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Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma has attended every Republican convention since 1976. But this year, he’ll be watching from a distance. Cole joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the “hopeful” content he has observed from the RNC so far, why he thinks former Vice President Joe Biden has “abandoned” his moderate political beliefs, ongoing racial protests in the U.S. and the outlook for more pandemic aid.
U.S. Representative Tom Cole has attended every Republican Convention since 1976. But, this year, he is in his home state of Oklahoma. He's watching this RNC, like the rest of us, from a distance.
And he joins us now from Oklahoma City.
Congressman Cole, thank you very much for talking with us.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.:
We appreciate it.
You are known as one of those members of Congress who personifies civility. You have got friends on both sides of the political aisle.
Rep. Tom Cole:
You're very kind. Thank you.
Both sides of the aisle.
You have got — as I say, you're known as somebody who can work with Democrats and Republicans, even people you disagree with.
That civility, do you recognize it in this convention?
You know, I do, actually. There's a lot of hopeful elements in this particular convention.
I was very impressed the opening night the speeches by Herschel Walker, by Tim Scott, by Nikki Haley. I like the emphasis on individual American stories.
And, frankly, I like the emphasis on presidential acts that I think often get lost in the day-to-day coverage, things like freeing hostages abroad, where I think the president has a good record. So, I think it's upbeat, optimistic.
Now, the make-or-break will be tonight and tomorrow night. But I expect a really good speech from my old friend Mike Pence. I served with him for 10 years. He's a very — he's a tremendous human being, I think, and he's a great communicator. He was our conference chairman, which was his job.
And I think Kellyanne Conway, because she's leaving — she's good on her own, but this will be a very emotional night for a lot of people that appreciate her over the years, have worked with her.
But it'll be the president tomorrow night that makes the final argument, so to speak. And that will determine how the convention is regarded overall. But it's been two pretty good night so far.
Well, you're right. There are some uplifting moments, but there have also been some pretty, shall we say, apocalyptic moments.
We were just listening to our analysts describe the descriptions we have heard, from everybody from the president's children, to a number of others who've been asked to speak at this convention.
Is that the right approach, do you think, for the Republican Party to take going into this — going into this election, to say, the other guy is going to lead us down the road to ruin and destruction, and you're looking at literally an existential choice here?
Well, I think you have to remember, this is an argument being made after the Democratic argument of last week, which, frankly, I found was basically a convention about why we don't like Donald Trump.
There wasn't much else in there. There wasn't any hopeful vision about the future.
And so I think part of this is actually defining an opponent who's been able to stay out of the media, out of the normal political mix because of the COVID crisis that we're in right now. And so I would have expected that.
And, again, there's always — you're supposed to define yourself and offer a positive vision, but anybody that has ever been around a convention knows there's always going to be some punches thrown at the other guys. I think we saw that last week in spades, quite frankly, at the Democratic Convention.
I'm not surprised the Republicans are going to swing back.
Well, you have served in Congress. You have overlapped with Joe Biden over the years. Both of you served at the same time.
Is the description of him repeatedly as a socialist, somebody who is in favor of a government-run health insurance plan, which he is not, somebody who's in favor of defunding police, which he says he is not — I mean, how do you square that with the reality of what Joe Biden says, what he believes?
Well, first of all, I like Joe Biden as a person.
Look, I think he's a decent person. I have worked with him on Violence Against Women, worked with him on the Cancer Moonshot. So, he's certainly somebody that I can work with.
But I also think he's abandoned a lot of principles that he's held. Look, he's outsourced his climate policy to AOC. He was a 40-year defender of the Hyde Amendment. That's now gone.
His platform, basically, I think, was done in partnership with Senator Sanders. Again, these are choices he's made. So, he's moved considerably to the left over the course of the campaign.
And I think that's fair game for the Republicans to point that out. This is not going to be the Joe Biden of the 1970s or '80s, or '90s, who was a deal-making United States senator. This is somebody that I think has surrendered to his left wing, and I think is likely to govern that way.
We are seeing — and we have heard this conversation tonight — a lot going on in the country right now, and, just this week, more racial unrest in the wake of a police shooting in the back of a black man in Wisconsin.
What should the president's approach be? I mean, the sense is, we heard a little bit from the first lady last night, but we have not heard from the president words that have, I think it's fair to say, calmed the waters of what's happened over the last few months.
Well, I appreciated very much with what — what the first lady had to say last night.
Look, what happened to George Floyd should never happen in the United States. And it's not an isolated or the only incident. So, I think you have to recognize that. You have to recognize the pain and the legitimacy of peaceful protests.
But you also have to recognize when riots take place, destruction of property, quite often, usually, frankly, of innocent people. It's not always at government symbols. And even that's not acceptable.
So, look, I think the president has to express both some understanding, but also a determination that there will be — the law will be enforced. People's property and people's persons will be protected. Where anybody has acted inappropriately, whether it's a public official, that is, a law enforcement official, or somebody else, they're going to be held accountable.
So, I think that's the appropriate balance to strike. But there is a balance here. And I don't think we can — the government can turn a blind eye when police stations are burned down, when federal property is routinely attacked.
There has to be a sense that there's going to be order, so that peaceful protest and peaceful change and reform can indeed happen.
Two other quick things I want to ask you about, Congressman Cole.
One is the economy. The president, we're hearing a lot at the convention about what a terrific job the president has done leading the economy. We know the pandemic, though, has taken a huge hit on people's jobs. Millions of Americans are out of work. Many millions will never get those jobs back.
The stock market's doing very well. How are your constituents doing? And how confident are you about the economy right now?
Well, my constituents, frankly, we're a little bit more blessed in Oklahoma. We're about, I think, seventh lowest in terms of infections and deaths per capita.
We have never fully shut down. Our unemployment rate last month was about 6.6, vs. about 11 nationally. And that's with energy industry crippled for things, honestly, beyond COVID-19, and with aviation, which is our second largest industry, being down. So, again, we have been fortunate compared to some parts of the country.
I think the president and, honestly, I think Congress on both sides of the aisle did a pretty good job in responding in the first four supplementals.
I have been disappointed we haven't been able to get to a fifth. I think the president's been much more willing to bargain, honestly, than the Democrats. But I still think we need some additional legislation.
We certainly have a lot of people that are suffering through no fault of their own, that have been put out of work or out of business because of actions the government has taken to try and protect the public health for the entire population. People like that need help. They need some help now.
The president, again, said, look, I will continue the $600 a week while we're negotiating. I think it should be $200, and then he moved to $400. Democrats wouldn't either keep the $600 or settle on some figure in the middle.
So, we need to get back to bargaining. And I think we can.
And that would be good for the economy, and I think good for the institutions of government for people to see us working together.
Well, we did see the Democrats offer to come from $3 trillion down to $2 trillion.
But we will see what happens.
Well, if you look at the offer, that's not exactly what they did.
And they still left all the tax cuts in there. So, be happy to deal with them when they want to deal.
All right, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, we thank you.
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