Is race holding up immigration reform?
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, spoke to CNN about Obamacare, midterm elections, kissing Congressman Vance McAllister, Obama and race.
On racism in the Republican party, Israel said to Crowley, “To a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism. And that’s unfortunate.”
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The CNN Political Ticker
A transcript and videos from the discussion are available after the jump.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Joining me now, two people personally responsible for getting members of their party elected to the House.
Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Congressman Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Gentlemen, thank you for being here.
REP. STEVE ISRAEL: Thanks for having us on.
CROWLEY: I want to start with prevailing winds.
And let me start with you, Congressman Israel.
The president’s health care law remains largely unpopular. His job approval rating is below or just at 50 percent. Uh, your party is trying to, uh, retain seats in districts that Mitt Romney won.
What is your pep talk to Democrats these days?
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: Well, look, there’s a tough climate, no question about it. I won’t sugar coat it, but the climate has changed. I remember in October, when the Republicans shut down the entire federal government, a lot of pundits and prognosticators and experts were -predicting that we would win 50 seats.
Three weeks later, uh, over the rollout of a Web site, uh, in The Affordable Care Act, the same pundits were saying that — that we were going to lose 50 seats. Climates change.
I mean if three weeks made a difference, who knows what the next several months will bring?
Climates change. And I know one other thing. I’m a baseball fan. You never predict the ninth inning in the first inning. And as a Mets fan, you don’t predict the ninth inning in the ninth inning.
CROWLEY: I want to but — put up, um, this is a CBS News poll, “Are you excited about voting in November”
Republicans, 70 percent of Republicans said they’re excited. Um, 58 percent of Democrats said they were excited. Uh, Independents, 47 percent.
ISRAEL: First, on that poll, the two most important words were “in November.” It’s not November. We are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, not climate committee. We don’t worry about the climate. We build out campaigns.
There is no — unquestionably, going to be an issue of voter drop off. There always is. And we’re using every tool in our toolbox, accelerating our investments in field, putting people on the ground. We’ve got 33 districts covered with staff, uh, in order to deal with that drop off.
And, secondly, uh, it is true that the president’s numbers may not be where the president wants to be, uh, wants them to be, but we’re running against the Republican Congress, whose job approval is a fraction of that.
The — there is a new history being written in this midterm, the least popular Republican Congress in history.
CROWLEY: Which is — takes a — a — right off of — of my statistics and to you, Congressman Walden, and that is the Republican brand is certainly at one of its lowest points ever, if not the lowest point. You have inter-party warfare going on.
REP. GREG WALDEN (R-OR), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes, and our job is to elect Republicans to office and make sure that there’s a check and balance on the Barack Obama administration and Washington.
And we’re focused on jobs and the economy, trying to grow both. We’re focused on energy development and energy export. We’re focused on the things that really, when you get home, people care about, solving problems, trying to grow the economy, because the economy under President Obama has not been that stellar.
Certainly, we had one of the worst recessions, but one of the slowest recoveries out of it. And, uh, and people are really concerned about the future of the country.
CROWLEY: Yes, but people don’t much like Republicans these days.
What do you — what is your overall sort of imagery?
We — we had that big — after the election and the Republican National Committee was going to start changing things and — and reshaping the image.
CROWLEY: It hasn’t seemed to help Congress at this point.
WALDEN: Well, you know, remember, Congress is controlled also in the Senate by the Democrats. So when you talk about Congress approval ratings, remember, you’ve got Harry Reid and the Democrats running the Senate. And the bills that we’ve passed in the House, some of which, by the way, have been on bite — pretty big bipartisan margins, to create jobs in America, to develop energy in America, languish in the Senate.
And that’s unfortunate, because we should work together to solve these problems, to grow jobs in America and actually deal with the things people at home care about.
They don’t care as much about one party’s image or the other. They care about the price of gasoline going in the van when they’re taking the kids to soccer and ballet. They care about whether their hours are going to be cut back, as they are hap — as they are being cut back under ObamaCare, as employers go from 40 hours to 30 hours. And that really hurts and hurts people in real ways.
ISRAEL: I do have to say, the Senate passed, uh, employment — unemployment insurance extension. Republican House members will not pass it. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill, Republican House members will not pass it.
CROWLEY: We could read through the list. I — I have to say that the Republicans will also say, well, here’s what we passed in the House…
CROWLEY: — and it dies in the Senate. So that — that game kind of is played when you’ve got a split Congress…AND by and large, uh, it sort of boils down to your election theme is these people — Republicans don’t care about you and yours is we give you ObamaCare and where are the jobs?
That’s kind of where — what…
WALDEN: — Well its jobs and the economy that really matter to people at home. That’s what they care most about.
CROWLEY: Let me…
ISRAEL: Two hundred jobs gained last month. Eight hundred thousand jobs lost in the last month.
WALDEN: And the Bush Administration…
WALDEN: And you have people working in America since the 1970s, more people in poverty, more people suffering.
ISRAEL: I have a feeling we’re not going to agree…
CROWLEY: I don’t think you guys are…
CROWLEY: — going to agree on…
CROWLEY: Let me…
ISRAEL: Our — our job together should be how do we raise people out of poverty, how do we create better paying jobs in America?
CROWLEY: Let me ask you…
ISRAEL: But that’s not what we’re asking you to do.
CROWLEY: — about a couple of specific issues.
Um, the — the first is, uh, that, as you may know, Attorney General Holder went off script at an event this week, uh, where he said that he believes that the treatment he has been — he has received in the House, particularly during a hearing this week, uh, would not have happened if he were not African-American, that he believes it’s racism, he believes the opposition, um, to the president has been based on racism.
And I — I wanted to play you something that Nancy Pelosi said when she was asked about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill. I’ve heard them say to the Irish, if it were just you, this would be easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Do you agree with that?
ISRAEL: Look, the — the American people want solutions in Congress. Uh, they want people to oppose certain policies…
CROWLEY: That this is about racism.
ISRAEL: — for the right reasons and not…
CROWLEY: Do you think your Republican colleagues…
ISRAEL: I think to a very…
CROWLEY: — are racist?
ISRAEL: To — not — not all of them, no, of course not. But to a — a significant extent, uh, the Republican base, uh, does have elements, uh, that are animated, uh, by — by racism. And that — that’s unfortunate.
CROWLEY: But, you know, even — even the president has said, look, I think some people oppose me because of race, but I think some people support me because of race.
ISRAEL: Well, that’s true.
CROWLEY: And — and so this, you know, between the war on women and, uh, the Republicans are racists or blanketing all of them, oh, if this were Irish…
CROWLEY: — they’d have passed immigration by now, looks very much like election year strategy, trying to get your base out.
ISRAEL: Well, look, we don’t need to get our base out, because frankly, we’re ready to pass an immigration bill, uh, and, uh, we’d rather pass an immigration bill than worry about the election. We’ve got 190 Democrats ready to vote on a comprehensive immigration bill today. We can do it today.
And we know that not every Republican is going to agree with us on that. It passed the Senate with 67 bipartisan votes. All we need is 20 Republicans — just 20 — to vote for that bill and it will be law. And we don’t have to have this debate anymore.
CROWLEY: But you…
ISRAEL: We will have a…
CROWLEY: — you know how — but you know how the House works. You’re in the minority and — and that’s it, you know, the rules are the rules.
ISRAEL: Just let’s vote.
ISRAEL: Just, you know, you don’t even have to vote for it. Just — the American people want us to at least vote.
CROWLEY: I mean I — I wanted to get your reaction to Nancy Pelosi’s, uh, suggestion that she does think that race is holding a…
WALDEN: It’s both wrong and unfortunate. You know, there have been a lot of executive overreaches by this administration. We see the latest with Lois Lerner and the whole IRS scandal. We’re now — now, finally, getting to see the e-mail traffic back and forth.
The American people just want to know the truth. They want to know the truth about what really happened in the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. They want to know what happened in Benghazi. They want to know answers. And that’s all we’re trying to do.
Just give us — just cooperate with the Congress, cooperate with the investigations, give us the information that we’ve requested, so that our constituents can know the truth.
ISRAEL: Fewer witch-hunts, more solutions would be good for America right now.
WALDEN: This is not a witch-hunt when you’re trying to find out why the IRS, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, I don’t want the IRS targeting any group, whether it’s liberal or conservative. And if they have, somebody should be held accountable. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you in our — our final moments here, a video has surfaced of one of your members kissing a staffer, uh, Congressman Vance McAllister.
Should he resign?
WALDEN: It’s — he needs to answer to his people and his family and need to be held to a very high standard in Congress. And I don’t think he’s been to that standard.
CROWLEY: Do you think he should resign?
I ask because we thought perhaps it was possible that the Senate would, in fact, go Republican in the last election, but there were a lot of missteps, um, by some of the Republican Senatorial candidates. So I’m wondering if you see this as an electoral problem.
WALDEN: It’s bad. It’s wrong. He needs to answer and be held accountable.
CROWLEY: So you want him to resign or don’t want him to resign?
WALDEN: I’m — I’m going to leave that — I have not talked to him. I’ve only seen the video. Uh, but we should be held to a higher standard than what I’ve seen in that video.
CROWLEY: And — and quickly, and I have — I have something for you, Congressman, as well, but there are reports out that 40 to 50 of your members have already signed onto saying that they will vote against John Boehner. They want him to say he’s not going to run for speaker right after the election.
WALDEN: I — I’ve not seen anything that — that shows me that. Beyond that…
CROWLEY: But, you know that — that part of your caucus is really unhappy with him.
WALDEN: Well, I would tell you this, nobody works harder to maintain and grow our majority than Speaker Boehner has. He has the toughest job in Washington, DC, when you think about it. And I think he’s done a good job. And I think he’ll get reelected as speaker.
CROWLEY: And, um, Congressman, one of the things I think that poisons politics a lot is the idea of ascribing intent to someone else’s vote or to someone else’s words. And it seems to me that a lot of this week really was wrapped up in intent on the Democratic part, um, when you bring up the war on women and — and say we want women to get equal pay and have a vote on it that all Democrats know it’s not going to pass, that this is a way of painting Republicans an — anti-women.
You have Eric Holder out there talking about opposition to the president being about race.
So it seems to me that what you’re saying is these Republicans are racist. They don’t like women. And they’re going to do things that will keep both of those groups down.
Do you think that of your Republican colleagues?
And is that a way to go about — and they do it, too. I — I get that.
But is that a way to go about electing congressmen?
ISRAEL: No, look, I — I was a member of Congress who helped form The Center Aisle Caucus. I do not believe for a moment that Republicans get out of bed every morning trying to figure out how to make the country weaker. And no Democrat gets out of bed every morning trying to figure out what they say that we’re doing.
What’s important is not intent, what’s important is how you vote. We are here to earn a paycheck. The people pay us to find solutions and to stand up for our beliefs, which is why the American people are tired of the bickering and they’re tired of the screaming. They want solutions. They want an immigration bill. They want a budget that is fair to the middle class and not balanced on the middle class.
Uh, they want us to earn our pay. Sometimes that means we have some disagreements but fundamentally we’re both Americans. Greg is…
ISRAEL: — is as American as I am. Uh, we may have different, uh, positions, but we have the same goal. And I wish that the American people — I wish that the the, uh, the Congress, uh, would be more focused on that goal.
CROWLEY: Maybe next year. It seems like a pretty political…
CROWLEY: — year up on Capitol Hill. Absolutely. But do you — I believe you expect big things out of Congress this year.
ISRAEL: So far…
CROWLEY: Given the atmospherics.
ISRAEL: Well, the Senate has passed a — the important things and the House has not.
ISRAEL: This is — no one is…
CROWLEY: Oh, oh
ISRAEL: — no infrastructure, a budget that hurts the middle class…
WALDEN: You know, I — I hope that the president will sign the Keystone Pipeline, create real family wage jobs right away, start moving North American energy. There are lots of things we could do together to grow the economy and help people who are really hurting and suffering.
And — and so I — I think there’s still an opportunity. We can’t just throw away every other year because it’s an election year. The American people expect more out of us. They deserve more out of us. And we are prepared to deliver and are delivering in the House.
CROWLEY: We will end…
ISRAEL: — Except in a few weeks when we shut down.
CROWLEY: — we will end (laughter) we will end on that…
On — on a note of agreement, Congressman Greg Walden and Congressman Steve Israel, thanks for joining us.
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