RNC Chair Reince Priebus, incoming White House chief of staff, joined me this morning:
HH: Joined now by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, incoming White House Chief of Staff as well. And Reince Priebus, I haven’t talked to you in the five weeks since the most startling upset in American political history. So I want to say first, congratulations. You helped pilot that ship, and it’s unbelievable.
RP: Hey, well, thank you, Hugh. I couldn’t actually be happier about what all took place. But seriously, it was a team effort, and it couldn’t have happened without everyone involved both obviously on the ground, the party, the great, the Trump operation, really just, the people that pay for our ability to do these things, but also just the American people that have just kind of, they rose up and said we’ve had enough. And they struck. And it was a great, great night. But now, it’s time to bring everyone together and lead our country in a great direction that’s going to help us all prosper.
HH: Now Reince Priebus, it is said that the President-Elect is sort of like baseball players, a little bit superstitious. I’m wondering if that’s the case, if we just don’t declare right away that the 2020 convention will be back in Cleveland.
RP: Yeah, well, I think you started the Cleveland campaign about four years ago, and you and I were on the radio many times, and you kept saying Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland, and I kept thinking no, I don’t think we’re going to go to Cleveland. And then we did go to Cleveland, and it turned out to be about the perfect place for a convention, because it was just big enough to hold everyone, but just small enough to make you feel like it was your city for the week. And what a great memory that was. And what an incredible year.
HH: I’m just suggesting, you ought to talk to the President-Elect about making, you don’t change a winning playbook, Reince Priebus. Put me down early as a Cleveland backer.
RP: You got it. Well, it was a great place.
HH: A couple of quick questions. Have you guys agreed on the size of the stimulus that you’re going to ask Congress for at the beginning of the legislative session?
RP: Well, no. I think we’re probably going to lead with Obamacare repeal and then replace, then we will have tax, you know, we’ll have a small tax reform package, and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of April. So I think what you’re looking at is between two tax reform packages and reconciliation in the first nine months, you’re looking at what essentially comes down to like three basically different budget packages. And so it’s going to be a ton of work. Not to mention, you’ve got cabinet secretary appointments, a Supreme Court appointment, and you know the Senate calendar, how frustrating that can be. So it’s going to be a busy year starting with the first nine months being very much consumed through Obamacare and tax reform.
HH: So no stimulus for nine months?
RP: Well, we don’t, listen, it’s hard…and it’s not something, I would love to not get into the details with you, but we’re not going to do that today. But I can assure you that we’re working around the clock to make sure that big changes, bold changes happen quickly, and that the Republicans across the country deliver not just on the promises everyone has been making over the years, but also deliver on the philosophy of the party that’s been outlined year in and year out, and talked about on shows like yours. Now, it’s time for being in the majority, and I can tell you President-Elect Trump is going to lead the way to put up and show up.
HH: Let me ask you about tax reform. Secretary of Treasury-designate Mnuchin went on CNBC the morning after his announcement and said you’re going to cap the home mortgage interest deduction, which immediately puts 1,200,000 National Association of Realtor members in the field against you. Is that a done deal that you’re going to try and cap the home mortgage interest deduction?
RP: I don’t think anything’s a done deal, yet, Hugh. I think these are things that we’re going to talk about with not just President-Elect Trump, but with leadership in the House and the Senate. These are things that we have to make sure that we have the votes to get through. But also, we have to make sure that we balance our budget, that we get into serious deficit reduction, and that we also get to a place where we have long term debt solutions in mind in everything that we do. So if you lower the rates, then obviously provide a stimulus that way, you have to look at other tax loopholes across the board that may provide more revenue. But those are things that are going to be debated and talked about intensely here over the next couple of months.
HH: Let’s turn to the Supreme Court, Reince Priebus. Has the President-Elect had any interviews in person with would-be nominees, yet?
RP: No. We’re not doing any of that, yet. Obviously, I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to start after the new year, and certainly by the time we get to inauguration, either shortly before or shortly thereafter. We’ll reveal the name of who our nominee will be.
HH: Now I, on that list is Justice Strauss of Minnesota, Justice Willett of Texas, Meg Ryan or Margaret Ryan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. They are 47, 50 and 53, as opposed to some people who are in their 60s. Does age matter a lot to the President-Elect, Reince Priebus, because I tend to believe in younger is better.
RP: Well, I tend to believe younger is better, too, but I can tell you what the President believes is that the most qualified, best person to serve on the Supreme Court is what’s most important. And so, but certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor. Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.
HH: Let me ask you about the Circuit Courts of Appeal. I think George W. Bush made a mistake when he did not nominate his appellate nominees early in his term, and he lost Jeffords back in the year 2001, as you’ll remember.
HH: There are 13 vacancies, and there are people like John Eastman and Carol Platt Liebau, who runs the Yankee Institute in Connecticut. They’re great would-be appeals court judges. Will you guys move quickly on these 13 vacancies as well?
RP: Yeah, the intention is to do that, definitely, Hugh, and man, you know your judicial, you know your judicial information very well. Absolutely, no, I mean, you’re exactly right. You don’t want to sit around and let sort of the disputes of Washington overtake your ability to move quickly through the process. And so that’s why, you know, look, the first and second year of a new presidency is where everything happens. And we understand that. We understand that the first year is our best opportunity to get as many of the things done that we need to get done in order to move the country forward. So with that in mind, I personally can’t disagree with you at all.
HH: Four more questions, which I’ll play tomorrow, Chairman Priebus, soon to be Chief of Staff Priebus. In the reconciliation, you can do things like expand the D.C. Circuit and break up the 9th Circuit, because they have to be tax neutral. And those are critical if we’re going to roll back the regulatory state. We’ve got to stop the 9th Circuit from being crazy, and we’ve got to reverse the packing of the D.C. Circuit. Is that on your radar, yet? Or is that too below the surface?
RP: Well, that’s a little further down the line, Hugh. And I don’t think any of those decisions are being made right now. But I can assure you that without, not without targeting in such a way, we’re going to be looking at all of these systems in all of these circuits, and making sure that the appointments are filled, the appointments are filled early, and that whatever adjustments needs to be made are going to be debated, talked about, and the appropriate action moving forward will be had.
HH: All right, I have been spending Wednesday denouncing mainstream media that is saying Andy Puzder, the Secretary of Labor nominee, wants to replace workers with robots, and that Scott Pruitt is a climate denier. That’s fake news. Those are both lies. How do you fight that kind of stuff, Reince Priebus?
RP: Well, you have to fight it with information. And you also have to fight it with the fact that at the end of the day, all of these cabinet secretaries, while extraordinarily talented as they are, and as maybe sometimes as opinionated as they are, serve the President-Elect of the United States, and ultimately, the President. And I can tell you in regard to Labor, this President is going to be the president for the American worker. So this is not going to be, you know, just, it’s not a party line operation. This is a person that believes the people that work hard should be paid. This is a person that has been open to looking at where we’re at on the minimum wage, looking at where we’re at on overtime rules, making sure small businesses are protected, but that the American worker and the person going to Ford every day, or the person cutting tools every day, is taken care of and paid accordingly, but without intruding on businesses’ right to the freedom that we have to make sure that they’re protected to have. So as you know, it’s always a balance, but I’m just trying to insert for you all the fact that we are very aware, and the President-Elect is aware, that he is the president for the American worker, and that sweeping through the Midwest didn’t happen by accident. There’s a lot of hope out there that President-Elect Trump can find that balance between protecting the businesses that hire people, but also protecting the worker that goes every day early in the morning and comes home late at night.
HH: I get that, and I think that’s why he broke the blue wall and you broke the blue wall with him. But what about these charges? Do you call them fake news to say Puzder wants robots? Isn’t that fake news?
RP: Of course, it’s fake news. He doesn’t want robots. It’s ridiculous. And you know, there are mechanic, you know, listen, we know that there are systems in robotics that have taken a place in tool cutting in some production lines, in some assembly lines. That’s, we know that. In that case, you know, it seemed like a funny line, but it wasn’t when President-Elect Trump said well, we want to make the robots, too. You know, the point is that there are many ways in this country that we have outsourced jobs, even a robot, that we’ve outsourced jobs to places that we don’t need to. We can make everything here, or our goal should be to try to make everything we can in the United States so that the money gets put in the pockets of Americans. And so that goes to, and you know, and the other piece is, you know, just border-adjustability, meaning you know, right now, paying a percentage on imports and having no percentage coming in on exports is an imbalance. And we want to see the potential for a change in that border adjustability so that American jobs are protected. That’s the point.
HH: Without triggering Smoot-Hawley. You don’t want a tariff war.
RP: Well, that’s right. No, no, no, absolutely not. But border adjustability is something that I’m sure Speaker Ryan and others are going to be looking at and debating very shortly.
HH: Last two questions have to do with the media. First of all, instead of that boring Saturday morning radio address, I think the President should do a Friday morning drive time nationally syndicated show each week, you know, in the morning when you can shape news. Don’t you agree?
RP: Well, you know, what? Look, I think that many things have to change, and I think that it’s important that we look at all of those traditions that are great, but quite frankly, as you know, don’t really make news…
RP: And they’re just sort of…
HH: It’s horrible.
RP: …mundane, boring episodes. And you know, even looking at things like the daily White House briefing from the press secretary, I mean, there’s a lot of different ways that things can be done, and I can assure you we’re looking at that.
HH: And that brings me, Glenn Thrush on Wednesday said there is worry in the White House Press Corps that they’re going to do away with the traditional bullpen, the upstairs, the downstairs. Now I do want the front row given over to Salem Media, but what do you, what are the plans for the press corps and that traditional approach?
RP: We’re, and I hate blowing things off, because I’m not doing it on purpose, it just so happens that we’re actually talking about those things right now. And what the new tradition, I guess you could say, should be in the Trump White House. You know, this was the first front row assigned seat issue, as I understand it, started in the Obama administration. In the Bush administration, you just took a seat, and I guess there were a couple of people that have had reserved spots. But for the most part, the more formalized reserved seating piece came in over the last eight years. That issue is being talked about. The point of all of this conversation is that the traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen, even on things that might seem boring like this topic, but also change as far as how we’re going to approach tax reform, the American worker, how we protect them and business all at the same time why skyrocketing our economy.
HH: Reince Priebus, again, congratulations. Make sure in that change, they put that Hugh Hewitt chair right there in the middle of the front row. We appreciate you being here.
RP: You got it.
HH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
End of interview.