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Sen. Mitch McConnell On The Russia Probes, 2018 Midterms


President Trump kept up his attacks on the Justice Department this week, questioning their handling of the investigation into his 2016 campaign. But yesterday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR that he still has confidence in the investigation into Russia and interference into Trump's 2016 campaign.

MITCH MCCONNELL: There are two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise, the IG investigation - the Justice Department - and the Mueller investigation. I support both of them.

GREENE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at length to NPR's Capitol Hill team yesterday, and congressional correspondent Susan Davis was there. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: All right. So Mitch McConnell's one of the highest ranking Republicans in Washington. And, you know, he mentioned two investigations there. But the fact that he is saying he supports the Mueller investigation, that's a pretty significant break with the president, right?

DAVIS: You could not find two more consistent but opposite people when it comes to how they approach this investigation. Obviously the president has been incredibly critical not just of the FBI but of Robert Mueller's investigation. And Mitch McConnell's probably the most prominent Republican on the other end of that. He has consistently said in the course of these investigations that not only does he support them but that they should be able to run their course without interference. I think that view is shared on the other end of the Capitol by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Although the leaders are increasingly, I would say, the vocal minority on this. I do think the president does enjoy a growing groundswell from other allies on Capitol Hill, like House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, activist groups and candidates out on the campaign trail running for office in this midterm election year who are more campaigning on the Donald Trump side of this argument that it is, in his words, a witch hunt that needs to end, and not campaigning on the Mitch McConnell side of we need to respect the investigation and let it run its course.

GREENE: Well, it's not just the Russia investigation that has divided Republicans, right? I mean, there seem to be more issues. The GOP in the House, you have some in the party who've been pushing aggressively to try to force the House to deal with the issue of immigration, others not. I mean, where's Senator McConnell on that?

DAVIS: He certainly does not share his House colleagues' enthusiasm to take up immigration again. This is what he told us.

MCCONNELL: If the House passes a bill that the president indicates he would sign then I'd be willing to consider it again, even though I gave the Senate every opportunity without any restrictions, wide open for amendment, and we couldn't pass anything. So I'm not going to do that again. I can tell you that.

DAVIS: Not going to do that again. I think McConnell's very clear-eyed about immigration here, and I think his words pretty much dampen the prospect that immigration reform is going to be fully revived on Capitol Hill.

GREENE: It must be nice to sit down with a member of Congress and have a few minutes to breathe and not necessarily talk about just the biggest headline. Did you get a sense for, I don't know, McConnell's vision what his top priorities are right now?

DAVIS: He's been very clear that he wants 2018 to be about one thing, and it is about confirming judges. And that is not exactly the issue you hear people talking about in the streets, but he talked about how he sees this as his opportunity to sort of enact what he would call a generational shift in the judiciary branch in that they are trying to confirm as many lifetime appointments to the courts as possible. And he said they're looking for judges in the mold of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a bit of a conservative icon. And he also said that he thinks this is part of the story Republicans will tell this coming election in addition to the kind of things that they have passed, and he talked about the legislative agenda they've accomplished.

MCCONNELL: This is the best year and a half for right-of-center policies since I've been here. Everything from tax relief, to repealing the individual mandate to 15 uses of the Congressional Review Act. We mentioned the courts, comprehensive tax reform.

DAVIS: Mitch McConnell used the word fabulous when he said how it's been for conservatives in the past year and a half. And so I think that that is what he would like 2018 to be about. It's still unclear if it will be.

GREENE: And, just in a few seconds, does McConnell think that the GOP has a good shot of holding onto the Senate?

DAVIS: You know, Republicans think they have a story to tell. They have done, they have enacted a legislative agenda. They are actively still legislating. But he was candid about the fact that, yes, President Donald Trump does not always stay on message, and it can be frustrating to them in order to get their message out to voters and it's unclear exactly which message is breaking through to voters right now.

GREENE: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis this morning. Sue, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.