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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Lanhee Chen On Romney’s Intentions, Border Security, And Tax Reform

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HH: I want to begin this hour with Lanhee Chen. He is the David And Diane Steffy research fellow up at the Hoover Institution, and former senior policy advisor to Mitt Romney, and all around good guy. Lanhee, how are you?

LC: Hugh, it’s great to be with you, and good to talk to you again. I’m doing well, thanks.

HH: I want to talk primarily with immigration, but first, we have a difference of opinion. I watched you on Meet the Press a couple weeks ago, and you were asked straight up after Mitt Romney was on my show, do you think he’s running, and you said straight up, he’s not running. Lanhee, I, the door isn’t very widely open, but there’s a crack there.

LC: Well, I think, you know, this is obviously a tough question. I think Governor Romney’s been clear in terms of his desire not to run. I think he also recognizes that this is a very important time for our country. I think he also recognizes that the President has had a disastrous foreign policy, and frankly, a disastrous set of economic policies over the last couple of years, too. And so I think what he was expressing was an extremely low probability event, but obviously, we all think really highly of the Governor and wish him the best.

HH: So I wanted to ask it this way. If you looked at the way the field was shaping up, and the calendar and all the Priebus reforms, and all the candidates in the field and who eventually gets in and doesn’t get in, they’ll be surprises there, and you decided the nomination but for Romney entry would go to someone who was going to lose, and decidedly, to Hillary Clinton, would you pick up the phone, call the Governor, urge him to get in?…what happened there. Did I lose Lanhee?

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HH: Lanhee, you’re back. Sorry about that, don’t know what happened, but here’s, I thought you dodged my tough, brilliant question, which was really tough and brilliant. Here it is. If you were watching the set up to 2016 develop, and you were convinced, given the big brain you’re walking around with, that the nominee of the Republicans given circumstances, polling, calendar and debate performances, was going to be an individual who would lose decidedly to Hillary Clinton, but for an intervention by Mitt Romney, would you call, pick up the phone, call up the Governor and urge him to get in?

LC: Yeah, I mean, look, the most important thing, I think, is that Republicans are able to retake the White House in 2016. That is the most important thing. And if we were in a position where I thought look, you know, we’re headed for certain defeat, and you know, Governor Romney was the guy that could turn it around, of course I would try to approach him on that. And I think Governor Romney has been pretty clear in that regard, too, in saying look, you know, he believes someone else has a better shot at winning. And that ultimately is driving a lot of what he’s thinking. But we’ve got a long time to go, Hugh, between now and 2016, so we’ll see what happens.

HH: Yeah, that’s what I think. I think if that calculation changes, and he believes himself not only the best qualified, but he only one who could beat Hillary, he’ll get in. So Lanhee, let’s talk about immigration. I wrote about it today, and then lo and behold, you’re a columnist for Bloomberg News, which I did not know. So that means you’re working for Halperin now?

LC: They’ve got a great new program that they’re trying to bring online, but that’s actually a separate division of the company.

HH: Okay, well, it’s terrific that you’re doing this, and I don’t know how often you’re going to put it out. How often is your content requirement?

LC: You know, I try to get something out once every ten days to two weeks or so. I may write more often when things happen like this announcement the President made on immigration.

HH: Okay. Please do, because this was an important piece. And lay it out for people. He’s acting in profoundly extra-Constitutional ways, and proposing to do anti-Constitutional things.

LC: Yeah, I mean, this is a serious concern, obviously, when the President’s exceeding his executive authority and trying to make policy in a way that contravenes a lot of what our Constitutional process has put in place to protect, which is a separation of powers. And so on the immigration issue, he’s been pretty clear that he has a set of things he wants to do, and he’s going to do them by executive order.

HH: And how does anyone get standing to challenge this? This is what I have, you’re a law student, a lawyer as well as a professor of political science. I don’t know how anyone can challenge the abandonment of prosecution. Do you?

LC: Well, I think that may be part of what they’re counting on, Hugh. They’re counting on the fact that it’s going to be very difficult to cross some of the basic legal requirements that would be necessary to bring the case forward. And maybe that’s what they’re relying on. I don’t know. But either way, it is very troubling.

HH: In your piece, you write his announcement has angered immigration reform advocates, particularly on the Latino community. They have suggested that the President sold them out and put politics over people. I have come to the same conclusion, and I think it matters in Denver, in Colorado, where I was just listening to Cory Gardner. I think it matters and helps Doug Ducey in Arizona, where he’s running against sort of a hack retread Democrat. I think it matters wherever Democrats count on Latino turnout. How wide a swath did the President cut through his own base?

LC: Yeah, it’s a good question. Certainly in Colorado, where Cory Gardner’s very well-positioned, he’s a phenomenal candidate, and I think will be very good in that race. But you know, Hugh, even I look at our home state here in California where there is an opportunity for Republicans, you know, I feel like I keep saying this like a broken record, there is an opportunity here if we’re able to wake up and smell the coffee on immigration, to really move forward in terms of our ability to garner votes in the Latino community, and our ability to be competitive throughout this state.

HH: So how would you frame it, if you’re advising a Republican candidate? How would you frame them to discuss the President’s action, because it’s important not to go overboard in being anti-illegal immigrant. And I part company with some of my colleagues on the radio here. It’s very important to maintain a pro-regularization, pro-border security dualism, but at the same time, point out that the President is flirting with an abandonment of all law.

LC: Yeah, it has to be a civil discussion, but here’s what it comes down to, I think. What the President is doing is putting in place yet another short term set of what he would call solutions. And the risk for that, of course, for the folks who may be here illegally, is that the next president can simply wipe that away. What we need is a permanent, long term solution. That is what I think the President should be working with Republicans to get to. And that ultimately should be the goal. But by the President doing this, he’s making that long term action impossible. He’s making it impossible for people to deal with him, in essence.

HH: Now Lanhee, in your article, you also said Republicans have to be in favor of beefed up border security. Now I have, I actually had Paul Ryan on last week, and I said Mr. Chairman, when you say border security, you don’t say fence. And he said well, that fence is presumed. But in fact, it’s not presumed. It’s more believed in bait and switch. Do you, Lanhee Chen, believe in a fence, a big, strong, double-sided, you know, half the border long fence?

LC: Well, I think that the physical fencing is definitely an important part of it. I do think that it is a very, very long border, and I think there are portions of it that we have to figure out what the best way for us to secure those portions is, whether it’s with electronic mechanism or drones or other things. But the most important thing is for Republicans to get the border security piece right, because if you think back to the 1986 amnesty, the reason why that was largely unsuccessful is because we didn’t devote the time and resource to securing the border.

HH: It is a very long border, but we have Interstate 10, we have Interstate 40, we have Interstate 70, 80, 90. We could build an interstate border fence if we want to. And it may not be the most efficient thing ever, but at least you can’t turn it off, Lanhee. I think there’s a fundamental disconnect on this between party elites and ordinary people who say well, the first thing you do is put up a fence.

LC: Yeah, I mean, it does seem quite basic in a lot of ways. I think people figure, you know, look, what would be the easiest deterrent, and certainly, some kind of physical barrier would be a great deterrent. But I think we’ve got to use all the tools available to us to make sure that we are securing that Southern border.

HH: One minute left. Paul Ryan’s begun the tax reform debate. He wants to do away with the home mortgage interest deduction. He wants to do away with the state income tax deduction. These are nightmare political things for us, Lanhee. Are you in conversations about how politics has to follow policy, has to drive policy, not the other way around?

LC: You know, we’ve got to be very careful about this, Hugh. I think whatever we do with our tax code, we’re going to be incentivizing or disincentivizing activity. When we looked at this during the Romney campaign, you know, Governor Romney said yes, we need to have tax reform. But yes, I’m also committed to some very important things, like making sure people have a tax break for health care, making sure that we are not destroying the housing market, making sure that we are, that we’re giving people an opportunity to save for retirement. And those are the kinds of things that we have to make sure that we as a party don’t lose sight of. I’m all for reform. I’m all for a simpler code. But we have to make sure that we’re doing it in a smart way.

HH: Always a pleasure, Lanhee Chen. Come back down south and learn how to be a guest host sometime soon. Lanhee Chen from Stanford’s Hoover Institution, always a pleasure.

End of interview.


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