McConnell's comments put him at odds with hard-line members of his own party who are pushing to use the approaching Oct. 1 deadline for funding the federal government as leverage to force Obama and congressional Democrats to defund Planned Parenthood. A series of undercover videos released over the course of the summer has whipped up conservative outrage over the group's practices regarding the harvesting of fetal tissue for research. While federal money is already banned from being spent directly on abortions, Planned Parenthood opponents say Medicaid reimbursements and other federal grants indirectly support the group.
The outcry has been most fierce among conservatives in the House, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has also pledged to block attempts to continue government funding without addressing Planned Parenthood.
"If we can't get that done, oh my goodness," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a influential conservative leader, said in a recent interview. "If the president and [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid think it so much more important that this organization get your money, that that's more important than paying our troops and paying our veterans, I'll take that debate."
Cruz recently urged pastors to contact their congressional representatives and urge them not to back down on Planned Parenthood. "An empty vote with no teeth on it will not suffice," he said. "Now is the time for Congress to act and actually end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood."
But McConnell is wary of repeating the government shutdown of 2013, which began after conservatives launched an ill-fated attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act. The gambit failed, and the two-week shutdown helped distract public attention from the largely disastrous rollout of the health care reforms.
"There's no education in the second kick of the mule," McConnell said last month, addressing shutdown concerns before leaving Washington for the summer congressional recess.
In the TV interview Monday, McConnell suggested that many conservatives harbored false expectations for the Senate GOP majority, which is six Republicans short of a filibuster-proof margin and 13 shy of a veto-proof majority.
"The thought that we could completely stop Barack Obama by electing a Republican Congress, I never claimed that last year," he said. "We have stood up to him, but to succeed you have to get a presidential signature, and that's just the way the Constitution has worked for over 200 years. So I can't change the condition of the country with this guy in the White House. We have been able to change some things, but we haven't been able to change everything."
McConnell was also asked about the presidential race -- in particular, about whether Donald Trump had any chance of winning the Republican Party's nomination.
"I think it's all going to sort itself out," he said. "I'm not going to sort of get into it and prognosticate who might be the winner. But I think the American people are probably are going to want to go in a different direction, and I think our nominee is going to argue for that."