TIME 2016 Election

Lindsey Graham Forces Foreign Policy On 2016 GOP Field

Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference in Washington on January 13, 2015. Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The talk on the trail these days is focused on Main Street. But that could change.

At the moment his staff hit publish on a new pre-presidential campaign website, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had distinguished himself from the rest of the already unwieldy Republican 2016 field. “Security Through Strength,” was the name of his new group, with a military-style combat unit shield as its logo.

Foreign policy would be Graham’s focus, and his tack would be unmistakable: He would be the candidate who could update Ronald Reagan’s Cold War vision of “Peace Through Strength” for the ongoing battle against radical Islam. Visitors had to read a couple hundred words of filler before any mention of domestic policy appeared. “Graham is also a leader in cutting spending,” the copy reads. Also, as if it were an afterthought.

As a political strategy, this was a bold move, given that most of his challengers have been focused their rhetorical fire on the cause du jour, the economic frustrations of the struggling American middle class. But then presidential campaigns rarely end where they begin, as Graham’s biggest backer, Arizona Sen. John McCain learned well in his 2008 race. That contest began squarely in McCain’s wheelhouse, as a foreign policy debate over the Iraq War. But it ended with an economic crises that McCain was not equipped to handle. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he was on record admitting in 2007.

There is a real potential for 2016 to follow the same pattern in reverse. Domestically, the economy remains stuck in neutral for most Americans, but gas prices are dropping, the labor market is firming, and the ground may be set for incomes begin to rise again. Overseas, however, the world is as tumultuous as it has been in a decade, with terrorist attacks in Europe, a virtual proxy war bubbling up between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, tense nuclear negotiations with Iran and Sunni radicals redrawing national boundaries in the Middle East.

In this environment, Graham stands relatively alone in clearly presenting a foreign policy vision. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we need to be,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told TIME. Bolton is contemplating a run for president to keep foreign policy in the national conversation. “Having two paragraphs in a stump speech should not be confused with having a foreign policy,” he said.

Some would-be candidates have talked about foreign policy more than others. On Sunday evening at a panel hosted by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, had as much criticism for the governors as he had for ideological rival Sen. Rand Paul, who has presented a more modest vision of U.S. power abroad. “Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said, in apparent reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was at the Koch event and is planning a trip to the United Kingdom next month.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has made clear that foreign policy will be a central theme of his third run, should he choose to continue with the race. “The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst,” Romney said Wednesday, in a speech before students in Mississippi.

But other Republicans, especially the deep bench of governors with White House ambitions, have yet to find their footing. Instead of offering a vision, they have been focused on schooling themselves in the arts of international trade craft.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been receiving briefings by a team including Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and Romney campaign advisor. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been soliciting briefings from foreign and domestic policy experts for more than a year to study up for a second campaign. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has co-authored a hawkish foreign policy white paper last year with former Sen. Jim Talent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his political organization this week, is expected to start receiving policy briefings in the next several weeks, with Marc Thiessen, the American Enterprise Institute scholar—and co-author of Walker’s book—expected to play a key role.

The former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, supported his brother’s foreign policy while in office, but has rarely spoken out on more recent threats. Last month he called for strengthening, rather than weakening, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, for instance. It is not clear whether he has started formal briefings, but he has been reaching out to an array of experts in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the calls.

Some Senate aides have pointed out that the state leaders could find themselves at a steep disadvantage in the general election. “We need someone who can credibly push back against Hillary Clinton’s failed record,” said an aide to one Senator eyeing the White House. “And the governors can’t do that.”

But governors may also have an advantage, not having their foreign policy so clearly defined before they run. Paul has been largely defined as an isolationist, while Rubio and Graham are affiliated with neo-conservatives, and Ted Cruz is has taken a hawkish line on many issues but favors budget cuts to defense programs.

“We don’t know very much of the foreign policy viewpoints of Jeb, Christie, and Walker,” said a veteran Republican policy aide to presidential candidates. “They have an opportunity to formulate and articulate the worldview that makes the most sense given time and space.”

That strategy works better if no one is forcing foreign policy questions into the debate at this early point in the cycle. In other words, a good day for Lindsey Graham, who enjoys easy access to the national press off the Senate floor, may be a bad one for many of his rivals in the months to come.

TIME 2016 Election

The Secret Meanings Behind the Names of Presidential Super PACs

Conservative Activists And Leaders Attend The Iowa Freedom Summit
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, waves to the crowd during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Long before the campaign buttons and bumper stickers, today’s presidential candidates must create an outside fundraising committee. And while they aren’t always in total control of these groups, the names can be secret decoder rings that explain the central themes of the campaigns they are preparing.

Here’s a look at the names of five groups backing 2016 candidates and what they might signal.

Right to Rise

What is it? A leadership PAC and a separate super PAC

Who does it benefit? Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida

Where does the name come from? The “right to rise” was coined by a historian to describe President Lincoln’s views on economic opportunity. After Rep. Paul Ryan used the phrase, Bush wrote a guest editorial about it in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.

What’s it mean? The name is a sign that Bush intends to focus on pocketbook issues for the middle class, which has been stuck with stagnant wages for more than a decade. The fact he embraced the term was also a key tipoff that Ryan was not going to run.

Our American Revival

What is it? A tax-exempt 527 organization

Who does it benefit? Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Where does the name come from? Walker used the phrase “our American revival” in a recent statement critiquing President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

What’s it mean? The term “revival” has religious undertones that Walker, a preacher’s kid, surely recognizes. It’s also a sign he intends to run as a bold, populist counterpoint to Obama’s tenure in Washington.

Leadership Matters for America

What is it? A political action committee

Who does it benefit? Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey

Where does the name come from? Christie used the phrase “leadership matters” during his 2012 keynote speech at the Republican presidential convention for Mitt Romney.

What’s it mean? Christie is running on his own personality and leadership style. He intends to highlight his time as governor as well as his brash and sometimes confrontational style to contrast himself with Obama and his Republican opponents.

Stand for Principle

What is it? A super PAC

Who does it benefit? Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

Where does the name come from? In a 2014 speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, Cruz argued that Republicans need to “stand for principle” in order to win elections.

What’s it mean? Cruz intends to run as the conservative choice among the Republican field, with an orthodoxy at the center of his message that will contrast him against past nominees such as Mitt Romney and John McCain, not to mention current contenders like Christie and Bush.

Ready for Hillary

What is it? A super PAC

Who does it benefit? Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Where does the name come from? The super PAC was formed by Clinton supporters to build lists of grassroots supporters and recruit major donors before she announced a campaign.

What’s it mean? The name doesn’t portend much about Clinton’s campaign, since she didn’t choose it, at least not personally. But it does take on a central theme of the emerging Clinton juggernaut—the notion that America is now “ready” for a female president and that it’s Clinton’s turn after her 2008 primary loss.

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Hopefuls To Talk Economic Growth at Koch Brothers Event

Sen. Rand Paul Speaks To The Detroit Economic Club
Sen. Rand Paul speaks with the news media after delivering a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Dec. 6, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Bill Pugliano—Getty Images

Three Republican presidential hopefuls will address a gathering affiliated with billionaire Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch this weekend, as they look to shore up financial backing in advance of their White House bids.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will attend the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural “American Recovery Policy Forum” on Sunday evening at the group’s annual winter meeting in Palm Springs. The closed-door event will bring together roughly 450 top donors and business leaders, the group said, and comes as it prepares to take on a more public role in the national political debate.

The trio will share the same stage for a discussion moderated by ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, Freedom Partners said, with the discussion focusing on economic issues, energy, healthcare, and as well as improving the GOP’s brand and bringing its message to non-traditional audiences.

“Our members care deeply about the future of our nation and we’re honored to host some of today’s most influential and respected leaders in shaping public policy,” Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis said in a statement. “We hope that this panel will give each participant the opportunity to lay out their vision of free markets and the role of government. Our goal in 2015 is to help inform the national debate around key domestic economic issues, and this forum is the beginning of that conversation.”

POLITICO, which first broke news of the senators’ attendance last week, reported that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is also set to attend the gathering, but he will not appear at the forum.

The Koch-backed free market group released a Plan for Economic Growth last week which calls for balancing the federal budget and cutting back regulations.

TIME space

Senator Ted Cruz to Head Senate Subcommittee on Space

Conservatives Speak At Values Voters Summit In Washington
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), speaks at the 2013 Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council, on October 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The appointment is part of a broader reshuffle

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was appointed the chair of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness last week — which means he will be in charge of overseeing space agency NASA in Congress.

The Republican lawmaker’s appointment is part of a larger reshuffle following the GOP’s win in the 2014 Congressional election.

The Verge reports that Cruz has previously denied climate change exists and also unsuccessfully attempted to reduce NASA’s funding in July 2013.

But Cruz, whose role at the subcommittee’s helm will be confirmed later this month, has also previously said that it was “critical that the United States ensure its continued leadership in space.”

TIME Congress

10 Members of Congress to Watch in 2015

Though much of the attention in Congress focuses on the leaders, there are times when rank-and-file members can stand out. For some, that may be because they are readying a run for the White House. For others, it’s because a pet topic is taking center stage. And for others, it’s because they’ve built up power in other ways.

As the 114th Congress is sworn in, here are 10 members to watch.

Sen. John Hoeven

The first Senate bill out of the gate will concern the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to McConnell. In November, toward the end of her failed reelection bid, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu failed to get a bill passed by one vote. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and the GOP leadership will now lead the effort to pass his bill across the finish line as Democrats attempt to add “poison pill” amendments. The final hurdle will be President Obama, who recently warned in an interview with NPR that he will use his veto pen to defend his environmental legacy. On Dec. 19 during his end of the year press conference, Obama added to speculation that he would veto the legislation, saying that Keystone wouldn’t give an even “nominal benefit” to American consumers.

Sen. Rand Paul

Paul has earned the epithet of the Most Interesting Man in Politics—including from TIME—for attempting to mesh his libertarian beliefs with his White House dreams. He has earned the accolades of Republican establishment types like McConnell while taking numerous positions they oppose in speeches to constituencies they never captured. Paul, who has dropped heavy-handed hints he will run for President in 2016, will remain in the mix next year on a number of topics, whether that’s police demilitarization, oversight of the National Security Agency, criminal justice reform, or congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria. While little headway is expected on most of those fronts, Paul will keep those issues—and himself—in the limelight.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio will be the go-to anti-Obama point man on all things Cuba this year. McConnell deferred to his judgment after Obama’s major announcement that the U.S. will begin to normalize diplomatic relations with the communist country for the first time in more than five decades. Paul, who agrees with the Administration on Cuba, and Rubio, a Cuban-American, will have a platform on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to air out their differences in a potential preview of the 2016 Republican presidential debates. Cuba is the latest of many topics Rubio has tackled; he has led efforts on immigration reform (and subsequently backed away), anti-poverty and tax reform, among others.

Rep. Michael McCaul

After they rejected the Senate’s comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013, Boehner and his top lieutenants failed to present a broad alternative fix to a deeply flawed immigration system. In November, Boehner warned that Obama would get burned if he addressed immigration in a broad executive order. Obama did it anyway—delaying deportation for up to five million undocumented immigrants—leaving Boehner with few good options to respond outside of passing reform legislation.

Enter McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman. In the first few months of 2015, he is expected to introduce a border security bill that he says could ease the passage of other immigration bills in the step-by-step process the House GOP has deemed acceptable. McCaul could add his legislation to the upcoming bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security past its current Feb. 27 deadline.

It’s unclear, however, if the Republican-dominated Congress will follow-up and pass subsequent immigration bills. The Wall Street Journal reports that other lawmakers, including Rubio, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, are preparing bills to reform the visa programs for high-tech, agricultural and low-skilled workers, among other things.

Sen. Orrin Hatch

From Obamacare to trade to taxes, incoming Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch will have his hands in the pot of many hot topics this year. Obama will look to Republicans for support of a major 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an elusive, potential legacy-defining achievement for the president in his final two years. Hatch and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman—a former U.S. trade representative—along with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Sandy Levin, will be among the crucial figures on whether or not Congress grants Obama trade promotion authority.

Hatch—the most senior Republican in the Senate—will also play a role in reforming the president’s signature health care reform law. Last year, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to pass an Obamacare alternative. Republicans didn’t, haven’t coalesced around another and this year will take a pickaxe to the president’s signature law, like Hatch’s amendment to repeal a medical device tax that helps fund it. That proposal even has the support of liberal Democrats, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. Republicans will still have a show vote to repeal the health care law, but they will also find ways to get smaller fixes on the president’s desk this year.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

As evidenced by a recent article in the Washington Post, the Secret Service’s troubles didn’t end when Director Julia Pierson resigned after an intruder jumped the White House fence and ran inside. The agency suffers from a “combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic battles and rapidly growing demands” since 9/11, according to the Post, and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the incoming House Oversight Chairman, will use his new perch to investigate and offer reforms.

Sen. Sherrod Brown

The gruff and ruffled Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, is the incoming top Democrat on the Banking committee. He’s a top defender of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill designed to rein in Wall Street banks and will be tasked to defend the law from a Congress that managed to claw back some provisions in the end of the year spending bill. While Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will nab more headlines—versions of the 2016 question “What Will Warren Want?” have already begun—Brown has been effective for liberal Democrats, helping drive pressure for Larry Summers to withdraw his candidacy for Federal Reserve chairman in 2013. Brown has already begun his effort to slow down Obama’s TPP deal, according to the Post, leading a strategy meeting with House Democrats.

Sen. Joe Manchin

One of the most conservative Democrats, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin will be crucial for the GOP to pass anything with 60 votes next year. He already supports authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and raising the Affordable Care Act’s workweek from 30 hours to 40 hours and could be pleased to see Congress work towards those goals. But Manchin, who was critical of Reid’s leadership, (in a June TIME profile, Manchin said he’s “never been in a less productive time in my life”) may still be so disgusted with how Washington works that he leaves to run for his former job as governor. In November, Manchin told TIME he would give the new McConnell-led Senate about three months to make his decision. If he chooses to leave, Manchin could imperil the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate in 2016.

Sen. Bob Corker

Corker was Washington Post columnist George Will‘s pick as the senator to watch in 2015, and for good reason. From his top spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker will be in the middle of every foreign policy debate, including how to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, “degrade and destroy” Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq and punish Russian aggression.

Sen. Ted Cruz

Cruz’s presidential ambitions and ability to coral the most conservative elements of Congress makes him always one to watch. Keep an eye out for Cruz as Congress decides how to extend the debt limit in the middle of the year and fund the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February. McConnell told the Post that he doesn’t want the public to think adding a Republican president to a Republican Congress will be “a scary outcome.” But Cruz’s power lies outside the establishment and creating outcomes that are indeed scary to it. Those two pinch points could draw the nation’s attention back to Cruz as he debates his future in Washington.

TIME 2016 Election

The Revealing Titles of 7 Upcoming Books by Presidential Contenders

US-POLITICS-CLINTON-BOOK-ILLUSTRATION
Hillary Clinton's memoir titled "Hard Choices" after its release on June 9, 2014 in Washington. Eva Hambach—AFP/Getty Images

The titles tell you all you need to know

You can tell a lot about a politician from how they name their memoir. The title is a giveaway for whether the book is a look back at their career or a sales pitch for its next phase. Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices managed to do both at once, promising a look at the decisions she made as Secretary of State while also keying up her one of her 2016 campaign themes. (Still, it was generic enough that it had already been used.)

Next year will bring a bumper crop of new political memoirs, including a few by some potential presidential contenders. Here’s what we can tell about those books from their titles alone.

“God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” Mike Huckabee

Back in the Reagan era, Republican consultants used to say that they could win campaigns with “gays, guns and God” — the so-called three G’s. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and former governor, looks to be aiming to modify that culture warrior stance a little. Few political books are titled this bluntly.

“American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” Marco Rubio

This title is so cliched it’s surprising that it hasn’t been used by more politicians. It seems a safe bet that this book will couple the Florida senator’s compelling family story with a broad-brush set of conservative policy proposals aimed at helping middle-class voters.

“Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America,” Rand Paul

This book’s title and its subtitle are at war with each other. (Taking a stand usually means choosing sides, not bringing them together.) That seems appropriate, though, as the Kentucky senator tries to square his image as a political outsider with the goal of becoming the ultimate D.C. insider, the president of the United States.

“Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family And Inspired A Nation,” Rick and Karen Santorum

The title indicates that this political memoir will be heavy on the memoir and light on the politics. The former Pennsylvania senator and his wife appear to be hoping that a personal look at their special-needs child will soften his political image as well as tell an uplifting story.

“You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.,” Ben Carson

From the use of the second-person to the eight-point mnemonic in the subtitle, this is the only book by a potential presidential contender that looks like it could sit comfortably on the shelf of motivational business books for sale at a FedEx Office store.

“Untitled,” Ted Cruz

The fact that this memoir doesn’t have a title yet is intriguing. Will he go for something provocative, like many of the conservative stands he’s taken as Texas senator? Or will he put something more prim, foreshadowing a more restrained presidential campaign? And will he resist the urge to use a “Cruz/cruise” pun?

“Untitled,” Jeb Bush

The former Florida governor and son and brother of former presidents also hasn’t named his upcoming e-book, but that doesn’t mean much since he’s had much less time to think about it than Cruz. Whether he comes up with a title that will sell well in e-book marketplaces will be a test of how he’s adapted to technology.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 19

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Exclusive: Ted Cruz on Why Cuba’s Leaders Can’t Be Trusted

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, writing for TIME, shares his family’s experience with the Castro regime, and argues that Congress should reject President Obama’s new Cuba policy. “[The Castros] are evil, and we cannot make a deal with an evil regime,” he writes

8 Children Found Dead in North Australia

Eight children, ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years, were found dead inside a home in the northern Australian city of Cairns on Friday

White House Doesn’t Rule Out Cybercounterattack in Sony Hack

The White House said it is currently devising a “proportional response” to the massive hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Watch Stephen Colbert Bid Farewell to The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert brought an end Thursday to one of the greatest sustained performances in pop culture, TV or otherwise, when he hosted the final episode of his satirical Colbert Report, featuring cameos from everyone from Christiane Amanpour to Bill Clinton

Obama Praises LeBron for Wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirt

President Barack Obama applauded LeBron James in a new interview for wearing a shirt dedicated to Eric Garner during a recent game and said more sports stars should use their influence to address social issues

U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

Defense officials said Thursday that American air strikes had killed three of the group’s mid- to high-level leaders in the past month and a half. One official called the deaths a “serious blow to ISIS command and control”

Fincher and Ellroy to Make HBO Series

Gone Girl Director David Fincher has signed up for an HBO noir detective series together with L.A. Confidential writer James Ellroy. Shakedown is set in the underworld of 1950s Los Angeles and is inspired by the life of Hollywood vice cop-turned-private eye Fred Otash

Uber Takes a Break in Portland

Facing ruinous fines of $1,500 against the company, and up to $2,250 for the driver, each time a fare was picked up, Uber has agreed to stop its services until Portland legalizes ride-sharing

NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers Another Planet

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has found another new planet. Dubbed HIP 116454b, the new body is bigger than Earth, smaller than Neptune and probably too hot to sustain life as we know it

Chinese President Xi Jinping to Visit Macau

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Macau on Friday for the tiny Chinese enclave’s 15th anniversary of its transfer back to China’s hands. Xi will try ensure Macau does not go the way of Hong Kong, which has recently become a hotbed of political dissent

Investigators Say Arsonists Responsible for Massive L.A. Fire

Federal investigators believe a fire that took down an entire apartment complex in downtown L.A. last week was set on purpose. It took 250 firefighters an hour and a half to put out the blaze at the Da Vinci apartment complex on Dec. 10

FCC Rejects Claim That the Word ‘Redskins’ Is Obscene

The FCC denied a law professor’s attempt to strip a radio station of its license because of repeated use of the word. The FCC said the word isn’t obscene, citing a Supreme Court ruling defining obscene material as something sexual in nature

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A today, Friday, December 19, at 1 p.m., with TIME managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, who recently selected The Ebola Fighters as TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

TIME 2016 Election

Here Are the 2016 Candidates Looking Very Presidential

Dress for the job you want

As potential 2016 candidates gear up for White House bids, it’s important for them to look the part. So here it is: a definitive gallery of presidential hopefuls looking their most presidential.

TIME 2014 Election

McConnell: No Shutdowns, No Full Obamacare Repeal

An exclusive interview with TIME about his plans as Majority Leader

Sen. Mitch McConnell was giddy, not an emotion often seen in the sober 72-year-old Kentuckian. But that’s the only way to describe TIME’s interview with him in Perry County, Kentucky, on Monday afternoon.

Asked to imagine it was Wednesday morning and he wakes up majority leader—a position he’s aspired to, he says, since the 5th grade—McConnell strikes a conciliatory tone, saying he hopes to work with President Obama and Senate Democrats. He said there would be no shutdowns on his watch, despite the fact that he plans to use funding bills to force changes in Obama’s policies.

MORE: See all the election results

Notably, a full repeal of Obamacare was not on his mind, but rather a partial repeal through the appropriations process. Finally, he named his new top priority: keeping the Senate in 2016 (though winning the White House is also “not unimportant”).

Below are lightly edited excerpts from the interview.

mitch.no.asterisk.indd

Top priority?

I think we need to do everything we can to get America back to work. And exactly which bill comes up first will be determined after discussing that with my colleagues and with the Speaker. Some examples of things that we’re very likely to be voting on: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, repealing the medical device tax, trying to restore the 40-hour work week, trying to get rid of the individual mandate. These are the kinds of things that I believe there is a bipartisan majority in the Senate to approve.

Also, we’re going to want to see what kind of things we might be able to agree on with the President. After all, he’s going to be there for two more years. Maybe there are things that we can agree on. I’ll give you a couple of examples where there may be areas of agreement: comprehensive tax reform and trade agreements. Most of my members think that America’s a winner in international trade. The president hasn’t sent us a single trade bill in six years. I hope he’ll do that.

Would you undo the nuclear option?

Oh, we’ll discuss that when we get back.

You realize that now you’ll have to up your face time with the President, not a man you profess to enjoy spending time with?

Well, I’m the one who’s cut the deals that we’ve had. All of them. Biden and I did the December 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts; the August 2011 budget control act, which actually led to a reduction in government spending for two years in a row for the first time since the Korean War; and the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deal 2012, which made 99% of the Bush tax cuts permanent and saved virtually every family farm and small business in my state from being sold by altering the Death Tax exemption. So I’m not fundamentally opposed to negotiating with the President and his team and, in fact, I’ve been the one who’s done that in the past. So, sure, he’s going to be there for two more years, so we’re going to sit down and talk to him and see what we might be able to agree on.

You didn’t mention immigration reform, will that be possible in the next two years?

We’re going to discuss that after the election.

What if the president does some sort of executive action on immigration?

Well, he’s done a lot of that sort of thing and the way that you push back on executive overreach is through the funding process. We’re going to pass a budget. We’re going to pass appropriations bills. Appropriations bills are going to have prescriptions of certain things that we think he ought not to be doing by either reducing the funding or restricting the funding.

But if you pass spending bills that he vetoes, doesn’t that lead to the possibility of a government shutdown?

Well, what happens when he vetoes an appropriations bill is you re-pass it.

Is there a possibility of a government shutdown?

No. There is no possibility of a government shutdown. Remember me? I’m the guy that gets us out of government shutdowns. (He laughs.)

MORE: The weirdest moments of Election Day 2014

You said to me once that you’d be most like George Mitchell as majority leader, do you still believe that?

Yeah, I do. The other hero of mine is Mike Mansfield. The Senate needs a lot of institutional repair. We need to get back to normal, and normal means that senators can offer amendments and actually get votes and the committees actually work. And we actually work occasionally or Fridays. There are a number of things that we need to do to become more productive. Some of it has to do with rebuilding relationships across the aisle and some of it has to do with just simply working harder.

What about building relationships within your own parties. Presidential hopefuls like [Texas Senator] Ted Cruz?

Look, we have a big party. Everybody from [Maine Senator] Susan Collins to Ted Cruz. There are lots of different points of view. Bringing them together, that’s my job and I work on it every week.

Isn’t restoring normal order risky, though, given that you have eight members up in blue states in 2016?

The first thing we need to do is be a constructive, right of center governing majority in the House and Senate.

MORE: Your guide to the 2016 GOP primary field

So, in 2016, what’s your top priority?

Well, it’ll be to keep the majority, of course.

What about winning the White House?

Well, that’s not unimportant. Obviously, winning the White House is the most important thing and I think we’re going to have a good shot at it.

Read next: The Challenge for the New Republican Majority

TIME 2014 Election

10 People Who Will Face Pitchforks if Their Party Loses the Senate

Left: Reince Priebus; Right: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Left: Reince Priebus; Right: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz Susan Walsh—AP; Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

The blame game is already in full swing, here’s a list of folks from both parties who’ll likely bear the brunt of the finger pointing should disaster strike

One side is going to lose, the Democrats or the Republicans. Such is the nature of most American elections. And that means someone will get blamed.

With polls showing a down-to-the-wire outcome in Senate races across the country, the blame game has already begun. The stakes, and tempers, will likely be higher if Republicans lose than Democrats, given the environmental headwinds that Democrats face. But neither side is immune from the fallout.

Below is a look at the top five folks who should, and probably already are, looking over their shoulders should their party lose the Senate this year.

If Republicans lose:

  1. Reince Priebus: The Republican National Committee chairman took over the party after the 2010 tea party wave and presided over its 2012 and 2014 strategy, promising voters and party leaders that the GOP would be resurgent. If the party falters next month, Priebus, whose two-year second term expires early next year, may find himself in the hot seat. The party’s much-publicized post-2012 autopsy remains a work in progress, and donors, who have helped the committee raise record amounts in recent years, may begin asking what he has to show for it. Working in Priebus’ favor is his firm control over the 168-member governing body of the party, but some are already threatening to abandon him if the GOP can’t take the Senate.
  2. Sen. Mitch McConnell: Even if the Senate minority leader survives the toughest challenge of his political career in what will surely by the most expensive Senate race in history, he’ll face a backlash from his conference if they lose the Senate. Not only will they say he sucked money from other races to fund an estimated $100 million battle to keep his seat, but he will now have overseen three consecutive losing cycles where odds and momentum should’ve handed Republicans control of the Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz has already refused to say if he’d vote for McConnell for leader—in the majority or the minority. Other candidates have also been muted or mum in their support for their potential leader. A loss of the Senate could mean a loss of McConnell’s leadership role if his party is outraged enough.
  3. Sen. Jerry Moran: The Kansas senator waged a stiff campaign to become the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, promising to lead his party to the majority. In doing so, he edged out Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who was initially ambivalent about taking the post and became the vice chair of the group. But Moran’s leadership has been the subject of intense scrutiny among Republicans, many who would have preferred Portman to be in the top slot. The NRSC’s campaign against the insurgent Republican candidates has further put a target on his back should the party fail to win.
  4. Senate Conservatives Fund/ Sen. Ted Cruz: Boosting insurgent candidates against entrenched Senators forced Republicans to spend millions shoring up seats that would otherwise have been safe, waging primary battles instead of focusing on November. If Republicans lose, many moderate and business-types are sure to blame their party’s conservative elements. The Texas Senator was the face of that movement, and is hoping to capitalize on the scorn in order to boost a likely bid for the White House.
  5. Outside Money Groups: Republicans pioneered the use of Super PACs and shepherded in the rise of shadowy outside money groups in the 2010 and 2012 elections. But the groups’ outsized influence is waning, as Democrats have caught up on fundraising and have proven to deploy their resources more effectively. Republican donors were livid with former Bush political guru Karl Rove over the ineffective nature of his pro-Romney efforts in 2012. If Republicans fail to take the Senate, those calls will likely be louder and broader than ever before.

If Democrats Lose:

  1. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The knives were already out of Wasserman Schultz’s back before early voting even began. Questions remain about how much President Obama supports the chair of the Democratic National Committee after his press secretary was asked if he has “complete confidence” in her last month and Josh Earnest responded that Obama had “strong confidence” in Wasserman Schultz. Strong does not equal complete. Though her second term does not expire until 2016, there are ways to force her out and certainly having the President turn against her publically would be hard to overcome.
  2. President Barack Obama: With approval ratings at 40%, the lowest they’ve been during his presidency, Obama was a pariah on the campaign trail. The most accomplished campaigner of the last six years, he was invited to just Illinois, Connecticut and Maine in 2014 to stump for candidates. With such stubby coattails, a loss of the Senate would be a tough referendum on the President’s legacy, especially since his astronomical popularity is what helped Democrats to historic majorities in the House and Senate in 2008. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And oh, how angry Democrats will be with the President for dragging him down with him should they lose the Senate.
  3. Organizing for Action: The President’s historic “movement,” Organizing for Action, was supposed to be the magic bullet that could whip believers into a frenzy of electoral activity. If Democrats lose, critics will surely blame the overhyped OFA machine, which drew money early on from other needy areas and then never delivered. So much for hope and change.
  4. Guy Cecil: By all accounts the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran the best possible campaign against the prevailing headwinds. The wizard had turned out a previous miracles, salvaging the Senate from odds and expectations in 2012. Losing it in 2014 won’t kill his career. But it may cost him his rumored next job: campaign manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, especially if Democrats start blaming the lady herself for not helping enough.
  5. Hillary Clinton: The former Secretary of State is likely to declare a repeat bid for the White House in the coming months, but for years multiple groups have raised millions plotting her re-ascendance. Some Democrats have already argued that this money could have been better spent on 2014 Senate races, a chorus that may grow if the Democrats lose by a hair. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have been in demand among vulnerable Democrats all year, but she only hit the road after completing much of her book and paid-speaking tour. As Clinton gears up to run for president the last thing she may want to hear is ‘could you have done more.’

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