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House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling On The White House Meeting Today

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HH: Joined now by the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling. Mr. Chairman, we had on Chairman McKeon, we piped in your interview from CNN, so most of the audience is up to speed on the basics. I’d like a little detail. Did the President’s tone strike you as hostile as it has been in the weeks preceding today’s opening of negotiations?

JH: The short answer is no, it did not. Hugh, I’ve probably been in eight or nine meetings with the President. This is clearly the most constructive. Now let me emphasize that is relative to my other meetings where I’ve been to some, and frankly just been lectured at.

HH: Did he use the term hostage taking, extortion or ransom in the meeting today?

JH: Fortunately, not that I recall.

HH: And did the specifics of a deal come up? For example, did you talk about the medical device tax specifically?

JH: Well, we were there, Hugh, for an hour and a half. I do believe that came up. But I want to be careful and not to characterize this properly. That meeting was not a negotiation. Regrettably, that was a discussion that might lead to a negotiation. And I’ve got to tell you, Hugh, I mean, it’s just, it’s sad, but there has been so little time that the President, frankly, has invested in working with House Republicans, you know, we really don’t even have a very good understanding of each other. And it took a long time just to understand why each party was at the table. And again, the President’s tone, I would say, was markedly improved from what I had seen before. But I also want to emphasize to everybody, A) there was not a negotiation, B) the President didn’t agree to negotiate. But on the other hand, it was the first time that I did not hear no, I refuse to negotiate unless you rubber stamp my spending and borrowing plans. This was the first time I did not hear that. But I didn’t hear yes, either.

HH: Mr. Chairman, when he went around the room, and Chairman McKeon told us he engaged most of the time, just Jack Lew and Joe Biden saying a little bit. It was mostly the President. Did he actually seem to know who you guys were other than the Speaker and the Leader?

JH: Well surprisingly, I mean, my first interaction with the President, I think he called me Jim three times in a row. But this time, he walked into the room and came over and shook my hand and said hello, Jeb, how are you doing. And so it’s taken a few years, but yeah, I think he frankly at least knew the names. And again, I don’t meet with him very frequently at all.

HH: Well, that’s good if he knows the names. Now I’ve got to go back, though, to specifics. The medical device tax is on everyone’s must-have list. Did the President indicate a willingness to talk about that and get rid of it?

JH: It did come up. I do want to be careful here, Hugh, because people are going to be talking throughout the evening, and you know, I didn’t have a tape recorder going and not taking notes. So all I’ll say is that I don’t think anything was specifically taken off the table. And I think the President clearly acknowledges that we are interested in getting rid of a tax on pacemakers and artificial hips, and a tax that we know is going to make it into the medicine cabinet of every working American family.

HH: Now Mr. Hensarling, who is specifically doing the negotiating for the Republicans? Who’s talking to the White House team?

JH: Well, I mean, listen, we’ve only got one Speaker, but it’ll be a combination of the Speaker and leaders, representatives are kind of laying down some parameters right now. And I think there was just, to some extent, really a great misunderstanding on some part of what House Republicans were putting on the table. And it frankly took a while to have some understanding there. But the short answer to your question is the Speaker and the Leader’s office. I feel quite confident at some point Paul Ryan, our Budget Committee chairman and his team will get involved in the talks.

HH: This feels like, though, to me from afar, that the Republicans are rushing to surrender. Am I wrong?

JH: Well, yeah, you’re wrong. I mean, what we’ve asked for, and what we’re not going to, listen, if we were surrendering, there would have been a two, you know, whatever the math is here, a 14 month continuing resolution, and there would have been a 14 month debt ceiling. What we’re trying to do, and we’re never going to end up trying to, our fight for patient-centered health care, to try to do everything we can to get rid of Obamacare. But let’s face it. We know what the law says. You can say many things about our, about the other party, but they’re not foolish. They wrote Obamacare to where 90-95% of this thing is what is known as automatic spending. To get rid of the President’s signature law, you’ve got to have his signature. We know that.

HH: I’ve got to go to break, but I hope you can stick with me, because this is so important, that I’ll blow off Lileks and keep talking to Chairman Jeb Hensarling if he can stick around for eight more minutes. That would be terrific.

— – – – –

HH: Mr. Chairman, on Twitter comes the comment from @marioc. It’s looking like it’s too late. Seen stories that GOP has already caved, looking to open the government by Monday. Have you caved?

JH: There was no discussion that I recall, and no commitment about this. Now number one, it’s the President. We’ve already offered bills to keep the government open. We’ve got four different bills. They’re sitting around. He can choose from one. Second of all, we’ve offered bills. I mean, I just walked down the hall to my office in order to make this call to your show, and I’m greeting World War II veterans. We want to open up the Mall and the memorials. It’s the President who has decided that he won’t, that he’s issued the veto threat. We’re the ones who offered the bills. So number one, you know, I don’t agree with the characterization.

HH: I’m glad to hear that. But a number…

JH: But the thing is that the President wants to open up all of his government. We want to open up the government we want to open up. And we’re happy to have a negotiation. But I’m not going to pin this government shutdown on House Republicans when the President has refused to sign these bills.

HH: But a handful of conservative pundits, and most of the MSM, are citing the Wall Street Journal poll as panicking the Republicans into a flight from the position they’ve taken. Is that true?

JH: I’m not panicked in the least. I don’t, you know, I can’t speak for 232 members of the colleagues, but I think people came here because they are desperately concerned about millions of our countrymen who are still unemployed and underemployed in Obamanomics. We are always going to fight for patient-centered health care. We care about liberty, we care about being on the road to national bankruptcy. And at the same time, we lament it, but we also recognize in divided government, we’re stuck with a Democrat in the White House, we’re stuck with Democrats in the Senate. So we are not going to achieve success on our watch, but we are going to fight for progress for the values of freedom and free enterprise. It’s that simple.

HH: Now senior sources in the Senate caucus have told me this afternoon that there is no support for a clean debt ceiling hike, even if the CR remains unfunded, and that they’re just not going to pass that. Have you folks been coordinating with your Republican colleagues in the Senate? And are we going to face a civil war between Senate GOP and House GOP?

JH: I don’t believe so. I mean, I speak to a number of my senators. You know, I speak to my senators from Texas from time to time. I mean, I’m not the guy in charge of coordinating the conversation between House Republicans and Senate Republicans, but a lot of us speak to each other. And usually, you can find ourselves on the same team. And I believe when the stakes are this high, I have a high confidence level we’ll continue to be on that same team. And you know, at the end of the day, Hugh, all we can do is control what’s on our side of the Capitol. And sometimes, we have more than we can say grace over here in the House. We can’t always worry what the Senate’s up to.

HH: Last question. I’m very glad you came out to talk about this. But are you, and are your colleagues aware of the great deal of suspicion among conservatives, far broader than Tea Party conservatives, but including the Tea Party of course, that the House Republican Conference is not ready to go and negotiate hard, and that in fact, today’s offer was sort of negotiating against yourselves? Are you aware that they don’t have a lot of confidence?

JH: Well, Hugh, first, the vast majority of the House Republican Conference is conservatives. As a guy who used to chair the House conservative caucus known as the Republican Study Committee, I think I know what conservatives think. And we are entering this to make progress for the conservative cause. That is why we came here. That’s why many of us hop on airplanes and say goodbye to our families back home to fight these battles in Washington, why we left good jobs to do something, because we care passionately about it. And so no, I reject that, but at the same time, I’m not going to overpromise something when I have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president that we have to contend with. I didn’t come here to make speeches. I didn’t come here to make votes. I came here to make progress for the cause of freedom and free enterprise. And that’s what I’m committed to, it’s what House conservatives are committed to.

HH: Chairman Jeb Hensarling, thanks so much for joining us. Come back tomorrow and fill in the blanks for us, and make sure they stand strong tonight. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

End of interview.

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