mitch McConnell: (18:24)
Yeah, I’m calling on [crosstalk 00:18:24].

Speaker 8: (18:24)
and Mr. King, sir? Why did you refuse to meet with them and to accept their letter, sir?

Speaker 9: (18:30)
Your September 18th rally, you got briefed yesterday by law enforcement. What do you say to the people who are coming here who say that they’re here to free the political prisoners on January 6, something that has actually been voiced by some Republicans? What’s your response to that?

Senator Mitch McConnell: (18:48)
Apparently there is supposed to be a gathering here on the 18th. The speaker, the Majority Leader McCarthy and I had a meeting yesterday with the leaders of the police board. I believe that they’re well-equipped to handle what may or may not occur. I don’t know, Senator Blunt, you want to add anything to that or does that pretty well cover it?

Senator Roy Blunt: (19:12)
I think that covers it. I met with the chief last week and we’re hopeful that the steps that they’ve taken to be sure that they have the right kind of backup from neighboring agencies, and of course, nobody should be better than the chief to figure that out, having been a police chief in one of those agencies, would be a plan that they’d have a chance to be sure that it’s there, whether they have to exercise it or not. And I guess if you’re looking at the fencing issue, the test of how quickly it gets up and gets down, may be a better thing to look at than to continue to talk about a permanent fence around the Capitol.

Speaker 12: (20:00)
If the Democrats put in a debt limit increase in the CR at the end of the month, would Republicans defeat that CR?

Senator Mitch McConnell: (20:09)
Let me be crystal clear about this. Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling. Not because it doesn’t need to be done, so I want to make sure everybody clearly understands this. The last time the debt ceiling was raised, it was done on a bipartisan basis in conjunction with an overall caps agreement. And that debt ceiling increase covers basically what we did last year.

Senator Mitch McConnell: (20:41)
This year is unique. And as you all know, I’ve been here a while. I’ve never seen such an effort to expand the reach of the federal government like we’ve been confronted with this year, through not just one reconciliation process, but apparently yet another.

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