Rep. Raúl Rafael Labrador (R-ID) represents Idaho’s 1st congressional district. A libertarian and tea party favorite, he is frequently promoted as the next Speaker of the House. He appeared on “Meet the Press” this month and answered some questions:
Congressman, you didn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling. What did you want in return for supporting the hike?
I would have supported any plan that would put us on a path to balance the budget in 10 years. For example, Speaker Boehner’s original “dollar-for-dollar” plan would have been an acceptable approach. I was one of the original cosponsors of and supporters of “Cut, Cap, and Balance” in 2011, which was a terrific plan. It’s disappointing that President Obama – who ran for office in 2008 saying he was going to be a fiscally responsible President – has caused the largest deficits and the largest debt in American history. The debate over the debt ceiling should have forced Congress and the President to work together to reduce the debt. But the President and Harry Reid refuse to negotiate.
There is a feeling that Speaker Boehner is more powerful now because he led the charge, reluctantly, on shutting the government down. Now he’s more forceful in telling conservatives like you what the party should and should not do. How do you see it?
That seems to be the conventional wisdom, but I do not agree with your assessment. The fact that Congress just passed a “clean” debt ceiling is neither a victory for Boehner nor the Republican party; it’s actually a symptom of Congress’ refusal to make tough decisions. There was no sense in fighting on the debt ceiling when a number of Republicans were unwilling to stand together and fight. So, some of us believed it was better to move past this fight and regroup. Conservatives and many moderates feel that we need a bolder agenda. We can’t just be against President Obama’s agenda; we must stand for something. In addition, the number of vocal conservatives is actually growing in the House. To paraphrase Mark Twain,“Reports of the death of House conservatives have been greatly exaggerated.”
Is immigration reform dead for this year?
Yes. The President and Democratic leaders interfered with a good faith bipartisan effort to reach an agreement in the House on immigration reform. Democratic leadership did not want a conservative immigration bill to come out of the House because they wanted the Senate immigration bill to be the only vehicle for immigration reform. In addition, the President continues to assert, whether through words or actions, that he does not need Congress to act. Because of this, the vast majority of House Republicans do not trust that the President will enforce the parts of any immigration reform that he does not like, as he has already done with his own signature health care legislation. The President can buy a lot of goodwill this year by working with Congress to enforce the laws already in the books and – if he does that – we can tackle immigration reform in early 2015 when we’ll be in a better position to negotiate and get real results for the American people.
What would lead you to support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country?
I already support a pathway to citizenship; it is the current pathway that exists for anyone who wants to immigrate to our great nation. But I reject creating a special pathway for those who have broken our laws. We have a broken immigration system that must be fixed. Once we solve the main problems with our broken system – border security, interior enforcement and a modern guest worker program – we can deal with the 11 million people who currently reside in our country illegally by granting them a non-immigrant legal status. With that status, they can use the existing pathway to citizenship. They will not cut ahead of the line of the millions of people who have availed themselves of the legal immigration system. But neither will they be denied the opportunity to make themselves right with the law and use the existing pathway.
Can you name an issue where you could support the President?
I agree with President Obama and Attorney General Holder that we need to reform our criminal sentencing laws. I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill called the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would allow courts to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases, ensuring that limited resources are focused on the most serious offenders, while maintaining public safety. Attorney General Holder has praised the bill several times, and I’m encouraged by the support we’ve gotten across the ideological spectrum from conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Constitution Project to progressive groups like the ACLU and the NAACP.
When you see weather like we’ve been having, do you worry more about climate change?
It’s interesting that about a decade ago there was a lot of talk about “global warming.” Thirty years ago we were talking about “global cooling.” Now all we hear about is “climate change.” There has been evidence throughout history of cycles when the earth gets warmer and cycles when the earth gets colder. We should always be wise stewards of the earth and all of our natural resources. But as a policymaker, I won’t be guided by the global warming propaganda machine. Al Gore – we need you to return your Nobel Peace Prize!
Would Rep. Raúl Rafael Labrador make a good speaker? Could he work with Republican moderates? Could he work with Democrats? Would his far-right views on budget, immigration reform, and climate change result in more wasted years of partisan deadlock?
Certainly any speaker representing a Republican majority must be an orthodox Republican. Still I would hope for one with more reasonable and responsible views.
© William Hungerford – February 2014