Congressman Steve Scalise is the House GOP’s third ranking leader and he joined me today to discuss the ticking clock on Department of Homeland Services funding and the bill the House has sent the Senate curbing President Obama’s unconstitutional suspension of law:
HH: Joining me to discuss this is the number three member of the House GOP leadership, Representative Steve Scalise, the House GOP Whip from the great state of Louisiana. Representative Scalise, welcome, it’s great to have you on.
SS: Hey, it’s great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: So what happens if the Senate doesn’t take up this bill on February 27th?
SS: Well, Hugh, this is the bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security. And interestingly, you hear a lot of the Democrats in the Senate concerned or expressing feigning concern about the potential for a shutdown of the department, and yet they’re voting against moving forward on the bill that actually funds the department. And in some of these are senators who just months ago criticized the president and said he doesn’t have the legal authority to go and issue this executive amnesty. So you know, they’ve got a real decision to make. Are they going to follow up their actions from November with real words? And if they’re truly concerned about the department being funded, there’s a bill that the House passed to fund the department that’s waiting in the Senate. And they’re going to have a vote this week to proceed forward on it.
HH: Now the agency’s got 230,000 employees. If, in fact, the Senate stalls and doesn’t pass this, how many of those 230,000 employees go to work the next day because they’re essential employees anyway?
SS: Well, ultimately during any kind of shutdown, that is indeed the President’s call. And you know, he’s the one that gets to make that determination if there is no agreement between Congress and the President on the funding for the agency. So you know, the President’s going to have to answer some of that, because you know, I haven’t seen a real strong commitment to him proving that he’s willing to secure the border. But this is the agency that can and should secure the border. And you know, let’s see what his priorities are.
HH: So Representative Scalise…
SS: He’s calling on these Democrats in the Senate, by the way, to vote to move forward on the bill that funds the agency. I mean, he is the chief executive. If as you say 230,000 federal employees, he ought to be concerned that their jobs are on the line, and he should be encouraging these senators to move forward. And if he doesn’t like something about the funding bill, that’s called the legislative process. You file an amendment, you go fight it out in the light of day, by the way, on C-SPAN, and go and try to make your case. But you don’t hide the bill. You don’t hide behind some kind of procedural move. You actually go and vote to bring it up.
HH: So if I understand this right, Democrats are resisting cloture so that Mitch McConnell needs six Democrats at least to move the bill forward to a vote, to send it to the President. Do you expect them to buckle? Or do they want a shutdown, Whip Scalise? Do they really want to try and see if a shutdown will hurt the Republicans?
SS: Well, I don’t know if they want a shutdown, but it’s in their hands at this point, because you know, you’ve seen the House act strongly and say we think it’s important to fund the department while also making it clear that the President does not have the legal authority to move forward with his executive actions on immigration. And the Senate’s got the bill. Mitch McConnell’s made the motion to proceed, which is the next step to get the bill brought up on the Senate floor. And every single Democrats has voted against moving forward. They’ve voted basically against the funding bill for the Department. And that’s something that not only they need to reverse course on. And frankly, people across the country ought to get directly engaged. And if you’re in a state with a Senator that’s been voting against taking this bill up, get on the phone and call them. Let them know you think it’s important they do their job just like the House did. And look, the President ought to be engaged in this, too. You’d like to think that the President would be concerned about making sure this bill gets brought up. He shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines. He should be urging the Senate to take the bill up. And if he thinks the bill ought to be changed in some way, suggest those changes be made.
HH: I’m talking with Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican Whip, number three in the leadership in the House, and I approve of the bill that went over there. I approve of putting pressure on the Democrats. But a lot of listeners will want to know are you guys going to blink again, because if I’m the Democrats, they think you’ve blinked in the past. You tend to panic. Not you, personally, but Republicans in Congress tend to panic and run away when the press starts to hammer you a little bit when a department shuts down on February 28th. Do you think that’ll happen? Or is this new Congress not for turning?
SS: Well, one thing that we’ve already seen that’s different, Hugh, is when we pass different bills to pursue our objectives, to properly fund government with some riders in some cases to address problems that we’ve seen, the Senate never ever took those bills up. Harry Reid would deep six that legislation. He wouldn’t even allow it to be brought up. And so you’ve already seen a change in pace, because Mitch McConnell’s brought the bill forward. He’s moved the bill to this point. And they’re actually having votes on the Senate floor. So senators in the past could actually just hide and say hey, I’ve never had an opportunity to vote on that, because Harry Reid blocked those votes. Well now, you’ve got real votes going on right now on the Senate floor. And you know, these Democrats have to pick a side. Are they going to stand with the President in his illegal action? Or are they going to stand up and in many cases, stand up to the words that they gave to their constituents months ago when they said the President can’t do it. Well now, they’ve got to vote to actually back that up with action.
HH: But should a Democrat over there have any illusions that you guys will simply fold your tent and pass a DHS appropriations without the riders restricting the President’s immigration reform because you can’t take the heat when closure comes?
SS: No, and I think they were hoping that we would have some kind of Plan B, that we would already passed out, you know, and they had a couple of votes last week, and they said that, you saw that the votes weren’t there, yet. And they thought, I tthink, at that point that the House would just bring up another bill, just a straight, clean funding bill, and pass it over. And we’re not. You know, we sent them a bill to fund the agency. And it’s in their court. And you know, people ought to feel the heat, because there’s consequences to action.
HH: So you will not, the House…
SS: They need to bring that bill up. They’re voting against funding the agency, and they’re voting for the President’s illegal action.
HH: Agree, agree, agree. But you guys will not, you don’t get round heels here. You’re going to let that shut down as long as it takes for them to vote on this?
SS: Yeah, we’re not shutting anything down. We passed a bill to fund the agency, and that’s the bill that funds the agency. They don’t need another bill to come out of the House, because there’s one that’s already passed. And look, I served in state legislatures before. I served in Congress for six years. There have been bills that have come over from the Senate that I had issues with, and I worked with my colleagues to pass amendments to change those bills if it came over in a way I didn’t like. The Senate has the same authority. Maybe some of them don’t know it, because they haven’t had those kind of votes over the last four years under Harry Reid. But if a senator doesn’t like the bill, they don’t just vote to block the bill. They have a responsibility to file an amendment to make changes to it, but to bring it up, to actually move forward and vote for the motion to proceed if they believe in funding the agency, and especially if they believe that the President’s acted illegally on immigration.
HH: Well, I agree, and you’re framing this the right way. I just think that they might have learned a lesson that’s a wrong lesson, that you guys will fold your tent. And I hear you saying no, we’re not going to, we’re not taking up another bill. Am I hearing you right, Whip Scalise? The House is not going to take up another bill, they’re waiting for the Senate to send them back something?
SS: Right, we’ve sent the bill over to fund the agency. And it’s sitting in the Senate. They have the full authority to bring it up, and they ought to bring it up. And we’re just waiting, and wait for them to do their job. If they make changes to the bill, we’ll see what they do and respond accordingly. But for now, there is one bill to fund the agency, and it’s over in the Senate. And we’re going to let them go do their work.
HH: And if it doesn’t come back, it shuts down. Now I actually don’t think that would be a bad thing. It’s only 30,000 employees. Some people don’t get paid. All the important people there, TSA’s still there, Coast Guard’s still there, Secret Service is still there, Border Patrol is still there. Everybody is still there. Nothing changes. But a lot of administrative support people are out of work, and I hope you don’t pay them back at the end. I think they need to call their Congressmen, too, and say fund my agency and stop this illegal action. But again, Republicans and grassroots people are wondering if you guys will stick with it when the Beltway media starts hammering you. What do you think, Mr. Whip?
SS: Hugh, one of the reasons we acted early, we acted in January. And this is a commitment that goes back to December. We said we’re not going to wait until the midnight hour. February 27th is when the Department of Homeland Security’s funding expires at its current level. And so you know, we didn’t wait until February 20th to send something over. We sent it in January so that the Senate would have well more than enough time to process this bill, to take it up, if they didn’t like certain parts of it, to go and debate it, have that conversation on the Senate floor with the C-SPAN cameras rolling where the public can actually watch what’s going on, and it that way.
HH: Well, can you say we will not blink?
SS: …Yeah, where they’re waiting for them.
HH: Is that, can you be that blunt? Mr. Scalise, can you be that blunt? We will not blink?
Dropped phone line.
HH: Oh, Representative Scalise is back. Thank you, Representative. I was looking for the declaration, we will not blink. Is that fair to say that the House Republicans are not going to blink on this?
SS: We’re not blinking. WE, again, we sent the bill over. We want the agency to be funded, and we want to make it clear that the President doesn’t have the legal authority that by the way, President Obama himself said 22 different times over the years that he doesn’t have this legal authority. And many Senate Democrats, seven specifically said the President doesn’t have this legal authority. So here’s their opportunity. We’ve had our opportunity in the House, and we sent the bill over in a strong vote. Now the Senate’s got to take this bill up.
HH: I’ve got to go to break. Whip Scalise, if you can stick around, I’d love to have you.
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HH: I want to thank you, Representative Scalise, for coming on. I think the House leadership needs to do this more often and make the messaging clear and get the base fired up and in the game. Now I’ve got to ask you about the budget. I read a story today that Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Mike Enzi, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, are targeting the end of March to get a budget resolution, first one that’ll pass both houses since 1996 or ’98 or something like that. And then the appropriations bills will follow in due course. First of all, is that timing correct? And secondly, is that urgent enough, given the needs of our Defense Department for out year funding and clarity as to what they ought to be building and buying?
SS: That is a good timeline, and I met with Tom, and we’ve gone through some of the things we can do to make sure we get the budget passed. And he’s already starting up in his committee those budget hearings to get a budget out that balances ideally in the ten year window with the reforms that it takes to get our economy back on track and get spending under control. So I think it’s good that we’ve got an aggressive timeline. And if hear what President Obama, President Obama’s laid out his budget, and it shows his priorities – higher taxes, a lot of these same radical regulations that are killing jobs, and he never, ever gets to balance. So we balance without new taxes, and the President raises taxes and never gets to balance. So it shows you the difference in priorities, and we’re going to move the budget through and for the first time since 2005, have a Republican Congress pass a budget that we can get reconciliation on.
HH: Now Representative Scalise, we began the show with Ambassador Bolton and Senator Rubio both talking about this Iran deal. Our DOD has been underfunded and hammered by sequestration. It needs a huge increase. It also needs a separate line item for new SSBN’s. It needs a lot of new ships. It needs a lot of Marine Corps stuff. Are you guys going to give the military what they need?
SS: Well, I believe in a strong national defense, and I think that they’ve taken an unfair hit, a hit more disproportionate to the other areas of non-defense discretionary budgeting. So I’d like to see us get a real clearer plan for spending for the Department of Defense while also making sure we get to a balanced federal budget. And I think we can do both.
HH: Well, can Chairman Price and Chairman Enzi get together and agree now on what the Defense number’s going to be, and then turn that over to Hal Rogers and the gang at Approps, and over on their counterparts in the Senate, and let them get to work so it does not have to wait, because I think it’s an urgent deal, and that the Republican base is looking for strength here. Can they actually sort of, okay, here’s our Defense number, and that’s what we’re going with, guys, get to work over at Appropriations?
SS: Well, obviously there’s a lot of different things involved in making sure they get that agreement, and they’re having those conversations now. I don’t want to get in the way of those. But they are going on, and I think that’s really productive. And ultimately, they get an agreement, and we still have to pass the budget through the House and the Senate and get them to match up. So a process has started, and it’s going to be in the committee where it belongs, and then I feel confident we’re going to get this done, get the budget agreement, and you know, look, show the country how you can actually get back to a balanced budget while setting priorities that get our economy moving again.
HH: Well I get that, but what I don’t hear you reflecting back to me is that urgency about DOD, the urgency about the military. And I’m really curious as to whether or not the House caucus feels that, because I hear it wherever I go. We’ve screwed the military, and we need ships, planes, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines’ weapons, and we need it soon.
SS: No, there is a strong urgency, and this is something that our entire conference has had conversations about since sequestration, back when that process was set up. And you know, many people thought it wasn’t going to happen, but it did happen. And it’s been, I think, very disproportionately affecting our military readiness. And you know, and I think it’s time that in the budget process, start working to get that done. But that’s why the chairmen are starting these conversations early. This is earlier than we’d normally start a budget process. I think part of that is to make sure that these kind of questions get answered, and both on the budget side and on the Appropriations Committee side, so that when they start moving a Defense appropriations bill out, it meets our priorities for a strong national defense in a dangerous world.
HH: Representative Steve Scalise, thanks for joining me. I hope you’ll be back soon. I appreciate it very much.
End of interview.