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Let’s start with health care and the Supreme Court. What do you expect?
I have confidence in the merits of the case. I believe in judicial review, and we wrote the bill, obviously, in compliance with the Constitution of the United States. We thought we were ironclad, but you never know in court.
This has something to do with Obama’s legacy—and yours—right?
I think it’s the crown jewel. It is Obama’s greatest achievement, but with some stiff competition. The president achieved many things in the two years that we were in the majority in his presidency. Not much since then, legislatively, but the list goes on: Wall Street reform, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” ending discrimination against women in the workplace. There’s a big legacy. But the fact that tens of millions of people have already enjoyed some of the benefits of [health reform] takes us down a path. I don’t think there’s any turning back from that. One way or another we’re going to have to find a way to make sure the American people are not discriminated against. That being a woman is not a pre-existing medical condition.
How big a part did this legislation play in the Republicans’ gaining a majority in the House in 2010?
My contention—being a politician and studying all of this very carefully all the time—I would say overwhelmingly the main reason for the defeat of the Democrats in the 2010 election was 9.5 percent unemployment. It defies political gravity to win an election for incumbents when you have 9.5 percent unemployment.
But it’s still at 8.3 percent. No president has ever been reelected with a rate above 8 percent.
That’s true, but all assumptions about elections are stale. They’re all about yesterday. The path that we’re on to lower unemployment is going to be understood and appreciated by the public. I believe that the president will be victorious, and I hope that the unemployment rate will be lower for America’s workers. The polls show us ahead. We’ve outraised the Republicans. We’ve outrecruited them. Our candidates are outstanding, and we’ve outredistricted them.
I would have said a month ago that we were sort of 50-50. Since the women’s health issues have emerged and women have shifted in their views of the parties, I say to my Republican friends, and I do have many: “Take back your party. This is the Grand Old Party.”
Take it back from whom?
Take it back from extremists who are taking it over the edge. From the anti-government ideologues who really don’t believe in a public space, so there’s never a chance to find common ground on issues like clean air, clean water, food safety, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, because they don’t believe in a public role there. They think Medicare should wither on the vine, by their own statements. Their budget breaks the Medicare guarantee. So if you don’t believe in the public role, it’s hard to find common ground. That wasn’t the way it used to be. If we can reduce the role of money, increase the level of civility, I’ll promise you one thing.
We’ll have many more women and many more young people and many more minorities in elected office. After over 200 years, not even a fifth of Congress is women. We have to kick open the door and think in a new way. And one of the ways is a new politics that reduces the role of money. If you drown the system with money, you increase the vitriol.
Did you support the president when he said, “I’ll have to have a super PAC in this election because the other side will”?
Just this once. And I don’t like it, but I think you have to. You can’t go to a baseball game without a bat. Everyone should disclose where that money comes from. So disclose, win, reform the system. I’m talking about something drastic in terms of taking money out of the system—and repealing Citizens United.
Do you think the gridlock in Congress will stop after the next election? Will it be any different?
I certainly hope so. It’s necessary. The most important way is for the public to pay attention. The public is repulsed by the vitriol. That’s why we have to bring civility back, a marketplace of ideas. Not everybody wins every argument. Look, the Republican leader in the Senate [Mitch McConnell] said after the last election that the most important thing we can do is to make sure the president is a failure. That didn’t mean a failure in the election. That meant failure in his presidency. That’s simply wrong. We never did that to President Bush.
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