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Mitch McConnell talks ‘outrageous’ Trump comments and overcoming polio

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the national face of the GOP. With five terms under his belt, McConnell is also the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history; his extended and colorful career takes center stage in his recently published memoir, “The Long Game.” McConnell joins Judy Woodruff to reflect on the state of American politics today and the 2016 presidential race.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now a different take on the 2016 presidential election.

    It comes from the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He has just published his memoir, “The Long Game,” after five terms in the U.S. Senate. He is the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history.

    I sat down with the senator this morning at the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee here in Washington.

    Senator Mitch McConnell, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Majority Leader:

    Glad to be with you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We’re here to talk about your memoir, “The Long Game.”

    There’s a lot going on right now at this moment politically. And I want to get to that.

    You write about the people who influenced you, of course, your mother, your father. You write about a senator from Kentucky, John Sherman Cooper, Mike Mansfield.

    When you think about these people and their influence in your life, how does Donald Trump compare?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, he’s certainly a different kind of person in politics, totally different.

    The Republican voters wanted somebody from outside, and they picked somebody from outside. We will see in the end whether that works out. They don’t seem to be happy with either candidate. They don’t care for Hillary Clinton and they don’t care for Donald Trump, but the American people, at least in the Republican primaries and caucuses, clearly wanted somebody totally different. And that’s who they nominated.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, and you mentioned Hillary Clinton. Today, we learned that she apparently has done something historic, become the first woman to clinch enough delegates to become the nominee of a major political party in this country.

    You know her. What do you think of her?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, Hillary Clinton is a very, very experienced insider.

    So, you’re going to have a race between the ultimate outsider and a long-term insider. And the American people, I think, are going to have to make a big decision about whether they’re satisfied where the country is now. If they are, then I think Hillary Clinton would get another four years, and it would be very similar to the last eight.

    If, on the other hand the country, wants to dramatically go in a different direction, they’re certainly going to have the opportunity by voting for Donald Trump.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You do write also, Senator, throughout the book about your commitment to racial diversity, among other things, about your marriage to Elaine Chao, who happens to be of Chinese heritage.

    You have been asked in the last few days about what Donald Trump said about the judge, federal judge of Mexican heritage, and his denouncing him. You have said you don’t in any way accept what Donald Trump has said, but when you were asked if it was racist, you didn’t answer.

    Now that you have had some time to think…

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, what he said was — it was outrageous and inappropriate. And I couldn’t more strongly condemn that.

    The implication here is that those who came to America legally over the years are somehow second-class citizens. My wife came here at age 8 not speaking a word of English and ended up in the president’s Cabinet.

    We all got here from somewhere else going back in our lineage. And I think these gratuitous attacks on Americans who got here recently or whose parents got here recently need to stop.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    At this point, Donald Trump is doubling down on that statement. He is not backing off of it. If he doesn’t back off, what are the implications?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, he needs to back off. This is a time he ought to be reaching out and talking about things that the American people are consumed with, like the slow growth in the country, the lack of opportunity for all of us, the fact that they’re falling behind.

    There are plenty of things he ought to be talking about, rather than taking shots at Americans because of their ethnicity.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, again, if he doesn’t back off of this and say that it was a mistake, what are the implications?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, he needs to — he needs to quit doing this.

    This is not the way to bring America together. It’s not the way to unify the Republican Party, and it’s not the way to win the fall election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what if he doesn’t?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    It’s not the way to win the fall election by doing what he’s been doing. It needs to stop.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote today that you don’t believe Donald Trump is fit to be president. Do you believe he’s fit to be president?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    The American people are going to make that decision. And they’re in the process of determining who the next president is going to be.

    And I think, you know, it’s been pretty clear that, in the right-of-center world, that is, the primaries and caucuses, conducted among Republicans, they wanted to do something different, and that’s our nominee, and in the fall, we will see what the American people decide.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you think he’s fit to be president?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    I think we need to respect the wishes of voters.

    They have been busily at work making these decisions in primary after primary after primary. We will find out in the fall.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you believe, Senator, there’s any chance the Republicans could choose another nominee at the convention in Cleveland?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    I think the nomination fight is over, and our nominee ought to accept that graciously and begin to reach out to other members of our party who didn’t support him and pull them together and discontinue these attacks on citizens based on their ethnicity.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What has his nomination done to the Republican Party?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, right now, we’re in great shape. We have a record number of U.S. House members, 54 senators, 31 governors, more legislators and control of legislatures, too, that at any time since the ’20s.

    So, we’d like the keep it that way. The way to finish changing America is to win the White House. And I hope we can do it this fall.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Senator, people are looking at the character of their two choices this fall, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What do they see? What should they see?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Well, we’re going the find out this fall. The American people have a big decision to make. We couldn’t have two more different candidates than these two.

    Neither one of them are very popular, so it’s going to be for many Americans a difficult choice.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally, Senator, let’s talk about this remarkable book. You write very poignantly about when you were very young, having polio. Your mother lovingly took care of you. You got through that. And you refer back to it throughout the book. How has that affected your political life and your philosophy?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    It’s bound to have had a huge impact.

    I mean, my mother was confronted with the following situation. Her husband was in Europe fighting the Germans. She was — moved to be with her sister in a rural community in Alabama. And there was a big polio epidemic, I subsequently found out, in 1944. And I was one of them.

    And it hits you like the flu, and then, when the flu went away, you could have all different kinds of outcomes, from dying to complete recovery. Happily enough, we were one hour’s drive from Warm Springs, where President Roosevelt had set up the polio treatment center.

    My mother took me over there. They trained her how to do a physical therapy regimen and said, do it four times a day. The hard part was, don’t let him start trying to walk.

    And can you imagine dealing with a 2-year-old and subsequently a 3-year-old, keeping him off his feet? My first memory in life was the last visit to Warm Springs, where they told my mother I was going to be OK, I wouldn’t have to wear a brace, and I would have a normal childhood.

    So, I think it was a — it had to have been an early lesson that tenacity and hard work and sticking to it that I learned from my mother, and I have tried — applied that over and over again throughout my life.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, the book is “The Long Game.” It’s a memoir and really a wonderful read.

    Thank you, Senator.

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    Thank you. Appreciate it.

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