FRANKFORT, Ky. — Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he expects Democrats will join him in his quest to thwart the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to reduce the country's carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
"I think there's a pool, five to 10, maybe more," of Democrats that could vote with Republicans, McConnell told reporters Saturday morning after speaking to the Republican Party of Kentucky's Executive Committee. "We'll find out who they are when we vote on the Keystone pipeline next week. That may be an early indicator."
McConnell easily won re-election earlier this month after one of the country's most expensive and closely watched Senate races. He campaigned heavily throughout Kentucky's coal regions pledging to push back against new emission standards from the EPA that state officials say will make it difficult if not impossible to replace the state's aging fleet of coal-fired power plants, which provide about 90 percent of the state's electricity.
Next week, the Senate will vote on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, an $8 billion, 1,179-mile project that would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The projectt has become a symbol of the country's debate between protecting the environment and creating jobs. Democrats hope the bill, if it passes, would boost Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's efforts to hang on to her Senate seat; she is headed to a runoff election next month against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Earlier this week, McConnell was unanimously elected to lead the new Republican majority in the Senate next year. He said Saturday that he plans to declare war on the EPA.
"I was encouraged by the reaction not only from members of my caucus but a number of democrats," McConnell said. "This view of the EPA is widely held."
McConnell attributed both his re-election and the Republican takeover of the Senate to "widespread anger across the country" about Obama and his energy policies. He said he viewed the election results as a chance to change the dynamic of the Senate, which he described as a dysfunctional body that refuses to compromise for the good of the country.
"Democrats and Republicans are going to be able to offer their ideas. We're going to be able to start functioning again. I can't guarantee the outcome every time, but we're tired of telling people to sit down and shut up," McConnell said. "One half of the people in in the Senate who have called me since the election have been Senate Democrats. Now, I'm not telling you they are happy I won, but since it happened they are anxious to be under new management where their work has a chance to be heard."
McConnell continued his criticism of Obama on Saturday, saying the president is relying on "inflammatory language" and said he was perplexed why he has "not heard anything from the president since the election that indicates he has an interest in changing anything."
But McConnell said the president and his veto pen are too important to simply ignore if Republicans want to make progress for the country. Obama has said he would like to share some Kentucky bourbon with McConnell, in what many have dubbed the "bourbon summit."
"There will be a bourbon summit," McConnell said Saturday. "Whether it is anything beyond a PR gimmick remains to be seen."