A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pelosi Stretches an Old McConnell Quote


Rep. Nancy Pelosi seized on an old talking point, miscasting a now-famous quote by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in 2010 about the goal of making Obama a “one-term president.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on March 10, host Candy Crowley asked the leader of the House Democrats if President Barack Obama’s stated commitment to helping return the House to Democratic power, with Pelosi at the helm, wasn’t the same as McConnell’s comment about his goal of making Obama a one-term president. Crowley was referring to comments Obama made at the House Democratic Issues Conference on Feb. 7 in which he praised the work of Democratic elected officials and concluded his remarks by saying, “And as a byproduct of doing that good work and keeping that focus, I would expect that Nancy Pelosi is going to be Speaker again pretty soon.”

Crowley: Isn’t that kind of the same thing?

Pelosi: No, it is completely different, but thank you for the question. It’s completely different, because when Mitch McConnell said that, he was talking about stopping, obstructing initiatives to create jobs, stopping initiatives that would show bipartisanship on the part of the president.

He wanted to show — they want to show that he couldn’t come to agreement with the Republicans simply — it didn’t matter what the subject was, they were not going to support it.

Although McConnell’s comment was often cited by Democrats during the 2012 campaign as evidence of Republicans’ refusal to compromise as a strategy to regain the White House, a review of McConnell’s fuller comments suggests Pelosi and others read more into McConnell’s words than was actually said.

Here’s what McConnell said in an Oct. 23, 2010, Q&A interview with the National Journal just prior to the midterm elections.

McConnell: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

National Journal: What’s the job?

McConnell: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

National Journal: Does that mean endless, or at least frequent, confrontation with the president?

McConnell: If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.

National Journal: What are the big issues?

McConnell: It is possible the president’s advisers will tell him he has to do something to get right with the public on his levels of spending and [on] lowering the national debt. If he were to heed that advice, he would, I imagine, find more support among our conference than he would among some in the Senate in his own party. I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change. So, we’ll see. The next move is going to be up to him.

McConnell’s fuller comments — including the vow to work with Obama “if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues” and his statement that “I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change” — contradict Pelosi’s claim that McConnell was speaking in the context of opposing any bipartisan initiatives or that he was outlining a position that Republicans would not support the president no “matter what the subject was.” One can argue about whether that turned out to be a Republican strategy or not, but that’s not what McConnell said.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation just after the 2010 midterm elections, McConnell expanded on his comments:

McConnell, Nov. 4, 2010: Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things. We can hope the President will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it.

In other words, McConnell was making the point that in order for the Republican Party to achieve the majority of its agenda, it would have to regain the White House. And Obama was making the point that voters would reward Democrats at the polls, if the party gets a chance to achieve the majority of its agenda. We leave it to the reader to judge how similar, or not, the statements by McConnell and Obama are. The fact is, without full control of Congress and the presidency, neither side can get everything it wants.

— Robert Farley