Bill Kristol On GOP Leadership Battle And The Fall Of Iraq
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Bill Kristol joined the ranks of those urging the House GOP to slow down and think about the consequences of simply promoting GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy to Leader in his appearance on my show today:
HH: Yesterday, as I flew across the country absorbing the impact of the Cantor loss, I saw Bill Kristol sit down with Chuck Todd, and they actually had a fairly coherent analysis of what was going on. But that may have broken down in the next 24 hours. Bill Kristol, welcome, good to talk to you.
BK: How are you, Hugh, good talking to you.
HH: I’m confused. I am confused, because for the Republicans to rush to make Kevin McCarthy the leader, and I’ve known Kevin a long time, he’s a fine guy, is a little bit like the Washington Redskins firing Mike Shanahan and then hiring Kyle Shanahan, his son, the next day. What do you make of this?
BK: Yeah, I’m a little distressed, I think, by the turn none of the people it seems who would have stepped up and I think could have beaten McCarthy are doing so. Jeb Hensaring apparently has decided he doesn’t want to be the number two person in the House. It’s partly, it’s a tough job. John Boehner’s the Speaker. Some of these conservatives aren’t confident they’re always going to agree with John Boehner. Then if you’re number two, you don’t want to undercut him. And so if you’re Jeb Hensarling, you’re chairman, who’s a very well-respected conservative Congressman from Texas as you know, you just thought, you know what? I’m going to be chairman of Financial Services Committee. If you’re Tom Price, you say I’m going to be chairman of the Budget Committee. If you’re Paul Ryan, you say I’m going to be chairman of the Ways And Means Committee. And the three of them are very close. And I’m told that the three of them just sort of informally decided, you know what, Kevin McCarthy or someone else can be the majority leader and worry about scheduling this bill renaming the Hugh Hewitt Post Office in California at 2pm instead of 4pm, or whatever the majority leader and the Whip spend a lot of time doing that kind of stuff. And we will run, Price, Hensarling and Ryan, we will run three of the biggest, most important committees in the House and shape the actual legislation in 2015. So I think that’s probably the way it’s going to shake out. The other thing I would say, and that’s not clear that there’s also a rationale for letting McCarthy let up now. It’s in the middle of, four months left in the term, in the session. It’s not clear to me that necessarily means that he keeps it in November when they elect the leaders whole next two years.
HH: Well, a couple of questions for you. I have been saying consistently throughout the day on air and on the Twitter feed and the posting, it isn’t what Kevin McCarthy actually believes, it’s what he’s understood to believe. And if he’s understood by the base to be soft on immigration or a finger at them back for destroying Eric Cantor, that this just further inflames them. And I’m afraid a consequence of his elevation will be the strengthening of Tom Tancredo in Colorado. And the victory of Tom Tancredo in Colorado, who’s a very nice guy, but he’s completely wrong on immigration, will decidedly hurt us in the fall. So I think there are, to me, I don’t really care who runs the House calendar, either. I don’t care who the majority leader is. I don’t lobby. But I do care about winning elections, and I think this actually hurts us, Bill Kristol.
BK: I totally agree. I mean, symbolically, it’s bad. I just wrote an editorial which will come out tomorrow morning and make a very similar point to the one you’re making. I mean, the look of having Cantor defeated because he seemed to be the representative of K Street and Wall Street, and not of the citizens of the Richmond suburbs and exurbs down in Virginia, this Congressional district, the look of having him replaced by Kevin McCarthy, who the night after Cantor lost was having, hosting, or a guest at a Chamber Of Commerce-sponsored dinner for lobbyists at the Capitol Grill Steakhouse, you know, and I make a joke in the editorial that well, at least there’s some change. Cantor’s campaign spent $168,000 dollars at Bobby Vans, and BLT steak, and McCarthy seems to have moved the base of operations to Capitol Grill Steakhouse. That’s a really wonderful change. But I do agree. Look, and people talk about the base, but it’s an awful lot, there was a huge turnout there in Virginia-7. That’s not just the base, that’s actually ordinary Republicans, conservatives, independents, Virginia doesn’t register by party, who are just disgusted with business as usual in Washington. The greatest hope for the Republican Pary, I said this on Wednesday morning with Chuck Todd, I thought, when I heard about Brat’s victory, I have nothing against Eric Cantor, but I was energized when I heard about it.
BK: I thought this increases the chances of a very strong Republican showing in November, if they can channel that populist, anti-Washington, anti-crony capitalism sentiment. And I agree, the elevation of McCarthy could dampen some of that enthusiasm and get people annoyed. On the other hand, it’s, you know, it’s kind of an inside baseball appointment. And if they move to legislation in the next six weeks, to take on the insurance companies on risk corridors, or take on the big banks and so forth, that would overcome, I think, the importance of who the majority leader is.
HH: Interesting. I got an email from a participant in that dinner with Kevin McCarthy last night, late last night, telling me how great he was, and how confident he was. And I thought, oh my God, they’re having a fundraising dinner.
HH: And they don’t understand it. And I do think that there is no more inside baseball. I’m kind of radical in this. I believe that Twitter has made everything outside baseball.
HH: But Scalise is apparently going to be the Whip. All right, so he’s going to be in the leadership. I wonder, Bill Kristol, although it’s a done deal today, and everyone says Kevin McCarthy, and I hope to have him on the show tomorrow, everyone says he’s going to be the leader, that if one conservative puts up his hand, for example, Kevin Brady is not going to be a chairman of a committee. He’s going to be a number two, because he doesn’t get Ways and Means, because Paul Ryan’s going to Ways and Means, or you get a young guy like a Ron DeSantis, who’s going to run for Senate if Marco Rubio runs for president, and he says you know what, I’ve got nothing to lose by raising my visibility. If they put up their hand, doesn’t all hell break loose if anyone with any kind of charisma and ability steps forward and says one more into the breach?
BK; Look, I’m where you are, and I’m where you are also on the issue of there isn’t much inside baseball anymore. I gather McCarthy is personally popular. You’ve known him better than I do, but I know him a little. He’s a good guy. He’s a friendly guy, an accessible guy. Eric Cantor’s a little more distant and reserved. And so I’m not sure that people kind of want to go after McCarthy at this point, but I agree, it shouldn’t be, it’s not over until it’s over, this notion that people suddenly decide okay, that race is over, is just ludicrous. I mean, how many Congressional races have we seen over the years where people thought they had a majority and turned out not to. It’s a secret ballot. They were all saying nice things. Kevin McCarthy’s the Whip. He comes to them and says will you be with me. They say in different shades of conviction, yeah, yeah, hey, yeah, probably, why not, sure. It doesn’t mean they will really cast that vote, and the vote isn’t for a while, right? So…
HH: Right, it’s not until next Thursday. Someone has to, but you have to run for the job. Someone has to say I want to be the leader, and Pete Sessions is the only one who has done that, and I don’t think he has the support to beat Kevin McCarthy, because that’s kind of the same person.
BK: Yeah, well, and I think, yeah, I think Sessions is a little weak. I also think at this moment, and you made this point I saw somewhere, maybe it was something you wrote, at this point with Iraq and the horrible disaster in Iraq, with the trade of the Taliban terrorists, I mean, with just the world falling apart, I would prefer to see someone in the leadership who has a proven track record as a hawk and a strong supporter of American Defense.
BK: Again, I don’t think Kevin McCarthy’s particularly bad on this. I just don’t think he’s spent much time on this.
HH: And I believe, and now we’re going to turn to Iraq, that at this moment, really, they have to ask why not the best, because as we’ve watched today unfold, and I’m sure tomorrow when the news comes out, I don’t know if you’ve seen the Daily Mirror story, Bill Kristol, of heads lining the road on the way to, ISIS militants, they lined the streets with the decapitated heads of police and soldiers. Iraqi refugees reveals the horrors of jihadi takeover as Baghdad vows to fight back. You know, I can barely remember ’75 and the helicopter on the Embassy, but it’s got that feel to it. It’s a rout, and it’s going to be a genocide.
BK: Yeah, unless, well, except that the only difference is the Iranians are probably coming in the other way. So it’ll be a Syrian-type civil war, not quite a rout like Saigon and Cambodia, which I mean, I guess it’s maybe, I don’t know which is better. Well, I mean, genocide is horrible, so, but the civil war can be awfully, can kill an awful of people.
BK: …and also be very detrimental to our interest as Syria. This is Obama’s Middle East. This is the wages, the price, the consequences of Obama – Syria, and now Iraq. I mean, it’s really horrible. Bush made mistakes. No one’s perfect in foreign policy. But this degree of chaos and death and weakening of U.S. interests everywhere, I really think it’s the worst we’ve seen, and I think even maybe worse than ’75.
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HH: I ask you, does anyone come to mind? There’s, for example, John Kline is a combat veteran of Vietnam, carried the football at the White House, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, knows the House, got some gray hair. You’ve got buck McKeon, who’s retiring, who could step up at this point and lead the Republicans, who could be a serious hawk. You’ve got people like Ron DeSantis who are combat veterans. I mean, Pompeo’s on the Select Committee for Benghazi, he can’t do it, Tom Cotton’s running for Arkansas, he can’t do it. But wouldn’t it be a statement for the Republicans to say at this point we’re going to underscore foreign policy by making our interim majority leader until the freshmen arrive and participate, someone who has some national security chops?
BK: No, I really like that idea, and I think even someone like Pompeo, who’s on the Benghazi committee, this is a four month job, he could probably do it. As you say, Cotton is running for Senate. I mean, he could technically, at least, he’s still in the House, he could do it. I guess it wouldn’t be appropriate, but DeSantis would be good. No, I very much agree with you. I really think this is the moment the Republican Party, and this is not business as usual, this is not put out a few press releases, take some shots at the President on this, and on eight other issues. This is a total meltdown at a place where Americans fought and died in a war that was authorized by the Congress and voted for by not just a bunch of Republicans like John McCain and most of the rest of the Republicans, but by Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and John Kerry. And it is disgraceful what’s happening, and Republicans, I think, should treat what’s happening with a kind of seriousness that it deserves.
HH: Well, that’s why I keep tying up the House leadership struggle with this, because it seems to me that this is a very serious time. And if we reflexively promote the Whip like a House of Cards episode, we’re not serious. If it’s a serious time, you go find your Lincoln. You go demand. I mean, you go back in and you see Chairman Ryan, and you say I know you’d rather spend time with your family, or Jeb Hensarling, but this is the time. You’ve got to step up right now, because the country is falling apart for the next two years.
BK: No, I like your Buck McKeon idea. He’s retiring, but of course, there’s no reason we can’t have a majority leader for four months who then doesn’t retire. In a way, it’s almost better if someone who has no stake in keeping the job.
BK: Mack Thornberry is going to be head of House Armed Services, very well-respected, very good member.
HH: Oh, that would be excellent.
BK: …a very strong supporter of a strong American Defense. He doesn’t become chairman of House Armed Services until next year. He could do it for a four month stint and say explicitly, look, I’m going to become Armed Services chairman, I’m doing this as an interim measure, but I want to make sure there’s a strong voice for American national security in the House leadership.
HH: Now I don’t know if you watched the Hagel hearing which was happening after you left Chuck Todd. It was very dispiriting. The Secretary of Defense is clueless, Bill Kristol, that it was embarrassing. At one point, he said I’m no lawyer, but I do read things. And I just stopped watching, because it was so, it’s unnerving, actually, to have that lack of competence.
BK: Yeah, no, I missed it, but Steve Hayes wrote a piece for us in the next issue. It’ll be up tonight, and he was just, I mean, we’ve, of course, been very critical of Hagel. We opposed his nomination originally here at the Weekly Standard. But yeah, the degree to which he sort of contradicted himself, contradicted things he’d previously said, the administration’s line on the whole Taliban trade is now, you know, Bergdahl was very sick, he was ill, he might have, we needed to get him back, well, actually, he wasn’t really sick, there’s no evidence, it was a six month old video, I mean. And then Hagel on others, the Taliban guys aren’t dangerous, well actually, it turns out that intelligence has judged four out of the five to be very dangerous. One of them, Tom Joscelyn’s going to report in the issue of the magazine that goes to bed tonight, one of them was actually involved in 9/11 plotting.
HH: Oh, what?
BK: It’s really, well, you know, the Taliban were thee with al Qaeda, and they were plotting, I mean, al Qaeda was using the Taliban and working with the Taliban on aspects of the attacks of 9/11.
HH: Oh, my gosh. That’s in the new issue?
BK: Yeah, that’ll be up, it’ll be up midnight tonight. You can talk to Joscelyn or Hayes tomorrow, and they can give you more detail. But it’s really, no, so I totally agree with you. To see Chuck Hagel as our secretary of Defense, to see President Obama just kind of apparently, has he said anything, even, about Iraq? I mean, isn’t it kind of important?
HH: Yeah, no he hasn’t, and it is. And I do take some heart. Marco Rubio came over the Heritage Foundation when I was there on Tuesday night and spoke eloquently at length about foreign policy. Paul Ryan gave a very serious speech about foreign policy.
HH: But again, if the Republicans, I’ll just close on this note, just because people say it’s inevitable, it’s not. If they’re serious about these issues, they really ought not to promote the next guy in line because it’s his time.
BK: Yeah, and I agree with you, and I saw him give a good speech on the floor this afternoon on Iraq, too. But I agree. It would be nice to see someone step up, a Thornberry, a McKeon, someone, DeSantis, and say you know what, I’m willing to do this, if only for four or five months, just to make sure we have a strong voice here in the House leadership.
HH: And it would be statesmanlike if Kevin McCarthy were to say you know what, that’s a good idea, I’ll fun for leader on my own when it’s not a jam down, when the freshmen are here. That would actually be statesmanlike, too. Bill Kristol, it’s always a pleasure, look forward to reading the Weekly Standard tonight.
End of interview.