HH: There aren’t any Republicans in town, at least not House members. They’re up in Maryland at the Grand Hyatt on the Chesapeake, which I assume is balmy and 70 degrees. Joining me from there is the Washington Examiner’s own David Drucker, the maestro of Capitol Hill, the man who ferrets out every detail on every story. Hello, David, how cold is it on the Eastern shore wherever you are?
DD: It’s frigid, chilly, I don’t know, maybe 10 degrees? It’s not pretty.
HH: Well, I want you to do this from outside so we get a little local color. You’re probably in your room, and I don’t think that’s playing the A game.
DD: No, I am outside looking at a lot of snow. I just stepped out of an off-the-record reception with the Speaker and some other Republican leaders so that I could let you know what happened today as much as I can.
HH: Okay, well, let’s start with the big issue, which is the immigration debate. What happened there?
DD: So the Speaker and Republican leaders talked today to their members about principles for reform. And the way this was presented, it is not we’re going to do this, we’re going to pass this so learn to like it. It was here’s what we think we should do, here’s what we think we can do. We want to know what you feel. We want to know what you think about it. We want to make changes if you want to make changes. And if the Democrats and the President ask for more than we’re willing to do, we’re not going to do it. The Speaker made clear, and they released some quotes from him late this evening, that he’s not going to negotiate or discuss the Senate bill. That’s a dead issue. And what they want to do is individual bills in bite-sized pieces, not a big comprehensive behemoth.
HH: Now David Drucker, Rich Lowry tweeted out earlier one-third of the caucus favors the Speaker’s approach, one-third favors it being done in 2015, and one-third is adamantly opposed to anything. That makes two-thirds in favor of what I call masterly inactivity at best this year. Why are they pushing forward when their caucus isn’t with them, and their base is probably even more decidedly against any kind of an effort?
DD: Well, I think they concluded that it’s important for the party to show voters generally, and a portion of the Republican coalition that does favor this, what they are for, and what they would be willing to do under the right conditions. Now I have argued all along based on my reporting and analysis that House Republicans are willing to put themselves out there, at least the leadership, to say you know, what they would do under the right conditions, but that they’re not going to threaten to split the party. They’re not going to do anything that relies on promises from the President who they just don’t trust, and that what they will do this year is push forward with a few measures, see if they can get things the way they want, see if they can get members behind things, but that if this two-thirds/one-third remains as it is, and that’s also what I found today from my reporting, then they will say that look, we gave it a shot, and we’re going to continue to try, but let’s give it maybe another try after Republicans hopefully win the Senate in 2014, or maybe after a Republican wins the presidency in 2016. But there is an element of the party that feels like Republicans have to talk to minority voters about what they are for in this regard. And politically, I would say, it’s smart for them to send a message beyond the Republican base that hey, look, we do want to do something about this, but it’s just about how we go about it. But I don’t think that they’re going to split the party to do it.
HH: You know, I agree with that if they would talk to the base at all. You know my position – regularization plus a fence. But I gather from your tweets today that no one talked about a thousand mile fence, double-sided, access roads, and constructed as a trigger, that they never mentioned the F word. And whenever I fail to hear specifics about a fence, I realize they’re trying to trick us. And I mean, it’s just…
DD: Well, I would say this, Hugh.
HH: We’re not that stupid.
DD: I don’t know really that they’re trying to trick anybody, that they just didn’t get as specific as you would prefer on anything, because I think they’re trying to figure out what should those specifics be, if it’s even possible to get somewhere. So they tried to keep this broad and see what they heard from members about their overall thinking. If it gets to the point where you have legislation, then you’re going to start to see specifics, some of which you may not like, none of which you may like. But I think this was about exactly what they said. This was about principles. And look, the way this process works is you start with an overall philosophy, and then you start to decide okay, how can we turn this into something specific that people support, or maybe don’t. But that’s just how this process works.
HH: I don’t know, that’s Beltway Stockholm Syndrome. And I know you fight hard not to be a part of it. But if the Browns, for example, say their principles for rebuilding and they don’t mention that they’re going to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds, then everyone knows they’re insane. And so if the Republicans…
DD: Right, but you also have, look, but you can also have the general manager and the coach sit in a room and say do we want to run the spread offense, or do we want to run up the middle. And then they can start to translate that. I’m not really arguing with you about what goes on around here that people don’t like. I’m saying that there’s a certain method to it, if it’s going to work at all. So first, they have to decide if they’re for border security. Then they have to decide what that means. The key here is do they decide it means something real, like your double-sided, thousand mile fence, or do they decide it’s B.S., and that’s where the rubber meets the road.
HH: And I just think that if they’re not there, yet, they’re not going to get there this year, because that means they’re not going to get there. But tell me about the other thing, which is the repeal of the ill-conceived, politically tone deaf, substantively offensive cut to the career military COLA. What are you hearing on that?
DD: So it’s a little bit more Beltway speak, but it’s progress from what I was hearing a couple of weeks ago, which is members are concerned, members are hearing back home that people don’t like it, and they’re trying to figure out a way to get rid of it. And you know, again, with my sort of a method to the way things work around here, however screwy, first, they have to hear that people are upset, then they have to talk about it, then they have to keep hearing people are upset, and then they start to come up with ideas to do away with it. Now in the Senate, there’s a coalition of Republicans that are already proposing ideas to get rid of this and to pay for it to satisfy all the fiscal hawks. But there is movement. So I think that eventually, we will get from this concern and complaining to an actual way to get rid of this.
HH: Level of pushback today, I was with Lindsey Graham yesterday in his office, on the record, I’m not spilling secrets. He said people are outraged in South Carolina, and of course, it’s a veteran heavy state…
HH: …that they flooded into the meetings, that the phones are ringing, and spouses are calling, and www.military1click.com and others are having their effect. If it keeps up, all of these shaky Congressmen are going to demand the debt limit be the vehicle.
DD: And it’s possible. Republicans are trying to figure out what to do about the debt limit. They don’t want to create another politically damaging confrontation, and that’s collared in how the shutdown went for them, which you know, just wasn’t well. And so it’s possible that any number of measures, including this, could be attached to a debt ceiling increase, and I’m still working on a story on what Republicans might want to do in that regard. And we’re just going to have to see.
HH: Yeah, the debt limit is not winnable as an issue, but it is certainly winnable as a political badminton game. If they attach repeal of the COLA along with, say, repeal of the medical device tax and send it over to the Senate, what are they going to do? Say no?
DD: Well, they might. They threatened to, and it just depends on how the voters feel about it. Now I think Republicans, you know, six months ago had a lot of leverage on the debt ceiling. I’m not sure they have the same leverage because of the history of the government shutdown and how the debt ceiling was roped into that. Democrats, of course, fearing a loss of the Senate, knowing they can’t win the House without some major event, might, you know, look forward to testing that. But that’s what Republicans are trying to figure out.
HH: And then last question, I talked to Robert Costa yesterday about this. The Hill tips that Tom Cole, Tom Price and Jeb Hensarling are the three who might challenge Cantor to succeed Boehner. Is that race already underway in your view, David Drucker?
DD: I don’t think it’s there, yet. I think that there’s a lot of movement and a lot of discussion. And I personally think there’s going to be a race for majority leader, but less of a race for Speaker. I think that barring events, Cantor is your number one candidate to be the next Speaker, but I think there could be a healthy competition, a bigger competition for majority leader to replace Cantor in that position.
HH: I think this immigration debate could destroy that guarantee, which I thought was a given once Ryan said he wasn’t going to run for Speaker. I thought it was over until this immigration fiasco began to percolate, and it really could be a fiasco. Do you see Hensarling, Price and Cole working the hallways?
DD: Well, I know that Price and Hensarling are very ambitious and interested. And actually, I have my eye on both of them. Cole, to me, is more of an enigma because on the one hand, he hasn’t always been in with leadership earlier in his career, but now he has been very close with them and very supportive. And you know, that team right now includes Boehner and Cantor and McCarthy, et cetera. So I definitely think Price and Hensarling are ones to watch. Cole, I’m not so sure, yet.
HH: Always a pleasure, David Drucker, from the Washington Examiner. Look forward to talking to you again soon.
End of interview.