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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert speaks out against the Airbus supertanker deal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

HH: Pleased to welcome back former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert. Mr. Hastert, welcome back, good to talk to you again.

DH: Great to be here. Thank you.

HH: Mr. Speaker, what are you doing in retirement?

DH: Well, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up here.

HH: Are you staying in D.C. primarily?

DH: No, I’m back in Illinois. You know, we always lived in Illinois, so I’m doing some things. I had an interview with an attorney the other day, and I looked at his background, and it was all the things he doing, and on the bottom, it was pro bono. I figured everything I’m doing is pro bono right now.

HH: Well, I appreciate anything you do. You know, we lost your seat, the Republicans did.

DH: I know. We’re going to get it back.

HH: Tell me about that. What’s the difference, what will be the difference in the fall over what happened in the special…

DH: Well, I think we’re going to have a lot more Republicans show up at the polls in the fall than we do in a special election. And it was a tough thing. It was really a tough primary, and it was four weeks after that primary. And quite frankly, not everybody had kissed and made up yet.

HH: All right. Well, I’m looking forward to that, and we’ll check in with you on that. Let’s get to the key issue that I wanted to talk to you about today, which is the Boeing/Airbus deal. This surprised a lot of people, and you’ve been around contracting and Pentagon procurement for a long time. What’s your assessment of this?

DH: Well, I just think that our military, the Air Force, made a huge blunder, because they had evidently a very narrow criteria that they decided to go on, not what was for the greater good of the country. And you know, I look at a couple of issues. First of all, it just doesn’t make common sense. Why should we transfer our military supply chain to France? Here’s a country that won’t even give us military fly-over rights when we were in Bosnia and most recently, in Iraq. I mean, they just won’t do it. And here, they’re going to make the planes that we’re trying to protect the free world on, and they won’t even cooperate with us. So I mean, so you give this country the ability to turn on or off our military supply line. And this is not just for the developing of these planes, but it’s for fifty years in the future, because they’re going to produce the parts. So I think the Air Force made a huge mistake, because they don’t look beyond the little picture. They’re not looking at the big picture at all. And then there’s another common sense thing. Why should we send 45,000 American jobs over to France, to overseas? It’s just not right. It doesn’t make common sense. There’s no thread of common sense in this decision.

HH: Mr. Speaker, let me ask you about…any comparable decision in your many years in the House of Representatives, where the Congress looked up and said wait a minute, we’re going to turn this one around?

DH: Well, yeah. I think we’ve looked at a couple of military decisions, and you know, before, there was a time that they were going to shut off the C-17 line, and we said look, we need the lift capacity. Why should we shut off the C-17 line, just because somebody doesn’t think it’s needed right now. And then look, this became the main carrier for us during this whole situation in the Middle East. And without the C-17, we wouldn’t have been able to do the job we had, to land on short runways, it would do all the things…but here is something that’s more blatant than that. And it takes up…we strategically very much need. And putting it in the hands of a country who…I just go back, and I guess I had this in my craw, and I just have to say it, I go back to the 60th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy. And I was able to be part of that celebration. And the prime minister of France was there. He left early. He didn’t even stay for the whole ceremony. He left so he could be with the Germans. And when somebody asked him why, he said well, part of France was with Germany. And I thought my God, what are we doing here?

HH: (laughing) Now in terms of their lobbying, you know, I’ve been getting pummeled by the Airbus people via e-mail and phone calls. They are turning on the amps here. Is that going to be successful, do you think, with your former colleagues?

DH: Well, you know, absolutely. They hired some pretty good lobbyists. And you know, anybody can turn up the voltage on lobbyists. As a matter of fact, they took the guy who was the guy who sunk the Boeing deal. He was the lead staff director on that Senate investigation, and they hired him as a lobbyist. So yeah.

– – – –

HH: Mr. Speaker, we’re talking about Boeing/Airbus, and I want to see, have you gauged opinion and reaction among your former colleagues yet?

DH: Well, you know, I’ve watched it. Of course, the guys from Alabama, who are going to get 5,000 jobs out of the 50,000 jobs that are at play here, they support this. Obviously, I think they are pretty surprised that it happened. I didn’t think that they even thought that the Air Force was that stupid to make this decision, but they were. So they’re pleasantly surprised. But you know, everybody else, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

HH: Then how does the Congress intervene? Now obviously, there’s the GAO review. And if Boeing wins that, that’s on the merits of having the rules changed in mid-course. But if it doesn’t, what does the Congress do?

DH: Well, you know, ultimately, the Congress controls the purse strings. And so there was some…that’s how the Congress was designed. That’s what our forefathers decided. If somebody makes a bad mistake, if you happen to the Air Force general that says well, you know, this is going to be an American plane because we’re going to put an American insignia on it, that guy is wrong. And this is the guy that made the procurement decision. I think the Congress will understand that. They won’t let this happen.

HH: And which committee will that actually occur in?

DH: Well, it’ll be the Appropriation Committee, but it’ll also be the Armed Services Committee, and it’ll be a number of people. And I think that even the House leadership and the Senate leadership have spoken out against it. And they, the Speaker and the president of the Senate control the flow of bills.

HH: Now Mr. Speaker, since we’ve got you, I want to check in on politics a little bit. Do you know Jeremiah Wright, or have you ever been to the Church that he pastored for so long?

DH: No, I haven’t. You know, there’s a lot of Churches in Chicago. That’s the first time I’ve heard of Jeremiah, but evidently, he’s a fairly influential guy.

HH: And are you amazed at the decision by Barack Obama to attend in the aftermath of what we’ve learned about that Church? Or is that a fairly common…

DH: Well, you know, I don’t know. I hate to go out and castigate somebody’s religious beliefs or what they practice. But you know, what you believe in, and what you gravitate towards, certainly drives what your beliefs ultimately are. And I don’t know too many people that go to a Church that they don’t agree with what the theology of the Church is.

HH: And in terms of the Rezko-Blagojevich trial going on right now, is this shattering Illinois politics? Or is this all just kind of to be expected?

DH: Well, you know, this is the city of Chicago. And we’re used to those kind of trials, unfortunately. This is a bad guy. Rezko acted badly on behalf…and he was involved with a lot of politicians. As a matter of fact, he was even involved with our presidential candidate out of Chicago. So probably, I don’t know what all the degrees are, but maybe even to a deeper degree than he was with the governor. And so I think this will all come out in this process. It was, he had his fingers in the Health Authority Committee, he had his fingers in the hiring practices, and so obviously, this is a bad player. And we’re going to learn, as this trial rolls on, as the federal prosecutors lay out their story, and certainly, as the Illinois voters and the American people make their decision as this thing moves on.

HH: Well, now, give me a sense of Illinois politics. After…I mean, the Republican Party melted down, and we lost your seat, and then we’ve got the Chicago crowd on trial with Rezko, we’ve got Jeremiah Wright, but you’ve got a presidential candidate. What’s going on back there?

DH: Well, you know, probably something that’s not unusual. You have a large city, not unlike New York in the East, and maybe even Los Angeles out in your territory. And the big city really controls the major part of the politics, whether it starts with going back to the original His Honor, the Mayor, back in the 60’s and 70’s, the first Mayor Daley. And the parties were controlled by political patronage. That’s how they got their loyalty. That’s how people got their jobs. And you had the power brokers and the king makers. And now, this is starting to break up, but it breaks up slowly. And there are vestiges of that that reach into the system that we have today. It’s changing, and thank God it’s changing, but it changes slowly.

HH: Let me ask you, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the presidential, does McCain have a shot in Illinois?

DH: You know, two situations. If Barack Obama is the candidate, I think it’s very difficult for any Republican candidate, I don’t care who he was, to have a shot in Illinois. But McCain probably is as purple as anybody, so he attracts some blue as well as some red, and he will have a shot. But I think he’s got a lot better shot if Hillary Clinton’s the candidate. That’s just my perspective.

HH: You were a Romney supporter, as I was. When you look at the McCain campaign, who do you hope you see at the bottom of that ticket, Speaker Hastert?

DH: Well, I would certainly hope that they do give Romney consideration. I think he would bring some balance to that ticket. He is a fiscal conservative, he understands how to get things done, he has run a government. Nobody else in this situation has, and I think he would be a plus. But you know, I’m not sure. I haven’t been very lucky in my picks so far this year.

HH: Yeah, you and me, both. Now a lot of your colleagues are very much worried about the fall, and you see a lot of them getting out before the roof falls in. Is this the low point? Or does it get deeper for the Republicans going forward, Speaker Hastert?

DH: Well, I thought it was the low point, you know, in the summer. But maybe it’ll get a little lower. You know, what troubles me, I see some…you know, I left Congress because after you’ve been Speaker, and I stayed a year, and I thought there was some things I needed to finish in Congress, it was time for me to leave. But I see some really good talented people that leave the Congress. And I think that’s unfortunate, because we need those people to build on. So it’s not a good thing when you lose thirty or thirty-five folks.

HH: No, it’s not, and it could be a few more before then.

DH: Yeah.

HH: Speaker Dennis Hastert, always as pleasure, great to hear your opinion on Boeing/Airbus as well, which I’m sure is going to travel far and wide, and I look forward to catching back up with you before the convention again, Mr. Speaker.

End of interview.

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