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NRCC Chairman, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, on the impact, if any, of GOP members siding with Democrats on the Iraq resolution, and recruitment strategy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007
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HH: Joined now by Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma. He is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, first time on the program. Congressman Cole, welcome, good to have you.

TC: Hey, great to be here. Thank you.

HH: I know it’s a sad week for Republicans. Charlie Norwood, one of your colleagues, passing away from lung cancer after a long battle, and then you’ve got this battle going on in the Hill, so I really appreciate your taking the time anyway to come in…

TC: Well, it’s nice of you to mention Charlie. He was a great American. Most people don’t know this, but he was a combat physician in Vietnam, and won two Bronze Stars, and…won is the wrong word. Earned is the appropriate word, I think, and anyway, just a great patriot, great American, and he’ll be very, very much missed.

HH: Yeah, and a tremendous character to have on the Hill as well, and we need more people like him. Congressman, are you familiar with the Victory Caucus, Victorycaucus.com?

TC: I…well, of the Victory Caucus in Congress I am. I’m not familiar with that…

HH: Well, it’s a website that the leadership is helping get going, but over there today is a list of a half dozen Republicans who’ve spoken in favor today of the Democrats’ defeatist resolution. It’s going to make your job so much more difficult, isn’t it?

TC: Well, it is. Again, I always respect people that will come to the floor and express their opinions. I think the real issue here is that the Democrats have put forward a resolution that doesn’t do anything. I mean, we’re literally, we’re going to state our opinion on something, and then nothing will happen. If they were serious about this, if they were trying to do something other than play politics with it, I think that we would have a resolution that would take action. But that would be politically much less favorable for them, much riskier, and instead, they’d just rather make rhetorical points. And they do this, in my opinion, at the cost of emboldening our enemy, disappointing our friends, and our own troops. I think it’s a real disservice to the country, and certainly to the men and women that are fighting for the country in Iraq.

HH: Now I agree with you, but that means that these seven, Walter Jones, Wayne Gilchrest, Michael Castle, Richard Keller, Phil English, Ron Paul, and Frederick Upton are also encouraging the enemy, aren’t they?

TC: Well, really not, because they didn’t put forward…they’re doing their job in the sense that they have to go vote. And this is not an easy vote for them. Let’s just…you know, Wayne Gilchrest was a Marine who served in Vietnam, so I’d be the last person to question his, or frankly any of these other gentlemen’s patriotism, and again, this is a resolution that the Democrats crafted. They’ve refused to allow us to have an alternative resolution to that to vote on. They’ve refused to put forward a plan of their own. Every member, Democrat or Republican, has to vote, and should vote on this, so I think you ought to put the blame where it belongs. In this case, it’s the Democratic leadership that I think has crafted a message that frankly undercuts the efforts of our forces in Iraq…

HH: Okay, but that’s the dilemma, Congressman. I would never question anyone’s patriotism. You have to know someone’s soul before you could do that, and certainly a veteran like Congressman Gilchrest deserves our thanks for his service. But if, as you said, and I agree it emboldens the enemy, and if as you said and I agree the resolution destroys the morale of the troops, that means these seven, and hopefully only these seven, are doing that as well. Even though they don’t get blamed for bringing the resolution, they’ve got to vote for it, and I just want to know how are you going to get people to contribute to the NRCC when they’re afraid their money’s going to go to reelect these guys?

TC: Well, I’m not too worried about that. Again, I think people that share my view on the war are going to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Republicans are going to oppose this resolution, and almost every single Democrat in the Congress is going to vote for this resolution. That resolution, again, is a rhetorical and a political stunt, as opposed to being something serious. So I’m not too worried about that. I think the American people will understand the difference. I am worried about, again, the message it sends to our enemies, and the message it sends to the men and women we’re asking to undertake a very, very dangerous mission. And it’s just unfortunate that the Democrats have chosen to play domestic politics here, rather than…you know, again, if they believe…if this is what they want to do, if they want to end the mission, then put something out there that will actually effect it. A non-binding resolution that just simply expresses one’s opinion is silly. And if you want to express your opinion as a member of Congress, you can go down to the floor and do it in a one minute anytime in the morning, we have that time, or you can come in the evening in a normal day, after the session’s over, and have a special order. This is about politics. It’s not about the war. It’s not, in my opinion, about the best interests of the country, and it certainly does not benefit the men and women that are doing the tough work in defending freedom.

HH: Congressman, we disagree about the impact of this, but I want to move on for a moment, and wonder how, if in fact I’m correct, that a lot of people will simply not give to general funds that will support people who get the war wrong, is there a way for you to go sort of United Way, with directed giving, so that people don’t end up giving money to round-heeled Republicans?

TC: Well, again, you know, people always get to decide individually who they want to contribute to, and that’s their privilege. Beyond that, again, I think they look broadly where a party stands on the issues, and I think here our record’s pretty clear. It’s our President, I think, who’s kept us safe for over five years now, who has taken the war to the enemy, and done everything he can to make sure that it’s been kept away from our shores, and I think it’s been our party that’s stood tough, and we’ve done that when it was popular, and frankly, we’ve done it when it’s unpopular. I’m enormously proud of my colleagues who are on the floor fighting the tough fight, and some of them in very tough districts, but I don’t know if anybody happened to catch John McCue’s speech last night. I thought it was the most eloquent speech I’ve heard during my time in Congress.

HH: We’ll find it and we’ll post it at Victory Caucus. Let me ask you, Congressman, before we run out of time. You’ve got to find at least 16 great new Republicans to run and win in districts that were lost to take the House back. I’m hoping all 16 are veterans of military service, many of them Iraq and Afghanistan. Have you recruited any such person yet for any of these districts?

TC: As a matter of fact, there’s a number of people…of course, the best candidates, amazingly, are self-recruited, but yeah. There are a number of both Iraq war veterans, and other veterans who’ve come forward. I’ve been visiting with them regularly. I think we’ll have a very good set of candidates. The best recruitment for us are the Democrats, because frankly, people turn on C-SPAN or listen to the radio and watch this, and it’s pushing people in our direction, so we think we’ll have a very good candidate crop.

HH: When are those going to start to roll out? And will you get behind some of these veterans early, so as to signal that this is a serious player?

TC: Well, we try to help all of our candidates. We as a rule don’t get involved in primary races, and would not expect us to do that. But again, we’re very aggressive about seeking out people that have served the country in a whole variety of capacities, and…

HH: You know, Rahm Emanuel got involved in primaries. That’s why they kicked our rear ends, is because…

TC: No, that’s not why they kicked our rear ends. I think you know, you make about as many enemies as you do friends, and there’s always a debate over whether it’s good or not. You know, somebody sitting in Washington, D.C., trying to pick a candidate that’s 1,300 miles away, that’s a very dubious exercise, and one that breeds a lot of resentment, sometimes. It can backfire on you, so again, I don’t think that’s a wise strategy, as a rule.

HH: Have you at least identified the target districts for people to look at yet?

TC: Sure. You know, it’s pretty easy. There are 61 districts in America that George Bush carried twice that have Democrats in them. We only have 7 districts that John Kerry carried in 2004. So we have an abundance of targets, and I think there’s some, frankly, that Senator Kerry carried that we can compete in as well.

HH: Could you prioritize and put out the list of best guest to worst of those 61?

TC: Well, the numbers are pretty easy. We’re pretty careful at this stage about putting out targets, when there’s no sense telegraphing what you’re going to do to your opponents.

HH: All right, Congressman Tom Cole, look forward to talking to you again.

End of interview.

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