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Congressman Charlie Dent, R-PA, is MSM’s new favorite GOP Congressman because he’s for a “clean CR.” We talked about it –at length– on Wednesday’s show.
HH: I know my next guest is a couple of years younger than I am, so he, if he knows Jackson Browne, it’s just from his parents’ greatest hits album. Charlie Dent is a Congressman extraordinaire from Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District. Congressman, welcome, it’s great to have you on. I appreciate very much that you’re joining me.
CD: Hugh, thank you for having me on the call, much appreciated, and I do remember Jackson Browne. Actually, I’m not that much younger than you are. I’m 53.
HH: All right, well, close enough. Now Congressman, I very much appreciate this. This may be blunt, but I don’t mean it to be contentious. And I don’t want to talk about the intricacies of the CR. I want to talk about party and the role of party, because I flew all night on Sunday night on a red eye, and came back on a red eye Monday night to go on Hannity to defend the House Republican Conference. But I woke up in my hotel room in the middle of a midday nap, and there’s Charlie Dent blasting the Republican conference, and I thought, I’ve got to talk to him. What is he doing? And so tell me, what are you doing?
CD: Sure, I’d be happy to tell you what I’m doing. Actually, the plan all along of the House Republican leadership was to pass a clean continuing resolution. That was always the plan. Sometime over the summer, Senator Cruz, of course, initiated the defund Obamacare as part of the CR, which we always knew would not be successful, because we knew that they simply did not have the votes in the Senate to achieve their stated objective. And the fear was at the time, I said this back in July and August, that we would end up shutting down the government and not defunding Obamacare. And that’s where we are today. So the issue for me is you know, how do we get out of the box? And that’s why I’ve been trying to represent, or basically, I’ve been trying to recommend a very specific proposal to do just that. How? I’ve talked with, I’ll say, a more moderate Democrat. We’ve got a group of Republicans and Democrats who are saying well, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we fund the government for six months at the Republican level that we requested, we demanded, at $986 billion? And let’s repeal the medical device tax, which is important to a lot of the Republicans.
HH: Hugely important deal. No argument from me there.
CD: And the Democrats want it paid for, and so we found a pay-for mechanism through a pension smoothing provision that is broadly embraced. And we think that is a way to help get us out of this box.
HH: Now that might be the world’s greatest plan. And really, I’ve campaigned for a long time to get rid of the medical device tax. But I am curious about your methods. And let me ask you this. Have you risen in the House conference to criticize the House leadership’s approach and demand your approach?
CD: I have said to the leadership…
HH: But in the conference, in front of the whole membership?
CD: Oh, goodness yes.
HH: When did you do that?
CD: Oh, I did that repeatedly right up until about we went into the shutdown.
HH: Well, since the shutdown, there have been at least three, and I think there have been five conference meetings. In any of those, have you stood up and said we’re committing suicide, we’ve got to stop this, we’ve got to…
CD: Well, what I have advocated in front of the House Republican conference is that we should pass a clean CR.
HH: But in the last couple of meetings?
CD: No, I did that, I believe, I’m trying to recall the last time I spoke in the conference. I don’t know if it was on the 1st or the 30th, but I did raise that issue. I said, and I’ve talked, you know, on more than one occasion, at least two or three occasions, about what I’ve just suggested to you, that we should do the clean CR. That was always our plan.
HH: Okay, but…
CD: That we would send over a defund bill.
HH: I get that…
CD: We sent a defund bill over to the…
HH: I get that, but yesterday, there was a conference at which this was discussed, and I was told by your colleagues no one rose to object to the Speaker’s proposal and to the direction. No one. Not you, not Peter King, none of the critics who appear on CNN to blast the conference. None of you stood up to argue the point.
CD: Which proposal are you talking about? I’m sorry, I’m…
HH: Yesterday on my show, Congressman Campbell said no one rose to oppose the conference direction.
CD: Well, I don’t recall what the specific proposal was.
HH: But that you had the opportunity, not you specifically, but that anyone who is opposed to the direction of the House conference could have stood up yesterday and spoken to the conference, and nobody did.
CD: No, I have explained that to the leadership, both Speaker Boehner and the leadership team about my objections.
HH: But if you went on CNN, this is what really gets me…
CD: But I said it in front of the whole conference. I said it in front of the whole conference, Hugh.
HH: But if you went on CNN on Monday to blast them, why not do it on Tuesday in front of them?
CD: No, I have said, well, I have not really blasted leadership. What I said is that I believe the votes are there to pass a clean continuing resolution.
HH: But that, to me, undercuts the Republicans in such a profound way, because then my friends in the media, and Jake Tapper was on last hour, and I have them all on this show, they all point to Charlie Dent and Peter, and they say there are enough votes to pass the clean CR, and that therefore, the Republicans are obstructionists. And by the way, you’re a center-right guy. I read your whole bio.
HH: Center-right guy from a center-right district in a center-right state. You know, it’s a great line. But aren’t you destroying the Republican bargaining position by empowering the media to parrot the President’s line?
CD: Well you know, I mean, I think, Hugh, there’s a certain unfairness here. When there are some members, I’ve said repeatedly, there are 180-200 members of the House Republican conference who have an affirmative sense of governance, who really want to get things done, who are going to play up the hard votes to enact the must-pass pieces of legislation. They’re going to be there. We have a few dozen folks who don’t share that same affirmative sense of governance. And the reality of the situation in the House is we don’t have 218 votes to pass the debt limit, or frankly the continuing resolution, on our own. We simply don’t, and we have to accept that reality. And there’s going to be, require some kind of a bipartisan vote to get this done out of the House. That’s all I’m saying.
HH: But now, I actually, I think, and this is said with respect.
HH: I’m not yelling at you.
HH: I think that you and Congressman King, who’s been a guest on this show, are in fact wrecking the opportunity to reach a constructive conclusion by undercutting the Speaker and empowering the media to beat him up. And I think that the place to have those conversations is in the conference, not on CNN. Now this is not a trick question. Just honestly, do you know who Benjamin Disraeli is?
CD: Yeah, he was the prime minister of Great Britain back in the UK back in the 19th Century.
HH: Yeah, greatest…
CD: Great conservative, I believe.
HH: Yeah, greatest conservative prime minister of the 19th Century, and he said of party, “it is not becoming in any minister to decry the party who has risen by party. We should always remember that if we were not partisans, we should not be ministers.” Now I’m a center-right guy myself. And I don’t mind that you were for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I don’t mind any of those votes. Everyone’s got to vote their district and their conscience. But I do not get, I mean, I deeply resent, working as hard as I do, to advance the cause of the Republican Party, and then seeing you on CNN blasting them. I mean, I really, my jaw hit the desk when I saw that.
CD: Well, let me say, Hugh, there is probably no one who’s done more to help the Republican Party. You know, you saw in our conference, you know, I’ve been very strongly supportive of the Speaker, by the way. I want to be very clear about that. There have been members of our conference who have voted against the Speaker on swearing in day. I mean, there are members, you know, when we put out plans to try to deal with the fiscal cliff at the era of Plan B, I thought it was a good plan. I was there. There were Republicans who went public and blasted it. I mean, I don’t hear the same criticism of them criticizing the Republican position.
HH: On the Speaker vote, which is about the Speaker, I did not criticize those who voted against him, because it was a vote on the Speaker. But I would blast any…
CD: But that’s a vote against the Republican leader.
HH: No, that’s the time to actually register it. This right now is the time of governing, and I think people who undercut the Speaker, because I have to just disagree when you say I have strongly supported our Speaker. That may be true until this week. But the damage being done this week by the caucus of so-called moderate Republicans, and I know you’re center-right. You’re pretty, you have some conservative votes out there.
HH: But I just think you guys are burning down the House Republican conference, because you are empowering the media with this narrative. And let me ask, I want to make sure I’m clear about this. You went from 54% reelect in 2010 to 57% reelect in 2012, right?
HH: You did get benefitted by redistricting, right?
CD: Yeah, I did a little bit.
HH: Yeah, and so you are actually one of those safe Republicans, and the media narrative is that the House is being held hostage by safe Republicans, when in fact you’re a safe Republican, and you’re beating up on the House conference.
CD: Well, let me just say one thing. The registration of my district is 39% Republican, 46% Democrat. It’s true my district did improve a little bit in redistricting. That’s true. I’ve always been a target. I’ve always been a marginal seat. You know, if you look at the Cook Index, I was always either a D-2 or an R-1.9 district now, and that’s where I am. So I’m still considered, the 15th is still considered a very marginal district. I don’t know that I would ever call it safe. I was a major target in 2010, and they spent millions against me. I didn’t have that same kind of opposition in 2012.
HH: But the Republicans came to your help, right? The party helped you?
CD: Well, sure, and I helped the party.
HH: But I mean, I had Pete Sessions practically lived in this studio in 2010-2012, raising money to help people like you.
CD: Well actually, the NRCC really wasn’t very much involved in my race. I tend to run my own races. I mean, they do provide support. I’m not minimizing that. I support the NRCC.
HH: Well, what is it? Did they help you or didn’t they?
CD: Yeah, some help. A little bit of help. I mean, they weren’t putting up ads on Philadelphia television.
HH: Yeah, but they’re sending you some help, right? They’re sending you some money.
CD: Well, no, they do some things to help, but I mean, they weren’t, I was not a heavy investment, and I didn’t need to be. I wasn’t asking for it.
HH: But I’m pointing out that the Republicans helped you in redistricting. The NRCC helps you. You’re on Approps. You’re on one of the big committees. You’re an appropriator.
CD: But you know, but I think we have to be very clear what happened. The folks who undercut the Republican position were those who raised expectations unrealistically, and said that we were going to be able to defund Obamacare as part of the continuing resolution.
HH: Now I just…
CD: Everybody knew that wasn’t going to happen, because…
HH: Wait, I just…
CD: …we all knew that Senator Cruz did not have the votes.
HH: But that’s just wrong.
CD: He had the opportunity. He couldn’t deliver. And then when he failed to deliver, he failed to deliver, then the issue was, then the plan was well, I thought, and many of the Republican members thought, then the plan was okay, we did not want to shut the government down, and we should fund the government at the number that we requested at $986 billion dollars. That’s what I thought, that’s what many members of the Republican conference have felt. I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that.
HH: Well, actually.
CD: I’m speaking for many members.
HH: I think you are, because no one rises in the conference to make these points. But I’ll say this. Ted Cruz has got his critics. I understand that. He’s made nine arguments in front of the United States Supreme Court. He’s not the dullest knife in the box. He’s pretty smart. He’s collected two million petition signatures. He’s got the country on fire focused and arguing about important first steps. And this is a chapter in a book titled 2014. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I’ve got to say, Congressman, I think it is damned ungrateful that the party that raised you up and got you your job, and before that, you served in what, the legislature for 14 years?
HH: And before that, you were a Congressional aide?
HH: And now…
CD: I worked for a little bit of time for Don Ritter, sure, yeah.
HH: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been in the private sector since 1989 when I left the Reagan administration supporting the party every step of the way, trying to get people who believe what I believe in power. And I do not cotton to long-serving Republicans throwing bricks at each other.
CD: But you know, I have never ever been accused of not being supportive of the party, ever.
HH: Well, I’ve got the evidence. I’ve got that CNN…was I imagining it? Was I delusional? I did take a red eye.
CD: But you know, look, I support the goal. I think we’re all, look, what’s happening here is that we Republicans are questioning each other, because we have disagreements over tactics. I believe the tactics that we have used in the CR have not been very effective. I mean, you know, we did the defund bill. It was rejected as expected. We did the delay on the medical device tax, and again, I supported it. It was rejected. Okay, there’s an old saying. There’s no wisdom to be gained by the second kick of the mule. And there sure as heck is no wisdom to be gained by the third or fourth kick of the mule. And then we went with another plan…
HH: And there’s another old saying. It’s an Irish one, which is if everyone says you’re drunk, you better sit down. And if everybody’s supporting Ted Cruz’ strategy, the half dozen Republicans who are doing their star turn on CNN and gathering the applause of the Beltway have got to listen to people. I had a trucker call yesterday named Tom from Atlanta, seething, seething. He works three jobs, and he is so angry, because all he does is see the President insult him as a Tea Party extremist, and he sees center-right Republicans talk about Ted Cruz like he’s a wild man, when in fact, he’s a brilliant, smart Constitutional lawyer. And they do not sense respect. They think, in fact, and you talk to him, not me, Charlie…
HH: …that you do respect their position, because it seems like you don’t.
CD: Well no, look, we said, all I’ve ever said is that I respectfully disagree with the tactic that Senator Cruz advanced, because I didn’t think there was a plan for victory. The plan was to defund Obamacare. It was unsuccessful. I think we have to admit that.
HH: No, actually, we don’t, because the game, not the game, it’s much more important than a game when veterans are being shut out of the World War II memorial and when they’re being defunded with their death benefits, but when the drama is playing out, you want to declare it was unsuccessful. You want to walk away and throw hammers at the guys who started it instead of piling onto the scrum and pushing the ball forward.
CD: Well no, here, the plan, here was the plan. And again, we’re debating tactics. I mean, I agree with you. Nobody has fought as hard against Obamacare as…I’ve fought as hard against Obamacare as anybody. I have voted to delay it, to defund it, to repeal it, to fry it, broil it and fricassee it. I mean, I have been there. I have been there on every, I voted against the law to begin with, I made the strong arguments, and I’m doing my part. The issue becomes, you know, if we overreach, if we go for more than we can get, knowing that we have a Democrat Senate and a president named Obama, I think it’s making it harder for us to make incremental gains like repealing the medical device tax. I think we have a shot at getting the individual mandate delayed. But you know, instead of, I think we should have opened the government and let on October 1st, let the bright light shine on Obamacare and look at the effect on the rollout.
HH: Now let’s talk about that for a second.
CD: And we should be talking about that instead of having these discussions about Republicans shooting at each other.
HH: Well A), we’ve been talking about the collapse of Obamacare’s exchanges every single day, all day long on this program. This is simply not the case that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. And most of the Republican caucus have been doing both at the same time. And the 18 members who are going up tomorrow are not going to be deterred from criticizing the President’s inoperable system. But I keep going back to this. When you keep saying no one has fought Obamacare more than I have, that is to my ears demonstrably not true, because, and I don’t use words like surrender caucus, but what you say when you go on CNN then feeds into Gloria Borger’s talking points, which then feeds into the meta-narrative, which supports the President. Party discipline wins battles, and you guys, you and Pete King and some other really smart Republicans, are killing us, Larry. That’s a commercial on the West Coast. But you are.
CD: Well you know, but think about it, though. One of the challenges that we’ve had throughout this conference, throughout this year in the Republican conference, is that when we need to pass an act, must-pass pieces of legislation, we have not had 218 votes, whether it was on how we were going to deal with year-end taxes on the fiscal cliff, on, you know, even the no budget, no pay, the first debt ceiling. And we had 200 Republican votes. I mean, you’re right about party discipline. But you know, I don’t hear the criticism of those, then, who weren’t there on those votes.
HH: Well A), I do criticize people who do not show up when the Hastert rule is out there and try to block and bitch and moan about what the Republicans do. I believe in party. I believe in Disraeli’s absolutely right. The people who got there by party should never decry party, and shouldn’t go out there, because party is what our system works on. But right now, this is the critical moment for the next 40 months. We’ve got a wounded, disastrous president that has got to be brought to reality about Article I powers vested in the House and in the Senate, and the Speaker’s role in this. And no matter how loyal you’ve been all these years, Congressman Dent, you are now empowering the President to beat the Speaker. There’s no way that any rational person can conclude other than that.
CD: Well, I would say very respectfully, you know, we have a lot of what goes on sometimes in the conference where there are people who hope yes and then vote no. They want to see bills pass. But they just want somebody else to vote for it. We see that, unfortunately, too often. Same with the fiscal cliff. We saw that. There were a heck of a lot more Republicans who supported that fiscal cliff agreement at the beginning of the year than who actually voted for it.
HH: That may be true, and you know, I believe let your yes be yes, and your no be no. I don’t read people’s minds. I just read people’s voting records.
HH: And I listen to what they say in public. And it was you on CNN on Monday who I mean, I can go and get the interview and play it for the audience.
HH: The fact is you were ferocious in your criticism of the Congress. And I know you’ve got this bipartisan deal. But if you want to sell the bipartisan deal, sell it in the conference. And if you get voted down, sit down and move on.
CD: The bipartisan deal that I am supporting, that I have advanced with Representative Ron Kind, is being ferociously undermined by the Democratic leadership. They don’t like my proposal, because it actually does, because we actually change Obamacare. We actually get a gain. We win something. And we get the Republican number. And the Democrats, at least the moderate centrist Democrats, agree, because they want to pay for Obamacare. We found a way to make it work. And I can tell you the Democratic leadership in the House is upset with this bipartisan compromise.
HH: But that’s like telling that the Democrats don’t like Mark Levin’s book. And yeah, I’m sure they don’t, but it doesn’t matter.
CD: No, no, the Democratic leadership. I think there are plenty of Democrats who are okay with what we’re doing.
HH: Yeah, but your plan has no chance in hell of coming to the floor. What has a chance of working is whatever the Speaker and the conference puts forward. And there is really only two alternatives. There is what the Speaker puts forward, and what the President puts forward. You’re on one of two teams. You don’t get to declare a third league. You know, there isn’t an AFC and an NFC and a Dent League. There’s an NFC and an AFC. And you’re probably an Eagles fan.
CD: I am.
HH: This may be basic football. It may elude you. But this is something that I can’t, I just don’t understand. Now I want to conclude by asking you this.
HH: I have, I’ve been in broadcast since 1990. I have only once been against the reelection of a Republican – Lincoln Chafee after he repeatedly attacked the party and the president he was allegedly a member of. Only once, but I am now close to saying that those Republicans who continue to do this ought not only to draw a challenger, but that libertarians ought to get votes of Republicans. And that might be you. And I’m just curious, if that happens, will you think that the people who are all against you are crazy Tea Partiers? Or might they in fact be disappointed party regulars who see in your conduct a destructive and potentially far-reaching erosion of party discipline, because that’s what I think is going to take some of you guys out, not Tea Party fervor.
CD: Look, I think, Hugh, you and I probably agree far more than we disagree. I can say that. I mean, if you look at the actual substance of the issue, we agree about the problems of Obamacare. What we are simply debating are the tactics. It was never the intent, the House Republican leadership, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, they wanted to pass a clean continuing resolution, and then have a debate about fiscal reforms, and maybe some pieces of Obamacare that we could get changed in the context of the debt ceiling. I think it’s going to be much harder for us to get those kinds of those gains as long as the government is shut down. That’s been my opinion. Now we can, maybe you disagree with me on that point.
HH: I do.
CD: But I think it’s, but I think that’s a fair approach. And like I said, the people in my district, you know, I have to tell you, many of the folks in my district agree with me. Look, they…
HH: I’m sure they do.
CD: They just don’t like Obamacare. They don’t like Obamacare. They want to see it either repealed, replaced, changed, modified, but they also don’t want the government shut down.
HH: But I’m also, I know many people in your district. And maybe I’ll just open the phones to just Philadelphia callers now, though I’m on tape delay in Philadelphia. I know many, I’ve been there many, many, many times, spoken to a full audience on the campus of Penn, at the Union League.
HH: I know all sorts of people in Philadelphia. And I know Gerlach and I know Mike, and I know your whole gang.
HH: And I’ve campaigned for him. You have some hard-core conservative people there who will want to throw you out. And they’re going to want to throw you out not because you are a moderate, but because you are destroying the opportunity before the party to bring this president to a recognition of Constitutional limits. This is much bigger than the shutdown, Congressman. This is about a president who thinks he can dictate to the Article I House of Representatives.
CD: Yeah, well, look, I have been a fierce critic of this administration. And I would invite you to go to my web page or my Facebook and look at what I wrote about, you know, what he tried to do in Syria. I’ve been very critical of this president on so many issues. But I think, I really believe the issue is, and when you’re a member of Congress, you do have an affirmative obligation to govern. And when the government shuts down, that’s a failure of leadership. That’s a failure for everybody. I mean, no one, we’re all going to be blamed for this. Let’s face it. I’m not here to blame anybody or anyone in particular, but we’re all going to be blamed. I blame the President. The president of the United States, I mean, I think it’s terrible that he is refusing to discuss anything, or to negotiate. I mean, I just think that’s wrong. I mean, he has to accept some of the responsibility for this.
HH: Well, that’s what I want to see Republicans saying. I don’t want Republicans.
CD: But I said that.
HH: By the way…but you didn’t. In the CNN interview, what they took from that, and you’ve been there too long. You’re too senior. You’ve been in government for too long. You know they cherry-pick the Charlie Dent interview, and you are quoted in everything as leading the rogue band of Republicans who will combine with Democrats, and they’ve empowered the President to say over and over again, just give us a clean vote, Mr. Speaker, just give us a clean vote. That’s Charlie Dent’s doing.
CD: But Hugh, do you believe that there are 218 Republican votes in the House to pass a debt ceiling increase?
HH: I believe the Speaker is in charge of the conference, and that what the Speaker at this critical moment, the play that he calls ought to be followed, and that everybody else ought to sit down and be a back bencher.
CD: And ordinarily, I hear you, but I also have to remind you, though, that I do not believe that there are 218 Republican votes in the House to pass a debt ceiling. I know that for a fact, because we attempted to. And I was prepared to put up the hard vote. But we didn’t have the votes. I mean, I think we have to also accept that reality. I wish that were not the case. There are 232 Republicans, but some, obviously, will not vote for that particular play.
HH: I’m more frustrated than when I began, because my point was not to argue the tall grass with you. It was the only way to accomplish center-right goals, is for the conference to act as one. And if Boehner fails to rally a majority of the conference, they can replace him. You know that that’s happened before.
CD: Sure, sure.
HH: …and that the job of someone who benefits by party, I go back to my Disraeli quote, who gets redistricted by party, who raises money from Republicans, who has Republican grassroots, who gets national support from the NRCC, is not to damage the party at this point, even if you disagree with Ted Cruz all day long. The man is, he’s a phenomenon, because he’s fighting, and people are tired of Republicans fighting in a vertical position.
CD: I just want to make sure that when we employ tactics, that these tactics have a chance of success. I mean, I do, I think his objective was good, to defund Obamacare. I certainly want to defund it, and I want to repeal it. But I also understood that it didn’t have a chance at success, because we knew that the votes were not there.
HH: And it didn’t have a chance of success when Republicans began to say it didn’t have a chance of success.
CD: Well, I voted to defund it. It went to the Senate, and I watched the vote, and they came up short.
HH: No, but I’m talking about, this is much bigger than votes. This is about changing…you know, the President’s approval rating is down to 37% in the NPR poll. I give that credit to Ted Cruz for exposing him as being a diehard ideologue who will not move. I don’t give it to the House of Representatives. I certainly don’t give it, with all due respect to you and Congressman King and the naysayers in the House. I give it to Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and Marco Rubio and Rand Paul for fighting. And that’s what people want, not, they don’t want extremist rhetoric like the Democrats are using. They want principled positions articulated and put forward and defended all day long. And I’m going to give you the last minute. But as I look at it, here I’ve been working since 1990 in the private sector, and you’ve been in the public sector for that period of time. And you’re an appropriator, and you have benefitted, and you’ve got a pension, and you’ve got benefits, and all our party wants you to do right now is fight, and all you’re doing is fighting us.
CD: Well, that’s not true. Believe me, I’ve been fighting, I have been fighting against this Obama agenda for some time, whether it was the health care law, whether it was cap and trade, whether it was many of his destructive policies that deal with coal. My state, his energy policies, which I believe have been wrongheaded on so many levels, his tax policy, I’ve been on part of the fight against this administration. And I’ve been an important part of this fight. But I also understand, too, that there are times when we have to govern. And you know, I just think a government shutdown is not in the Republican Party’s interest. And I don’t think it’s in the American people’s interest. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest. All I want to do is get the government open again, and I’m going to try to work in a way to get the votes to get it done, and hopefully, mostly with Republican votes.
HH: Well then, I thank you for coming on and spending this much time. I hope you’ll come back, but I urge you to rethink that, because to leave the party lines at the moment of the most crucial battle in the last 20 years that I have been on the radio domestically is, I think, supremely ill-advised.
CD: Okay, well, Hugh, I appreciate the opportunity. I’ve enjoyed it. We’ll have to come back again at some point if you want me.
HH: Any time, Congressman Dent. Thank you.
CD: Thank you.
End of interview.