- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, sat down this afternoon with reporters and an editor from The Washington Times. Here is a partial transcript of the wide-ranging interview.

Chris Dolan, bureau chief: We’ll start with immigration. With the Senate’s inability to get anything done on the immigration bill, [is the House] looking to do anything piecemeal?

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: It is an important topic. This is an item ironically on which the Democratic leadership essentially agreed with the president. It is an important item to address, and [we need] to address it in a comprehensive way.

[Speaker Nancy Pelosi and I] met with the president two days after the election … . One of the things we talked about working on was the immigration issue … we all agreed the immigration issue would take significant bipartisan participation by Republicans as well as Democrats, and of course we see now ever since the Senate passed its first bill last year, there has been an erosion on the Republican side of the aisle …

And now we see the president essentially has lost almost all influence in terms of getting people to agree with him … His own [House Republican] conference voted overwhelmingly 6 to 1 against his position … and not just the Republicans but the [Republican] leadership … and then [Senate Republican Leader Mitch] McConnell yesterday voted against it. So unfortunately, the president does not have much ability to get a significant number of his party to participate in a bipartisan way in comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve said all along it can’t be done in a partisan fashion.

It’s a very difficult matter … [The Senate was] 14 votes short; said another way, it was 35 percent short of what they needed to proceed, so whether or not we’ll proceed is problematic at best. Although I want to stress both Speaker Pelosi and I believe that comprehensive immigration reform is a policy that ought to be done.

Mr. Hoyer: If you break it apart, all the parts are controversial. The part that’s not controversial is that everybody agrees you need secure borders … nobody believes that we can have open borders, with thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people coming into the country. That’s not safe, and it’s not sustainable.

You move to some of the other items, it becomes more controversial … guest workers [and] employer sanctions.

The president says this is not amnesty. Republicans [say it is] amnesty. Republicans are deeply divided, much more divided than we are on this.

We hope the 9/11 bill would pass, the [Homeland Security] appropriations bill beefed up border security. The supplemental bill beefed up border security.

Reporter S.A. Miller: Changing gears, on the war. How do you see Democrats proceeding on trying to …

Mr. Hoyer: Vigorously. I think this has been the most unsuccessful, bordering on incompetent administration of a foreign policy in my lifetime and perhaps in history.

The American public overwhelming believes the policies are not working. [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates said we weren’t winning. … Nothing that’s happened in the past three months changed anybody’s mind, and in fact, I think people are more pessimistic.

This quarter may well be the bloodiest, largest loss of life [of] any quarter that we’ve had since this war began. The Democrats believe we need a change in policy.

We’re going to continue to pursue on a regular schedule, from now until September and thereafter if we need to, efforts to effect a change of direction [and] redeployment of our troops.

Mr. Miller: Any specifics?

Mr. Hoyer: The Levin amendment … to the defense authorization … 120 days you have to start redeployment; redeployment has to be completed by April 1.

That has exceptions … in terms of terrorists, in terms of protecting troops, normal diplomatic [protection] and training. So this is not like it’s disappearing.

We are losing people on a regular basis. Why? Because of this administration’s and [former Defense] Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld’s extraordinarily ineffective policies, not because of the courage of our military that’s been outstanding, or the quality of our people. We sent probably one-fourth the number of people, and we expected them to accomplish a much broader objective than the 550,000 people we sent to simply kick [Saddam] Hussein’s army out [of Iraq] … We’re going to be vigorously fighting for change in policy …

If the president vetoes it, we’ll send him more legislation which tries to effect [and] mandates change in policy.

Mr. Dolan: Has the administration given you any indication [it] would negotiate with you on this at all?

Mr. Hoyer: There’s been an articulation of a willingness to work with us; there’s been no action consistent with that representation [laughs].

Mr. Miller: If you’re successful … and that becomes the policy, and that begins the redeployment of troops, what do the Democrats see as the plan dealing with what’s left in Iraq?

Mr. Hoyer: … Obviously border security is important. Securing the oil production and distribution facilities is important, keeping the Kurdish area safe from incursion … There are all sorts of things that we think need to be put into this plan. What we did in the supplemental and what we’re doing now is to give the administration sufficient time to adopt a responsible plan …

I’m appalled when the military wanted to plan for contingencies for a longer-term stay in Iraq and … Rumsfeld’s theory was that flowers were going to be strewn in the street, that palm leaves were going to be waved, that everything would be sweetness and light.

Mr. Miller: Do you foresee a long-term presence in Iraq for the next 10, 20 years?

Mr. Hoyer: I don’t want to talk in terms of 10 or 20 years, a Korea-like presence. This is not like Korea. … We had a long-term presence in Europe that was peaceful … the overwhelming majority of people wanted us to be there. That is not the case in Iraq, and I don’t foresee that. … The United Nations needs to take a much greater role. … the neighboring states need to play a much greater role.

One thing is very, very clear. We had a surge, and things aren’t better. … Things are not better. Iraqis are losing their lives in big numbers; we are losing troops in bigger numbers. What we’re doing is not bringing stability and security.

Reporter Sean Lengell: You guys are certainly taking a hit from Republicans on spending; they accuse you of proposing the largest tax increase in history. …

Mr. Hoyer: What tax increase is that?

Mr. Miller: Repeal of the tax cuts. … Letting them expire.

Mr. Hoyer: Republicans passed a law that said the tax [cuts] expire in 2010.

We didn’t pass it. We didn’t vote for it. I didn’t vote for it. I understand the accusation; I think it’s phony. I think it’s a fraud. … There’s nothing in our bill which increases taxes. Republicans who say we don’t change the law that they passed [laughs] … They’ve been in charge for six years, why didn’t they change the law? For six years, did they repeal the fact that it was expiring in 2010? I don’t recall that. If they had, why would anybody be worried about it today? We haven’t increased taxes at all. That is a bogus it is a tired, old, only argument the Republicans ever have any success with. … Our budget doesn’t increase taxes. We haven’t passed any statute increasing taxes.

Mr. Lengell: So you find it hypocritical … that after 12 years of Republicans …

Mr. Hoyer: They don’t have anything else to say. They have a failed administration, a failed Congress preceding this Congress; the American public turned them out …

[Republican Rep. Louie] Gohmert from Texas got up with a national debt sign about $8.8 trillion. Now, to his misfortune, I happened to be on the floor at the time, and I asked him to yield … and said how in the heck … could a fiscally responsible president, a fiscally responsible leadership in the Congress of the United States for the last six years go from $5.4 trillion in debt to $8.8 trillion in debt. You guys were in total charge. In heaven’s name, I am shocked and chagrined that that would happen on your watch. He didn’t say much. The debt … [they are] giving us a hard time about $23 billion, the president of the United States, in extra spending on education, health care, veterans, COPS programs, first responders, $23 billion in a $2.7 trillion budget. That’s eight-tenths of a point more on domestic spending, and he’s going to veto the bills without even seeing them? Give me a break [laughs].

This is the guy who sent down a prescription drug bill [and] said it was going to cost $395 billion when his own people said it was going to cost over $500 billion. That’s five times as much … . You recall how much they said this war was going to cost … $60 billion … . We’re now at $600 billion, 10 times what they said this war was going to cost. We spend more in Iraq in two months than we are suggesting spending for the entire year on education, child care, first responders, cops … energy, alternative research. So I understand we’re taking some rhetoric, but I don’t think we’re taking any grief … [they have] no credibility. They’re criticizing us on earmarks. This is a crowd that took earmarks to a 15-fold increase.

Reporter Christina Bellantoni: You’ve had a lot of Democrats win in conservative districts, what the Republicans call “Bush” districts … The Republicans are trying real hard to get these guys to be one-term Democrats. Do you foresee any situation where the Democrats lose the House next year?

Mr. Hoyer: [laughs] I suppose the right thing to say is of course not! … Do I think we’re going to lose the majority, absolutely not.

We did not lose an incumbent or any seat that we had last year, not one. The people who were elected, Nancy Boyda [of Kansas], Kirsten Gillibrand [of New York], Tim Mahoney [of Florida], Nick Lampson [of Texas], are all very, very able people. This freshman class of 41 people are as able a class as I have seen coming into the Congress in the 26 years that I have been here, number one.

Number two, the Republican administration is probably the most unpopular administration … rival[ing] Nixon’s. … I don’t think the Republicans are offering any alternative policies to ours. … Look at our bills we’ve passed … We got 82 [Republican votes] for the minimum wage; we got 124 [Republican votes] for student aid increase …

We’re not passing a narrow partisan agenda, we’re not passing a liberal agenda or a conservative agenda. We’re passing an agenda that I think speaks to the desires of the American public and what they voted for in ‘06. …

[Democratic Rep.] Chris Carney [from] a Republican district in Scranton {Pa.] … Republicans tried to recruit [a strong candidate], and he decided not to run. When a top-five candidate decides not to run … he is making a judgment … that Carney is not as vulnerable as some people would like to think.

Ms. Bellantoni: Do you think that whoever is at the top of the ticket, whoever gets nominated for president, will affect these numbers in the House next year either way?

Mr. Hoyer: I think we have as top-tier a group of candidates … as we’ve had in our party in a long period of time. The top three are top-tier, [Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton, [Sen. Barack Obama], [John] Edwards, but [Sen.] Chris Dodd is a top-tier candidate. He’s not top tier in numbers but he’s a quality candidate …

But more important than that, this administration I don’t think has had a domestic success, and certainly not an international success, that [it] can point to. The one success the administration will point to is [it] cut taxes, and the economy is doing well.

[Stands up, heads to coat rack to get something from jacket pocket]

I’ve got to give you something, because I love it and I want you to hear it. … This is a card I made up, and I’ve given it to every member because I get so tired of hearing what a great economy this administration has [brought about] by its tax cuts.

[Outlines financial, debt and job-creation statistics comparing the economies under former President George Bush, former President Bill Clinton and President Bush]

Mr. Hoyer: You can keep this card this will probably be front page [laughs] this will be it: “Hoyer discloses utter failure of Bushenomics” [laughter] …

Under George Bush, the first the Dow in his four years went up 47 percent … 26 percent after 6½ years of George Bush the second. Under Bill Clinton, the Dow went up 226 percent after that dastardly tax increase that we passed in 1993 that [former Republican Majority Leader] Dick Armey said was going to destroy the economy, blow the deficit through the roof and create high unemployment.

Dick Armey was 180 degrees wrong. So, in terms of fiscal management, I think our argument is a very powerful one. … Not only that, we adopted [pay-as-you-go rules]. The Republicans jettisoned PayGo … because they couldn’t pay for the tax cuts.

Now we’re going to move forward. … We will pass our appropriations bills, we will pass energy independence … we will make sure we continue our efforts to make higher education affordable and accessible … we’re going to work on children’s health to make sure the millions of children in America who are now uninsured have insurance.

And we’re going to do it all within the framework of PayGo. It’s going to be tough, it’s hard to do. The Republicans simply decided to jettison PayGo because they found it too hard to do. That’s why of course they went from … surplus to a … deficit. So those are some of the things we’re going to do.

Ms. Bellantoni: And you like Chris Dodd?

Mr. Hoyer: Oh, ‘cause I mentioned Chris Dodd? I like Chris Dodd. [Laughs.] I didn’t mention [Sen.] Joe Biden. I like Joe Biden, Joe Biden is top-flight, but his numbers aren’t good. Pretty capable group of people.

I happen to believe Fred Thompson, by the way, is synonymous with none of the above. I think Fred Thompson is doing so well because they decided they don’t like [Sen. John] McCain, [Rudolph W.] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney.

Mr. Miller: Do you have concerns that some of your guys in difficult districts will be branded far-left Pelosi Democrats in the next round?

Mr. Hoyer: Oh, the Republicans wouldn’t do that. [Laughter]

Mr. Miller: I’m sure they will.

Mr. Hoyer: I’m sure they are doing it. Do I have any concerns about that?

Again, the reason I point out to you that these bills are passing with significant numbers of Republican votes, our guys are going to be able to say, “What do you mean? Are you saying these 57 Republicans who voted for the [continuing budget resolution] are somehow Pelosi Republicans?”

I think we have a pretty good response. The 9/11 [bill] got 68 Republican votes.

We are not passing 218 to 215, where we could be branded as this, that or the other.

Our guys are taking conservative stances where they need to take conservative stances. PayGo is a conservative principle; therefore, the Republican predecessors are not.

I think we can show that we are passing legislation that has broad support from the American people.