Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confidently predicted Wednesday that there would not be a year-end government shutdown and warned that the apparent murder of a journalist is “really going to challenge” the Saudi-US relationship – all the while avoiding any criticism of President Donald Trump, whether it was about Trump’s handling of the crisis in Saudi Arabia or his tweets insulting the appearance of a female porn star.
In a wide-ranging briefing with reporters in the Capitol, McConnell said that the GOP probably has “a slight edge” to hang onto its Senate majority in next month’s midterms, while also promising he would not change Senate filibuster rules to allow legislation to move more freely – as the President has repeatedly demanded.
Moreover, he broke with the President about whether it was worthwhile to shut down the government over funding for Trump’s wall at the southern border – as the President has repeatedly warned about doing.
“The speaker and I are going to try to help the President get funding for a wall for a year. Shutting down the government is something that’s widely disliked by virtually every American and I don’t think we’re going to do it.”
Reminded by CNN that Trump has called for a shutdown repeatedly, McConnell said bluntly: “I don’t think we’ll end up doing that.”
But those were the only real areas where McConnell broke with the President.
He refused to criticize Trump’s handling of the situation with the Saudis and the President’s decision to continually stress that the Saudis denied killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post.
Instead, he said that there needed to be an investigation first before any decision on how to move forward.
“Once we know precisely what happened with a credible investigation, then we need to decide the appropriate response is,” McConnell said. “I can’t imagine there will be no response.”
“We know our alliance with Saudi Arabia, which has existed for a long time under both parties, is because we have aligning interests in that area. … So it’s been kind of a pragmatic relationship. … This particular incident is going to really challenge that. But I think it’s too early to predict what the consequences may be.”
McConnell would not say if he had any concerns with the Saudi crown prince – or if he had any views on Trump’s handling of the situation.
“I’m not going to comment on the President’s take on this,” he said, declining repeated questions on the matter.
McConnell also would not discuss Trump’s Tuesday tweet attacking porn star Stormy Daniels as “horseface.”
Asked if he were concerned that such rhetoric may turn off women voters at a key time in the midterm campaign, “Respectfully, how much time are we going to waste on you all asking me questions I’m not going to respond to.”
Asked again, McConnell said: “I don’t have an impact on the President’s tweets.”
McConnell also refused to say whether it was appropriate to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” declining to comment when pressed on his comments Tuesday night at the Heritage Foundation. McConnell wouldn’t comment on the Democrat’s release of a DNA test earlier this week on her ancestry.
“Can we get this election out of the way before we turn to this one?” McConnell said.
McConnell continued to point the bitter confirmation battle over now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a tangible boost for Republicans in next month’s elections, saying the partisan fight amid sexual assault allegations “clearly was like an adrenaline shot for us, no question about it.”
McConnell listed nine races – Arizona, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida – as “very competitive.” Six of those nine seats are currently held by Democrats.
“I don’t think any of them are over one way or the other,” McConnell said. “They’re all, as I said a couple of weeks ago, like a knife fight in an alley.”
CNN’s Laurie Ure and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.