Transcript of Rahm Emanuel Monitor Breakfast

Michael Bonfigli / Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Christian Science Monitor breakfast with Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff.

*Questions may be paraphrased, but all comments by Rahm Emanuel are direct quotes.

*All references must be sourced to The Christian Science Monitor Breakfast.

*Thursday, June 25, 2009

*St. Regis Hotel, 10:00-10:55 a.m.

* * * *

RAHM EMANUEL: I assume we’re going to hit on a lot of topics. I’m going to open up with healthcare. You know, I talked to Senator Dodd yesterday, who is if you don’t know, finished up the markup of his bill except for one provision, which is the coverage provision, which he will do as soon as they get back from break, which is right on schedule.

And I use that as an example, though, of having been here in the White House in ’93 when they were dealing with healthcare, or that was actually ’93 through ’94. You have stark differences between now and then, and a lot of what we have done are ah, and I’ve said this early on when we started, lessons learned.

And even the secretary of State has noted differences of what we have done.

Mainly, you have the very voices that marshaled the resources to oppose the plan are now the advocates for passage of a plan. That’s No. 1. And I think that’s – I mean, I say that No. 1, but it’s a significant, fundamental diffrence. Because whether it’s from the pharmaceutical companies, to the doctors to the hospitals or the insurance companies, some actively now promoting the passage of the bill, some working through their issues. But there’s a fundamental difference when the providers who have over the 40 years, not just in ’93, but the providers have always been the voices and advocates for opposition to reform or some type of legislation, going back to the doctors and AMA – the doctors and Medicare. So this just doesn’t have to be ’93. So to have them in the advocacy role leaves the - those who oppose to be the, for lack of a better way of saying it, the defenders of the status quo.

Two, in addition to what I just said about what Chris is doing in his committee, and I think Senator Baucus later on today from what I understand will be also making some announcement about their timing and their progress. The House is on schedule, the committees, I know Ways and Means, my old committee, had an all-day hearing and the beginning of markup. They’re all working off the same text.

If you go back to ’93, Ways and Means produced a bill, Energy and Commerce could not produce a bill. They were all working off a total different set of sheet of music, the two committees. All three committees – George’s, Charlie’s, and Henry’s – are all working off the same basic text of legislation, and they’re moving simultaneously. Fundamental difference. So whether you look at the legislative process, where it is, and timing-wise and document. You look at the outside groups, where they were, fundamental difference. And I do believe – and one other piece of this, just and get certainly back to the pharmaceutical piece, which I’m sure some people will ask questions. The fact that the AARP endorsed this legislation, I think anybody that went back and looked at the prescription drug Part D plan, when the AARP came out, that was a significant piece of political business in getting this legislation passed.

And I think that, just one technicality, although I think it’s a relevant technicality – those early on have said, well how come you didn’t send up a bill specifically. We’ve let the legislators play their role of being legislators and drafting the bill, working through some of the issues, weighing in, putting our thumb down on the scale where they’ve hit some of the difficulties and the rough patches. OK?

But we didn’t kind of come with a prescriptive, here is our tune, here it is, here’s healthcare reform, now could you mark it up and go pass it? That’s just not the way the process works, nor is it productive to letting the process work.

The tradeoff is you kinda get how the legislative process works. And the members, ya know, don’t, ya know, I like this public plan, no I like this version, I want the co-op, etc. That is a different kind of legislative process to John Dingell not being – it’s not a criticism of him – but in ‘93 not being able to produce a bill. Charlie, rather Dan Rostenkowsky producing a different bill, and them all having to say, here’s our bill, we designed it behind closed doors and here it is and now we know the truth and you guys have to get along with it.

So on a host of fronts, today is different than then.

We have a lot of hard slogging to go, but I believe, given where the process is, given what they’re working on, given how coordinated it is, in the sense of the House and Senate working on a timeline, and given we’re all, I think, some of the voices are, I think that we are in good shape.

I know there’s other issues, and ya know, Henry Kissinger has a statement that I’ve always loved. Does anybody have any questions for my answers?


Q: My colleague Amy Walter wrote yesterday that all the polling on healthcare, there’s a consistent theme, that Americans know the system is broken, they’d like to see it fixed, but the more the potential fix affects them personally, the less interested they are in supporting it. My question is, so the toughest problem you face, that the public wants a painless fix and there is no such thing?

RE: (eating) Sorry about this, hold on. If this was more like a Jewish family, I would feel fine. I can say that, some of you can’t, OK? I think that Amy is astute to an observation about the public. About, they are, at one level, very fundamentally want change, but the closer that change gets to them, yes, they get nervous, which is why it’s so important that what the president says if you’re happy with the healthcare you have, you are able to keep it. So you kinda give them that zone of protection and sense of security.

In addition, I will also say, and let me finish out if I can although to Amy’s comment. If you posit those – I mean, the flip side of that is, those who don’t want change are the defenders of the status quo, the very thing the public does not want, by big margins.

So the choice is not one just of change versus no change. The choice is change that deals with cost in a fundamental way vs. the status quo that accepts what happens today as a good thing, for lack of another way of saying it.

There are two numbers that I think are fundamental to this debate. Because this debate is about cost and coverage. On the coverage side, 14,000 people lose their healthcare every day. That is, they lose their doctor, every day, 14,000 people in America. And that doesn’t when you keep status quo.

Second, on average, ya know sometimes higher sometimes lower, healthcare costs run around – healthcare inflation runs 10 percent a year, on average. Some years it’s 8, some years it’s more. That is also – those are the two numbers that are relevant in healthcare. Everything else [inaudible] 14,000 people a day lose their healthcare, and costs rise three times the rate of inflation, for lack of a better –

One of the other things that I also think that’s been accomplished – I shoulda said this in my opening statement. The president should have made the issue of cost co-equal to the expansion of coverage this year. In the past, the whole debate has been about just expanding coverage, which leaves out the 100 plus million people who have healthcare. When you raise the issue of cost, you’re directly dealing – as Amy’s point is – with the thing that matters most to them, which is why they want. They want cost control, because they know they cannot keep up with the pace of healthcare inflation.

Q: Rahm, there are many people out there who suspect or say that what you all are trying to do with the public insurance plan is to eventually drive out the private insurance business, so they will no longer be able to compete, thereby achieving the goal of a government-run healthcare plan. Two questions. One, what do you say to the accusation about motive. And two, what do you say to the substantive question about, how do you design a public plan that isn’t laden with government subsidies in such a way that it does, in fact, cause the private insurance companies to fundamentally exit the system or cause their costs to be so high that the employers reject those plans. [rest of question inaudible]

RE: There’s no part in which I can say something off the record, is there? What are the rules?

DAVE COOK: I can’t bind 40 reporters [inaudible] We can’t go off –

RE: Because I was going to say something as a joke, but I can’t – [laughter]

I’ll have to wait for Thursday night open mic night. It dealt with the motive part. We’ll just leave it at that. Lemme um, first of all, lemme say it this way. Couple parts, hopefully I’ll string this together in a coherent answer.

One, the public plan, as the president said the other day at the press conference, is about competition. And one of the things the insurance system lacks today is competition. OK? It doesn’t exist. The most efficient competitiveness in in the insurance industry is the federal healthcare plan, because it has an organized market.

Now a lotta this discussion, and I hope I’m not switching too fast on you, is focused on the public plan, but it’s done in conjunction with the ru – what should be, as equally discussed, is the rules that you’ll structure around the exchange. The public plan will exist in the exchange. And how you set up the rules of that exchange, like what the federal healthcare plan does, which is an exact model here, or a good prototype, allows you to control costs. So it’s not just a public plan. It’s a public plan in conjunction with regulated, structured – we call it an exchange, in other words, it’s just a fancy word for a marketplace. A public plan – ya know, the president was quite clear about not just having a subsidized federal dollars.

But a nonprofit like the old kind of Blue Cross that competes on that basis allows, I think, a real comparative choo - choice process to go out for the consumer. If the public plan says here’s what a basic healthcare cost will be, here it is, then the consumer can go through and look at the Blue Cross, look at Wellpoint, look at all those other plans, and do comparative shopping that they can’t do and don’t do today. So I would say, I’ve said they work in conjunction.

Another way of saying it, the heads and tails of this process, of bringing competition, of bringing choice to the marketplace, that doesn’t exist today, is through a public plan, a not for profit public plan, with a organized or structured marketplace, i.e., the exchange that’s regulated. You do that, and you will wring out huge costs that exist today in the private plans, that spend the bulk of their money – I don’t think I can look around here that not one of us hasn’t dealt with insurance companies on an individual basis, look at your own experience in this, either with a sick child, a sick partner, or a sick parent. If you don’t have it yourself, you’re lucky. Working through with an insurance company that has spent a lot of their administrative costs fighting through denying or limiting coverage. And that is a bulk of the overhead, or not a bulk, it is a sizable portion of the overhead. And that public plan, with the exchange, would create the kind of competition that doesn’t exist today, would force the insurance companies to be more competitive, more price conscious, that doesn’t exist today, and allow the consumer the choice to be more price sensitive and cost conscious. Those are all the values that you would want in a system today that lacks any of that.

You don’t have today competition among insurance companies on a price basis. And they’re allowed to ring up huge administrative costs because there isn’t that price sensitivity. And if you bring choice, you bring competitiveness, you have an organized slash market, like the federal prototype, that is like the federal healthcare plan – system, rather. And you have a public plan that people can then use as a measure to measure against, you’ll give that type of choice and that competitiveness and bring a price sensitivity that does not exist today. And it doesn’t exist in healthcare. You can do that for cars, you can do it for a lot of other stuff, it doesn’t exist today. And every one of us – this is not, you know, you just gotta go – I mean, if you haven’t, you’re lucky. Every one of us have had that experience with their insurance company.

Q: How do you ensure that the competition is fair, so that at the end of the day, the price –

RE: You gotta write it. That’s what the drafting, the legislation process is about. I mean, it’s like the president said the other day, we’re not gonna give, you know – the federal treasury is not going to just be a printing press for the public plan. We’re not gonna do that.

Q: So cost is a huge thing. [inaudible] Other ideas to share? How do you prepare public for that? Is it a matter of selling them on the concept first, then dealing with the money?

RE: Let me do one thing. Over the last few days, and I’m losing – even like in Chris Dodd’s committee, he got numbers the other day from CBO that brought the numbers way down below – In another life, I’m coming back as CBO. That’s a joke, guys, just relax, OK? [laughter]

Let me say this about the whole issue of cost. It’s rearranging the dollars within the healthcare system. It’s not a trillion new dollars. It’s the money is within the system itself that we’re dealing with. And it’s making it more efficient and more effective, so there’s parts of this both on the coverage side, the cost side, and what I would call on the delivery side. And one of the reasons the president has been so strong about this MedPAC – and I happen to be a big advocate of this as I know, as Peter Orszag is, as others are – Rockefeller who has a great bill up in the Senate – is, there’s been hundreds of billions of dollars of recommended savings in Medicare and Medicaid by MedPAC. Some have been acted on by Congress, but a bulk of it hasn’t. In ways to be more efficient in the way we spend money. So it’s using math to reassign how dollars get distributed in the system, in a more efficient, more effective way. Ya know, part of that will be, ya know, ultimately, moving resources more towards preventive care, more towards dealing with chronic illnesses early on, that represent about 60 percent of all healthcare costs, the five major illnesses that all are basically the way we act and are behavioral, for lack of a better way –

So when you say the money – if I get one point across on this. It’s not something new, totally different. It’s within the system, and reassigning it, realigning it, with the kind of outcomes that you would like to see. And doing it towards more efficient, productive, whatever the word you wanna use to describe.

I think the president spoke yesterday, last night, on the issues you said, on the exclusion. But the first priority is, he said, is to deal with the savings within the system. That’s why he proposed, of the 950 billion dollars’ worth of savings or cost-cutting, whatever word you wanna use, two-thirds of them come from ways you would deal with the insurance company and how they get reimbursed. Today, we pay 115 to 120 cents on the dollar to managed care companies in the prescription drug area, which –

I remember the '90s, they used to – their big selling card was, pay us 95 cents on the dollar, we’ll do it better than Medicare. Now they need 120 cents on the dollars to do it. That’s 177 billion dollars over 10 years. Now, you can find that savings by not subsidizing them. OK? And they can deliver the same service as Medicare for 100 cents on the dollar. That’s just one example.

There are other savings inside how we deal with doctors. How you deal with the nursing home industry, how you deal with the pharmaceutical industry that reassign those dollars. He has also offered, as you know on the revenue side, the 28 percent issue. It’s not exclusion, I’m – the exemption. That’s his idea, the Senate and the House have said no to that. The House is looking at something else that you’ll be hearing about, and the Senate will be looking at something else.

The president has offered, though, 950 billion dollars in either savings or other type of revenue, to [inaudible], but it’s realigned within the healthcare system.

Q: Compare how Obama deals with domestic and international issues, compared with Clinton.

RE: Can we go to that last? No, I’m joking. Well, let me, uh, the two issues – let me set the stage internationally a little big different. And I may be wrong, because this is based on memory. But the two issues I remember the first year internationally were, the Bosnian war was ongoing and we had Haiti at that point. Now I could be missing –

Q: Rwanda.

RE: Rwanda. Yes, and Somalia. That was also. So those are the four. But they were flash points. The recession, I mean I think we have to – because you’re asking me something about the two characters in a context, and I [inaudible] sure we’re all thinking of the context the same.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and I’m not being dismissive, so don’t – I’m not saying it that way. I wanna be clear. But they’re not Haiti, OK? And Somalia was an issue, our men and women lost their lives there. But it was not a hot hot war in the sense that you see today in both – you also have a, the wall came down earlier, and you were living with some of the aftermath of what was going on with integrating Eastern Europe, which is why the president, in the latter half of the sec – in the middle of the second term, latter half of the first term and beginning of the second term, dealt with NATO expansion.

The recession was not, by any means, as severe as we’re facing today. Which is one my points I’m bringing up is, president Clinton did not get the stimulus bill that was passed out of the House I think at 24 billion. It failed in the Senate at either 16 or 18 four months later. This president passed a 787 billion dollar recovery act in the first three weeks. And also a major expansion on healthcare.

So, the world that they’re both – the world that they’re dealing with is fundamentally different. Uh, now, I think they are incredibly talented individuals, OK? They have different styles, they’re at a different time, they’re also at different ages in their – I mean their own biography, they’re at different ages.

I think that – I think President Obama has one of the most disciplined minds and styles I’ve ever seen. And I think of my – I exercise every day. I’ve been doing it for umpteen years. I read a book, one every three weeks, I think I’m personally pretty disciplined. This guy is incredibly disciplined. And not only, structured, but his mind is unbelievably disciplined.

Q: For instance?

RE: He goes into a meeting and he’ll have read the brief the night before, and have the crux of his argument written down that he wants to drive that discussion to basic points. And he goes right to either the assumptions, the presumptions of the case. Now, I mean, I loved, as you know, working for President Clinton, who had an unbelievably creative mind. And I think was, for a host of reasons, was a very significant president. I was honored to work for him.

Their contexts are different, so while every president has a domestic issue and an international issue, etc., I mean, President Obama has what President Clinton had, but, I don’t want to say, it’s not appropriate to say on steroids, but by a quotient of 10.

But he has handled – look, I’m going to just say this. First of all, I was honored to be on the trip to the Mideast. I think that Cairo speech will go down as one of the most significant speeches given by a president on foreign policiy. Equal to what Kennedy’s speech was, what Reagan’s speech was. And not just because you’re seeing results already in the Mideast. But I think he did 20 years’ worth of work, and it’s been noted by others in capitals around the area of the world, 20 years’ worth of work, both for advancing America’s interests and definition of America in that region.

We are no longer the issue of America – America is no longer the issue in that region of the world. Now, we have to use that opening to seek our national security. That is not our national security in and of itself. But it is a huge opportunity for advancing America’s interests. And I think that speech will be noted in history for what not – not as a speech, but as a galvanizing theory of the case in narrative for where we are. And he has done that in a way. He has, ya know, I think pursued, and he handled the foreign policy crisis, and you have one in the same way what’s happening in Iran now, and around, specifically, Iran, but also Lebanon, a change in the way of significance of – well, it’s playing itself out right now. For me to predict what it is I don’t think it would be smart.

But I do think that the voices – the moderate voices, whether you look at the results in Kuwait, you look at the results of the Iraqi election, in the way the Iranian party there did so poorly. You look at the results in Lebanon, where everybody who had walked before had predicted that Hezbullah and the parties there, the [inaudiable] was going to win, or you look – Michel Aoun [?] – or you look at Iran. The moderate voices of reform who are willing to accept some level of engagement with modernity are now starting to move, where the radicals I think are back on their heels.

And it’s not just one speech, it’s a series of policies [inaudible]. Now that’s on the foreign policy stuff. On the economics, we’ve taken the worst financial and economic recession since the Great Depression and while there have been other policies, and everything else –

Look, America was on the precipice. That’s my observation. We are finally gotten a stability from the decline, and even yesterday’s recent economic data, and you don’t go off for one month, are starting to show some level of not only stability from the decline, but also maybe some places where you can start to see the signs of recovery and regaining of strength in the economy.

So they are different people in totally different contexts. I don’t wanna go on filibustering at this point, I could go on more about both differences and similarities, but let me drive it back to healthcare. And I can, which is one of the reasons we’re here.

Part of the lessons – part of the differences you see today are the lessons learned from what President Clinton went through. And I also think it’s not just for us at the White House. That’s true for Congress. I think they know the results. I think if you ask today, Congress, I’ve returned from a meeting with a number of senators two days ago. They know failure is not an option. That was not the psychology going into ‘93 and ‘94.

So while they’re different, there’s significant things taken away from what happened in both the affirmative side and the not so affirmative side in ’93, ’94, and ’95 that are important lessons to be learned and that I think we have to have an open mind in doing that.

Q: [paraphrased] Regarding the NY Senate race in 2010, why not let the Democratic process play itself out? And let other House members, or several house members, run in the primary against Kirsten Gillibrand?

RE: Look, Kirsten Gillibrand has been endorsed by the DSCC, endorsed by others. If other people wanna run, they can. I think, what we’re doing, and to be honest, having talked to - Steve is a dear friend of mind, a very dear friend of mine. I just said, Steve, if you’re going to do this, I want you to know full well what we’re going to be doing. So I don’t want you to be caught off guard. I thought I did it out of friendship. Since Steve and I were the first to talk, I said it to him as a friend, I said, “I don’t want you to jump into this and say, hey, you didn’t tell me that was going to happen.” So I said upfront, we’re gonna be involved, in the race, and I want you to know that. So before you make a decision, I don’t want you to have made a decision, say, you didn’t give me a heads up, why did you do this? So as a friend, a former colleague, we told him.

Q: One of the stories said you told him Obama would campaign in black neighborhoods.

RE: No, I was there, sorry. I was part of the conversation. I just told Steve, out of my back porch of the office, I told Steve, I said, I just wanted to tell ya, we’re gonna be involved in the primary, helping her. And I don’t want you to get in the race and find out after the fact. You make whatever decision you want, but I’m telling you this up front, so you don’t get caught off guard.

Q: On healthcare, the public plan in the House and Senate committees’ bills is an awful lot like Medicare.

RE: Medicare plus 10, you mean?

Q: Yeah. The question is, there will have to be reconciliation on this.

RE: That’s known as a conference. It’s unusual these days.

Q: Are you going to try to pass this on reconciliation, or will you go for 60 votes? Is the Conrad idea of co-ops acceptable to you guys?

RE: First question, our goal is to get it through the normal process. That’s why we’re working extensively, very aggressively towards that. Just so you know, Mort, I started this process 6’2”, and 250 pounds, this is all I got left. So I mean our goal is to do it the normal way. Work there, obviously that exists out there, but that’s not the intention.

Reconciliation exists as a tool, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to do the healthcare bill the normal way. There will be differences, and that’s what conferences are about. You’ll work them out. OK? And given that here will be differences, that’s what will happen. Ya know? That’s OK. Obviously, the more that they’re aligned, like what’s happening on the three committees in the House, with what’s happening in the HELP Committee, the shorter the conference can be, the less other kind of extraneous issues there are. And you can kind of fundamentally focus on the key issues of cost, coverage, exchange, public plan, revenue, and anti-dumping. Those are kinda – I’m probably leaving some out, so it’s not – it’s just a general run-through of tic list of the major issues.

As it relates to a co-op, again, I want to revert to what I said [inaudible] and that is, while it’s fine to focus – and you should – on a public plan, how will that co-op idea – I was teasing Kent – co-op is a fancy way of saying Blue Cross Blue Shield. The old original Blue Cross Blue Shield is what a co-op is. Now if you come from North Dakota and not Chicago, you would call it a co-op. If you come from Chicago, you call it the Old Blue, a not for profit.

But how you design it – and I wanna say this. The structure of the market slash exchange is as important to the functioning of what you’re trying to achieve, which is cost control and choice and comparative shopping, as having a plan out there.

Q: Switching to immigration, another fun topic.

RE: That’s OK, they’re all fun.

Q: Robert Gibbs said the other day the votes aren’t there to pass immigration reform right now. What do you need to do to get those votes, and if you don’t get immigration reform in this session of Congress, with the Democrats controlling White House and both houses of Congress, what are the political implications with Hispanic voters?

RE: Look, one of the reasons you’re having – I’ll say it’s self evident - one of the reasons you’re having the meeting is because the votes aren’t there. That’s kinda – If the votes were there, you wouldn’t need to have the meeting, you’d go to a roll call. OK?

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and immigration groups have all asked for a meeting because the votes aren’t there. And they asked for the meeting and that’s why we’re doing the meeting, to help focus on what does it take. And we have a cross-section of people, so we don’t just get all the yeses in the room who all agree. Now the question is, do some of the people there who have had real reservations about comprehensive immigration reform. I think Congressman Lamar Smith confirmed that he’s coming, but he was invited – who has been kind of a critic. But so you have a broad breadth of people to focus on what are the areas of agreement, what are the areas of disagreement, and what do we gotta do. That’s A.

B. I think the president you will see outline today a number of things that we’ve taken administratively. One of the things he said today - I think he’ll outline today and one of the things I’ve been focused on, having a district that was – Lynn knows this from my own district – but uh, I mean, my district was heavily Polish and Mexican-American and Eastern European and Serb-Croatian – is, through our technology office, the CPO, CIO, and CPO, we’ve gone in and worked with INS, we will announce the modernization of the records there, so you can go online and see where you are in the system as it relates to legalization. We’ve done in 90 days worth about 20 years’ worth of work in modernizing the immigration service from a legal standpoint and other steps we have taken.

But today’s focus will be in addition to what we have done administratively that we can do. Some of that, and mainly on the kind of legalization process that has been unbelievably cumbersome and unnecessarily so, both from the lack of investment and the lack of attention. Then what else we have to do to pass some legislation. I talked to Senator Schumer just the other day. He has views of what he thinks he can do to get it done and what kind of some of the tradeoffs are. That’s what the meeting’s about.

This is all just a judgment call. If it doesn’t happen in the next 2 months, I don’t think that that means it doesn’t happen within this – between now and then, between now and 2010. That’s just my view, I don’t buy that necessarily.

Q: Implications for Democratic Party if it doesn’t happen at all between now and the 2010 elections?

RE: It’s better that it happen from a policy standpoint. It’s obviously self-evident that it would be better if it happened from a political standpoint. But it’s also better that we continue to focus on moving the economy – getting the economy moving.

That also – it’s not like. Walter, what I would say is, look, there’s no doubt it would be better. But if we did it but we’re making progress on the economy I don’t think that from a political standpoint – that is not the only issue related – in a way, the president’s communique with the Hispanic community, and I’ve seen enough data to say that he’s doing as strong today as he was on election day – as are the Democrats.

Q: Russia – what is the president hoping to accomplish in a couple of weeks in Moscow? Also, is he really going to be able to reset the relationship given Russia’s changes of mind on the WTO? Are they ready to play ball?

RE: As you know, you don’t just kinda show up and decide to work everything out. OK? Let me just say, I think we’re making a lot of progress on some of the key issues as it relates to arms control. Given that we’re – we’re two weeks away from the trip. I don’t wanna preempt that trip in the wrong way. There is very sensitive discussions, literally day by day, hour by hour. And I don’t want anybody to say that I said something out of here that in any way could be misinterpreted as the parties are sitting down working through what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s a good trip, we’ve set our goals on what our objectives are, and we’re working through them right now.

Q: What are the objectives beyond arms control?

RE: There will be some economic stuff, some cultural stuff, but arms control is a significant piece of it.

Q: Back to immigration. Is there not also a factor here that circuits a little overloaded on congress, some telling you you can’t handle major reform? Is that a factor?

RE: Well, there is no doubt we’ve got 3 major issues up there right now. Because a lot of the stuff we dealt with was – we’ve kind of seen this in four quarters, let me break it down that way.

The first quarter was to get the recovery act, children’s healthcare, the budget [inaudible]. And by the way, let me just drive off the road for one second on a detour. The children’s healthcare bill passed with legal immigrants’ children covered, the first type of coverage like that done in 10 years, since the reform of the balanced budget that reformed the welfare act of ’96. And not unnoticed by immigrant groups. The first significant legislation out of the floor of the House or the Senate since ’96 [rest inaudible].

The second act was what we called the consumer reform legislation – the kids’ tobacco bill, the credit card bill, the housing bill, the mortgage bill, the financial fraud legislation, and the anti-waste in procurement reform legislation.

The third stage was to mark up the significant three bills, financial regulatory, energy, and healthcare. We’re on progress with all of that.

The fourth stage, which would be in the fall, is to wrap those up and get them done by year-end.

Q: Could you repeat that?

RE: Can I repeat it?

Q: I didn’t hear it.

RE: Backwards? [laughter]

Q: Just Q4.

RE: Q4 is to wrap em up, get 'em done by the end of the year.

I wanna finish what I was saying: It’s not impossible to do it this year. I think everybody agrees that, we all as a party agreed that those were gonna be the priorities to get done. Could you get it in this year? Yes. I think the more significant thing is to get it started now so you’re able to move to it with due speed.

Q: So that is a factor?

RE: Look, these are big – look, healthcare’s been around for 40 years, since Truman. Five presidents have tried it. OK? The energy bill is, ya know, been – I mean, we’ve been dealing with this as a country since ‘73. And the financial regulatory, given what happened, and the trillions of dollars it’s taken to clean up the mess, is the component – you know, the first step was doing what we had to do to stabilize the financial system. The second step is to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Those are big pieces of legislation. Can the system handle it? Yes, but there’s a timing issue. And you gotta move all the time. But it’s not like if you’re not doing immigration reform, per se, there isn’t progress being made on dealing with immigration. If I get one point across, I want, ya know, whether that’s done with what we did with the children’s healthcare bill, what we’re doing administratively, and also getting the legislation paired up. And sometimes maybe ya know the Senate moves faster than the House or the House moves faster than the Senate. But ya know, it’s without a doubt – comprehensive immigration reform is kinda the first among all equals, but it’s not like other issues as it relates to the immigrant community are not being done or dealt with.

Q: Purpose of recent meeting with Lisa Madigan? Was this 1, 2, or 3 meetings? Who called the meeting?

RE: I don’t honestly remember who called the meeting. I don’t remember who called the meeting.

Look, you know, Lisa’s thinking about running. Like other candidates, it’s not - there’s been other candidates running for governor, senator, congress, who are interested in ya know whether they should or shouldn’t, what are the issue. You know that Lisa was a seatmate of the president’s when he was a state senator. She’s the most popular politcal figure in Illinois. And she’s weighing a judgment on what she wants to do in her career. Um, and uh, ya know, there was a discussion about, ya know, let me say this, let me do this: What happens in the oval stays in the oval. They had a conversation about the race. I met with her, that part I’m more cognizant of. She was kinda weighing the benefits and costs of running for office, ie the Senate. And ya know, having done recruitment once as a living, in the DCCC, candidates are trying to figure it out, figure out what they’re looking at.

She would be – it goes without saying, she would be a formidable candidate. She’s the most popular figure in the state of Illinois. She was deciding, and she’s going through a process, trying to decide. But there’s no doubt by any – by even people who are in the race, in the primary, people who are thinking about it, they all know, she’s the 800 pound gorilla here, because of how popular she is and how good a job she’s done as the attorney general.

Q: Do you think she should run?

RE: That’s for Lisa to make that decision.

Q: But you have gotten involved in other races, such as New York?

RE: I think this – I think like all the other candidates in the field, she’d be a formidable candidate.

Q: So what is it, two meetings?

RE: Valerie and I met with her together.

Q: Difference between now and ‘93. Republican Party in tough shape. There’s no John Chafee. Getting 70 votes on healthcare reform in the Senate, is that a tool or a goal?

RE: You said two things. Well, you said four things.

DC: That’s why he’s a high paid pundit.

RE: I can say this because I was – having ran, with Bill Daley, ran NAFTA for the president. People forget this, after NAFTA, he passed the Brady Bill about 11 days later.

He was at 63 job approval. It was a piece of history. I remember meeting with the president after having run both of those for him to get done. It was the highest job approval since his swearing-in. The difference between Chafee and Clinton was employer vs. employee mandate. And those who weren’t there, Clinton was for employer, Chafee was for employee. After that, you could pretty much write it all off, as just kind of like, nothing.

I for one begged, just bring him into the oval, look him in the eyes, and say we’re going to call it the Chafee Bill, He had 33 Republicans at that time on his bill, it could be 32, but it was in the 30s. And just say, I have one change I would like, but we’re gonna call it your bill.

So, and I think if you look back, there was a big mistake. OK, that said. That’s one. Two, you are right, that the Republican Party is at the lowest point, which is in two decades at least, or since the early 90s, whatever. Every poll is a little different. Let’s just say it’s the lowest point in a long time.

One of the reasons, in my view – and let me go back, what’s significant about that is – am I getting that look that I’m being too political, Bill? [laughter] I haven’t seen you sit up like that in a long time. You’re just worried about where this is going?

BILL BURTON: That signal is more, more!

RE: I just looked up and I caught this hairy eyeball by Bill. I haven’t seen that since my DCCC days.

BB: [inaudible]

RE: Sarah and Bill are sitting back there, all of a sudden they both sat up like, [inaudible], and I said, OK. I’m trying to repress my political gene as much as I can.

What’s interesting is that they’re at their lowest point after two national elections, in which the country voted against their defence of the status quo.

Usually after these moments, if you go in history – am I right or wrong, Amy? OK. Charlie? So there are your factoids – you get a rebound. You don’t go lower! They not only had just one, they had two national elections in which their defense of the status quo got repudiated by the public. They are today lower than they were after both ‘06 and ‘08. That doesn’t happen.

Now one of the reasons they’re there, is because, not only they defended the status quo in two elections, they continued to do it, a la health care, and they’re a party that doesn’t have Senator Chafees. What happened in ‘06 and ‘08, is they went from a national party to a regional party. And that regional party does not represent a national breadth.

And if they had more Chafees, who were willing to speak out and speak to address issues with policies, I believe rather than recognizing the change, recognizing what the results of the election were, recognizing that they have an alternative to that that speaks to change, rather than that, the party today has become a party that defends the status quo. And they are farther behind than they were both after ‘08 and after ‘06.

You are right, that makes getting quote unquote bipartisanship done hard. But lemme challenge you here. As I did on immigration, but I will do this as I said after the Recovery Act. The test of bipartisanship is not just how many Republican votes you have. If I can get one thing across to this esteemed group of Washington journalists – I hope you appreciated that –

DC: I did. It will probably keep me employed for another two months, I do appreciate it.

RE: Usually the word esteemed and Washington journalists don’t go together.

If I can say it this way: The test of bipartisnahsip is 3 different ways. One, did the bill have bipartisan ideas? That is a test that the president laid out, and he has said it repeatedly. This will be bipartisan. There will be ideas from both parties and individuals from both parties in the final product. Whether Republicans decide to vote for things that they’ve promoted will be up to them.

So one test of bipartisanship is, did you include ideas advocated by the other side, and the president’s tried to do that.

Second, for it to be bipartisan, or appreciated for its bipartisanship, the president has to try. As I said after the recovery act, everybody said, oh you didn’t get Republican votes, but the American people saw the president trying. They saw the Republicans, implicit, instinctually and reflexively just rejecting any effort in the height of an economic recession as severe as the depression.

So the bill will be bipartisan. It will have bipartisan ideas. I do believe you will get bipartisan votes for it.

Then you’ll get into the measurements that we have – oh, you didn’t get this many.

I think there’s a number of ways of grading bipartisanship. And I still think this all reverts back to the way you asked whether it was –

There isn’t the Chafees, the Republican Party doesn’t have that voice anymore. It makes the quote unquote vote counting and bean counting part of bipartisanship hard. But that doesn’t mean we failed.

It means those who have defended the status quo have failed.

And the biggest test of this to date is we’ve had a test: It was in upstate NY, there was an election in a special election, in a congressional seat, that the Republican Party had a 75,000 vote margin. They had a state rep, we had a novice, for lack of a – I shouldn’t say novice. A person who had not run for office before. They by all historical measures, and by the measurement of that district, should have won that seat. And they made the race, by choice, a referendum on the president in a historically Republican upstate seat, and the voters of that district issued a verdict.

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