Last week, I had an opportunity to talk to former House Republican Whip, Roy Blunt. Blunt stepped down from his leadership position and is now preparing for a run at the Senate in Missouri. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation.
All right, first of all, now the GOP was in control for six years, and you were in the leadership. Looking back, what are some things you might have done differently?
…I think too often as President Bush was elected we failed to say, look, it takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House and we can only get 200 Republicans that really feel good about where we are on a given bill. We don’t want to go any further than that. Let’s just let the President veto that bill. We’ll sustain his veto and see what has to happen after that.
…Now at the end of the day the government does have to operate. There are a few things you just absolutely have to do. But…we probably were more focused on being sure that we kept our moderate Republicans in the buggy than we were on just having the fight. And we’d have been better off to have a few more of those fights.
I got you. Now the Republican Party has taken, as you know, a tremendous beating over the last couple of cycles. What’s your diagnosis for why that is and how do we get back on track?
Well the biggest reason that we took the beating in the last couple of cycles was that the Republican President of the United States had his approval numbers within 3 points of 30 for three years. And the raw politics of it are that that’s the biggest reason that we took the beating that we took.
Actually in 2008 you could make the case that all historical things considered, we should have lost about 40 seats instead of 20. And so I think Republicans were beginning to get back on track in 2007, 2008. We stopped Democrats from passing almost any piece of legislation during that period of time. And, of course, now they’re in this bigger majority with the President and they’re trying to make up for 10 years of legislative frustration by passing everything they can.
You know the stimulus package is a good example of that. That stimulus package is a reflection of the $800 billion of new government programs that we didn’t pass in the last 10 years.
We always passed – we always spent more money than I wanted to spend. You know, every year the House passes a budget. We always allowed our most conservative members one of the alternative budgets and I always voted for it.
Sometimes there were 75 or 80 of us, I think one time we got as high as 111. But that’s a long way from 218. And so I was always frustrated with our levels of spending. But if you want to know if we could have spent more money if we’d have given in to the current majority who was in the minority at the time, here’s the $800 billion we could have spent.
And this stimulus package doesn’t meet any of the rules of trying to help the economy. And so there are Republicans sticking together there on both the first and second House vote to send a message to America that Republicans in the Congress are finding their way back to where Republicans and Independents in the country want them to be.
Now if you were giving Barack Obama a grade on how good he’s been for the country in his first month what would you give him and why?
Well I would give him a really low grade and you know as a former classroom teacher, I’d also write a note to somebody that says “surprisingly underperforming.” Here is someone with obviously a lot of capacity and a lot of skill, who I think has had a surprisingly poor start. This first month has been tough for him and I think, and very difficult, for the country in terms of the long run implications of what will happen.
As I said before you know the stimulus package is going to hold the economy back, hold the country back. It’s not a stimulus package at all. It just became an excuse to spend the money that Democrats in Washington, the leaders at least, in this new majority have wanted to spend for a long time.
…The stimulus package was an example of where Barack Obama, a young President who’s never run anything — he’s never been an administrator of anything bigger than a community service organization and I don’t imagine that organization was very big — frankly, let the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the Majority Leader of the Senate Harry Reid take the ball away from him.
And they put whatever they wanted in that stimulus package. And if you’ll notice, even the things that he wanted that we thought were a good idea, like things that encouraged small business to make a capital investment, to do things that would create jobs, those were the things that came out of the package at the end of the day.
And the things that went into the package were the things that the Congressional leaders wanted to be in the package. And I think that action right there was a good example of how important it is that we hold 41 votes in the Senate and have a situation where Harry Reid and the majority has to at least talk to the Republicans and slow things down a little bit.
And hopefully we have the courage of our convictions so we can slow things down every day and give the American people a chance to see what’s about to happen. My guess is that if we could have had another week or two weeks even, Democrats would have been running away from the stimulus because the more people saw of what it had become the less they liked it.
What happened last week when three of our Republican senators said, okay, we think we can work with you on this, at that point, we don’t even get to see the bill. There is a 1,100-page bill, I think maybe actual count is something like 1,056 pages — a 1,100-page bill that is filed at 11:00 o’clock at night.
We’re asked to vote for it by 2:00 the next afternoon and no member of the Congress, House or Senate read that bill before they voted for it. And they’re going to be surprised as the American people are over the next several months when this first major Barack Obama initiative begins to unravel as people see what’s in it.
Let’s talk a little bit more specifically about your Senate race in Missouri. You’ve got a lifetime rating with the American Conservative Union of almost 94 which is outstanding. What would you say to someone who said you know you’re too conservative for Missouri?
Well, I’ve let you know I’ve worked for all Missourians before. I was the first Republican elected Secretary of State in 52 years when I was elected to that job and re-elected to it with record setting numbers of counties carried and votes cast for that job.
And I think Missourians are pretty conservative. I also think that Missourians Republicans, Independents, and Democrats are going to be looking at whether they want a world where Washington Democrats, Reid, Pelosi, and Obama can just do whatever they want to or where you have to have at least a speed bump in the Senate, a last check and balance left in the process.
That’s going to obviously be an important issue for Republicans. I think it will be a really big issue for Independents who want to have checks and balances in the system. Particularly this system with this President and, frankly, John, I think a significant number of Missouri Democrats when they look at the situation in the fall of 2010 will think, you know we’ve got to have at least a speed bump in the system. We’ve got to have something that slows these Washington Democrats down.
And the other thing that I think will happen, because of the national coverage on this very topic, is that almost everybody who’s interested in voting in our state is going to know on election day that we’re going to be one of the two or three states that will decide whether Washington Democrats can do whatever they want to do or whether there is still a check in the system that slows them down.
And Missourians of all points of view, I think, are going to look at that and say slowing the Washington Democrats down would be a good thing, not a bad thing.
Related question: In the last two election cycles it’s been very tough to be a Republican. How do you anticipate the next election cycle looking? Do you think it’s going to be a little easier for the GOP this time around?
Well, it’s hard to imagine that it could be a whole lot harder than the last two cycles.
You’re right. It couldn’t get much worse, I don’t think.
That’s right, but even though we were disappointed with our statewide races last year we won – we still won the Lieutenant Governor’s race. McCain carried the state and of all the states that were on that list of competitive states the day before the election, only Missouri voted for John McCain.
We held our numbers in the Missouri House where we have a significant majority. And in the Missouri Senate, we actually added three Senate seats we didn’t have. So now our numbers there are 23 to 11. I think the fundamentals of Missouri politics are very good for this next election. Because by 2010, people are going to be looking at an economy that has largely been under the direction of Barack Obama, a federal government that has been growing because of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi and others. And you know, when you look at what we did in 2008, of all the competitive states in the country, Missouri ended up with the brightest result at the end of the day.
Now last question here, Robin Carnahan is expected to be a serious challenger for that seat so it will be a tough row. And it’s possible there may be a tough primary battle between you and Sarah Steelman. So, why would you say you’re the candidate who’s going to have the best chance at taking that seat?
Well, …I have had a lot more experience than Robin Carnahan, not just in Washington, but more experience as a classroom teacher, more experience as a university President, more experience as a county official, even more experience as Secretary of State.
And I think and by Election Day it’s going to be clear that on the fundamental issues that impact the country, whether those issues are tax policy — where in the time when Republicans controlled the Congress the Republican House of Representatives passed a family friendly tax cut every single year we were in the majority. Now they didn’t all get signed into law but we passed one every time. So whether it’s tax policy, immigration policy where I fought our own President very publicly for a handful of years on that issue…
Yeah, you were good on immigration, absolutely.
I was and you know one of the reasons that the President’s comprehensive plan didn’t get done was the fact that I kept telling him that was not the best way to solve that problem. Anything that even began to look like it was possibly amnesty was unacceptable to the American people. So whether it was taxes, whether it was immigration, energy policy, healthcare policy, property rights policy, and certainly the issues of life where I have 100% record there — or you know on my 100% voting record with the NRA. This is the same Robin Carnahan that managed the opposition to a ballot issue on conceal and carry in our state while her father was governor.
And you know we’re going to see lots of differences there. In terms of the primary, I just don’t believe Missouri Republicans are going to go down that path again. We saw the dangers in 2008 of having a destructive primary in a state where we have a very late primary. The winner of this election has to be totally focused, even if there is a primary, you’ve got to be totally focused on the general from day one to raise the money, to be out there talking about the issues, to create the kind of grassroots network you need.
And what I see is Missouri Republicans are responding to that. And I think by Election Day 2010 Missouri Independents and a considerable number of Missouri Democrats are going to respond in a positive ways to my candidacy, as well, because of what it stands for. It stands for the last chance to stop Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama from doing whatever they want to do.
Mr. Blunt, I appreciate your time.
Great, John, nice to talk to you. Thanks for taking the time. I hope we can talk a number more times during the next 20 months.
Hey, I’m sure we will and good luck. I’d like to see you in the Senate.