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Dan Lungren on his bid to unseat John Boehner as House Republican leader

Friday, November 14, 2008

HH: We begin by focusing on the Republicans in the House of Representatives. A lot of people were worried that John Boehner, the current leader, would face not even token opposition. Now he has a real competition in the race to continue on as leader of the GOP in the form of California Congressman Dan Lungren who joins me tonight. California Congressman Lungren, welcome, it’s good to talk to you again, Dan.

DL: Thanks, Hugh, thanks for having me on.

HH: Now a lot of people thought John Boehner would get a pass here. Why is your hat in the ring?

DL: Well, I just don’t think that we ought to have a coronation. I think we need to have competition. It brings out the best in everybody, including politicians.

HH: And how are you different from John Boehner?

DL: Well, let me put it this way, a couple of things. One is I’ve been through this before. When I was back here in 1979-1980, we had a Democrat in the White House named Jimmy Carter. We had Democrats controlling the House and the Senate. And it was up to those of us who brought the new blood in to try and change things, and that was Newt Gingrich, myself, and about a handful of others. We established the Conservative Opportunity Society to take on the Democrats, to try and do it in an intelligent, aggressive and understandable way, so that we could make our case with the American people. And I happen to think we have to be back in that same mode again. Secondly, if we just go through this as if nothing happened, how are we going to convince the American people that we understand that we’ve lost fifty seats, we understand our message didn’t get across, and we understand that maybe we lost our way with respect to our message. It’s not about John Boehner. It’s about the Republican Party, it’s about what kind of legacy we’re going to leave to my children and my grandchildren. I’m that serious about it.

HH: Now Dan Lungren, a lot of people, though, are worried that there’s not enough votes there to unseat Boehner. He’s lined up this entire slate of people. And you know, I like John, I’ve known you a long time, like you a lot. Is it a pyric effort on your part given the number of people he’s lined up already?

DL: Well, it’s a long shot. I’m the outsider. If it’s an insider’s game, I don’t win. If it’s an outsider’s game, I have a real chance. I happen to think we just can’t do it if it’s an insider’s game. You talk to people on the outside, you talk to our grass roots, you talk to our core, you look at the depressed vote we had. I mean, that’s the story this last election. It’s not a tremendous number of young people who came out. It’s the number of Republicans who didn’t come out. We faced that ten years ago as well, and I recall at that time, people saying well, don’t you understand it’s the Republicans in the Congress who at that time made a budget deal with then-President Clinton, and our base said well, if you’re only going to act like Democrats, then why should we come out and vote for you? I think we’ve lost our way with respect to big government, I think we’ve lost our way with respect to fiscal responsibility. I think those are important core values of who we are as Republicans. And when we saw the tremendous growth in the federal government over the last decade, it’s kind of tough to point your finger at somebody else when we’ve had the White House, and we’ve had, actually, control of Congress for most of that time.

HH: What would be the chief job of the leader in opposition, Dan Lungren, if it’s your job?

DL: Well first of all, I think we need a rigorous debate amongst ourselves. That’s why I have said to John Boehner what we ought to do is instead of doing it the old fashioned way where we just have one nominating speech and two seconding speeches. Those contesting don’t even speak to the conference. The vote takes place and then afterwards, we find out where they stand on issues, and maybe we try to get together. That under these extraordinary circumstances, I recommend that we have at least three hours set aside for John Boehner and me to be able to make our presentations to our collected conference, that we then have a period of time where we question one another, debate with one another directly, and then open it up for perhaps as many as two hours for all in the conference to basically question us, weigh us, give us their ideas, find out where we are as a party. Look, we’re going to ask, we’re going to say that it is our Constitutional right and obligation to have the Democrats give us an opportunity for a full, fair and vigorous debate. How can we ask that of them if we don’t ask that of ourselves?

HH: Now Dan Lungren, in terms of process for a moment, for the benefit of the audience, when does this vote take place?

DL: Well, we don’t know. It’s either going to be Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of next week.

HH: So it’s upon us. It’s going to happen…

DL: It is upon us, yeah.

HH: Wow. That’s awfully quick for this sort of thing, isn’t it?

DL: Well, and we’re also coming back for a lame duck session next week, so we will be sitting in two basic venues. One is as the lame duck Congress, the old Congress, doing, responding to what Nancy Pelosi’s throwing at us, and then organizing for the new Congress at the very same time. If you were to suggest that there is a scenario where you don’t really reflect on change, where you don’t reflect on how did we get here and what we need to go, where we want to actually get to, you couldn’t create a better scenario to make sure that doesn’t happen.

HH: So why did the Republicans lose?

DL: We lost, well, first of all, I want to say this. I don’t know whether we could have had a better effort at the top of the ticket. Meaning that, I don’t know if there was another presidential candidate who could have done better given the circumstances. The fact of the matter is, we lost because of the downturn in the economy. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. However, we lacked an agenda prior to that. And therefore, we were in many ways at the mercy of the issue of the day. Now the issue of the day is going to tremendously affect the outcome of an election. But if you don’t have an overarching theme, if you don’t have some vision for the future, if you don’t have the vision for the future that’s grounded in, as Ronald Reagan used to do, about four key principles, the American people are going to look at you and say well, what do you stand for? And you know, if you happen to be going in the negative direction on the one issue that happens to be the issue for that day, we’re not even going to give you credit for the other thing. So I mean, I think we lost our way, I think we gave our core the belief that we didn’t care about small government. We didn’t care about fiscal responsibility. And then you look at, well look, there’s a whole lot of reasons why we’re in this fiscal, economic mess we’re in. I think monetary policy had a lot to do with it, but I think that the problems we had with Fannie and Freddie were, they were like the matchstick that lit off all of the other gun powder that was lying around the room. And what’s the message out of that? The message is if you allow rampant government growth, and I call Freddie and Fannie quasi-government, but now we know they were really government, if you allow them full play to push out the private sector, if you promote riskier and riskier decisions suggesting that there’s no consequences to that, and if what you say is we are going to be in a risk-free environment no matter what we do as long as the government does it, there are going to be no consequences, you see what happens. Not only did Freddie and Fannie go down, the housing market went down. It impacted the entire credit market, and not it’s affecting everybody. That message cannot be lost as we attempt to respond to what the Democrats are presenting to us right now, which appears to be more government, more debt, more taxation as the solution to a problem that was created by those very things.

HH: Lightning round. Did you vote for the fiscal emergency package?

DL: I did.

HH: And do you stand by that vote? Was it a good one?

DL: I stand by the vote. It was the best we could do under the circumstances, but it ought not to be looked as presidential, meaning it was a one time thing given the circumstances. We should reject the notion that that sets us up for a series of these things. That not only would be damning for the Republican Party, that would be damning for this country and our economy.

HH: What about a bailout of the Big 3 in Detroit?

DL: No. You know, that’s what bankruptcy courts are for.

HH: What about the fact that the GOP overwhelmingly lost the youth vote, and the Latino vote shifted dramatically against them? Do you worry about those two demographics?

DL: Absolutely. You know, I have thought particularly about the Hispanic vote since ten years ago. It is something that we have to deal with. At the same time, look what happened with Proposition 8 in California with the Hispanic vote. It was overwhelmingly in favor of it, as was the African-American vote by the way. There is evidence that some conservative values are not only important in those two communities, but important enough to give rise to political action. And it just seems to me that we’ve made a tremendous mistake in ignoring that, and ignoring the potential in those areas. Is it hard work? Absolutely it’s hard work. But can we give it away? If we continue to give it away, there’s no way we can be the majority party in California or this country.

HH: Do we have to support a regularization for the millions of Latinos who have entered the country illegally?

DL: Well, it depends on what you mean by regularization. If you’re talking about a pathway to citizenship where they get in front of others? No. If you’re talking about do we do something with respect to a true temporary worker program, if you’re talking about whether we could create a mechanism where you might have…in fact, I first heard this from Tom Tancredo. He later rejected the idea. But he came up with an idea that suggested how about a program that allows them status here if they meet certain thigns, haven’t broken the law, pay all their taxes, learning English, all those sorts of things. They don’t get on the road to citizenship, but they can renew that presence every number of years. And if they want citizenship, they go back to their home country and get to the back of the line like everybody else.

HH: Dan Lungren, we’ll follow the race closely next week. Thanks for joining us to open today’s Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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