The Lars Larson National Show: Excerpts from Sen. Lamar Alexander's Nov. 3 appearance

Posted on November 5, 2010

The Lars Larson Show: November 3, 2010

Interview with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)



LARS LARSON: So, what conclusions should we draw about what the American people want after yesterday?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: I think it’s pretty obvious. One: make it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs. Two: control spending. Three: stop Washington takeovers. And that’s been the message for the last six, eight, 10 months and that’s why there was such a huge vote yesterday. ...

LARSON: Well, do you get the sense that [President Obama] will work with you, that he’s finally getting the message? Because, you know, the famous metaphor is that he didn’t meet with Mitch McConnell until 18 months into his presidency. I remind people that last April, the Republican leadership sent him a letter and said, Mr. President we want to meet face to face on healthcare and he wrote back and said, “Thanks for your interest,” but essentially refused the meeting. Well, no, he just didn’t reply to the request for the meeting. It doesn’t strike me that he wanted to meet with you then, and I’m wondering if now that his margin is smaller in the Senate and he has no majority in the House, whether he will now sit down and work with you.

ALEXANDER: Well, if he wants to provide effective leadership, he has to. I mean, Americans are more comfortable with a check and a balance. They haven’t had it for the last two years—they’ve now created one. And, that’s why you have a check and a balance, so that if we need to reduce the debt, for example, which we do, that you take Republican ideas and Democratic ideas and you put them together and you get a result. Or if you need to create private sector jobs, we get a result. So, I don’t know whether he hasn’t wanted to work across the aisle or whether he hasn’t known how. But it is really odd, as you pointed out, his entire two years he didn’t meet but once with the Republican leader one-on-one of the Senate. You think back to Lyndon Johnson, President Johnson, he used to telephone Everett Dirksen when he was the Republican leader of the Senate every night at five o’clock, just to check on his health.

LARSON: That seems like a decent way to do it. And, you know, I even got to thinking that last April, if the president said, “Sure, come on down, we’ll have a meeting. We’ll have you all into my office we’ll talk for two hours.” He could have done that, walked out into the ellipse and said to the reporters, “Hey, you know what I just met with the Republican leadership, I listened to all their ideas, I even took some of their best ideas and we’ve worked it into the bill. He could have done that and made it look like he was cooperating even if he was dead-set against it.

ALEXANDER: Well, he could have actually cooperated.

LARSON: Well, he could have done that, too.

ALEXANDER: That would have been better. I mean the financial regulation bill is another example. That started off pretty well, there were Republican and Democratic senators working together and all of a sudden the Democrats got in the caucus and said, “Wait a minute. We got the votes, we’ll write the bill. Let’s ditch the Republicans.” They did, and they passed it. Well, it’s a bad bill. It’s going to make credit harder to get and so it’s going to make it harder to create new jobs in this country. So, you not only want to work across the aisle to pass a bill, you want public acceptance of the bill after it passes. So, you jam the healthcare bill through and you have an instant movement to repeal it across the country.

LARSON: Senator, we’ve had a few people now saying in the aftermath of this election, “Well, the Tea Party didn’t win that much outright,” and in fact there are some people saying—now I’m a fan of the Tea Party, I’ll admit my partisanship—but there are some people saying that the Tea Party was to blame for some of the losses. They cite Sharron Angle and Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell and say, “There are examples where Tea Party-backed candidates made it past the primary and didn’t make it past the general.” What’s your thought on that?

ALEXANDER: Well, I think that’s completely wrong. I think the Tea Party needs a big pat on the back for directing all the ferment across the country on jobs, debt, and Washington takeovers into the Republican primaries and into the voting booth yesterday. I mean, they helped elect Dan Coats and they helped elect Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk. They helped elect 13 to 16 new Republican senators who believe in private-sector jobs, less debt, and no Washington takeovers. So, there were some candidates who were favorites of the Tea Party who didn’t win the election, but the Tea Party votes and the votes of independents as well as Republicans—who are fired up this year—are what produced this huge Republican sweep yesterday and so we should thank them for that.

If it had gone into a third party movement, it would have been like 1992 and Republicans lost the presidency. ...

LARSON: Now, Senator, the president is saying his policies are working … and he rejects the idea that the American public thinks his policies are wrong. I don’t agree with him and I don’t imagine you do either, but it doesn’t sound like he was listening.

ALEXANDER: No, it doesn’t and that’s really disappointing. This is an opportunity for him to say, “OK, I tried some things I thought would work and the American people don’t want that. So, we’re going to make some adjustments. I recognize that I’m the president but we have a congress and people want me to do things differently so let’s do things differently.” Now, he’s made some comments like that on nuclear power. He’s talked about that, that’s good. He’s actually been courageous in some of his statements on elementary and secondary education in terms of taking on the teachers’ unions in terms of charter schools and teacher pay. But for him to act like the American people suddenly like the healthcare bill, which is even worse than Republicans predicted it would be, or like the financial regulation bill or like the focus on government jobs instead of private sector jobs just means that he should have not had this press conference today. He should have listened for a while and then come back out and said, “Look, I’ve heard you and I’ll make an adjustment.” That’s what good leaders do.

LARSON: It sounds like what he’s really saying is, “It’s your fault.” Because Senator, he said, “Well, it might have been that we were pushing in opposite directions.” So, from the way he’s cast this, he’s pushing the car out of the ditch, your pushing against him. The day after this election, the president is already ready to blame you. I guess he’s quit blaming President Bush for a while, but he’s happy to keep blaming you, Senator.

ALEXANDER: Well, that’s really unfortunate. I mean, a year ago, we said to him at the healthcare summit, “Mr. President, if you pass this healthcare law, millions of people are going to lose the insurance that they now have and they’re about to now. The federal debt’s going to go up and it’s already beginning to as a result of the health care law. You’re going to dump big new costs and taxes on states--now the governors see all that. And premiums are going to go up for people who buy private insurance, and they already have. So, we were right about that. He was wrong about it. And good leaders stick to their guns when they’re right and make changes when they’re wrong. And after a resounding vote like this, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the president to say, “Well, on some things I needed to listen a little better, so I’ll do that.