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2011-01-03

Incoming GOP House Chairs Plan to Investigate Climate Scientists, Probe Muslim "Radicalization," Repeal Healthcare Reform

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When the 112th Congress is sworn in on Wednesday, Republicans will hold a newfound edge in the House after four years in the minority. That means a field of Republican Congress members poised to helm the 23 House committees and their more than 100 subcommittees. Republicans have already promised a sweeping agenda, including investigating climate scientists, investigating "radicalization" in the Muslim community, and repealing President Obama’s healthcare law. We speak with Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: When the 112th Congress is sworn in Wednesday, Republicans will hold a newfound edge in the House after four years in the minority. That means a field of Republican Congress members poised to helm the 23 House committees and their over 100 subcommittees. Republicans have already promised a sweeping agenda, including investigating climate scientists, disbanding the entire Congressional panel on global warming, investigating so-called "radicalization" in the Muslim community, and repealing President Obama’s healthcare law.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, the incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Congressmember Fred Upton of Michigan, vowed to fight the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other big industrial sites.

REP. FRED UPTON: We are not going to let this administration regulate what they have been unable to legislate. We’re going to have early — early hearings on this. We’re going to see exactly what they — what their analysis is on its impact on jobs. There’s also something called the Congressional Review Act, that within 60 days of rules being published, Congress can take this up and — with an up-or-down vote. It is filibuster-proof in the Senate. It has been used before.

CHRIS WALLACE: But it can be vetoed by the President.

REP. FRED UPTON: It can be vetoed by the President, but already we’ve seen a number of powerful Democrats indicate that they have real, real qualms about what the EPA is intending to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, the incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee, Congressmember Darrell Issa of the House Oversight Committee, called the Obama administration "one of the most corrupt administrations" in U.S. history.

REP. DARRELL ISSA: In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out a trillion dollars in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, a trillion dollars nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in healthcare and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Darrell Issa. To talk about what to expect from Republicans in the new Congress, we’re joined from Washington, D.C. by Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post.

Ryan, thanks for joining us by Democracy Now! video stream. Why don’t you begin by laying out who the Republican leadership is in this new Congress that begins on Wednesday?

RYAN GRIM: Sure. Well, two of the ones that you’re going to hear the most from over the next two years are the two that you just mentioned. You’ve got Fred Upton, who’s going to be running the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad authority, not only over the EPA, environment, energy, but also over healthcare. So, this week they’re already talking about having a healthcare reform repeal vote, and you’re going to see Fred Upton leading that. Now, in order to get the chairmanship of that committee, he had to push himself pretty far to the right, because he’s what qualifies for a moderate in this House Republican Conference. So he’s going to be pressured this entire two years to push as far to the right as he can.

And the other one you’re going to hear a lot from is Darrell Issa. Now, Issa is a different kind of partisan Republican than most of the other ones, and he’s been thinking very deeply about how he’s going to engage in oversight over these next two years. And so, you’re going to — it’s going to be very hard to pigeonhole him as a pure partisan, because he’s going to go after a lot of issues where there will be support on both sides. For example, this morning there was a report that he’s going to focus closely on corruption in Afghanistan. You know, that’s something that everybody can agree ought to be looked at. So he’s going to look at things that have broad popular support to be investigated, but also things that will be able to make the Obama administration look bad. So when he finds that sweet spot, that’s really where he’s going to press ahead.

Now, on the Appropriations Committee, you’ve got this guy Hal Rogers who’s going to be running the show. And Hal Rogers, he kind of personifies the entire House Republican problem that they have. He’s been in there for 30 years. He’s known as the, quote, "prince of pork." And he’s somebody that is going to be very tough — it’s going to be very tough for him to fit in this hole that the Tea Party has dug for the Republicans and become this spendthrift. Now, the Tea Party is demanding $100 billion — that’s with a "B," $100 billion —- in cuts for this fiscal year. Now, by March, when they have to put this budget forward, we’ll already be halfway through the fiscal year. That means they have to cut $100 billion out of roughly $300 billion. So you’d have to cut discretionary spending by a full third just to satisfy the Tea Party, because discretionary domestic spending is really only about $550—$600 billion a year. So that’s going to be an incredible problem for Boehner and for the Republicans to hold this coalition together, when they’ve set such unrealistic expectations.

AMY GOODMAN: Darrell Issa has said he is going to investigate, what — conduct some 500 investigations over the next year?

RYAN GRIM: Well, it’ll be interesting to see how he does that. The knock on Darrell Issa has always been that he begins an investigation, sends out a letter or two, then sends out a press release, he gets a couple stories written about it, and then he moves on to the next thing. That’s something that is extremely effective in the minority, and he did it very well over the last two years. You can just go back through the number of stories that he was able to generate from just saying that he was launching an investigation. And so, it’s easy to launch an investigation. All that requires is, you know, calling a press conference or putting out a press release saying, "I’m going to look into this." Now, actually doing the investigation takes a lot of time. So, the question of what he actually follows through on is something that we’ll be watching. Five hundred — it just doesn’t seem like he would have the manpower for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, the incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, appeared on Fox News to discuss his vow to hold hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims. This is what he said.

REP. PETER KING: Fact is, no one had a closer relationship with the Muslim community than I did before September 11th. Since then, I’ve been disappointed over the number of their leaders who do not cooperate with law enforcement. There are actual cases in this country where the imams direct their members not to cooperate with law enforcement on very serious investigations. And when you talk to law enforcement people around the country, including this area here, they will say they do not get the level of support that we need. Now, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are good people. For whatever reason, people in their leadership are not cooperative. And I believe it’s important to have this investigation on radicalization of the Muslim community. We’ve seen what happened in England. We know that al-Qaeda is trying to recruit people over here, such as they did with the subway bombing in New York last year, the attempted subway bombing, Times Square bombing. These are all people living legally in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Peter King. Ryan Grim?

RYAN GRIM: Well, you know, Amy, as a New Yorker, you know Pete King extremely well, I’m sure. He’s one of the most radical Republicans in the House when it comes to, you know, his views on Muslims and the war on terror. And that’s really saying something, although we don’t yet know where some of these 80-plus Republicans stand who are now in the freshman class. We’re going to — I’m sure we’re going to find a lot of interesting characters over the next two years. But having him as the head of this committee really does signal just a monumental shift to the right on Homeland Security policy and on the relationship to Muslims in America. It’s just kind of a staggering thing to watch.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to John Shimkus of Illinois. He’s the new chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. In a March 2009 hearing, Shimkus dismissed the existence of global warming by citing biblical scripture that says God would not allow the earth to be destroyed.

REP. JOHN SHIMKUS: So I want to start with Genesis 8, verse 21 and 22. "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for His creation.

The second verse comes from Matthew 24. "And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. And I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position, but I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

Today we have about 388 parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of the dinosaurs, where we had most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Illinois Republican Congress member John Shimkus, the new chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. Ryan Grim?

RYAN GRIM: Yeah, and what’s really remarkable about that clip that you just played is that it wasn’t something that was, you know, surreptitiously recorded at some obscure Christian conference where he thought he was speaking just to the faithful. That comes from a congressional hearing, where you have scientists that come before the panel in order to talk about the dangers of climate change. And that’s his response. And that’s one of this scariest things about the takeover of this committee, is because there isn’t a lot of time to reverse climate change. As he said, the carbon concentration is approaching 400 parts per million. It’s probably gone beyond, according to most scientists, the threshold by which there start being these feedback mechanisms that just send climate change over a cliff. So, it’s going to be extremely hard to get carbon emissions to start reversing when you have people who are just quoting the Bible as their scientific policy.

Now, Shimkus and Upton are going to be going after the EPA, which is the last chance that the U.S. has to turn around carbon emissions, at least at this point. And Shimkus almost became the committee chairman. He gave quite a run against Upton to get that chair. And that’s one of the things that drove Upton so far to the right. Now, I followed that race pretty closely, and it was always a long shot, but his goal was to raise his profile, which he did, and to put himself as the next in line behind Upton, when he moves on, because House Republicans have term limits where you can only serve three terms as chairman. So, we could see him as chairman of the committee overseeing the energy industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, I want to break, and then we’re going to come back, and I want to ask you about Congressman Spencer Bachus of Alabama to head the House Financial Services Committee, the congressman who said the view in Washington is that banks should be regulated, "my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks." We’ll come to him in a minute. We’re talking to Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post. Back with him in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the incoming Congress. The House of Representatives turns Republican on Wednesday. Ryan Grim is the senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post. At least, they will be in the majority. And we’re talking about some of the leaders. Let’s go to Congressmember Spencer Bachus of Alabama, who becomes the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Ryan.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And as you said before the break, he said in an interview with a local paper a week or two ago that, you know, some people say the job of Washington is to regulate the banks, I think it’s their — the job is to serve the banks. And he was piled on, appropriately so, for saying that. You know, when he walked it back, he said, "Well, what I meant was they should be serving community banks, and they should be writing regulations such that the banks can serve their customers," etc. But saying that really does expose the differences between the parties, such as they still exist.

And what’s crazy is that Spencer Bachus is actually another one of the Republicans in this conference who can be considered kind of a moderate one. During the bailout debate, he was one of those who was negotiating with Democrats and with the Bush administration and trying to find some type of compromise. And the House Republican leadership, which, if you recall, was mostly opposed to the bailout, except for, you know, Boehner and the leadership ultimately got behind it. But there was a — there were a collection of folks who were trying to pull the House Republicans out of that bailout. They almost physically dragged Bachus out of the room, out of the negotiations, and so he ended up not being ultimately part of it. Now, you know, you could say, good for those House Republicans at the time who were opposing the bailout, but it shows you that Bachus is another one who’s going to be kept on an extremely tight leash by the far right of this Republican conference.

And, you know, the question that the House is able to face is, how much funding are you going to give to the regulators in order to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill? And they’ve already indicated that they’re going to make the funding as restrictive as possible. And if you can’t hire more folks, then you can’t implement these regulations. And the SEC and the other regulators are already saying that if they don’t get more money and more staff, then they simply can’t put these new rules into effect, which is the purpose, you know, behind restricting the money.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Congress member who is going to be head of Oversight, known as the "prince of pork." What did ABC News describe his neighborhood as?

RYAN GRIM: Oh, what did they call that?

AMY GOODMAN: Rogers brought so much federal —

RYAN GRIM: Oh, "Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood," that’s what they called that, because, you know, it was a town of a couple thousand, and, you know, he just made it rain all over his home town. They renamed one highway, that was called the Daniel Boone Highway, they renamed it the Hal Rogers Highway. You know, he is one of those Republicans who, in a bipartisan way, just saw the budget as a trough to just pull as much pork back to their home state as possible. And he was extremely good at it. And now the table has kind of turned on him, as even people in Kentucky, the people who were the recipients of his largesse, are turning on him, and "pork" has become a dirty word, even for the people that dine on it back at home. So he’s going to have a real adjustment period, as — so he runs the Appropriations Committee.

And what’s interesting is that Boehner has actually booted them out of this extremely valuable real estate that they had. They had this huge spread and a giant balcony just off the House floor. Boehner saw that the Appropriations Committee was vulnerable, and he wanted that office space. So they’re getting bumped to another part of the Capitol. It’s not clear where yet, probably somewhere in the visitors’ center, if I had to guess. And, you know, the final irony is that Boehner said that he had to move the Appropriations Committee because he wanted to install a women’s bathroom near the House floor. You know, nobody that is involved with this fight thinks that it had anything to do with creating a women’s bathroom, but it was a land grab. But that shows you where the Appropriations Committee stands, in terms of respect in the House Republican committee. You no longer want to be on the committee that used to be the one that everybody pined to be the leader of.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lamar Smith of Texas to head Judiciary?

RYAN GRIM: Right. I mean, he has already hinted that Obama has done some things that may be impeachable. There are some very reasonable people that think that if Obama does win reelection and House Republicans stay in the majority, that you’ll see him impeached at some point during his eight years. Or at least you’re going to probably see some articles of impeachment. This is — you know, the fact that they’ve already raised this as a possibility is something that the administration is watching closely.

On broader policy, Smith is extremely hawkish on immigration policy. And so, you’re going to see a lot of hearings and laws coming out of this panel aimed at undocumented workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon of California was opposed to the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

RYAN GRIM: Right. And he’s another one of these old-school Republicans who’s going to have trouble fitting into this new Tea Party suit, because there is all of this talk about cutting spending going on, but he has already said, "Look, what we need to do is increase spending on defense." So, you know, it’s like all of these old-school Republicans are waking up in this new world, and it’s going to be very hard for them to deal with this, because once you start trying to cut $100 billion out of a $300 billion half-year discretionary budget, you’re going to see deep, deep cuts to social services. And so, people are going to then start wondering, well, why isn’t the military-industrial complex taking any of this, as well? So, defense spending is going to be on the chopping block, and he is not going to want to touch that. So that’s going to be another flashpoint where the Tea Party base is going to clash with the old guard.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you, finally, Ryan, describe what the first day, Wednesday, will be like in the meeting that they will have, along with the reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House?

RYAN GRIM: Right. They say they’re going to do that as frequently as possible. They’re going to start reading the Constitution. And, you know, there are some strange parts of that Constitution. I’m not sure if they’re going to read the parts that have rightly been scratched out so far or what. But they’re already saying that the first week that they’re in, they’re going to have a vote — it’ll be symbolic, because it won’t pass the Senate, but they’re going to have a vote to repeal the healthcare bill. So, that’ll show how far we’ve come.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ryan Grim, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

RYAN GRIM: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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