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Washington Post’s Robert Costa Previews The Potential Landmine Issues At The GOP Retreat

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HH: And not just at the Times, the Washington Post, America. A few months ago, the Washington Post picked up America’s preeminent conservative center-right reporter, Robert Costa, then of National Review, now joined at the Washington Post. You can follow him now on Twitter @CostaReports. I think this is his first radio interview since going over to the Death Star. Hello, Robert Costa, welcome, it’s great to have you on.

RC: Great to be with you, my friend.

HH: Now it is terrific to have, is this your first radio interview since going to the Post?

RC: In months.

HH: I am flattered. First of all, tell people what your new job is at the Washington Post, how you describe it. You are a reporter, not a pundit.

RC: That’s right. I’ve always loved being a reporter, and so I’m continuing to be a reporter at the Washington Post. My title is national political reporter, covering Congress, campaigns and really focusing on the Republican Party as a broad beat.

HH: Now you’ve got, obviously, big shoes. Dan Balz may be America’s preeminent political reporter.

RC: He’s fantastic, a real mentor, too.

HH: And a terrific guy on the radio, fair as fair is long. You have Philip Rucker over there who’s got a lot of talent. And then you have the tradition. You’ve got the Broder, you’ve got that whole tradition over there. So walking to the Post must be a young journalist’s dream. At the same time, you’re bringing a new approach to a very old brand. And how’s the fit? Going well?

RC: It’s really been a great first few weeks. It’s fun for me as a political junkie to be inside that newsroom, because it still looks exactly like it did in All The President’s Men. And so you’re sitting there in this atmosphere you’ve seen before, you’ve thought about, and the people there just love politics. It’s not a partisan atmosphere. They love politics. I love politics. So I’ve really connected with a lot of people on that level getting into the nitty gritty of campaigns, who are the players, who are not the players. And so it’s just, with Balz and Karen Tumulty and the younger crowd, Cillizza and Phil Rucker, Paul Kane in Congress, it’s just a merry crew of political junkies.

HH: Yeah, I could find you and Cillizza actually blowing a whole afternoon not getting your deadline stuff done if you got too deep into it. Now the question becomes, people follow you on Twitter, @CostaReports. They used to follow you at a different Twitter handle. Has the migration been successful?

RC: I think it has been. I haven’t probably been at the same tweeting level that I was during the government shutdown when I was really covering it almost minute by minute. But I think my Twitter number has gone up, if that’s any indication, and I think Twitter is still such a critical element of political reporting, because you can share color from being on the scene, you can share immediate quotes, and it’s kind of the stuff that you have to leave on the ground floor sometimes when you’re writing a newspaper story that you just can’t fit everything in. Well, Twitter, it’s limitless. And I’ve really found it a useful tool, and it’s a way to not only engage with readers, but share the story in a way that almost never stops.

HH: Now you were on the front page today talking about GOP reaction of the [State of the Union], and you’ll be doing more tomorrow. Are you going to go up to the retreat, because this was a Costa special. They were joking about it last week with someone else who said I’ve got to follow Costa around so I can pick up the scoops when the Republicans are talking off the record. Are you going back up to Maryland?

RC: I’ll be going to Maryland, and I find the Republican retreats are always a great thing, because you really see a lot of interesting guest speakers. I hear, for example, Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame coach, I’m a Notre Dame guy, so he’s going to be giving an inspirational speech there, I believe, to House Republicans, according to my sources. And you’re going to have House Republicans really grappling with their agenda. And when they’re debating, there’s a lot of leaks. So if you’re a reporter, a place like the retreat, it’s good fishing.

HH: Tom Price was on the program yesterday, incoming House Budget chair, tipped as one of the four guys who might try and succeed Boehner along with Cole, Hensarling and Cantor.

RC: He’s thought about it for a long time.

HH: And he didn’t say no. And the transcript is posted at He didn’t say no, but he said no to immigration reform this year, Robert Costa. Do you expect that to split the gang tomorrow?

RC: That is really the split. I hear that Speaker Boehner is going to come out with a one page memo of immigration principles. And anything beyond that is probably not going to be discussed, because the leadership is very wary of how to move forward. They’re just trying to get some kind of temperature right now of the conference. I think someone like Tom Price is in an interesting position. He lost to Cathy McMorris Rodgers in late 2012 for that fourth slot in the House GOP. He lost the conference race against her. Now, as Boehner kind of moves toward the horizon of his career, someone like Tom Price, I think, can come back and be a leader, but he’s going to have to have more of a presence on immigration. He was on your show, he’s elsewhere, but who’s going to be the one who goes against Ryan, who goes against Boehner should they try to come up with some kind of coalition for reform?

HH: One of the things I think I will look for a split is on this military COLA. I got into it with Chairman Ryan about this two weeks ago, and it has split. On the one hand, we’ve got Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton, Mike Pompeo all saying this is insane. On the other hand, we’ve got John Campbell, Paul Ryan, and to a certain extent, Tom Price got in the middle yesterday saying it’s unfortunate we did it, maybe we will have to revisit it. But Lindsey Graham told me on the record today the blowback has been intense from military families, military veterans organizations, and from people who care about the military. Do you expect, well, we’ll wait for after the break and I’ll ask Robert Costa what he’s hearing on that issue before we turn him loose. He’s a busy, young reporter. He’s got to go meet someone in a parking garage somewhere to get, to find out what the President was doing on the night of Benghazi. That’s going to be the big Costa scoop. I’m tipping it right now. No pressure, Robert.

— – – – –

HH: Do you watch [House Of Cards], Robert Costa?

RC: I watched the first season. I thought it a lot of fun.

HH: And are you on edge for the second season?

RC: I think Kevin Spacey is fantastic in that role. And I think the great thing about the show is it captures the whip. And Kevin McCarthy, the current whip, is almost the opposite of Spacey. But that is one of the key roles in the House, and it’s great to see it get some cinematic focus.

HH: Do you believe that he’s going to get the vice presidency in the second season?

RC: Oh, that’s kind of my assumption from watching the trailer, is that he has become vice president.

HH: You see, I can’t tell from the trailer. That’s what James thinks as well, so I can’t tell from that. But it competes with Game Of Thrones, and I only watch one thing at a time, so I have to put it on that. Now let’s go back to the House Republican gathering up there. They’ve got the immigration-let’s do something, and they’ve got the masterful inactivity people, which is my position. How are they going to judge this? Do they do a head count in a closed session?

RC: I think they’re going to move very slowly. And I think they’re going to do things in parts. From what I’m hearing from my sources is that House Republican leadership wants to proceed somewhere somehow on immigration. Maybe it’s just a Republican version of the DREAM Act. Maybe that’s all they do. But they need to show, at least this is how they perceive it, some kind of action this year ahead of the midterms, something for the media to cover about Republicans doing something on immigration. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, but it has to be something. So there’s not a clear idea right now, and that’s where I think they’re going to hash it out in Maryland.

HH: They so underestimate the power of hearings, and I wrote about this, this morning. And I was talking about it with Senator Graham earlier today. We’ve had one Benghazi hearing that got any publicity at all. It was the Hicks hearing. And it’s dead. And Lindsey Graham wants a joint committee, a joint house select committee, which he believes the Speaker could deliver. The chairmen in the House don’t want that to happen. Is that a dead issue, Robert Costa, as you’re reporting? Is it just not going to happen?

RC: I don’t see it right now. I was talking to a House aide the other day, and when they think about focus groups and polls they’re doing behind the scenes, they know the base wants to focus on Benghazi, but is that an issue that’s going to carry them in Senate races? Is that an issue that’s going to keep their 17 seat majority in the House? They don’t think so.

HH: Oh, are they so wrong. They just don’t understand what motivates a base.

RC: Well, they think it’s number four or five, and there are other issues that are one, two three.

HH: Oh, Obamacare is number one. But they have, every day, they could have a hearing. And I obviously, yesterday, they had a hearing on the military COLA, they’re completely tone deaf on the military COLA, and now they’re digging in their heels, they’re very defensive about it whether it’s Ryan or John Campbell or Tom Price. They all don’t want to talk about it. And last night, the Army Ranger gets a minute forty-four standing ovation from the people who just cut his colleagues’ COLA. You think that computed for anyone, Robert Costa?

RC: They’re going to have to deal with this, because the President and the administration keep playing hardball on the COLA, and veterans, military families, this has been part of the Republican base, and there’s just a lot of unease right now on the Republican side about how to actually handle this.

HH: Now the debt limit is the next big question.

RC: Huge.

HH: And Bill Kristol has written make it quick, make it clean. I’ve written make it quick, make it clean, repeal the COLA, maybe repeal the medical device tax, but send over a couple of things that the Senate can’t bounce back. What’s the divide within the caucus on trying to go to the brink on this, because that’s just stupid to do that.

RC: I don’t think there’s an appetite for that. I think there will be some talk about getting some kind of Obamacare provisions tinkered with as part of a deal. But the realistic view even among conservatives is that’s not possible in divided government, so try to do small things, maybe change the COLA, maybe get a few cuts, and then that’s it.

HH: Now tell me about Lankford, who’s going to run for Senate in Oklahoma. Bridenstine took himself out of the race, so it’s one House member versus the state…what’s his position in the caucus? I really don’t have a read on him.

RC: Lankford’s interesting, because I think the biggest plus for him could actually be the thing that costs him in a primary, is that he has risen so fast as a young Republican in the House GOP ranks that he’s actually now become part of the leadership. And he goes on TV a lot for them as a surrogate, he’s with Boehner and the leadership in meetings. He’s considered as this redheaded, dynamic, young Republican who can articulate the leadership’s points, who doesn’t mind quarreling a little bit with the left, yet at the same time, he’s now going to be in a Senate primary, and he can be tagged as an associate ally of leadership. And that could be a problem.

HH: All right, let’s finish by talking about in the two minutes we have left the House leadership post-2015. If John Boehner stays, then all bets are off. I don’t know if there’d be a coup or not. There’s a lot of desire to move on and get a new face, but assume for a moment that the rumors are right and he’s stepping down, whether or not to leave Congress or simply do something else. Is Cantor a lock? Or would the Hensarling-Cole-Cantor-Price race be a hard one to cover?

RC: I think it’s going to be very hard to beat Eric Cantor should he want, as many expect, to be Speaker. I think Jeb Hensarling is someone who’s run the Republican Study Committee, has been a committee chairman. He looms in the shadows as a competitor, but I’m not, if you’re going to at Cantor, it’s going to be tough. I think someone like Jeb Hensarling could actually end up in the number two slot, majority leader. You’re going to see some coalitions, because going at Cantor will be difficult. He has a very wide base. But the number two, three slots, majority leader and whip, they’re very much more open. And I think you could see someone like Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price and others fight for those spots.

HH: So you could see a Hensarling-Price coalition that divided the Speaker and the Majority Leader between them against a Cantor-McCarthy coalition?

RC: Maybe. It could happen. But I think Cantor’s so strong, and I think Price, Hensarling and others, they may think they could be a competitor for Cantor, but there’s a lot more room to try to have some kind of coalition where Cantor’s still at the top. The only person I think in House Republican politics, because it’s not just the conservative RSC group that matters. It’s the whole, wide conference. The only person who really competes with Cantor’s stature and support is Ryan.

HH: And he doesn’t want it.

RC: Right.

HH: He’s going to be Ways and Means. But if Cantor blows this immigration thing, this is the landmine, right? If they step in immigration…that’s why I can’t imagine them doing anything, Robert Costa.

RC: Right. If there’s a huge break in immigration, I think a Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price, any kind of immigration reformer opponent, amnesty opponent, could step up and challenge Cantor or whoever wants to succeed Boehner from that bloc of the conference. Yet I think a lot of moderate Republicans, center-right Republicans, they’re asking Cantor and Boehner to move forward with immigration. But there is actually more support for them than you would think.

HH: Dangerous, dangerous. 30 seconds, the Senate GOP, fourteen competitive races all with D’s behind them. Some of those, like Minnesota, are not that competitive, but there aren’t any really Republican, I don’t buy the McConnell stuff in Kentucky, the Cornyn stuff in Texas. Can the Republicans net six from those fourteen?

RC: We’ve talked about this before. I think a lot’s going to depend on what the case is on Obamacare, what the case is on immigration. And if those issues are going to divide the right, where is the message going to be for the center? And it remains to be seen. And a lot, the Democrats have been very good with this war on women campaign. They’ve been very aggressive early even in 2014 against a lot of these Republican candidates. So you’re going to have to see some real robust GOP campaigns to have a shot at that.

HH: Robert Costa of the Washington Post, great to have you. @CostaReports, follow him on Twitter, @CostaReports.

End of interview.


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