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Politico Media Reporter Dylan Byers On Harry Reid’s Rhetoric

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HH: Joined now by Dylan Byers of Politico.com, the media columnist there. Dylan, welcome, it’s good to have you on.

DB: Thank you so much for having me.

HH: Now I can finally check you off my list. I’ve got this long list of Politico people, and I keep checking them off, and so I’ve finally corralled Dylan Byers. The media guy was the last guy I could get. That’s great. Two minutes ago, Mitch McConnell was on this show. Here’s what I said to him, and here’s what he said to me to conclude the interview.

HH: I just want to be clear, then. You do not see any way, do you, that a clean CR and a straight debt limit with no conditions attached pass the House and the Senate?

MM: No, that will not happen.

HH: All right, so Dylan Byers, no, that will not happen. Any other way to interpret that between the President saying, and Mitch McConnell saying, that we are headed for a default?

DB: No, I mean, I think their, I think the statements are pretty clear. I think what they are trying to indicate to one wing of the Republican Party, and also to the Republican leadership, is just how important it is, just what the consequences are if some action isn’t taken to end the government shutdown eventually.

HH: But Mitch said twice to me, in fact, was there is no way we’re going to raise the debt limit without conditions. And here’s what the President said today, cut number 11:

BO: There will be no negotiations over this. The American people are not pawns in some political game.

HH: So no negotiations from the President, no way from Mitch McConnell. That seems to me like we’re headed for a default, right? So someone’s got to blink. How will the media portray that?

DB: Well, the question of how the media portrays that isn’t an especially good one. I think what the media is doing right now, I think it’s on its toes waiting to see who’s going to blink and when that’s going to happen. And until the narrative coming out of each side of this debate changes, I don’t think you get anything other than a reasonably well-informed analysis. And I think in the same way that we might be in this shutdown for the foreseeable future, I think we’re about to enter a period of long just sort of like media punditry, media analysis, kind of predicting what might happen without actually knowing.

HH: Yeah, I think it’s going to go a long time with that. Now I want to go to yesterday, Harry Reid, because you wrote about this in your column. Have we got the long Harry Reid quote from yesterday? I want the full Harry Reid quote so that we can play the whole context. Okay, roll it.

DB: You all talked about children with cancer unable to go to clinical trials. The House is presumably going to pass a bill that funds at least the NIH. Given what you said, will you at least pass that? And if not, aren’t you playing the same political games that Republicans are?

HR: Listen, Senator Durbin explained that very well, and he did it here, he did it on the floor earlier, as did Senator Schumer and it’s this. What right do they have to pick and choose what part of government’s going to be funded? It’s obvious what’s going on here. You talk about reckless and irresponsible? Wow. What this is all about is Obamacare. They are obsessed. I don’t know what other word I can use. I don’t know what other word I can use. They are obsessed with this Obamacare thing. It’s working now, and it’ll continue to work, and people will love it even more than they do now by far. So they have no right to pick and choose.

DB: But if you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?

HR: Listen…

CS: Why pit one against the other?

HR: Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own. This is, to have someone of your intelligence suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible.

HH: So Dylan Byers, you wrote at Politico, “I can’t imagine the intellectual leaps and bounds you’d have to go through to arrive at the conclusion that Senator Reid doesn’t care about cancer patients.” I agree with that. But what you don’t write is it seems to me Senator Reid cares more about the people in his district than he does about the people who want to get into the NIH trials. Isn’t that fair to say?

DB: Look, I wouldn’t discredit your interpretation. I would say that the way, if you look at the entire context of what the Senator is saying, I mean, it’s very hard to, his entire argument is about not cherry-picking certain things that we’re going to let continue to run during the shutdown, and other things that we won’t, and that once you start saying okay, well, we will net the NIH keep going, but we’re not going to let X, Y and Z keep going, that you walk into a whole bunch of problems about explaining to people why you’re allowing some programs to keep going, and why you’re not allowing others to keep going. And as far as I’m concerned, I mean, just looking at the tape, it seems to me a sort of willful misinterpretation to say that he cares more about the plight of some people than others.

HH: Oh, I don’t. I mean, it’s clear that it’s political. He clearly wants to take care, he wants his objectives served, and he is willing to postpone care for veterans and cancer patients to get there. Now he might think that’s a greater good, but clearly, that’s what he’s doing, isn’t it?

DB: Listen, by one argument, you could say that’s what he’s doing. By another argument, he’s avoiding falling into that pitfall that we’re talking about, about cherry-picking who gets help and who doesn’t.

HH: Dylan, I’ve got to go to break. Stick around one more segment with me if you can.

— – – –

HH: Dylan, back to the Bash and Reid exchange yesterday. First of all, Dana Bash has two questions. Were they legitimate questions?

DB: Sure. I think listen, I think any, almost any question as long as you’re not straying too far off topic is a legitimate question.

HH: What did you make at the end when Reid said I can’t imagine any reporter as responsible and intelligent you as asking that? That was kind of a personal attack, wasn’t it?

DB: Right, I mean, that was a personal attack, and he went on to praise Dana Bash in subsequent interviews. He said, you know, I think Dana Bash is a great reporter, all this other thing. I think what he felt was that he was being pigeonholed and asked a question that when you put it in context is unfair. And to go back to what you were talking about, you say well, isn’t he, doesn’t he have an agenda, and isn’t he willing to not help out cancer patients because he’s sticking by this agenda? I think the problem is, is that in the larger scheme of things, is that you, the consequences of not passing a bill is that the government gets shut down. And if you’re going to do that, you can’t come back and then say okay, well, let’s not shut down X, Y and Z.

HH: But you can. The House can do whatever it wants, and this is I think where we have a profound disagreement. The House has sent over three bills under their Article I authority, one to fund the NIH, one to fund veterans, one to fund parks. Mitch McConnell tried to bring the first of those three up today, the veterans bill, and Harry Reid objected. So it was not brought up, so veterans are not getting services today. So Harry Reid has taken real world actions that hurt veterans in a real way today. But I seem to get from your position that it’s unfair to report the truth that Harry Reid is holding the veterans hostage to the larger goal of passing the so-called clean CR. Not only is that legitimate, I think it’s the truth. I don’t anyone could report anything but that.

DB: I understand completely where you’re coming from. Now by the same token, somebody could say that to the contrary, Republicans are holding these institutions hostage, because they are not willing to pass a bill unless it includes a provision to defund Obamacare. If they got rid of that provision, then the NIH veterans, parks, et cetera, gets the funding.

HH: But Dylan, right now, if someone, if there’s a hostage standoff, and there are 40 people in the building, and the gunmen lets three people go, those people aren’t hostages anymore, right? He let them go.

DB: Right, but now we’re confusing who thinks who is a hostage, right, because the Democrats, of course, thinks that the Republicans are the hostage-takers.

HH: No, go with it. Go with it. When have you ever seen a hostage situation…I don’t believe in the hostage analogy. I think that’s wrong. This is just Article I and Article II posturing. But if you want to adopt the hostage analogy as the President and Harry Reid has, and you want to make the Republicans the hostage-takers, when you let people go, when have you ever seen anyone say no, you can’t come out?

DB: I think, listen, the hostage analogy that you’re bringing up, I don’t think, forget what I think. I certainly don’t think that Democrats see that analogy as applying in this situation, because if you follow that to its logical conclusion, what it means is that the Republicans could, as you say, just keep letting more and more hostages go.

HH: Yes, that’s what we do.

DB: In other words, funding for everything they wanted, and no funding for everything they didn’t want.

HH: Exactly.

DB: I mean, you could let all 40 hostages go, and then the only hostage that they hold onto is Obamacare.

HH: But the Democrats, will you agree, gleefully use the hostage analogy all the time?

DB: Oh, no question.

HH: They do it all the time. So I’m using their analogy, and the House of Representatives and the Senate minority are trying to let three key hostages go – the Park Service, the NIH, and the Veterans Administration, and using the Democrats’ own analogy, they won’t take those hostages. They will not let them go. Isn’t that true?

DB: It is true, but I would just add that as long as we’re going to talk about a hostage situation, and by all means, I’m not saying I endorse this analogy, you have to have the long game in mind. And again, if you follow it to its logical conclusion, you can just let all the hostages go until you’ve got the one hostage you actually want, which is Obamacare.

HH: Agreed.

DB: And you just hold onto that.

HH: That’s exactly what the Republicans are trying to do.

DB: And so all I’m saying is it seems to me that what’s happening here with the Democrats is that they are playing that long game, and they see that this offer of those three, of the NIH, veterans and parks being a kind of a lure into a trap rather than an actual goodwill effort to release three hostages.

HH: I get that. But isn’t, since they invented the analogy, and they use it perniciously and repeatedly, isn’t it fair, then, for Drudge or others to go with their own analogy and point out that in fact, Democrats only care about one of the hostages, and they want all the other hostages to be kept in there until their favorite hostage gets out, which by extension, means that Harry Reid cares more about Obamacare than he does about the kids with cancer, the veterans, and the National Park Service? I mean, it just follows. That’s true. It’s not to be condemned. It’s their analogy.

DB: Not, again, not if you’re playing the long game. I don’t think anyone believes that funding for the NIH and parks and veterans are going to be scrapped forever. I think there is more going on here, and there are more factors at play that are going to force the end of the government shutdown at some point over the next two weeks, or at the most, a six week period.

HH: That’s possible, but if you are a veteran who is not getting treated today, or if you’re a parent of a child who is not being enrolled in an NIH trial today, do you believe that Harry Reid has acted responsibly, Dylan?

DB: I will, I’m not going to comment on who’s acting responsibly or irresponsibly. I will say that this same question could be put to the Republicans who forced a government shutdown.

HH: And their answer is we are going about making sure that the most essential services are open, but they’re not being allowed. Last quick question.

DB: Sure.

HH: Harry Reid said this the other day.

HR: Understand we’re dealing with anarchists.

HH: Now I view that as being so far beyond the bounds. Do you?

DB: So far beyond the bounds of American political rhetoric?

HH: Of acceptable political rhetoric by the majority leader of the Senate concerning his colleagues across the aisle.

DB: Let me put it this way. It is not the utmost civil discourse, and form a pure real politick standard, I don’t know if he’s going himself any favors, let alone the side of his case. I think that it is the repulsion to such word choices like that that does not help the Democratic cause in this.

HH: I read Mark Liebovich’s book, This Town. I’m assuming you did as well?

DB: I did.

HH: The portrait of Harry Reid leaves one concluding occasionally he’s way out there. Has he entered one of those zones, Dylan Byers?

DB: I don’t know if he’s entered one of those zones. I think anyone who runs for public office at this stage has their eccentricities for sure.

HH: Dylan Byers from Politico.com, thank you.

End of interview.

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