Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend that he expects the House of Representatives, controlled by his party, to enact some “major” revision of U.S. immigration laws within the next year.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Chairman.
REINCE PRIEBUS: I’m happy to be here.
HUNT: Let’s start with Chris Christie. A huge re-election victory. Is this a model for Republicans in 2016?
PRIEBUS: Well, I certainly - if you can have that kind of success and copy it all over America, certainly I’ll take that model. But Chris is a special kind of candidate. And I would just say the type of candidate, a lot like Scott Walker, who makes a promise and keeps a promise. And I just said what this party and both parties needs - need are people of their word that win elections and govern like they campaigned. And that’s what he’s getting rewarded for.
HUNT: Is Chris Christie the frontrunner for the next presidential race? Some people even say the de facto leader of the party.
PRIEBUS: I don’t know about that. I think we’ve got a pretty deep bench, Al. I really do. He’s certainly going to be a prominent figure in our party moving forward. He’s going to take over the RGA in a month or so.
HUNT: But there’s no frontrunner right now?
PRIEBUS: Well I don’t - I don’t think so. It’s three years away. So - but certainly he’s got a case to be made, as well as a few others. So we’re proud of what he did. We were a big part of the ground game there, as well as in Virginia, and it worked.
HUNT: Let’s talk about Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign blames the loss on insufficient support from national Republicans. You gave --
PRIEBUS: Well that’s not true. Chris LaCivita, who was the chairman of the campaign, actually said that the help from the RGA and the RNC was - was - was very much appreciated and was in fact other groups that didn’t participate that he was pointing a finger. I just want to make sure that we know who they’re pointing fingers at.
HUNT: Well, but there’s some of them also who point the finger at you in that campaign. Because I’ve talked to them, and say they like in early October they were almost - they were down. There was nothing. And you did give $3 million.
PRIEBUS: Not me.
HUNT: No, I know, but you gave $3 million for that ground game. But previous - four years earlier, the RNC gave $9 million.
PRIEBUS: And for years before that the RNC gave $1.5 million. So --
HUNT: But the - but the ’09 race was a lot easier than this race.
PRIEBUS: But here’s the thing. What’s really unique about ’09 which I think we have to get straight is the reason why the RGA and the RNC divided up the cost the way they did was that McCain-Palin transferred into the RNC $23 million in January of ’09.
HUNT: Do you think Ken Cuccinelli lost because of insufficient resources, or because it was a flawed candidacy?
PRIEBUS: Well no, I think there’s a lot of reasons for it. Obviously they talk about the shutdown. We talk about money. You can talk about all kinds of issues and tactics, but ultimately I think that if there was a few more days I think Ken would have won. And I think - and the reason is is because of Obamacare coming into play
HUNT: So your predecessor, Michael Steele, when he says that you - you left money on the table, that there should have been money put in there because you had it in the bank, he’s just dead wrong?
PRIEBUS: No, I don’t think - first of all, I don’t think he’s saying that. But I think the circumstances are different. I also took over a Republican Party that was $26 million in debt. So what I would say is everything’s different. In ’09, I’m not criticizing the decision to spend $9 million. What I’m saying though is that when you start with $23 million and you sit down with the other party committee and you divide out how are we going to spend this money, I have an idea. Let’s take some of this $23 million from McCain-Palin and let’s put some of that $23 million on television. And the RGA can then spend $6 million and the RNC can spend $9 million. This year we got together in the beginning of the year and the decision was that the RNC spend the $3 million to fund the ground game and the RGA would spend $8 million to --
HUNT: My head is swimming.
But let me ask, you basically think you did everything you could have done for that election?
PRIEBUS: Under the circumstances, sure.
HUNT: Does the election - do the elections of 2013 presage anything for 2014?
PRIEBUS: Absolutely they do, and that’s why you have to - you can’t go broke in December of 2013 when you’ve got Senate races, governor races, targeted House races that you need to fund the next year. And - and the reason why we’re optimistic of course is that while a week ago Ken was down by double digits, with Obamacare coming into play and with the ground game we put out on the field, he closed the gap. I actually think there’s a lot more positives here. Now certainly we’d want to win, but that should give us a lot of hope for next year.
HUNT: Let me ask you about Obamacare. The rollout has been absolutely horrible, as you know. You say it has - it has helped Republicans politically. There’s going to be a continuing resolution, a budget up again in January. Given how bad the rollout was - should Republicans again say the condition for approving a budget is to defund Obamacare?
PRIEBUS: I don’t know what the tactics are going to be in the next month. I know that people like Paul Ryan and - and Jeff Sessions are trying to get something really significant done as far as debt reduction here in December. I know that’s their goal. Certainly I don’t think a shutdown is smart for us to go through that again. I wouldn’t want to see that.
HUNT: No more shutdowns. How about a debt ceiling?
PRIEBUS: Well, look. Mitch McConnell made the pledge that there wouldn’t be a shutdown. I take him at his word.
HUNT: Let me ask you about your post-election growth and opportunity project. The RNC said Latinos and Asian-Americans consider the party unwelcoming and Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” The Senate has done that. Would it hurt Republicans if the House does not follow suit and refuses to pass a comprehensive bill?
PRIEBUS: Well I’m not sure what they’re going to do. I think that in fact the idea that either a comprehensive approach or a multi-tiered approach is not going to happen by the end of the year, I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. I think that it can happen, and I think people like Paul Ryan and others still want something like that to happen.
HUNT: But if it didn’t - I guess what I’m asking is if it - if it shouldn’t happen, would that -
PRIEBUS: It could happen next year. It could happen - I don’t think there’s any sort of midnight hour here.
HUNT: You think the House will pass a major immigration bill in this Congress?
PRIEBUS: I think so. That’s my gut.
HUNT: You do. And we can call it comprehensive?
PRIEBUS: Well, look. Rand Paul came out for comprehensive immigration reform too, but what does - comprehensive immigration reform to you could be these four things and to me it could be six things. As far as how you want to - what terminology you want to use, it’s your prerogative. I do think though that something significant is going to happen because obviously mass deportation is not an option. I don’t think doing nothing is an option. And I believe most people would agree that something significant needs to take place. Now what that is, I don’t get to make that decision.
HUNT: The RNC report noted the problems that the Republicans have with younger voters, many of whom have a very tolerant view about gay rights, which you said “is a gateway” and whether the party -
PRIEBUS: I didn’t write the report.
HUNT: No, I know, but it’s your report. It’s the RNC report.
PRIEBUS: It’s the report of a committee through the RNC.
HUNT: Right, but it said - and you embraced the report basically in saying -
PRIEBUS: I embraced parts of the report.
HUNT: But they said - anyway, they - they said it’s a gateway. Gay rights is a gateway and whether the party is the place they want to be. Now the Senate passed a bill that outlaws discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace. A number of Republicans supported it. Should the House do the same?
PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t know all the details of the bill, Al. I understand there are some problems and some technicalities with unisex issues that I don’t - I don’t fully understand. I haven’t seen it. But as far as discrimination in the workplace, no, I don’t agree with that. But I think the problem with that bill is that it includes a whole lot more than just that issue. So I’m not a legislator. I don’t get to - to make these decisions, Al. Our party believes in traditional marriage.
HUNT: You don’t think it’ll affect the party’s standing with young voters if the House passes a bill or not?
PRIEBUS: I think we’re doing pretty well with young voters. If you look at the youth movement in this country and you see what even in the libertarian movement that’s sweeping across college campuses, they’re young people. And so that’s why I think it’s multi-tiered. I don’t think it’s one size fits all.
HUNT: Chairman Priebus, as always, it’s really good to see you.
PRIEBUS: Thank you.
HUNT: Thank you very much for being with us.
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