Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that he expects House Republicans to avoid repeating a standoff this year over the federal debt limit because it was too politically damaging last time.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: Welcome back. With me now is the former Mississippi governor and RNC chair, Haley Barbour. Haley, thank you for joining us.
HALEY BARBOUR: Thank you for having me back, Al.
HUNT: The president’s State of the Union, was there anything you liked in it? Did he help or hurt himself?
BARBOUR: You know, it was actually one of those -- the biggest surprises are no surprises. It, I think, speaks volumes when the speech was designed to end on its very highest note, which was recognizing this young American hero who was terrifically wounded overseas.
Most State of the Union don’t have that as their crescendo. They’ve got some big idea or some big something that comes out of the president’s mouth, instead of here’s this -- and Congress was right, by the way, Al -- but here is this young man who -- torn all, torn up.
HUNT: Let me ask you about the Republican strategy. Some Republicans say, let’s play rope-a-dope this year. Obama’s unpopular. Obamacare is unpopular. Middle class is not happy. Just avoid mistakes and -
BARBOUR: You know, when I was chairman of the party in 1994, we did something unusual. We did Contract with America. And we did it because I thought and Newt and some others thought that it’s easier for people to vote for you if you give them something to vote for.
Now, very candidly, you and I both know, a lot of the people that voted Republican in 1994 were voting against the Clinton tax increase, Hillarycare, the crime bill, but I think it’s easier to win people to your side if you also give them something to vote for.
HUNT: So flush out more stuff on health care, and poverty, and income inequality, and the like?
BARBOUR: Well, one thing -- the Republicans get no credit from the public because the news media doesn’t acknowledge it. They have offered many, many ideas about health-care reform. And I thought Senator Hatch, Burr and Coburn did a right thing when they laid out a series of reforms in health care that are very - - that are very positive.
HUNT: Haley, let me ask you about immigration, because you are an immigration reform advocate.
BARBOUR: I am.
HUNT: If a compromise were to emerge where there would be legal status granted to all undocumenteds, a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMers, and for some of the adults, would that be the sort of thing Republicans should embrace?
BARBOUR: Well, the first thing -- the American people -- we owe the American people to have border security that works.
HUNT: Right, OK.
BARBOUR: Not that we’re going to spend umpteen gillion and more dollars on it, but that it actually works.
HUNT: But how about the legal status and the pathway to citizenship?
BARBOUR: As you know, I am comfortable with a pathway to citizenship if there are stringent enough requirements, if you have rigorous requirements. But I don’t think that that is the end all, be all.
HUNT: But do you think you could get a majority of House Republicans to vote for what you’re describing right now?
BARBOUR: I don’t. And I think that that’s not necessary. Remember, Al, you and I were both old enough to remember the ’86 bill. The ’86 bill really was amnesty, unlike what the House is considering now, which has penalties and all sorts of stuff. There’s not amnesty at all. But even after the ’86 bill, only 40 percent of the people who were eligible to get citizenship applied for it.
So I think what most people who are here as illegal immigrants or undocumented, whatever you want to say, what they want is to get out of the shadows. They want to feel like they’re safe, that they’re not going to be chased around, that they can work -
HUNT: Do you think the House will pass the bill, by the way, a comprehensive bill?
BARBOUR: I don’t think there will be a bill. But I think it will be -
HUNT: A bill that they can go to get -- to get together with the Senate and have a final resolution this year?
BARBOUR: I don’t think there will be a bill. I do think there will be a series of bills, because Obamacare was a lesson-learner for a lot of people. One 2,700-page bill is a dumb idea.
HUNT: I guess what I’m asking is, will we have immigration reform in 2014?
BARBOUR: If Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin, the whip in the Senate for the Democrats, are right that they will not accept anything or -- other than a special path to citizenship, I don’t think the House will pass that.
HUNT: Let me ask you -
BARBOUR: But I think the House will pass what most immigrants want, and that is to be -- come out of the shadows, be able to work, to raise their families, pay their taxes, go home and visit their families in --
If anything, I think what the House is going to demand -- here’s a series of bills. If the Senate says that series of bills has to have a special path to citizenship, I think you will see in the House bill probably -- and I’m not -- I can’t predict -- but my impression is that people who were brought here as children, the so-called DREAMers, I think they probably will get a special path to citizenship, and that’s awfully good policy.
HUNT: Haley, you have been supportive of Governor Chris Christie’s latest travails and criticized some of his critics, if you will. But, you know, apart from the particulars here, isn’t this -- this is not going to end soon, it seems that’s clear. Whether it should or whether it shouldn’t, we don’t -- you know, we’re not commenting on. But doesn’t this have to be debilitating to his presidential prospects?
BARBOUR: Well, it depends on how it turns out. It depends - - but, look, the news media is chasing this around like it’s the Lincoln assassination. I mean, there is anybody that makes any kind of peep, whether it has any credibility or not, it’s air time, particularly on certain -- certain channels.
Christie did what you’re supposed to do. His administration screwed up, did something bad. He did like Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here. I take the blame.”
HUNT: But you -- you would acknowledge he’s been -- at least his presidential prospects have been hurt temporarily?
BARBOUR: He certainly has been knocked back in the polls. Maybe the lesson of that is don’t be ahead of Hillary in the polls before Christmas of 2013.
HUNT: Do you think he can come back?
BARBOUR: Oh, yeah. I think so.
HUNT: Do you think Jeb Bush will run?
BARBOUR: I don’t know. I think if Jeb Bush’s last name was Brown, he would be the favorite for the nomination. He was an extremely good governor. And Chris Christie’s been an extremely good governor. I don’t know what Jeb will do.
HUNT: Ted Cruz says a debt-ceiling bill should only pass if it’s accompanied by cuts in spending and fiscal reforms. Do you agree with him? Is that a good strategy?
BARBOUR: I would certainly be in favor of entitlement reform and spending reductions -
HUNT: As a condition?
BARBOUR: But I would very much support that. If it comes down to closing down the government and hurting the credit rating of the United States, we’ve already been to that movie. It has a bad outcome. It elected Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia.
HUNT: Haley Barbour, you are a terrific guest. Thank you so much for being with us.
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