Congress’ New Guard confronts the Old Guard
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, members of the new Congressional Class of 2015, Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Lee Zeldin (R-AZ), and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ),talk to Senate and House veterans, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), about the leadership in Congress.
A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: We’re back with our soon to be members of Congress and joining them Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Congressman Steve Israel of New York and retiring congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Let me just quick wrap up with Congressman-elect Curbelo and tell me like two years from now what do you want to say did?
CURBELO: So, I think a lot of the ideas we heard in the last segment are wonderful but there’s an overarching issue that I think is important here.
In every poll we see that two-thirds of the American people think the country is on the wrong track despite the fact we are in an economic recovery and I believe a big part of the reason is that they don’t trust their government. They don’t think their government can work for them. They think their government is incompetent.
So, I hope that we can show in the next Congress that like Clinton and Gingrich we can work past our differences to move forward some solutions like Reagan and O’Neal. I think that’s the model that we have to look at and hope that we can get across some bills across the finish line so that the American people once again believe in this political system.
CROWLEY: Congress Gallego?
GALLEGO: I think the best way to do is to prove it and do it in a bipartisan matter in three areas. One, fix the V.A.
As an Iraq war veteran it’s a bipartisan issue. A lot of us are still hurting to how the VAS (ph) treated us over the last couple of years. I think we could all come across and work together on that. Fix the comprehensive immigration reform. Everybody says we want it, everyone says we need it. Well, let’s just get it done. We have a bill. It’s sitting on Speaker Boehner’s desk. If he wants it let’s get moving on that. And two, let’s improve and protect the Affordable Healthcare Act. If everyone agrees to that, we do those three things I think we could start building that trust that we need.
CROWLEY: Sounds so simple, Senator. What have you guys been doing?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, we’ve been doing a lot.
We’ve actually taken up, discussed and passed as the congressman just mentioned a broad comprehensive immigration bill on a bipartisan basis that has sat unaddressed more than a year.
We have good ideas. We were discussing them with the incoming congressmen about how to invest in infrastructure. And frankly we’ve got great bills for how to improve manufacturing, bipartisan bills in both House. So, there are things we can pick up and move forward.
A lot of us in the Senate over the last four years have said the challenge with Speaker Boehner and the real difficulties he had managing his own caucus. He would come to the table with the president, negotiate a compromise, and then couldn’t deliver his caucus.
My hope is that the incoming majority Senator McConnell can manage his caucus. That the politics of 2016 don’t make it impossible for the Senate Republicans to come together around a common agenda that we can then negotiate some progress.
CROWLEY: Congresswoman Bachmann, we don’t want to call you guys the seniors, right, but you’re the Republican and are already sitting in Congress people.
Why hasn’t any of this been able to be done? Because it sounds so simple. Well, it’s those areas of agreement — and I just have this feeling that two years from now they are going to listen to this and think we couldn’t get it done.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, It’s possible to get it done.
I think now if we’re going to have a Republican majority in the house and a Republican majority in the Senate. And we’ve already heard statements made by leader Kevin McCarthy that what we’re going to try to do is begin with a retreat inviting both senators and Republicans together. That will be a first. I think that will be good.
And it will be communicating about what we heard on last Tuesday from the American people. They do want us to move forward. They do want us to get things done but the first thing they did, candy is they held up a big stop sign. They said we don’t like what’s been coming out of Washington, D.C. Listen to us. And if we here in Washington, D.C. only are talking about D.C. and not about back home, then we’re going to be in trouble. We have to implement what people said to us on Tuesday. Then we’ll be successful.
CROWLEY: Congressman, is that what they said stop the stuff you’re doing in D.C.?
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: No.
A third of the electorate voted for either a Republican or Democrat and two-thirds of the electorate stayed home and said, just get it done, figure this out. And I think there’s a way of doing this. We tried it several years ago and I hope my colleagues will participate in this.
A few years ago I started something called the Center Aisle Caucus, 25 Democrats, 25 Republicans meet on Monday nights at a Chinese restaurant because it was cheap. Pick an issue, Affordable Care Act. You get five minutes to disagree and you get 55 minutes to figure out how to agree.
You know what we learned? Democrats and Republicans are going to disagree on 75 percent of the issues. There’s a reason Michele is a Republican I’m a Democrat. The problem with Washington, Candy, is that we agree on the other 25 percent but we spend all our time beating each other up on the 75 percent where we will not agree. Let’s focus on the 25 percent and the country will be 100 percent better.
CROWLEY: But those are the little things, right? I mean, the 25 percent you’re not talking about some big agreement on Obamacare or some big agreement on even immigration reform.
COONS: Well the things we can do that would make a real difference for jobs for the middle class improving the minimum wage, improving access to higher education, the affordability of college, investing in our roads and bridges and ports, growing manufacturing. There are bipartisan ways to move forward on those.
On the other issues folks have to recognize that for the next two years President Obama is president. And so the Affordable Care Act isn’t going to be repealed. If the Senate looks just like the House for (ph) the last two years where they repealed it 54 times knowing it will never go anywhere then the American people will look at this dysfunction and say, we don’t want that either. And the Republicans will have a very hard time in 2016. If we show we can work together and make progress on those first four things I mentioned I think the American people will be very happy and will move the country forward.
BOYLE: There’s one other aspect of this though and that is it’s always easier and safer for elected officials both Republicans and Democrats to vote no instead of voting yes. Voting yes is the tougher vote, is the riskier vote.
I think you had many members in both parties but particularly on the Republican side who were so afraid of voting yes for anything that it would be used against them in a primary. Now that we’ve had a cycle where frankly very few members lost in primaries, I think that will empower more Republican members, it will empower Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner to kind of have a more cohesive unit within their caucuses.
ZELDIN: Candy, (INAUDIBLE) but over the course of the last couple of years there were almost 400 bills that were passed in the House that Harry Reid will not bring to the floor to debate and be voted upon. Those dynamics completely changed now.
Those legislation — those pieces of legislation now will end up on the president’s desk for him to either sign or veto. Just because the president going forward may indicate that any of this legislation that is going to be going through Congress will be vetoed by him does not make that acceptable. So I think that Republicans and Democrats in Congress need to work together but a lot of these bills that didn’t make their way through Congress now are going to the president.
ISRAEL: Well, no. First of all I love somebody from Long Island.
Look, some of those bills included as Senator Coons said 54 separate bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And so again rather than focusing on what we’re going disagree on which will not pass, let’s just focus on the big bold things that we can agree on. Let’s not retreat to our corners after this election. Let’s meet in the middle of the mat, have our philosophical differences but no brinkmanship. Instead let’s try some cooperation because that was the message in this election.
CROWLEY: No brinksmanship. Right? I mean, that’s hard for me to believe that’s going to happen. I mean —
BACHMANN: That really isn’t the only message, Candy.
I think the real question is did the president listen to what happened on Tuesday night and if you listened to his press conference he didn’t. It’s almost like he had his hands over his ears and he said I’m going to continue my agenda. I’m going to continue to fundamentally transform the United States of America. The American people said, no. They weighed in. The election had consequences.
The president needs to take a measure of that result and listen to the will of the people. It’s not about him. It’s about the people.
CROWLEY: To any of the Democrats sitting here think that the president should hold off on executive action about immigration?
COONS: Only if there’s a clear commitment from the Republican leadership to take up debate and adopt an immigration reform bill. They’ve had more than a year almost a year and a half now since the Senate pass a broad bipartisan bill that was led in part by Republican senators and have taken no action on it.
BACHMANN: That’s not true. That is not true.
We did pass an immigration bill and a remarkable bill where you had the Tea Party and establishment Republicans all agree. And we passed an immigration bill and sent it over to Harry Reid in August.
ISRAEL: Look, 68 senators, Harry Reid, John McCain passed a comprehensive compromise in the Senate. Now, my Republican colleagues they are free to vote for it or against it in the House of Representatives, but the leadership of the House of Representatives owes us a vote. Vote your conscience. Vote yes, vote no. You like it, don’t like it, there are things you can find to vote on. But we have not even been permitted to cast a vote and we’re getting paid to deliver for our constituents.
BACHMANN: But the Senate didn’t pass a vote on the 400 bills including the immigration bill we sent over. There’s another immigration bill.
GALLEGO: (INAUDIBLE) in Arizona I can tell you we are very frustrated when we see our two senators both Republicans McCain and Flake leading a compromise bill and it goes nowhere it shows us there’s a lot more work that Republicans need to do and that’s how –
CROWLEY: Let me get you just sort of –
ZELDIN: We’re all getting along and things have changed now with the new members.
CROWLEY: This is (ph) working (ph) perfectly so far. That’s right.
Listen we have to take a quick break. I want to talk about leadership in the House and the Senate coming up in this new congress.
CROWLEY: We are back with our incoming House freshman and our veteran lawmakers. We’re just solving all kinds of problems here.
I want to put out two leadership questions and then have you all answer it in whatever order you’d like to.
First, for Democrats, is it time for a change in leadership given the kind of roasting you just got and actually the one in the last midterm as well? And for Republicans on the House side, is John Boehner’s job now made easier because there will be less influence of Tea Party members or will there be more and make it more difficult?
ISRAEL: Well, I’ll take the jump ball first, I suppose.
ISRAEL: Now is not the time for us to change our leadership, and —
CROWLEY: Why not?
ISRAEL: What I’m particularly proud of is because our leadership has helped recruit a class of members that includes people like Pete Gallego and Brendan Boyle. They are solutionists. They are young. They are entrepreneurial. They just want to solve problems rather than continue the partisanship.
A caucus is not defined by the leadership it’s defined by its members. And we have the most diverse, entrepreneurial, solution- oriented caucus right now and we should keep it that way.
GALLEGO: I think as a new member, I’d like to keep the leadership. This is the leadership that got us the Affordable Healthcare Act, something I’m very proud of as a Democrat. This is the leadership that’s going to fix the V.A. and that’s what I want to continue seeing. And this is the leadership that got us almost all the way to getting immigration reform, so it’s very important to my district and I want to see them continue being in place.
COONS: I think we ought to continue with our current leadership but with a different style. We have to hear the message of this election.
Harry Reid is a fighter. He’s someone who fights for the middle class, who fights for economic opportunity in this country. But he has also demonstrated an ability at bipartisanship that often goes unappreciated and unreported.
He has a bill with Rand Paul dealing with the record number of folks we have incarcerated, who are unable to re-engage in society. There are ways that our leadership team can show that they have responded to this election and changed their style in the way that reflects the message of this election.
CROWLEY: So, everybody here at this stable is going to vote for the current leadership structure? Congresswoman Bachmann, you’re retiring, but everyone’s going to vote for the current leadership.
CURBELO: Candy, I think John Boehner did a great job in the last few months of bringing together the House Republican conference. And you have to understand, this is going to be a new dynamic. There was a lot of frustration in the conference during this current Congress because they knew that whatever they did was going to die in the Senate. Now that we know that our bills are going to get at least a fair hearing in the Senate, I think you’re going to see big changes.
ZELDIN: I think that there’s going to be a great two years of getting legislation passed that tackles energy policy, tax reform, reducing health care costs and increasing accessibility on so many different fronts. There’s a great opportunity for Republicans, Democrats, House and Senate to work together to put good legislation on this president’s desk. I’m confident and very optimistic that there’s a great opportunity ahead for the leadership.
CROWLEY: Congresswoman Bachmann, I’m going to give you the last word here because do you think there will be more Tea Party influence on John Boehner or less coming up?
BACHMANN: I think we saw a lot of influence this Tuesday at the polls. It was really the energy of fiscal sanity. That’s what the Tea Party is. It’s maligned and people don’t necessarily (ph) understand what it is but it’s really about bringing fiscal sanity. That was the message of Tuesday and that’s a united message both in the House now and in the Senate.
CROWLEY: I got to leave it there. I hope you all will come back. I love your optimism, you guys.
Thank you so much congressman-elect Brendan Boyle, Carlos Curbelo, Senator Chris Coons, Congressman Steve Israel, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Representative elect Lee Zeldin, and Ruben Gallego. Thank you all so much.