WASHINGTON (CNN) – The top Republican in the Senate had rare praise Sunday for President Obama on a foreign policy issue but continued to challenge the president over the Democratic Party’s plans for health care reform.
“The president enjoys very strong support among Republicans in the Senate for what he’s doing in Afghanistan,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
That said, McConnell also expressed concern Sunday about the apparent delay on the part of the White House and the Pentagon in releasing a troop level assessment in the Afghanistan done by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in the country.
“We’d like to see Gen. McChrystal and Gen. [David] Petraeus come up to Congress like they did during the Iraq [war’s] surge and give us the information about what they’re recommending. We think the time for decision is now.”
McConnell added that if Obama ultimately decided on a change in strategy in Afghanistan or on adding additional troops, the White House would have the support of Senate Republicans.
On health care, McConnell rejected the suggestion that Republicans were trying to block the Democrats’ reform efforts and trying to frustrate Obama’s goal of having a health care reform bill to sign by year’s end.
Instead, McConnell said that he defined Republican success in the reform debate as “stopping and starting over and getting it right. I don’t know anybody in my Republican conference in the Senate who’s in favor of doing nothing on health care. We obviously have a cost problem and we have an access problem.”
While enacting some health care reforms was appropriate, McConnell said Republicans do not favor “a major rewrite of about one-sixth of our economy in the process.”
McConnell also said Democrats should not try to use reconciliation, a procedural maneuver in the Senate for budgetary bills, in order to get a health care reform bill passed with less than the 60 votes usually needed to break a filibuster.
“I think that, that will produce a very, very severe reaction from the American people,” the Kentucky Republican told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.
McConnell also weighed in on the recent discussion of whether the president’s race was playing any role in the mounting criticism directed at him by conservatives.
“I certainly agree with the president and disagree with President Carter – that this great national debate has anything whatsoever to do with race,” McConnell said Sunday, “The American people are concerned when they see the government running banks and insurance companies and car companies and now want[s] to, in effect, take over almost 20 percent of our economy – our health care. These are the kinds of things about which there ought to be a very spirited debate and we’re in the process of having that here in this country.”