Politics

McConnell Puts Infrastructure Ahead of Entitlements in 2018

Says candidate recruitment continues, hopes Rick Scott runs in Florida

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is looking ahead to 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

With the tax code overhaul on its way to President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is looking ahead to 2018, in both politics and policy.

“I think that Democrats are not going to be interested in entitlement reform, so I would not expect to see that on the agenda,” McConnell said Thursday at an event hosted by Axios.

That appears to be at odds with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who has hinted he wants to pursue an overhaul of entitlement programs as soon as next year.

The Kentucky Republican predicted one big focus will be an effort to move an infrastructure package. The White House has already suggested that Trump may renew that effort in the early part of 2018.

In theory, infrastructure development could have bipartisan support. That’s particularly important for McConnell because he will have only a one-seat majority with the arrival of Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones of Alabama.

McConnell also said legislation to repeal aspects of Dodd-Frank will be taken up by the chamber early next year. The Banking Committee measure has bipartisan support.

As for the upcoming midterm elections, McConnell on Thursday said recruiting remains ongoing to find qualified candidates to run against several Democrats in a handful of battleground states.

“I don’t know that recruiting is over,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It’s an ongoing process, and we expect to be very competitive in a number of places that are pretty red.”

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McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have adopted a philosophy of engaging in primary campaigns in recent cycles to try to ensure that Republicans pick electable candidates as their nominees. That effort clearly fell short in the recent special election in Alabama.

“I think we’ll keep the Senate,” McConnell said.

On Thursday, McConnell mentioned Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota, among others.

All three of those states went for Trump in the 2016 election. McConnell also said he hoped Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott would run for the Senate.

Scott has been the preferred choice to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and put Florida squarely on the board.

McConnell also expects the tax bill cleared Wednesday may need technical corrections.

During the latest stop on his tax overhaul victory lap, he said a turning point for the effort came after Sen. John McCain of Arizona announced his support for the tax measure.

“Senator McCain’s deceision to support us early was a very important symbol we were not going to have the same coalition that ended up being troublesome on health care,” he said.

McCain joined with Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska earlier this year to sink the GOP bill to overhaul the 2010 health care law.

To avoid a similar fiasco, McConnell said he dispatched Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and John Thune of South Dakota to help sell the bill to the conference.

“We brought into my office ... those four [and] four or five of our members who were not on the [Finance] Committee,” he said. “By the time the bill came out of the finance committee, there was broad comfort.”

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