OTR Interviews

Gingrich: Obama had a 'maximum pain for political gain' strategy in sequester and it's backfiring

Former presidential candidate and House Speaker sounds off on the political theater in the sequester standoff

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 6, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a "FOX News Alert," and more than 10 hours and counting, Senator Rand Paul launching an old-fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor! And at this hour, well, he is still going! Right now, Senator John Barrasso is giving him a little bit of a break, but Senator Paul trying to delay the confirmation of CIA director nominee John Brennan, Senator Paul using the filibuster to protest President Obama's authority to kill Americans with drones.

Senators from both parties, though, have been helping the senator out, his filibuster shaping up to be one of the longest in U.S. history. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich joins us. Nice to see you, sir.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE/FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your thoughts watching the filibuster? It's been a while since we've seen this.

GINGRICH: I'm proud of Rand Paul. I'm proud of him for standing up for the rights of the Americans and the Constitution. I'm proud of him for pushing the Senate and actually having a genuine filibuster, which is the right of a senator. And I'm proud of him for getting all of us, as you are tonight, to pay some attention.

This is a serious question. We've evolved into a world where the president of the United States basically signs off on killing people on a remarkable frequency, and the question is whether or not that could, A, ever be applied domestically, and B, whether it could be applied to Americans unless they're active enemy combatants.

And I think it's worthy of a law that prohibits that kind of decision. We don't want to give anybody power to kill an American citizen without due process of law.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you surprised how few senators have sort of rallied up to help him out a little bit? We've seen Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Barrasso, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, helping. But that's -- this is a body of 100 senators!

GINGRICH: Well, I think more will come in because I think courage ultimately attracts others. And I think Rand Paul is showing a level of courage that is historic and that will be remembered for a long time. I mean, if you're a civil libertarian liberal or if you're a constitutionalist conservative, both wings have to be proud of Rand Paul standing up for the constitutional rights of Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, who -- who likes these drones, giving the president power without any sort of a check, without any sort of an authority? And there's some question -- we'll discuss it later -- of, you know -- it says if there's some -- if -- he talks about imminence, and imminence being defined very broadly, I might add.

GINGRICH: No, the imminent tool is nonsense. I mean, if you read carefully what the White House spokesman and others have said, there are no practical rules here except the president or his designee -- because, remember, presidents don't normally sit there and go, Oh, yes, let me spend the next three hours studying this. They delegate it to somebody who walks in and says, Let's kill this guy.

And I think most of the killings have been legitimate. But I think as a long-term pattern, it's amazingly dangerous. And there ought to be a set of procedures -- I think, Senator Feinstein, for example, a Democrat, has been exactly right to demand information for the Intelligence Committee...

VAN SUSTEREN: She's not -- but she's not helping out! And I mean...

GINGRICH: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, there are a lot of people -- there are a lot of senators who are not -- are we to assume the senators who aren't there helping Senator Rand Paul to be -- to be in support of the drone program or the...

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: No. No, I think that a lot of senators are watching tonight in amazement. I don't remember -- you may know, I don't remember the last time there was a genuine filibuster. This is a very healthy thing to see a U.S. senator...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, where are the rest of them, then?

GINGRICH: Huh?

VAN SUSTEREN: Where are the -- are we to assume the ones who aren't there think this is a great program, this drone program...

GINGRICH: Look...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and giving sort of...

GINGRICH: No...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... unfettered authority?

GINGRICH: Not necessarily. I think you have a lot of folks who -- this is just not their style. They're -- they're not comfortable...

VAN SUSTEREN: What, they just let it go?

GINGRICH: No, they're just not comfortable with this level of...

VAN SUSTEREN: What, standing up for issues?

GINGRICH: I don't want to go quite that far, but...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Come on!

GINGRICH: I was, once upon a time, one of the most aggressive floor debaters in the U.S. House.

VAN SUSTEREN: No! You've got to be kidding!

GINGRICH: There were at least 400 members of the House who thought I was crazy because they just couldn't imagine doing that. But I believe what Rand Paul is doing is both historic in procedure for the Senate and historic in raising a constitutional issue with the country, and I commend him for this level of leadership. And as you yourself said, he's beginning to gradually attract a bipartisan group.

VAN SUSTEREN: If he sits down, I understand, it's over. I mean, he can't even sit and rest.

GINGRICH: Well, no...

VAN SUSTEREN: The minute he sits down...

GINGRICH: He can only sit if somebody else -- if he yields time to -- that's why Senator Barrasso came in to help him. Sometimes, you have to take a bathroom break or something...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well...

GINGRICH: ... you get a friend to show up and talk for a while...

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Mike Lee told me in the green room that he couldn't take a bathroom break, so...

GINGRICH: I think -- no, I think he yielded to Barrasso for a few minutes.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, I guess that's a little inconsequential as we're debating his bathroom break, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: But I brought -- I'll -- I'll take the blame for that one. Anyway, we're going to be keeping an eye on the filibuster.

But Speaker Gingrich, right now, I want to ask you about something else. Republicans insist the president is trying to make sure the sequester cuts are as painful as he promised. And now a leaked Agriculture Department e-mail seems, to some at least, to back up that claim. The e- mail was sent to an agency regional director. He was asking how much latitude he has in making cuts.

Now, this is the email response he got from the Agriculture Department's budget office. "However you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be."

So what exactly does that mean? Does that mean all that pain? Your thought on that email?

GINGRICH: I think, first of all, the Obama strategy was maximum pain for political gain, and I think he's been caught in it. I think it's hurt his popularity dramatically. It's going to get worse. I don't think the Ag Department memo's the most amazing. The most amazing is closing the White House tours. I mean, here you have a president who spends over $900,000 of your money going on a golf vacation. You have a president who keeps all sorts of people and staff at high prices at the White House. And they're telling the American people, The one thing we're going to cut is your tour?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, actually -- it's funny, I talked to -- I mean, I talked to some people involved with the tours, and they -- and it's a very sort of different perspective from the inside, is that they -- they need to figure out what they could cut because they may have to do overtime, for instance, for other departments, and it seemed like that would be a good place.

But the funny thing about it, the people who are complaining aren't people like you and outside, but they're actually people in the White House who are complaining because they have relatives coming into town...

GINGRICH: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... or they -- or they've Congressmen. So it's sort of funny. It's sort of the squeeze play on the people doing the tours in the White House from within and from without...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, they're trying to figure out a solution, and this has sort of been the poster child.

GINGRICH: Well, let me just make two quick observations. First, Speaker John Boehner made the correct point that the House had prepared for the sequester and they are not slowing down any tours at the Capitol because they had thought it through and they'd done the right thing to protect the American people.

Second, I think, you know, if the White House would tell us how much it costs, I suspect we could find three or four people who'd put up the price. We can subsidize the tours. The idea...

VAN SUSTEREN: So are you announcing tonight that you'll start a fund to pay for tours of the White House?

GINGRICH: If the White House would tell us what much it takes, we will raise the money to enable the White House tours to continue, period. I have no doubt about this. Because it's just silly! Of all the things you could cut in the White House, whether it's the chef -- I mean, tonight the president is taking a bunch of guys over to the Jefferson for a very expensive dinner...

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the greatest hotels in Washington...

GINGRICH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) owned by Connie Milstein, but great hotel.

GINGRICH: So...

VAN SUSTEREN: Expensive!

GINGRICH: I'm not -- look, I'm not against going to the Jefferson, I'm just saying...

VAN SUSTEREN: He's paying for it, by the way.

GINGRICH: Personally?

VAN SUSTEREN: That's what I'm told.

GINGRICH: Oh...

VAN SUSTEREN: At least that was in our -- in our computer, we have urgents in the computer, it said that he was.

GINGRICH: The president was personally going to pay for it?

VAN SUSTEREN: I was surprised, but that's what I read.

GINGRICH: This is wonderful. Maybe he would...

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe -- I mean, maybe that's wrong.

GINGRICH: Look, maybe he'd like to reimburse the $920,000 for his golf vacation. They could apply that to keeping open the White House tours.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me go -- let me go on to something else. You were talking to Laura Ingraham. You said -- you made a crack about CPAC. You're not a big fan of CPAC anymore?

GINGRICH: Well, I'm going to speak there. I think that CPAC serves an important function. But I think it's lost some of its ideological edge and some of its focus, and I don't understand some of its decisions.

VAN SUSTEREN: You're going to get booed if you're saying all this stuff before you speak!

GINGRICH: No, I -- look, I don't ever operate out of fear. I think CPAC attracts a lot of young people. It is a very dynamic place for people looking to the future. But if you go back and you look at CPAC in the '70s, they had a clear sense of mission, a clear sense of purpose. One of Ronald Reagan's most important speeches was given in February of 1975 at CPAC, when he said we need bold colors, not pale pastels. And he talked about the nature of conservatism.

I'm looking forward to Jeb Bush's speech, which is going to be Friday night. I hope that he matches that kind of standard. It's the Ronald Reagan dinner. But all I'm suggesting is -- you know, I'll give you an example. Look, Chris Christie, I can criticize him. I don't think he should have hugged the president quite that much. But the fact is, in a very Democratic state with a very strong state employees' union, Chris Christie has shown enormous courage and has done things that are remarkable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he was the keynote speaker last year, so is that hug...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: ... is that the kiss of death with CPAC?

GINGRICH: I don't understand why they didn't invite him back. I mean, I'm just using that as an example.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor McDonnell's not speaking, either.

GINGRICH: Oh, well, then that just doesn't make sense to me. I mean, you know, Governor McDonnell's a very popular governor of Virginia who -- you can argue about his transportation plan, but overall, he's been a terrific conservative.

So that's why I just raise questions. I don't understand the internal dynamics of CPAC, who's in charge, how they make their decisions, but some of them I would frankly question.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned Governor Jeb Bush. Is this sort of a coming out party for him? Are we going to see him -- is this a 2016 signal?

GINGRICH: Look, it might be, but 2016 is so far away.

VAN SUSTEREN: No, it's not!

GINGRICH: Oh, sure. I know it's not for you, but it is in the real world. Trust me.

VAN SUSTEREN: The real world? What world do I live in?

GINGRICH: You live in the world of Washington media, where, you know, we've -- the second the last election is over, we've got to worry about the next election.

Jeb Bush is a very talented person who was a very good governor of Florida. He has been a very important part of the evolution of the Republican Party. I think it's great that he's going to be involved. I also think there's going to be a lot of very, very competent, aggressive people running, whether it is from his home state, Marco Rubio, or it's John Kasich or it is Scott Walker or Rand Paul, who you're watching tonight. It's going to be a very exciting time from now to 2016.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any women in that mix?

GINGRICH: I think you could see Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, who I think's very, very impressive, Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, and frankly, Kelly Ayotte, the senator from New Hampshire.

VAN SUSTEREN: The -- you mentioned Florida. Governor Rick Scott has decided to expand the Medicaid, which is -- after he said he wouldn't, and I think -- I think Governor Chris Christie likewise. I can't remember. But does -- Governor Rick Perry says he's not taking it.

GINGRICH: You know, the great thing about the federalist system is that 50 governors have to make decisions from 50 states. I would -- my bias is with Rick Perry, but I don't second guess a governor of a state who makes a decision that he thinks is right for his state. That's why you have a federalist system and that's why the 10th Amendment is important. We'll see over the next four or five years which person made the right decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: The dinner tonight that we had -- that was in Washington -- the president -- we just spoke about over at the Jefferson Hotel -- Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell, both Republican leaders, weren't invited.

GINGRICH: I don't think that's bad. I mean, I went to a lot of dinners with Bill Clinton when he didn't necessarily have leaders invited, back when I was the whip...

VAN SUSTEREN: I was just going to say you were a leader, though!

GINGRICH: No, no, but back when I was the whip. I mean, we had dinners that didn't involve the rest of the leadership. Anything which increases a bipartisan conversation in this city is helpful. I hope this is a useful dinner.

My only hope would be that the president listened as much as he talked and that he thought later about what he heard. We have to break out of the current gridlock to be a healthy country. That's going to require both sides listening to the other. And if this dinner helps -- what I didn't understand, candidly, was why they didn't meet at the White House. I don't know if that was a Republican request.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if it's a sequester issue. Maybe the chef is laid off that you were talking about.

GINGRICH: No...

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe he got furloughed. I don't know.

GINGRICH: If the chef were laid off, we could afford to do the White House tours. I'm sure that's not the problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: You -- you say you thought that was odd?

GINGRICH: No, I just -- because the White House is a great historic site. In my experience, every time I went down to see a president at the White House, whether it was -- started with Jimmy Carter, through several presidencies -- it's pretty impressive and it's a pretty powerful place to be and presidents are great hosts and the White House is a great venue.

So I didn't quite know why you would leave the White House to go to a hotel. But maybe the Republicans felt better not being on the president's grounds and wanted to be at a neutral site.

VAN SUSTEREN: I thought it was interesting -- I mean, we're now into the second term, that the president has a sort of breaking bread -- and he probably has done -- he's had beer summits and the -- you know, over in the early days, we've had different events. But it -- it was -- he sent Senator Biden up at the end of the year having to do with the tax increase, and it was so apparent to me that he had no relationship with anyone on Capitol Hill, he had to sort of outsource it to the vice president, who has -- who has a fantastic relationship on Capitol Hill with -- because he served in the U.S. Senate.

I wonder if he's suddenly realizing that -- you know, that the importance -- you get more things done in this town, you know, if you're not mortal enemies, if you make friends.

GINGRICH: You know, I think they made a rush at trying to break the sequester. They failed. I think the polling numbers have collapsed for the president pretty dramatically, I think a 13-point change in two weeks. And I suspect (INAUDIBLE) You know, we'd better figure out a new dance because this one ain't working.

And I think it's a better -- it's a healthier dance for America if you get Democrats and Republicans actually talking honestly with each other, and it might lead to some significant breakthroughs in a way that could be very powerful.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is the stronger party? And I realize that the Democrats are on power. But I mean -- who's -- I mean, who really -- who's the stronger party?

GINGRICH: You know, who's really strongest is the American people. And I don't mean that...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I tell you, they keep electing the same logjam!

GINGRICH: No, I don't say this in a casual way. I say this as somebody who's been at this business since August of 1958.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's counting?

GINGRICH: The American people have the ability, ultimately -- in 2006, they punished the Republicans. In 2010, they punished the Democrats. They have an enormous capacity to send messages when they get their back up and they get angry.

The two parties are very balanced. Republicans have 30 governors, 315 electoral votes. They 24 states where they have the governors and the legislature, 51 percent of the country. They have control of the U.S. House. The president has the Senate, and he won the presidency.

So there's an interesting balance of the two parties right now, and I think the party which breaks loose from this, which will happen eventually, will be the party that looks to the future, listens to the American people and offers innovative solutions.

It won't be an anti-Obama Republican Party and it won't be an anti- Republican Obama party. It will be a party that puts the American people first. And whichever party figures that formula out first is going to end up as the governing majority.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it seems that both parties are sort of angling for the Hispanic vote, the Democratic Party already having -- they're not really looking towards the future. And I know you've written papers and talking about some of the pioneers of the future and looking towards new ideas and big ideas. But the two parties seem to instead trying to be, you know, cutting up the pie and seeing, you know, Republicans are trying to do -- scramble to get the Hispanic vote, and the Democrats already have it.

GINGRICH: No question about it. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) it's like playing King of the Hill and the other guy's on the top of the hill. Democrats have the advantage with Asian Americans, Latino Americans and African-Americans and Native Americans. If they can retain that advantage at its current rate, they will be the majority party no matter what happens to Republicans.

If, on the other hand -- and I must -- I want to give Chairman Reince Priebus a big shoutout for this. I mean, he has a very aggressive program under way. He is very serious about it. And he is beginning to try to get across to Republicans, You have to go and visit with people and listen to people and learn from people. If you do that, I think we could easily get our share of the vote up very dramatically.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I remember prior to the last go-round -- I remember you -- in fact, you went out to Michigan, talking to the Democrats and Republicans on education. And I sort of had my eye on your campaign,. I thought, There he is, he's going around the country, doing his new solutions, new ideas, all those things, and trying to talk to both sides of the aisle. But that didn't work out too well.

GINGRICH: Look, I think that's a different environment because if you're outspent five to one, as I was in Florida, it doesn't matter what your ideas are, you're going to be drowned. I think, in the long run, for the party, if you look at the governors who are successful, the senators who are successful, they are very much oriented to serving the American people.

As I said a while ago, if you look at a Nikki Haley, a Susana Martinez, we have a great potential future as a party. And I think that the challenge for the party is to recognize the old Republican Party isn't going to get there. You've got to really rethink the world we're in. You have to understand the 21st century. And you have to -- I think you have to forget red versus blue, get rid of the consultants who don't understand it, and focus on serving 311 million people.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. A the dopey question, but I always ask, but since we're talking about this, I'm sort of curious whether or not you have any interest to run again.

GINGRICH: I think I'll -- ask me that in January of 2015.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it's not -- it's not a no?

GINGRICH: It's not a no.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not a no. Speaker, always nice to see you.

GINGRICH: Fun to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you.