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Karl Rove on the Obama administration so far: “They’re just winging it.”

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HH: To discuss that and many other issues as we approach Valentine’s Day, we talk to The Architect, Karl Rove. Karl, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk with you.

KR: Great to be on with you, Hugh. Did you notice, Friday the 13th, and the House of Representatives passes a bill that will provide a tax cut to people who have no tax liability of $13 dollars a week.

HH: Oh goodness. Well, there’s a lot in this bill, but nobody knows quite what. John Boehner earlier denounced the fact, I’ll play it a little bit later in the program, that no one had read it in the House of Representatives. There’s a couple of broken promises here, Karl Rove. One is for transparency, one is for 48 hours opportunity to review, and the third is for bipartisanship. How great a bit of damage is being done to the Obama brand?

KR: I think there’s a significant amount of it. Look, he’ll get the victory, and that will, the mainstream media in particular will beat the drums about that, and the average American will look at it and say it is a pretty significant accomplishment. Even if I don’t like it, it’s a pretty significant accomplishment. But you touched on three. There are a couple of others. He said he wanted his, any stimulus program to be temporary, targeted and timely. This may be timely, that is to say they’re getting it done fast, but it’s neither targeted nor is this temporary. It’s going to raise dramatically the baseline spending of the federal government. The House version in essence had an 81% increase in discretionary domestic spending of the government. I haven’t been able to work the numbers yet on this one, but it’s going to be a lot.

HH: In terms of that…

KR: Another one is…I’m sorry.

HH: Go ahead, go ahead.

KR: Another one, frankly, is that this is clearly a violation of the promise that he made, and I’m quoting him directly, he said we will scour the federal budget, comma, line by line, comma, and make meaningful cuts. And he has not scoured the federal budget with this piece of stuff. I almost got carried away there.

HH: Now let me ask you, Karl Rove, in terms of what the public perceives, yes they perceive a win, but I don’t think there is much support for this. I do think they perceive it as pork. Is that what you’re reading in the polls and the reactions?

KR: I think so. Yeah, what’s interesting to me is that a large number of people believe that when you ask them what’s more likely to stimulate the economy, is it tax cuts or more government spending, every one of the polls I’ve looked at, including a couple by margins approaching two to one, say tax cuts are going to do better at stimulating the economy than a bunch of spending, and by a margin of two to one in this bill, we have spending over tax cuts. And the tax cuts are not permanent, and a bunch of the so-called tax cut in this bill is the tax cut for people who have no federal income tax liability. So I think the ordinary American looks at this and says I don’t think this is going to work, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work. It looks like the same old, same old of Washington. And you know what the interesting thing about it in my mind is that I think the American people are going to hold him accountable for whether or not this gets the four million new jobs that he said he’s going to save or create in the next few years. No way for him to quantify, there’s no way to keep track of how many you save, and I think the ordinary American’s going to look at it and say did you create those four million jobs that you told me you were going to create?

HH: I’m talking with Karl Rove, long time senior aide to former President Bush. My guess is you’ve got some sympathy, or I’ll put that in the form of a question. Do you have any sympathy for the rocky start, the Richardson, the Gregg, the Daschle, the problems with having the House run wild and the Senate not really helping him out? Because you’ve helped stand up a new administration, you know how complicated it is. Do you have some empathy?

KR: Yeah, I do, I do, I have a little bit of sympathy in that it’s always tough, there’s always going to be something unexpected that you’re not going to get…I mean, Tom Daschle misled them. They asked him do you have any problems that you ought to tell us about, and last June, he knew that he had a tax liability problem. He told me he told them on January 2nd. But you know what? There’s a limitation on how much sympathy I’ve got, because so many of these things are not sort of surprises but self-inflicted wounds. Bill Richardson, it was known last year there was an investigation, that his administration was under investigation. They went forward with Geithner knowing that he had a tax problem. They went forward with Solis knowing that she had trouble. The whole stimulus issue, to me…this is, to me, one of the most condemning situations. On the 17th, they send up Geithner and Summers to Capitol Hill to outline the package, and all they tell them is that we’d like it to be between $670 and $770, we think that’s the right size, but we’ll take up to $850. Well, that’s telling Congress we’ll take $850, and that’s our starting point. Then they said to them we’ll describe to you less than $200 billion dollars of what we thing ought to go into the package. In other words, you get to write the package. We’re outsourcing this to you. You figure out what it is. That’s not how you start off well with Congress. You have to go up there and say this is what we want, here’s what’s going to be important in it. And we see this throughout. They’re just winging it. We’re going to get rid of Gitmo, but we don’t know what we’re going to replace it with. We’re going to nullify all the legal authorities for enhanced interrogation techniques, and then we’ll send the White House Counsel to the CIA to find out exactly how valuable these techniques are, and the kinds of information that they’ve been able to generate for us. So I’m sympathetic to standing up an administration, but this one, a lot of the problems are self-inflicted.

HH: And how long does the damage that comes from the chaos last? Because after all, we’re 20 months away from any kind of a vote on what has been going on in the last month, and in the transition. Does the first few weeks of an administration matter when you come to the midterms, Karl Rove?

KR: It does only to the extent that it represents a way of governing that continues to be reflected. And if Barack Obama is refusing to stand up to the Nancy Pelosi Democrats in the House, and the Harry Reid Democrats in the Senate, and say you know what, this is the way I want to govern and I’d like you to come with me on it, if he doesn’t do that, which he hasn’t thus far, then it’s going to be a problem for him. If he’s going to allow them to write lousy bills like this so-called stimulus bill, and then go out there and put his prestige on the line for something that if he had written it himself, it would be significantly different, that’s a problem. And look, this relationship is an odd one. I think that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the Democrats on the Hill, they appreciate Barack Obama. They like the fact that he’s returned the White House to Democratic control. They find him an inspiring figure. You know, he’s the first African-American president of the United States, and what a great thing that is for our country. But I don’t think they respect him, and I don’t think they feel particularly bound to follow his leadership. I mean, we had Nancy Pelosi telling Rahm Emanuel, you’d better not be trying to deal with people in the House around my back, you come through my office, don’t be going and talking to the Blue Dogs directly. And Harry Reid, who famously said I don’t work for Barack Obama, that sort of bespeaks an attitude by the old bull Democrats, the big liberals, that they don’t care what Barack Obama’s for. They’re going to be following their own course.

HH: Does that mean as well that the intramural game can have our elbows just as sharp as one against a full court opponent?

KR: In fact, you know what? My experience was that sometimes the biggest problems you got are from the people in your own party. I mean, they sort of think that because they’re in the same party with you that they are able to do things that they couldn’t if they were in opposition. So yeah, and a president has to establish his credibility early on and how a high degree of engagement. I think they’re winging it, and I think the lack of engagement…I mean, remember the first meeting they send up is Geithner and Summers to do what I described earlier. One of the next meetings is they send up Axelrod in order to brief the Senate on the language – don’t be talking about infrastructure, say investment, don’t say stimulus, say recovery. I mean, they’re up there giving them a political language seminar, not saying here’s what we’d like to have in the bill, and here’s why we want to have it because we think it actually creates jobs. Instead, they were up there with a polling presentation. I mean, that just to me speaks, it’s easier to campaign than it is to governing. Governing is really tough. And if you’re focus is well, we’re in this to get the right language not the right policy, it’s a problem.

HH: Two last questions, Karl Rove. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, a very astute blogger and writer, ran down the Senate races ahead in 2010, says Republicans are vulnerable in New Hampshire, Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, says Louisiana, Pennsylvania are in trouble, the seven out of the top ten races, do you see that kind of structural weakness on the Republican side?

KR: I think that we do have some weaknesses because of retirements. I mean, Mel Martinez, if he was running again, it would be a lock. But he’s not running again. If Kit Bond, is a pretty aggressive campaigner, never has won by much but he’s always won. Senator Judd Gregg, if he were running again, it wouldn’t be a serious race. So yeah, I do think that we have some real issues. The good news is that people are aware of them, we’ve got time to work on them, and we’re going to have the advantage that the wind is going to be a little bit at our backs. I mean, since World War II, the White House party has lost an average of two seats in the Senate, and 26 seats in the House in the first off-year election. And with the kind of start that they’ve got with this stimulus bill, and the stink that there’s going to be around it for the next couple of years, it’s a problem.

HH: Last question, it’s got to be quick, Karl Rove. How much damage is Arnold doing to his brand? The California tax hikes that are proposed are just immense?

KR: You know, I think enormous. I was out in California a week ago, about ten days ago, and people were not happy about it, and this is before, I think, the full range of tax cuts were laid out.

HH: Tax hikes, you mean.

KR: I mean tax hikes were laid out. But they all felt that they were coming, and they weren’t happy. And look, I understands that the states are in a tough situation in part because spending has been gotten out of control. I mean, you’ve had huge increases in state spending there. You know, when times were good here in recent years, rather than restraining spending and keeping some money for the rainy years, California just spent, spent, spent.

HH: And now we’re living with it. Karl Rove, always a pleasure, thank you, sir.

End of interview.


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