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South Dakota Senator John Thune on What’s Next in the Senate on Obamacare Repeal

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The transcript:

HH: I’m joined by the third-ranking Republican in the United States Senate, John Thune of South Dakota. Good morning, Senator, it is great to talk to you, though I am deeply disappointed in your caucus.

JT: You and me, both, Hugh. Thank you, it’s always nice to be with you.

HH: I will never understand refusing to debate…

JT: Right.

HH: People go to the Senate in order to debate, and I will never understand abdication of Constitutional duty. They could have voted against the bill, right, in the end if they didn’t like it.

JT: Correct. Yeah, that’s the most frustrating part, is we can’t even get on the bill and have that conversation, and unlimited number of amendments, and an unlimited number of votes. Everybody would get a chance to shape the bill once we get on it. But yeah, so…

HH: Well now, explain to us what Senator McConnell has announced in detail. What is the plan, and what is the schedule?

JT: Well, I think that he wants to keep on the schedule as soon as Senator McCain returns, and to call the bill up, and to try and get on, now, a full repeal. I mean, a lot of our members have been saying the reason they can’t vote for this is because it’s not full repeal. We have most of our members who 18 months ago voted for a full repeal bill. And so I guess this is an opportunity for everybody to see if that’s what we, what we want to do, and then allow a transition, a couple year transition in order for us to replace it at some later point.

HH: Now all members of the caucus except Senator Collins, who can consistently vote against this path, because she voted against it in 2015, everyone else voted for this, and then Senators Strange and Kennedy have joined, and they are both in favor of it. So you should have 51 votes. So I would assume that you have all votes, including Senator McCain if he is able to return from his surgery. So this should be pretty easy. It will be politically devastating to anyone who changes their mind, correct?

JT: One would think. You know, and we’re, we’ll now have to go through the exercise of sort of re-whipping this, because we are using live ammunition. You know, when we had this 18 months ago in 2015, we had a Democrat president that everybody knew would veto the bill. But I hope, at least, Hugh, that everybody comes back around and says look, we had this vote once before. The consistent position for all of us who have campaigned heavily on this issue for the past several elections is to repeal this, and to replace it. So we’ll get the repeal vote, and then hopefully an opportunity to replace later. And if everybody stays, you know, consistent as you said with their previous position, we should have 51. But you know, that’s not something obviously based on recent experience we can take to the bank. So I think the whip process will get underway, and we’ll see where everybody is.

HH: Now you’ll have a conference meeting later today, correct?

JT: That is correct, yes.

HH: I don’t believe any of my listeners will give a dime to the National Republican Senatorial Committee if this fails. And I believe that anyone who reverses course is doomed whenever they next come up, even if it’s five years down the road, doomed with a capital D. I just wanted to tell you that so you can relay that to the caucus, not one dime for the National Republican Senatorial Committee if they fail to abide by 2015, and doomed if it doesn’t get there. I think Dean Heller is doomed unless this thing moves on. I’ll be campaigning against him every single day. Is there a reality check? Do people understand, I’ve been taking calls all morning, how outraged the base is?

JT: Well, I hope people get that, Hugh. I mean, I just, it’s been really frustrating, because we have tried to work with all of our members and address individual concerns. And every time we think we get there, you know, we have something upset the apple cart. But I think to your point, people out there who have an expectation that we’re going to get this done deserve to at least see us carry through with that commitment. And I think that it looks to our supporters that we can’t shoot straight. It makes us and Republicans generally look dysfunctional. And that’s not an image that we want out there. We want to make sure that we’re the party that delivers on the things we said we were going to do, that we want to move toward a, particularly a health care bill that lessens the role of the federal government and expands the role for states, and stabilizes the marketplace, makes health insurance more affordable, liberates people from these huge mandates, individual mandates, employer mandates that’s killing jobs out there. There are so many things about this that are good for the economy, good for the American people. It’s what they’ve asked us to do, and we need to deliver on it. And so I hope in the end that when all this is said and done and the smoke settles and the dust clears, that we’ll be able to point to a success. And we’ve got a Republican president now who will sign it into law, so it’s high time we get it done.

HH: Now Senator Thune, I realize senatorial courtesy restricts what you’ll say on the air, but I can say things. I know you, I know Dean Heller isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I know that not everyone is Tocqueville in the caucus. But does the caucus understand that this is a much bigger issue than just the health bill? It’s about the credibility of the government. People no longer believe Washington, D.C. when they vote one way in 2015 and then don’t show up in 2017 and do it. It’s an actual crisis of credibility for the Republican Party. And the Democrats have the same crisis on immigration, on all of their bills, that the American people just look at D.C. and say what a bunch of crap.

JT: Right, and I think right now, you know, we’ve been, obviously, in the other position for a long time, in the minority. We finally have a chance to be a governing party, and we need to demonstrate to the American people that we can get results. And I think that’s what they’re going to judge us by in the end. And that would be a stark contrast to the Democrats who, you know, again, for most Americans, this time, this election, I think, was really about an indictment of the policies of the past eight years and President Obama and Obamacare and the growth of government, and every policy makes it more expensive and more difficult to create jobs in this economy, in this country, and to grow the economy. And we have an opportunity to change directions, and we need to capitalize on it. And I think the American people will reward us if we do the right things, and clearly starting with repealing a health care law that is in a death spiral and driving up the costs for literally millions of Americans across this country. It’s got to be done, and it’s, you know, like I said, I think that your listeners out there are ultimately going to evaluate and judge us by whether or not we can deliver on this.

HH: Well, you’re here. Tom Cotton’s here. What I can’t understand, I had a run-in with Senator Lee, for whom I held a fundraiser, by the way. I mean, he takes my money, and he won’t take my call. And there’s a crisis of confidence that a Senator Lee won’t come on and debate his position on a fair radio show, that Republicans are hiding. And I just don’t, does the caucus understand everybody’s on to this? There is just, this is a moment of truth for them.

JT: Well, it is. It’s a make or break moment, and I think that we need to, each of our members needs to face the music. And we all need to be held accountable for our positions and our votes. And we had, again, a vote a couple of years ago in 2015 where everybody was, had a chance to go on the record on this, and now we’re going to get a chance to actually follow through when it matters. But to the broader point, you know, if we as a governing party now with a president who can sign legislation into law can’t deliver results for the American people, then I think we’re going to be judged fairly harshly. And so I, and that would be, you know, based upon the way that we campaigned, the commitments that we made. It’s important, in my view, that we deliver and we follow through. And I hope that like you said, that our members understand how our supporters out there, the people who gave us this opportunity to govern the country, what their expectations are, and how big their disappointment is going to be if we don’t get it done.

HH: People of honor have to vote as they did in 2015. I don’t know if you’ll get out of a conference, I don’t know if the House will support it. But people of honor have to do that. Now Senator Thune, while I’ve got you, I’ve got to talk to you about the other side. The obstruction on judges and appointees, I just had Ben Carson on. He’s the only political appointee at HUD. The undersecretary of Defense is being held up by Chuck Schumer. It’s a national security job. We have judges who have no blue slips have been returned by Democrats. How long are the Republicans going to put up with this stuff? Harry Reid showed us how to do it, which is you just break the rules when the other side won’t play.

JT: Well, one thing that we should have done is when we did go to 51 for Supreme Court judges, which followed on the move made by Democrats in 2013 on lower and Appellate Court judges, Hugh, we had an opportunity and discussed it at some length within the conference about at least truncating the post-cloture time so they can’t just draw this out and kill, you know, kill things through delay. Somebody actually added up, and to fully populate the president’s administration at the current rate of confirmation, it would take 11 years and four months to get his people even in place, which is just obnoxious. And it is, I mean, the Democrats right now, 90% of the, you know, appointees in the Obama administration went by voice votes. Trump has had 10% of his nominees go by voice vote. And there have been 30 filibusters. We’ve had to file cloture 30 times to try and break filibusters, and already during the Obama years, it was eight. So it’s just, it’s on steroids. And we’ve got to call them out on it. It’s very hard. I mean, I’ve got, you know, under my committee’s jurisdiction, several agencies and departments that are just struggling to get things done, because they just don’t have people. And I…

HH: So Senator, my question is the Reid Rule is not actually about judges. It’s about how you change the rules of the Senate. And why not change the rules of the Senate with regards to nominees to make a consideration of a nominee post-committee vote, within 72 hours? Why not do that? Harry Reid showed us what to do. Why not do it?

JT: That, I, I can’t argue that point. And I think eventually, our members are going to come around, I hope, at least, to that point of view. Like I said, we had an opportunity, a pretty spirited debate, about this early on this year. And the decision was made at the time, you know, to give the Democrats a chance and allow them to see if they want to play ball. But clearly, they don’t, and obstruction is the name of the game now with the Democrats here in the Senate, and especially on nominations where the precedent in the past has been to allow a president, you know, within good reason, obviously, to get his people in there. And so I think it’s, we’re going to have to revisit that issue.

HH: I don’t think you should use the Reid Rule on the legislative process.

JT: Right.

HH: I believe in that. But the Reid Rule was used by the Democrats with regards to personnel, and I think you ought to deploy it here, and especially on judges, because they’re not returning blue slips. That rule, by the way, is that dead? Is Chairman Grassley going to kill that tradition? It’s not a rule. It’s not even written down anywhere, that home state senators can obstruct judges.

JT: That’s been a, yeah, that’s more precedent. There’s no, you know, statutory grounding or foundation for that. And I just think that all these, and we’ve got a pile of judges and openings right now that we need to start filling, that our members will take a hard look at what the Democrats are doing, and consider things that we may need to change if we have any intention of getting people into these positions in a timely way. And whether that’s executive branch or judicial branch nominees, there are a lot of vacancies. The work of the people of this country is waiting, and I can’t, the dilatory tactics that are being employed by the Democrats here in the Senate right now really are unprecedented.

HH: Well, please take back to the conference today, I think their majority is in danger in 2018. I think Senator Heller is doomed. Senator Flake is in trouble, and that a surprise or two will be out there, because everyone will just stay home. They will just stay home. And that will mean states previously not in play will be in play. Senator Thune, thank you for joining me. Always a pleasure. I love your candor. Please tell Mike Lee it’s actually a better way to do business rather than hiding.

End of interview.


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