Senator Mike Lee On The Shutdown (and the Shoutdown in the Senate GOP Conference)
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Senator Mike Lee was my guest on the program Friday afternoon. Here’s the audio and the transcript:
HH: I love it when a plan comes together. And if Senator Mike Lee and Ted Cruz had planned it, it couldn’t have worked out any better than it has. The President is in a position now of saying he will not negotiate, not now, not ever, never, unless you’re the president of Iran, the butcher of Syria, or Vladimir Putin. Senator Mike Lee from Utah joins me now. Senator Lee, did you imagine that you were leading the President into a box canyon when this effort began?
ML: No, I didn’t realize that, because of course, I wasn’t. You know, this is an interesting situation in which we find ourselves now. We are facing the Obamacare Party. The Obamacare Party, the Democrats, is what’s putting us in this shutdown posture. The government remains shut down, because Democrats refuse to do anything to protect the American people who are suffering from Obamacare. They won’t even consider passing bills to fund veterans benefits, or cancer research, or national parks, unless Obamacare is fully implemented. In other words, they’re telling us we can’t fund anything unless we agree first to fund everything, including Obamacare. That’s wrong. Nobody negotiates that way, and it’s not going to work for the American people.
HH: Now Senator Lee, yesterday, I had on Dylan Byers, who’s the media reporter for Politico.com. And he was using the hostage analogy and banging on people. And Dylan’s a good reporter, but he was banging on people who said Harry Reid is putting his own political interests ahead of those of the children who want to enroll in the NIH trials. And I pointed out, you know, it’s not hostage taking. I’ve never seen a hostage situation where the authorities keep sending the hostages back in and won’t let some people out. So it’s clearly not a good analogy, but I’m not sure what analogy to use, except for the fact that the President is indeed holding the entire federal government hostage to Obamacare.
ML: Well, that’s right. That’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s issued veto threats on funding for things that he himself asked Congress to fund. Because those bills don’t include Obamacare funding, he’s willing to veto all of them. And you know, Senate Democrats are going right along with him, consistent with the idea of they’re being the party of Obamacare. They refuse to negotiate with the House unless Obamacare is taken completely off the table in the discussions, meaning unless Obamacare is completely funded, they won’t even negotiate. They’re the Obamacare Party, and yet the American people are strongly against Obamacare. Why? Well, because it’s costing us jobs. It’s costing people their health care. It’s causing premiums to spike dramatically. And it’s unsustainable. It’s going to bankrupt our country.
HH: Now Senator Lee, a friend of ours in common is Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale. In fact, he’ll be joining me next hour talking about the Constitution, and the way that it ought to operate. Right now, the President is forcing an Article I crisis, meaning that he’s trying to dictate to a separate but equal branch of Congress. In other words, he’s raising the stakes to a crisis level that I just have never seen. It’s reckless, it’s irresponsible. But do you expect that either the House or the 46 Republican Senators will blink?
ML: I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know. There’s no way of telling the future. We can’t be certain of that. But one thing I do know is that I just have a tremendous amount of respect for House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. They have stood by the American people. They have stood by the rank and file Republicans in the House. They have stood by them as they’ve stood with the American people, and they’ve said we’ve got to protect the American people from Obamacare, because how many more people are going to have to lose their jobs or have their wages or their hours slashed, or have their health care taken away, as 20,000 Home Depot employees did two weeks ago today? How many more are going to have to have these horrible things happen to them before we act to protect them? But that’s why I have so much respect for the House Republicans led by their leadership, because they’re holding the line.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, a lot of people have been very critical of you, pundits especially. I think of some people at the Washington Post like Jen Rubin and others who have been critical of you and Senator Cruz for beginning this effort. I was one of the people who didn’t think it was going to work, but I’ve changed my mind. I was wrong. It’s actually catalyzed quite a lot of important issues, and it’s really leading to a good, I think, outcome. But how do you view your critics who are really lambasting you in very personal terms?
ML: Well, first of all, we have to remember that right at first, a lot of people were saying it was not even possible to come up with legislation that could keep everything else in government funded while defunding Obamacare. They said it was not physically, legally possible. Then, they said it was just highly improbable. And more and more, they’re seeing that this movement is unstoppable. It’s unstoppable, because the American people are getting behind it. And as to the personal nature of the attacks, you know, unfortunately, that’s become the nature of Washington. We see it within both political parties. We see it among people who call themselves conservatives or liberals. It generally tends to be from people who are part of the Washington, D.C. establishment, whether they’re in office or in media, or in their practicing in the art of political punditry. But they tend to attack personally when somebody comes along and raises an idea that they haven’t thought of. But over time, many of them tend to come around, and those who don’t discredit themselves when they discredit the American people.
HH: Now there was allegedly a Republican Senate Conference meeting earlier this week, where your colleague, Ted Cruz, took a lot of slings and arrows. Were you there, Senator Lee?
ML: Yes, yes, I was there. And you know, normally, I don’t comment at all on closed door meetings among Republican senators. That’s a pretty strict rule we follow. The one exception I’ll make is in circumstances like this, where the contents of the meeting were leaked deliberately by several of my colleagues, and leaked in a very one-sided way, so I’m happy to tell you about it here.
HH: Please do.
ML: It was an all-out attack against Ted Cruz and me. It was unflattering, it was unfair, it was demeaning. It was demeaning to Senator Cruz and to me, but more than anything, it was demeaning to those who engaged in the attacks.
HH: How many senators rose to speak against you guys?
ML: Quite a few. Enough that I lost count. And you know, I have to ask the question. Why were those who leaked this, and leaked it in a very unflattering, unfavorable way, why were they not willing to attach their names to those quotes? Ted Cruz and I spoke after the meeting, and we both concluded we would both be fine with the American people seeing and hearing exactly what we said in that meeting, but we’re pretty sure that most of our colleagues would be very uncomfortable, and downright embarrassed if their constituents saw the way they were behaving.
HH: Did anyone rise to your defense?
ML: Sort of.
HH: Sort of?
ML: Not really. He and I, of course, rose to each other’s defense. But…and there were a couple who said some things that were somewhat conciliatory. There were a lot of people who were participating directly in the attacks, adding fuel to the fire. There were a lot of others who were staring at their shoes. But look, I want to keep the main focus here on Obamacare. We don’t need these distractions within the party. What we need is to maintain unity within the party. All Republicans in the Senate and the House, to my knowledge, do in fact oppose Obamacare. So we need to stay united in that.
HH: But Senator Lee, if I can interrupt you, stick around for one more segment. I’ll be right back. I’ve got to take a break, and I’ll be right back to continue my conversation with Utah Senator Mike Lee.
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HH: Now Senator, I understand you’d rather talk about other things, and obviously, so would I. But when a Republican conference turns on two of its members who have led kind of a public opinion revolution, you’ve got millions of people behind you, this is news. And so I’ve got to ask. After that conference meeting broke up, has anyone approached you to say sorry, that got out of control, we’re just, it’s overheated here?
ML: One or two, but they were not the people who were attacking.
HH: And of the people who were attacking, do any of them have national ambitions that have any future? I mean, was John McCain attacking you?
ML: Yeah, I’m not going to identify any of the particulars there. I think that’s better left unsaid.
HH: Because I really do believe if anyone’s got the guts to attack you behind closed doors and steps out and does it, they’re done. I just think the base is very thrilled with the way you guys have stood up for principle. And do they not know that?
ML: Well, the base is thrilled with us. And there are those within the Washington, D.C. political establishment who are really angry about that. They hate that. It annoys them. They’ll have to speak for themselves as to why it annoys them. But you know, this doesn’t thrill them. But I do think they understand. I mean, look, there was a website started a few weeks ago when we started this effort called www.dontfundit.com. We’ve gotten over two million signatures on that in just the last couple of months since the effort started. People from around the country have gone to www.dontfundit.com and signed their name to a petition asking Congress to keep the government funded while protecting Americans from the harmful effects of Obamacare.
HH: And so last question…
ML: So yeah, base is with us.
HH: The last thing is what I also asked Leader McConnell yesterday, and his answer was absolutely not, which is will there be a clean CR combined with a straight debt ceiling hike? In other words, are the Republicans going to simply do what the President is demanding they do? What’s your assessment, Senator Lee?
ML: Oh, I sure don’t think so. I sure don’t think so. The one thing I can say for certain is that such a thing would not get my vote. What I’ve said from the beginning, and what I’ve invited many of my colleagues to do is to refuse to vote for a continuing resolution that contains Obmacare funding. And so I know I would vote against a so-called clean CR, which is really a dirty CR, one that includes Obamacare funding. And I don’t think the appetite exists for Congress to pass it.
HH: Last question, I know you probably believe in forgiveness, but do you believe in forgiving and forgetting vis-à-vis your Republican colleagues?
ML: Well, sure. Sure. Look, I can get beyond this. I believe in forgiving and forgetting. And maybe what you’re getting at is the fact that we do need to have a working relationship among and between us. I think we can get beyond that. But we need to stay focused on the goal, which is to not fight fellow Republicans, but to focus on fighting the administration, fighting the party of Obamacare, fighting the party that’s willing to shut down the government in order to force Obamacare on an unwilling electorate.
HH: Well said, Senator Mike Lee, from the great state of Utah. I appreciate it. I’m sure all of your listeners on KLO, 1430 and 103 FM in Salt Lake City appreciate it as well, and throughout the United States. Keep pressing.
End of interview.