HOLDING ONTO CONGRESS
AUGUST 13, 1996
Margaret Warner talks with three GOP Representatives about Newt Gingrich, the public perception of House Republicans and what they foresee for this falls election campaign.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
The Complete NewsHour coverage of Election '96 is available here.
MARGARET WARNER: Winning the White House isn't the Republicans' only goal this year. Retaining control of the House and Senate which they won in 1994 is of equal importance. What will it take to do that? We get three perspectives. Congressman John Boehner of Ohio is chairman of the House Republican Conference. Joining him are two freshmen members, Phil English of Pennsylvania, and Linda Smith of Washington State. Welcome all of you. Congressman English, you've been hearing over and over again tonight that the Republican Congress has certainly an image problem with the voters, that Newt Gingrich has an image problem with the voters. Is that affecting your race for reelection?
REP. PHIL ENGLISH, Pennsylvania: Only a little, in the sense that my opponent and the Democratic Party generally has made it a doctrine to try to tie marginal Republicans to Newt Gingrich wherever possible. What I'm finding is that people are able to distinguish my record having fought to raise the minimum wage from that of Newt Gingrich.
MARGARET WARNER: But how are the Democrats actually trying to do this? Is it advertising, what?
REP. PHIL ENGLISH: It's been a combination of advertising. I'm been morphed into Newt in the past, and I can tell you the more people learn about my record, the more this sort of an issue really doesn't take off.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you finding in your race, Congresswoman, that voters are distinguishing between yourself and the Republican Congress, or is that not what you're looking for?
REP. LINDA SMITH, Washington: What I'm finding is when you translate the message what we stand for and what we did, just as I thought, they love what we stood for. They are excited about welfare reform and returning power to them and the states. So it's pretty exciting. I'm nearly 70 percent in the polls right now, and I'm in a Democrat district, so I'm not feeling much anger, but I think what we have to do is translate that message to people terms.
MARGARET WARNER: So Congressman Boehner, you, I hope--I know you have an overview of all of these House races. How is it breaking down? I mean, why is she not in trouble but he's got a very tight race that's being rated as a toss-up?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Ohio: Well, I think it's just a matter of where the left has decided to spend their money in this election cycle, and the labor bosses in Washington, their friends, the trial lawyers, have targeted tens--probably at this point 70 to 80 million dollars in on about 40 Republican districts. And Rep. English's district would be one of those were they've spent four hundred, five hundred, six hundred thousand dollars trying to distort and lie about our record. But we're finding very little evidence in those districts where there's been much impact, and that's because members in their districts have a persona, have an identity to themselves that you can throw a lot of bricks at people like, like Congressman English, but they know him.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying, in other words, the key to their success is having an image that's independent somewhat of Newt Gingrich and the Republicans?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: No. It's going home and talking about our agenda from a personal standpoint, and in doing the types of activities on the ground over the last year and a half that Phil has done.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Congressman English, you diverge from the Republican leadership on some issues. You voted, for instance, for the minimum wage early on when that wasn't, wasn't kosher with the leadership. Is that something you emphasize at home?
REP. PHIL ENGLISH: It's one of the things I emphasize, but at the same time there are some things that we've been doing as part of this Congress that really resonate in a district like mine, which is a Democratic district that went for Michael Dukakis in 1988. The fact that we have for the first time passed real welfare reform, something that is going to fundamentally change the welfare system for the first time since the 1960's, that we were able to get past health care reform, and I was able to write into our health care reform bill a very important amendment, these are the sorts of things that people really find this Congress has done, and they are learning we have a solid record of accomplishment.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, a lot of the polls again we've been hearing about tonight show, Congresswoman, that even delegates here when they're asked what they're most concerned about, No. 2 is really how does Washington work, and they don't still feel they like the way Washington works. You've been a great pusher for political reform. How do you think the Republican Congress addressing or not addressing that issue is affecting all of you now?
REP. LINDA SMITH: Well, I think first of all, it's been phenomenal. We walked in and took out the old wood, and that sounds pretty raw, but a third of the staff was there because somebody wanted one of their friends or relatives to have a job. And then we moved to getting rid of gifts and trips. And those are things that have built over 40 some years. And then we went after campaign reform. We didn't come to a resolve, but I don't believe if you put the Democrats back in, you had them for 42 years, they're going to; I think we will.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the voters understand that yet, though?
REP. LINDA SMITH: I think we have to translate it, and we have to get our message out that we have changed Congress as it used to be, and we've opened up the doors and blown out some of the cobwebs, and we have to tell 'em, do you know they used to go play golf instead of vote and let somebody else vote for them, and it's our message to give.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, how do you think this convention is designed--do you think it's designed as much to help you all retain control of the House as it is to help Dole and Kemp perhaps win?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think it's primarily designed to help Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in their presidential election. Anything that is done by the party to help the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate is going to bleed off and help other Republicans on the ticket all the way down the line. Now, but we think that we have an opportunity in this election to pick up seats in both the House and the Senate. And we believe that doing the jobs the three of us can do in our own districts. We can bring Republicans out to vote for us who also support Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you this convention in part has been designed and staged-managed, as we're seeing, to soften the ideological edge that many voters thought was either, was too harsh about the Republican Congress?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The perception of it being too harsh, that was driven, again, by the White House, the Washington labor bosses, and the trial lawyers and others on the left, when people know what we've done, we find 70 to 75 percent of the American people in agreement with our efforts to balance the budget, with our efforts to reform welfare, even what we've done to protect and to save Medicare, once they understand what we've done, they're very supportive.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Congressman, that the way this convention is being presented will help you with moderate and independent voters from your district, and if so, what is it?
REP. PHIL ENGLISH: Very much so, because what this convention has done, and I think particularly with the choice of Jack Kemp, we have not only energized the Republican base but we have made it clear this is a big tent party. We are very inclusive. We have the right message to reach out to moderate voters in a working class constituency like mine where people have been experiencing a decline in the real standard of living, where people are hit with trade issues, where economic growth just hasn't been very much in evidence in the last four years, these are issues which I think on the pocket book level potentially can bring people into the Republican fold and make it easier for an independent Republican like me to reach out to independent voters.
MARGARET WARNER: That's all the time we have. Thank you all very much.
MR. LEHRER: Yes. Thank you, Margaret