Sen­a­tor ad­mits GOP gen­der gap

Mc­Connell sees Ka­vanaugh fuss as do­ing lit­tle to shrink gulf

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JULIE PACE, LISA MAS­CARO AND LAU­RIE KELLMAN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick and Pad­mananda Rama of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON — Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day that Repub­li­cans have a long-stand­ing gen­der gap when it comes to Amer­i­can women, but he stood by one key Se­nate woman, say­ing “no­body’s go­ing to beat” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska de­spite her op­po­si­tion to Brett Ka­vanaugh.

In an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­view, Mc­Connell took is­sue with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has said Alaska vot­ers “will never for­give” Murkowski and that she’ll “never re­cover” po­lit­i­cally af­ter buck­ing her party on Ka­vanaugh last week.

The GOP leader said he doesn’t think the ac­ri­mo­nious bat­tle over con­firm­ing Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court over sex­ual-mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions made the gap in which Repub­li­cans trail Democrats in sup­port among women any worse. But he didn’t say that was such great news.

“I don’t see how it could be much wider than it al­ready was,” he said. “We’ve al­ways had that,” though in gen­eral “it clearly is wider than it used to be.”

On a pos­i­tive note for his party, he said he ex­pects the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion fight and ap­proval to pro­vide an “adren­a­line shot” of GOP en­thu­si­asm at the polls. Head­ing into the Novem­ber midterms, the party is de­fend­ing its House and Se­nate ma­jori­ties. Only six of the 51 Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate are women.

The GOP leader said it’s not that there aren’t enough Repub­li­can women run­ning, but that they don’t win their elec­tions the way Demo­cratic women do.

“It’s a great frus­tra­tion,” he said.

The 76-year-old Mc­Connell, who’s been in the Se­nate since 1985 and ma­jor­ity leader since 2015, said one change he’s hop­ing to see is on the Se­nate’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

The all-male lineup on the Repub­li­can side drew at­ten­tion dur­ing the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for Ka­vanaugh, who was ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct in high school and col­lege. He has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Mc­Connell said he’s hop­ing to per­suade more Repub­li­can women to join the com­mit­tee but hasn’t had much suc­cess in the past be­cause “they just haven’t been in­ter­ested.”

As for the ac­cu­sa­tions against Ka­vanaugh, he said he found Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s ac­count of her sex­ual as­sault “con­vinc­ing” but noted that there had been no cor­rob­o­ra­tion.

Murkowski was the only Repub­li­can who voted against ad­vanc­ing Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to a full roll call, and she voted “present” on the fi­nal tally. Trump has said Alaskans will make her pay.

How­ever, “No­body’s go­ing to beat her,” Mc­Connell said. He noted that Murkowski won elec­tion on write-in votes in 2010 and said, “She’s about as strong as you can pos­si­bly be in Alaska.”

The GOP leader also split from Trump to de­fend Demo­cratic Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, whom the pres­i­dent ac­cused of leak­ing a pri­vate let­ter from Ford.

“I haven’t crit­i­cized Dianne,” Mc­Connell said.

Fac­ing the prospect of a tough midterm elec­tion that could al­ter con­trol of the House, Mc­Connell warned that Democrats will pay a po­lit­i­cal price if they win and then use their ma­jor­ity to dig into in­ves­ti­gat­ing Trump next year. He says it would back­fire and help Trump in 2020 the way Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment cost Repub­li­cans two decades ago.

“I think it’ll help the pres­i­dent get re-elected,” he said. “This busi­ness of pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment may or may not be quite the win­ner they think it is.”

If con­trol of Congress does split, he en­vi­sions a Repub­li­can Se­nate ma­jor­ity keep­ing full-throt­tle on con­firm­ing the pres­i­dent’s nom­i­nees — in­clud­ing an­other Supreme Court pick if there’s a va­cancy. He be­moaned what he con­sid­ered Democrats ty­ing the Se­nate in knots with pro­ce­dural votes on less con­tro­ver­sial ex­ec­u­tive branch nom­i­na­tions.

“Far be it from me to com­plain about ob­struc­tion, I’ve done my share of it. But never just kind of mind­less ob­struc­tion,” he said.

One key nom­i­na­tion could be for a new at­tor­ney gen­eral if the pres­i­dent fires Jeff Ses­sions, as has been hinted, af­ter the midterm elec­tions.

Mc­Connell de­clined to weigh in on a pos­si­ble re­place­ment ex­cept to say he or she would not be com­ing from the ranks of his slim 51-seat Se­nate ma­jor­ity. Repub­li­cans Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas have been among those men­tioned.

“It’s not go­ing to be from our cau­cus, I can tell you that,” he said.

The GOP leader said he’s ex­pect­ing a “rel­a­tively lively” lame-duck ses­sion af­ter the elec­tion and did not shy away from a pos­si­ble fed­eral govern­ment shut­down over fund­ing for Trump’s border wall. He sug­gested it would be mod­est since Congress has al­ready pro­vided year­long fund­ing for some 75 per­cent of fed­eral op­er­a­tions.

“That episode, if it oc­curs, would be in the por­tion of the govern­ment we haven’t funded,” he said. “We’re com­mit­ted to help­ing the pres­i­dent try to get the wall fund­ing.”

Mc­Connell is also pre­par­ing for his own re-elec­tion in 2020 and, if he is suc­cess­ful, stay­ing on as GOP leader.


Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell speaks Wed­nes­day with As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists Julie Pace (cen­ter) and Lisa Mas­caro. He said Democrats will pay a po­lit­i­cal price if they win in midterm elec­tions and use their ma­jor­ity to dig into in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pres­i­dent.

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