Mitch McConnell mocks Steve Bannon's 'political genius'

Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a holiday season press conference Friday to deliver a lump of coal to Steve Bannon, mocking the former White House adviser's "political genius" for costing Republicans an Alabama Senate seat.

McConnell, R-Ky., made the remark 10 days after the Bannon-backed Roy Moore lost a special election to Doug Jones, giving Democrats their first victory in an Alabama Senate race in a quarter century. Moore faced multiple allegations of improper conduct with teenagers decades ago and touted extremist views that repelled many women and minorities.

"The political genius on display, throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America, is hard to ignore," McConnell told reporters.

Bannon, who was President Donald Trump's strategist, has returned to the right-wing Breitbart News and has been openly seeking other GOP candidates who like Moore would support toppling McConnell as majority leader. McConnell backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary.

McConnell declined to predict how many more GOP primaries there will be next year in which far-right challengers try ousting incumbents. Though Trump also backed Moore, McConnell said he believes the White House "will be in the same place I am, want to nominate people who can actually win."

Following a summer that saw Trump criticize McConnell for the Senate's failure to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, McConnell described a "really good" working relationship with Trump. He said the $1.5 trillion tax package Republicans pushed through Congress this week had "brought everybody together."

McConnell echoed earlier remarks in which he's all but ruled out a 2018 effort to overhaul benefit programs like welfare, saying such an effort would need bipartisan support in a Senate that will be divided 51-49 next year.

He said he'd devote floor time to bills "that have enough votes to pass." Of GOP senators who want to continue trying to repeal Obama's statute, McConnell said he'd like to do that but added, "I wish them well."

He also said:

— He'll meet with Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in early January to discuss next year's agenda;

— He's committed to bringing immigration legislation to the Senate floor if a bipartisan group of senators can reach an agreement. He said "there is no emergency" to address the issue before March, which is the deadline Trump has set for lawmakers to reach agreement. McConnell also said Congress should address "chain" immigration, in which immigrants already in the U.S. help bring relatives into the country;

— He had "not been a fan" of Trump's tweeting until this week, when the president has used Twitter to laud GOP lawmakers for approving the tax bill. "I'm warming up to it," he said.

When asked if he'd visit Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida over the holiday, McConnell said the closest he'll get is attending a college football bowl game in Jacksonville, Florida.

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