Senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post.
co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The GOP takeover of the US House of Representatives means a new lineup of committee chairs, who have significant influence over the laws that get passed. The new chairs are expected to have a crucial impact on legislation relating to the budget and spending, defense, foreign policy, healthcare, energy and immigration reform. We look at how the GOP plans to wield power in Congress with Huffington Post correspondent Ryan Grim and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We also want to take a look at what a Republican-controlled House will actually look like and how the GOP plans to wield power in Congress. A major change will come from the fact that the takeover means a new lineup of committee chairs, who have significant influence over the laws that get passed. The new chairs are expected to have a crucial impact on legislation relating to the budget and spending, defense, foreign policy, healthcare, energy and immigration.
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the progressive co-chair Raúl Grijalva, speaking to us, by the way, from Tucson, we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent of Huffington Post_. His 777678.html">article is called "How the GOP Plans to Run the House." He writes that by shifting power away from the Speaker and empowering committee chairs and rank-and-file members, quote, "GOP leadership hopes to avert an insurrection from its extreme wing."
Ryan Grim, welcome to Democracy Now! Yes, how will this work? You have the tea party activists. You have the Republican Party, tea party activists a part of the party. Talk about the plans.
RYAN GRIM: Well, you’re going to have more than a hundred freshmen in this Republican Congress. And in the history of the House of Representatives, that has never happened before. The closest you could get is when there were seventy-seven new Republicans in the — elected in 1938 in reaction to FDR cutting spending. But Republicans didn’t take over the House, so this is the first time that a House majority has had one of every three of their members be a freshman. That’s going to be extremely difficult for House Republican leadership to corral.
Now, what they have to their benefit is that they don’t actually have to do much governing. And they don’t plan on doing much governing. You know, what they’re going to do is use Congress as a way to make debating points, and along the way, they’re going to take potshots, as Congressman Grijalva was talking about, at healthcare reform and a few other things, and occasionally, you know, look for places where maybe Obama might be willing to do a Clinton-type welfare reform-type thing. So, a new Speaker Boehner doesn’t really need to concentrate all of the power in his own hands, because he doesn’t need to get a whole lot done, so he can devolve it, which he hopes will diffuse the insurrection coming from his kind of tea party caucus base.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Ryan, what about all of the tea party folks who are there bent on repealing healthcare reform? And how will Boehner and the Republican leadership handle that issue? And who will be shepherding any attempts at healthcare legislation through the House?
RYAN GRIM: The way they’re going to try to do that — and Jim DeMint will be leading it in the Senate. The way they’re going to try to do it is just to simply not fund the healthcare programs that they don’t like. And they’ve already been quite open about that. They know that they can’t repeal it, because, A, it won’t get through — A, it won’t get through the Senate, and B, Obama would veto it. But the appropriation process begins in the House. And what they’ll try to do is just simply not begin that process. That will lead to some very tense showdowns. You know, and that’s one of the most likely places where you would see a government shutdown. You know, will Obama sign a spending bill that defunds his own healthcare bill? If he doesn’t sign it, you’re looking at a government shutdown; if he does sign it, then significant parts of healthcare reform are, for the time being, effectively repealed. What the Republicans would say is the federal government can use no money to implement these certain policies. That means they can’t — you know, they can’t send an email, they can’t print the documents, they can’t do anything to implement the law. And as long as they don’t appropriate the funds, they can’t do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, the Washington Post wrote yesterday that Congress member Michele Bachmann’s announcement that she’ll seek a House leadership post broadcast loud and clear. She hopes to secure a prominent place for the emboldened tea party movement in Congress, saying that if she — her bid to be the next GOP Conference leader, the number four leadership spot, highlights the question of how incoming House members and senators who prevailed Tuesday under the tea party banner will make the transition from outside the Republican Party to inside, from criticizing policy to making it, from opposing the government to being a part of it.
RYAN GRIM: Right. From talking with Republicans, though, I don’t actually think that she is making a serious bid. She has a huge national brand. You know, she’s basically the leader of the grassroots tea party, such as it is. But she doesn’t really benefit from being part of House Republican leadership. And what it is, I looked through her federal election filing to see how much money she had given to other Republicans who were running this year, and it wasn’t much at all. She has raised almost $12 million this last cycle, just an astounding number. She gave away about $40,000 of that to other House Republicans who were running for office. If she was seriously trying to cultivate enough members of the Republican Conference, you know, that she could elevate herself into leadership, she would have given a lot more money than that. She still had two-and-a-half million dollars cash on hand. So I think she’s just kind of putting her name out there as just a little flirtation with it to get herself some more national attention, but I don’t think she’s going to actually make a bid for it. However, just the fact that she’s doing that does create headaches for people like Boehner and Cantor and the Republican establishment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Congressman Raúl Grijalva, bring you back into the discussion here, that it wasn’t too long ago that you were a freshman congressman. And could you talk about what the role of the senior leaders in Congress are as freshmen come in? And also, the efforts that very often congressmen who come in as radicals, within a few years, get sucked up into the system by the lobbyists and everyone else and turn out not to maintain their principles, whether it’s from the left or from the right, could you talk about that whole process?
REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah ,the senior members, as I recall very well, played an integrating role. And I came in when we were in the minority. And so, for me, the integrating role, by that I mean this is the way the system works, this is how you get things done. But like a said, we came in under the minority when I was a freshman, and the attention given to us both by our party and by the House, in general, was not that much. We were the minority party, didn’t have any power, didn’t have the chairmanships of anything. And I think — so that was a different experience for me.
Coming in, as the Republicans are, the hundred freshmen, in a position of power with a huge margin, is a different — is going to be different. And I think the Republican leadership is going to suffer somewhat from the same thing that our majority suffered from: expectations, and not being able to fulfill those expectations. And if they go forward with some of the more extreme agenda items, not only of the tea party, and try to make that a legislative run, it’s going to start to backfire on them. And, you know, they’re going to have to walk a very thin line between keeping that outside anger, that they helped generate for the last two years, somehow contained while they try to do the business of Congress. I think it’s going to be an interesting dance and a very difficult dance of the leadership, because those freshmen that are coming in, some that won, come in with some very harsh, strong, extreme right-wing positions that you’re not going to silence, and it’s going to be very hard for them to satisfy or try to modify.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, can you tell us very briefly about who John Boehner is? He actually was a Democrat, right? Before Reagan, he was a Kennedy Catholic, very proud to vote for Kennedy, his whole family, one of — how many kids? Ten kids?
RYAN GRIM: A lot of — a lot of kids. You know, he’s a very affable, friendly kind of Chamber of Commerce old-school Republican. And he’s been in Washington a very long time. You know, he knows how it works. And he’s very unusual in the sense that he was actually in Republican leadership sort of a generation ago, and he was kicked out. A lot of people, when that happens, then they fade away, you know, they head to K Street, they move on. But he didn’t. He then became a committee ranking member, then a committee chairman, and he kind of did his work, and he rose back up the ladder to where he is now.
So, people that I talked to that have known him for a long time think that he is actually very prepared for this because of the ups and downs that he’s had over his career, and they say that he’s been thinking for two decades about how he has wanted to run the House, if he ever got to become Speaker. And key to that is he wants to open up the process, he wants to allow amendments, he wants to allow committees to work. And he can kind of do that because, you know, the responsibility for running the country basically is still the Democrats’. You know, you still have a Democratic White House, a Democratic Senate. So he can sort of have — he can sort of have his experiment with the House, and it’s not going to, you know, retard the Republicans’ effort to do the small things that they want to do, like, you know — not small in the sense of how grand in scope they are, but small — it’s easy just to defund healthcare; you just don’t do it. You know, that’s all there is to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, we want to thank you for being with us. Ryan Grim is senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post. As we continue with Congress member Grijalva and a new guest.