- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

DENVER | House Democratic Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday that Republican John McCain wouldn’t necessarily be a bad president, but his problem is he has embraced President Bush’s policies.

“I don’t know that Senator McCain would be a bad president,” Mr. Hoyer told The Washington Times. “But if he pursued, as he says he’s going to, the same policies that President Bush has pursued, he would have a bad administration, a bad result.”

A continuation of those policies, he said, would mean “an America less economically successful than it ought to be, less job creation than it ought to be, less successful in partnering with our allies around the world.”

In a wide-ranging interview at the Democratic convention here, Mr. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, also said he expects his chamber to vote next month on legislation that would take inventory of the nation’s oil reserves, an incremental step toward more of the offshore oil drilling that Republicans have been pressing for months.

“I see a vote coming on ensuring that America utilizes its natural resources to a much greater degree,” he said.

Democratic leaders have been arguing that more offshore drilling wouldn’t help in the near term, and said oil companies should instead focus on drilling in areas where they already hold leases. But according to public polls, two-thirds of Americans favor more oil drilling and Republicans staged a protest on the House floor demanding a vote on drilling.

Mr. Hoyer, in a turnabout from the Democrats’ earlier positions, said Congress will look at finding new resources “that are available to us, and combine a responsible way towards developing those resources.”

He said he doubts that will include drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is being pushed by some Republicans, though not Mr. McCain.

“I don’t know that ANWR will be part of that inventory, but very frankly, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, which has as much oil, is right next door to ANWR and is not controversial,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also has said she would be open to a package that included more drilling, though she said she doubted it would make much difference.

“I am prepared to preside over legislation that will take a comprehensive approach to it. Include [drilling] and let it compete, and seeing where we come down on it, and if that, in fact, is a good alternative, then that is something we should do,” she said.

Support for expanded offshore drilling is a bipartisan matter in some parts of the country, including Virginia. Sen. Jim Webb on Tuesday told Virginia’s delegation to the Democratic convention that his party should have taken the lead on the issue.

“I think one of the great mistakes we made in terms of political strategy before this latest recess was not taking on the Republican Party when they started talking about offshore drilling,” said Mr. Webb, himself a former Republican.

Mr. Webb said his Democratic colleagues should determine how much oil is available offshore before engaging in debates about drilling, and grant states the power to block drilling if they choose.

On other matters, Mr. Hoyer beamed with pride when talking about the House Democratic Caucus. He said they have 45 new members beginning with the 2006 elections and continuing through special elections, and said that includes a number of bright stars, many of whom have speaking roles here.

Mr. Hoyer, who has served in the House for 27 years, said he is not worried by recent polls that showed Mr. McCain gaining and Mr. Obama losing ground.

“I’ve been through campaigns where we were 20 points ahead at this point in time — at the convention — and we lost campaigns. The lesson from that is that I think the polls are not going to be reflective of what people are thinking in November, today,” he said.

He also said Democrats will come out of Denver unified, though that doesn’t mean unanimous.

Asked whether something needed to happen to foster that unity here, he said “it’s happened, in that we’ve had eight years of failure, and we have a candidate who’s articulated a vision that’s obviously inspirational, which is why he’s going to be our nominee.”

His comments came before the opening of the Tuesday convention session, during which Democratic leaders said they wanted to show their unity, make pointed attacks and draw distinctions between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama.

Mr. Hoyer repeatedly said the election comes down to a choice between continuing Mr. Bush’s policies through Mr. McCain, or going in a new direction with Mr. Obama, and said he thinks Mr. Bush pushes voters away from Mr. McCain.

“They’re going to hear the campaign, they’re going to reflect upon the method of this administration and they’re going to reflect upon the fact that John McCain has supported this administration 95 percent of the time, and say to themselves, ‘We don’t want more of the same, we want change, and Barack Obama is that change.’ ”

He said the convention’s most moving moment so far was the tribute to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, on Monday night.

“From that standpoint, I think Senator Ted Kennedy will come out of this convention with a renewed respect and reverence for what he has contributed to the well-being of Americans,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Tom LoBianco contributed to this article.