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House Republican Whip Eric Cantor on what the Republicans need to do next

Monday, December 1, 2008

HH: I begin today’s show with the number two among the House Republicans in the United States Congress, Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor. Congressman Cantor, welcome back, congratulations on becoming the Whip.

EC: Thanks so much, great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Let’s start with the obvious, the market instability. Obviously, the market’s looking for more than has happened thus far, Eric Cantor. What do you think it’s looking for?

EC: Well you know, I think what we’ve got to see happen is we’ve got to see the credit markets return to normal. You know, the core of the problem really has to do, I believe, with the collapse in home prices across this country. As soon as that happened, you saw investor confidence in Wall Street shrivel up, and you saw banks, everyone, families stop spending money. There was no credit extended. And we’re still in sort of that state. What worries me, though, is as we look back to what the Obama administration may be in the works with, and that is a gargantuan spending program under the guise of trying to be a stimulus to get us out of this recession. I just find that sort of to be the old tired way of doing things, and will not last beyond a certain period of time. And if we do not address the core of the problem, which is this housing crisis, we are going to be long into this recession before we see any light at the end of the tunnel.

HH: Now Eric Cantor, in terms of the GM-Ford-Chrysler bailout, what do you expect the Big 3 are going to ask for? And do you expect Republicans to support it?

EC: You know, I think they’re asking for what they’ve been, which is an additional $25 billion dollars over top of that which is already authorized by the Democrats for them to have. And again, it’s like throwing good taxpayer money after bad. I have not seen any indication that these companies are looking to the future and are able to see a way that they can compete with their foreign counterparts at all. And so if we’re talking about taxpayer money, we ought to be very hesitant and reluctant to be rewarding this kind of failed model. And again, I think that if you look at there are a lot of industries, and a lot of families, and a lot of businesses under stress. Where would it end if we kept bailing out and saying that there is no consequence to a failed model.

HH: Now Eric Cantor, let’s turn more broadly to getting the Republican brand fixed. Obviously, you’re standing opposite some of the Democrat spending packages, you do not like the Big 3 auto bailout that’s coming your way. What is it going to take to get Republicans trusted by the country again as a loyal opposition party, but one that stands for something?

EC: I think we’ve got to do three things, Hugh. One, we have to stop defending the type of spending that we’ve always criticized the other side for engaging in. Number two, we need to stop defending unethical conduct on either side of the aisle, and that includes our own. And third, we’ve got to go about trying to regain the credibility as adherence to the core principles that this country was based on and our party’s based on. That’s the belief in free markets, that’s individual rights, that is the ability for people to make their own way in this country without an overly intrusive government. We need to take those principles and not just talk in ideological terms, we need to fashion solutions around those principles to the problems that people face everyday. That’s with their health care, that’s with their situation of employment, that may be with their education. There’s any number of challenges that middle class families in this country face that are begging for solutions based on common sense core conservative principles.

HH: I’m talking with Eric Cantor, newly named the Republican Whip, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives. Congressman Cantor is from Virginia. And Congressman, going back to the political questions at this point, with so few members, obviously you can’t stop anything in the House. How do you get any attention? How do you get any traction?

EC: Well, I think it all goes back to sort of the democracy and the representative nature of our system that really made this country what it was. I mean, we are a country of beliefs, we have a system of beliefs based on ideas. We’ve got to go about taking those ideas, putting them to work on solutions that are solutions that are in response to the challenges facing people. And if that’s in the legislative process and we can gain some traction, we’ll only be able to gain some traction if we get the people on our side. I think that is truly our challenge, is to make sure that we adopt the innovative technologies that are out there, to begin to do things differently. We as Republicans can’t keep doing things the same way. We’ve got to start obviously making some inroads into some of these seats that have been taken from us on the political front, but at the same time, we do that through the promotion of ideas based on our common sense conservative principles.

HH: I’ll come back to the technology in a second, but in terms of making a change, a lot of people are going to be looking at the Republicans on the Appropriations Committee to see if changes have been made there for a new start at Appropriations. Do you foresee any changes being made on the Appropriations Committee, Congressman Cantor?

EC: Well you know, Hugh, I’ve been one that’s taken the position that we need a moratorium on the earmarks that have plagued Washington, and that the way that our taxpayer dollars are spent would never, ever be tolerated in the private sector. And so we have to regain some credibility, and make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent because of merit-based decision making, not based on the strength or the power of an individual, and I mean individual within Congress. So I’m hopeful that we can affect some changes, and change some conduct. Again, I alluded to the fact that there have been obviously, a lot of the corruption surrounding some of that earmarking process, which is why I believe it takes some extraordinary means to shift that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

HH: But I’m speaking specifically of Republican members on the Committee. Do you expect changes, a shake-up of the Republican representation on the House Appropriations Committee?

EC: I mean, I think we’ll have to see. That decision’s made by a group of the members of our conference called the Steering Committee. It makes its decisions as to who is on which committee.

HH: When do they meet?

EC: We will be meeting in January. The leader calls the meeting, and we’ll meet in January to determine committee assignments.

HH: And who’s on the Steering Committee, Congressman?

EC: Well, there are about thirty-some members of the Steering Committee, and starting with the leader, the Whip, and the other members of leadership. And then there are members of the conference that are regional representatives, and they have a vote for their region.

HH: Okay, so do you share with me the concern that if it’s the same faces in the same chairs, where you’re the only change moving up a spot, that people are going to be justified in saying same old Republicans, same old problems?

EC: I share the concern, Hugh, that we have to demonstrate that we are about change, that we’re going to do things a different way, that we’re not going to defend corrupt behavior, we’re not going to be the party that points fingers without making sure we’re honest with ourselves.

HH: Excellent. Now about the technology, Congressman Cantor, there’s a huge technology gap in the ’08 election cycle between Republicans and Democrats, just as there was a huge energy gap between the DCCC and the NRCC. Do you see either of those gaps closing?

EC: Well, I do. I think that without question, we’ve got to get back into the game, and frankly, get back to where we used to be, which was on top of the technology spectrum to make sure that we were employing the latest and the best. And again, we can’t as a party continue to do things the same way. The internet provides extraordinary potential for us to reach out to like-minded people that want to get involved. It allows us an avenue to access the younger voters of this country who frankly really haven’t heard from us over the last several years, and that’s very exciting to me, because that’s our future. And I believe that’s how our ideas are going to be taken and put to work this century.

HH: How do you measure whether or not that’s happening? Because everyone says we’ve got to do it, and I just wonder okay, what are the metrics?

EC: Well, I mean, I think sort of the outcomes are going to be in a variety of different shapes and sizes, if you will. I mean obviously, we want to engage people across the country in various states and communities, and all of them if we can, to engage in debate, engage in online chat rooms, to engage in the video conferencing. Obviously, we want to engage in political activity on our side of the aisle. I think you can very easily come up with a matrix of outcomes that you want to see, and I believe and am hopeful that that’s certainly what the national party’s doing. I know that those of us in the House are already about trying to go to work to set those goals in place to make sure that we start winning seats again.

HH: Last question, Eric Cantor. Last time around, Tom Cole and the NRCC, for whatever reason, never published a challenger’s list, never gave us here are the 50 seats we’ve got to win, here are the candidates we’re supporting. Do you expect Pete Sessions to get such a list up there of Democrat seats held right now by Dems that can be taken back by Republicans, and to do candidate recruitment early and intervene early in races so this gets going?

EC: Absolutely I think you can expect that. And I think that you saw some of that in the late stages of last cycle. Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and I put together a group called Young Guns, and that is available online to see who are young and energetic and new faces of the party were that we were getting behind. We also did so in some of the primaries. I think it’s very important that we put this new face on and put it into action, and put our money where our mouth is.

HH: Well, that’s a copyrighted term to this radio show, Congressman. I’ve got to warn you, that’s what we call our young correspondents here. But that’s okay, if it works for the GOP, I’m happy to here it. My best to Kevin as well, Kevin McCarthy. He’s a good choice. He’s your new chief deputy whip? Am I right about that?

EC: Absolutely. We’ve very excited to be working with Kevin.

HH: Excellent stuff. Eric Cantor, a pleasure, I look forward to talking to you often in the next two years, the new Republican Whip in the House of Representatives from Virginia.

End of interview.

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