Top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate offered starkly different assessments Monday of the nation’s political and economic outlook at a global conference ahead of the midterm election.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., highlighted economic growth, the new tax law and President Donald Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as reasons for optimism, as Republicans fight to retain control of the House majority this fall.
“How can you not be optimistic about where we are today?” said McCarthy, who is next in line to be House speaker, at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.
McCarthy, who has been called Trump’s favorite congressman, peeled back the curtain on their relationship, saying the president is “not a difficult person to work with” and has “an amazing work ethic.” The president, he said, “is open to talk to anybody,” and he noted Trump had called him late the night before, at 10 p.m. Sunday, “still working.”
Upbeat over Republicans’ chances for retaining the House, McCarthy doubted the fall election would relegate him to minority leader. “I don’t believe we’ll have that option,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is worried about rising income inequality, the job skills gap and the ability of leaders to unify Americans. Those are issues he promises Democrats will tackle if they take control of Congress this fall.
“America has always had dark times, and this is one of them,” Schumer said. “My goal if I become Majority Leader is to work in a bipartisan way on things we can agree on — infrastructure, immigration — and really get some major things done.”
The two did not actually share the stage, but spoke one after the other. Moderator Frank Luntz, a strategist and pollster for Republicans who has bemoaned the poor state of civil discourse across the country, questioned why McCarthy and Schumer couldn’t even sit side by side in a display of cooperation.
McCarthy said Americans are focusing are on the “wrong items,” and said it’s time for “a little adult supervision” and to move on from past election debates.
“People can be angry and they have a right to be. But if we continue to govern in a matter in which is respectable we can turn the tide,” he said.
Schumer noted the bipartisan relationships he’s made in the Senate gym, striking up conversations with GOP senators during early morning workouts, but said bipartisanship means more than working on feel-good bills.
“It’s good to talk about bipartisanship, but there’s got to be specific programs that lead to a path, because bipartisanship in the abstract, not getting anything done, isn’t going to work,” Schumer said.
McCarthy told the audience he thought he and Schumer would be sharing the stage. Schumer’s office said there was no particular reason why they did not. A spokesman for the event said the format was set earlier, publicized online and in the printed program as a two-part talk.
The global conference draws some 4,000 participants. The lineup includes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other members of Congress.