Newsmaker: Dennis Hastert
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JIM LEHRER: And now, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, welcome.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Good evening.
JIM LEHRER: First, what did you think of the job Misters Bush and Gore did last night?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think certainly President-elect Bush laid out his agenda, asked for people to come together, bring a healing process to this country and the political nature of this election. I think certainly Vice President Gore was very gracious in his concession, and that was well taken. It’s our job now to move forward on those promises.
JIM LEHRER: Has there been some serious harm done to the country and its government as a result of this post-election process?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I really don’t think so. I think the American people are ready for us to come together to go to work to get the goods things done that we can actually produce in this Congress with the leadership of a President, and I think this country has been tested, but it’s come off this test very well. We pride ourselves on law. We say we’re a nation based on the Constitution, and the Constitution prevailed. And we need to come together and move forward from this point on.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe Vice President Gore was wrong to have contested the results in Florida?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I mean that’s one of the rights that people have. I think it was somewhat painful, especially for those of us on the Republican side of the aisle, to see this process go on. But that was certainly within his right to do that, and under the laws and the Constitution of this country. And finally we came to a solution.
JIM LEHRER: But as one of the leaders of the Republican Party and a long-time member of the political world, you have no problems with the fact that he did it, is that right?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think that was within his rights to do that. And if I think we were…had some grievance that we have as Republicans, we’d have the right to do the same.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with those who say this election, both in terms of the President, as well as the Senate races and the House of Representatives, should be seen as a tie, that the government of the United States, as we speak, is split right down the middle?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, actually, it’s not a tie. We have the same majority in the House of Representatives that we did before this election. So we did work, and we have a majority it’s a thin majority. The Senate is still controlled by a Republican majority, at least it will be after January 20, and we have a Republican President. But I think the voting was extremely close in this country. I think what the American people are saying, “hey, let’s get something done. There’s good ideas on the Republican side. There are some good ideas on the Democratic side. Let’s not do all this political snarling back and forth. Let’s do something the American people want.” I think they want better education for their kids. I think they want some tax relief. I think we’re seeing at the time, at the end of this administration, that it looks like the economy’s becoming a little soft. Let’s do the fixes and taxes that will help this economy be strong again. And, you know, they want us to pay down the debt. Last year we paid down $350 billion worth of debt. This year we’re going to pay down another $250 billion of debt. I think that’s what the American people want.
JIM LEHRER: Are you going to run the House of Representatives any differently because of the closeness of the presidential race and the thinning of the margins in both the Senate and the House?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think clearly the American people want to see some bipartisan work. And it’s going to happen in the Senate just because of the nature of the closeness of the Senate. But I think… I’ve met with Dick Gephardt, who’s the minority leader in the House, talked to Dave Bonior, who is the minority whip in the House. I’ve talked to certainly the minority leader in the Senate. And I think there are some things we can do together. And what we can do together I think is an advantage. There’s also things that are going to be partisan, and we should do that because that’s things that we’ve promised our constituencies that we would do.
JIM LEHRER: But President-elect Bush has called repeatedly and again last night for something new in Washington, a new atmosphere.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think what’s going to happen Monday when President-elect Bush comes to Washington and meets with the Democrat leadership, he’s going to meet with the Republican leadership and lay out an agenda, and do exactly what he’s tried to do and has done in Texas, and that’s bring… that’s going to bring the sides, the different sides together so in a we can get things done. And I repeat, I’ve said it several times, the American people want to see achievements, they want to see us do things here in this Congress and do it together. It’s good for all Americans.
JIM LEHRER: Is it wrong to suggest that, as Senator Daschle said, that… earlier today in a news conference– we just ran a clip of it– that if President Bush wants to govern, he must govern from the middle, he has no option?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I disagree with that. First of all, your ideas come from where your philosophical base is. But I think we pull people together. There are things that we can agree on in on education. There’s things that we can agree on on taxation and tax relief for the American people. I think they’re saying that we can agree on in making our military strong and safe and give our young men and women who serve this country the ability to have the wherewithal to take care of their families. We can agree on those things, and I think those types of things we need to pull together and get things done. And education, our… the future of our children, there are commonalties there that we can pull together and achieve, so that we ought to do that.
JIM LEHRER: But nobody should think that there’s going to be a kind of shared government; it’s going to be a Republican-controlled White House, a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, is that correct?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, the Senate’s very close, as you know.
JIM LEHRER: Sure, sure.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: And there’s going to be some shared power there. But we’re going to work across the aisle and do the best we can on a bipartisan basis. But there are some issues, as you well know, that are partisan issues, and we’ll fight because they’re based on philosophies. That’s one of the great things about this country. We have Republicans that believe in a philosophy, you have Democrats who believe in a philosophy, and those tough debates are done here in the House, on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate. That’s how we come to consensus.
JIM LEHRER: But let me get back to what I asked before. So should the American people expect something different? Every poll in the world has said– you said it yourself a couple of times– the American people are sick of what’s been going on in Washington. Rightly or wrongly, they are. Is there going to be a new world or is it just going to be kind of around the edges, is there going to be a major new world?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: I think President-elect Bush is committed to bringing Democrats and Republicans together, starting with the leadership on Monday, to try to get something done. That’s what he’s talked about for the last year and a half. That’s what he’s been able to demonstrate in Texas during his term as governor there, and we’re looking forward to it.
JIM LEHRER: What about the… your conservative colleagues in the House, in the Republican Party, are they going to be eager to make deals with Democrats in the middle?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think they’re going to be eager to talk about their principles and what they believe in, and to the extent, in areas like education, that they can be heard, they’re going to be eager to do that. But in the end, we’re going to find where we can work on consensus, and we can pass legislation and in a very close House and a Senate, those ideas are going to have to be some give-and-take. And we’ll get these things done.
JIM LEHRER: Give and take in a new way or just kind of… is it just going to be more of give and take… explain what is going to be different, if anything.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Look it, we have to reach across the aisle to get people to bring together consensus. We plan to do that. There are people that are willing to work on education, to look at new ideas, to think outside the traditional box. And we can meld those ideas with ideas that we have from the right and the center and come up with good proposals that are going to make our education, our kids’ life better. And that’s going to take some reaching across to those people who are interested in doing it and getting it done. Now, there may be fringes on both sides that don’t want to do this. That may be. That’s certainly their right to be able to abstain.
JIM LEHRER: There are some, as you know, Mr. Speaker, who’ve said, “wait a minute, we’ve got this closeness in the House and Senate and we’ve had this close election which reflects a division in the country, a division in the courts, wherever there can be division, there are division and that this is a prescription for chaos, not cooperation. What would you say to them?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, you know, we have to trust in the best, I think so — you talk about those who are conservative and are conservative… are concerned about not getting their agenda in. I think patience will prove well for them, that we will get their agenda debated and some of it passed. There are others that are concerned about health care, that there’s ways that we can bring people together to find good results for the American people. You know chaos is in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes the making of laws seems very chaotic. But we’ll have good things come out of this, I’m sure, and I think George W. Bush is ready to provide that leadership to make those things happen.
JIM LEHRER: Has it been your experience thus far, since this post-election period began, that the Democratic leadership feels the same way?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, we’ve had some good conversations with the Democrat leaders and not necessarily on substance, but basically on how we’re going to start to operate and work together. And hopefully, that will continue.
JIM LEHRER: But operate, here again, in a new way, in a way that you have not operated up till now?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, you know, this whole election, just because it was as close as it was, has been very contentious. The fight for the House leadership has been something the Democrats have carried on for almost two years. We’re ready to put that behind us, and I hope the Democrats will, too, and let’s start anew.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: My pleasure. Nice to be with you, sir.