Meet the Congressman Who Confronted President Obama

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 29, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: You want a showdown? Well, here it is. President Obama taking questions from House Republicans at a GOP retreat. It wasn't supposed to be televised, but at the last minute, the White House said, Bring it on. Bring the cameras in. Are they finally getting the hint about the cameras?

Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz asking the president about transparency.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, R - UTAH: There's some things that have happened that I would appreciate your perspective on because I can look you in the eye and tell you we have not been obstructionists. The Democrats have the House and the Senate and the presidency. And when you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn't. I was disappointed. I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.

You said you weren't going to allow lobbyists in the senior most positions within your administration, and yet you did. I applauded you when you said it and disappointed when you didn't. You said you'd go line by line through the health care debate -- or through the health care bill. And there were six of us, including Dr. Phil Roe, who sent you a letter and said, We would like to take you up on that offer. We'd like to come. We never heard (SIC) a letter. We never got a call. We were never involved in any of those discussions.

And when you said in the House of Representatives that you were going to tackle earmarks, in fact, you didn't want to have any earmarks in any of your bills, I jumped up out of my seat and applauded you. But it didn't happen.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at the health care process just over the course of the year, overwhelmingly, the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating. I mean, that -- the -- there -- there how many committees were there that helped to shape this bill? Countless hearings took place.

Now, I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership. What is true -- there's no doubt about it - - is that once it through the committee process and there were now a series of meetings taking place all over the Capitol trying to figure out how to get the thing together, that was a messy process. And I take responsibility for not having structured it in a way where it was all taking place in one place that could be filmed.

With respect to earmarks, we didn't have earmarks in the Recovery Act. You know, we didn't get a lot of credit for it, but there were no earmarks in that. I was confronted at the beginning of my term with an omnibus package that did have a lot of earmarks from Republicans and Democrats, and a lot of people in this chamber. And the question was, was I going to have a big budget fight at a time when I was still trying to figure out whether or not the financial system was melting down and we had to make a whole bunch of emergency decisions about the economy. So what I said was, Let's keep them to a minimum, but I couldn't excise them all.

Watch Greta's interview

In terms of lobbyists, I can stand here unequivocally and say that there has not been an administration who was tougher on making sure that lobbyists weren't participating in the administration than any administration that's come before us.


VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Jason Chaffetz joins us live. Congressman, good evening. And are you satisfied with the answer the president gave to sort of your multi-pronged question of him?

CHAFFETZ: Well, it was gracious of him to attend, and I'm proud of the fact that the Republicans invited him. But as I said to the president, I said, Look, I'm just a freshman here. I didn't create this mess. But I am here to help clean it up. So I don't want to hear about, you know, the background here. Let's work on moving forward.

And the rhetoric's good. I just want to make sure that the reality's good. And so, you know, it's -- it was a good dialogue. I appreciate him coming. I'm not just going to bite off his hand when he sticks it out. When he has good things to offer, we'll be right there with him. But this transparency in the process is critical, and so I thought it was a good step forward today. We'll see if it continues above and beyond just this one event.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you thought it was a perfectly straight answer when he talked about C-SPAN covering Capitol Hill, which it routinely did long before, this administration did nothing different, and yet the C-SPAN was not in the drug meeting that he held at the White House last summer when he gave a deal to the drug, his administration, or worked one out? Or even two weeks ago with the unions at the White House, there was no C-SPAN there. So that you're satisfied, though, that that is an increased transparency and C-SPAN was there to meet his campaign obligation?

CHAFFETZ: No. I don't think he fulfilled that obligation. What I'm saying is I was appreciative...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me ask you another...

CHAFFETZ: ... of the answer, so -- yes.


CHAFFETZ: Look, we made it very clear that the most important meeting is that closed door meeting that was happening without Republicans and without cameras. That's the most important meeting and that's the thing that the president promised to broadcast on C-SPAN. I think he made that promise eight times. And he didn't live up to that promise, and I hope he's taking some degree of personal responsibility and we'll continue to hold his feet to the fire on that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it seemed to me that it was a good start, to have everybody talking because it's felt a little bit high school here in Washington, where the Republicans are said to be obstructionists and the Democrats are said to be excluding the Republicans.

Is there another meeting planned, or is this sort of, like -- you know, if it happens one time, it looks sort of like, you know, it's staged, it's a prop. If you do this routinely, meet with the president, that seems like a huge step forward. Is there another date scheduled?

CHAFFETZ: There isn't yet. I mean, this is something that really hasn't happened in 12 months. He came over in February of last year and we had a nice small exchange. But you know, since what's happened with Scott Brown and some other types of things, hopefully, it's moving in the right direction. I think both sides want that to happen.

I went up to him afterwards. I shook his hand and I thanked him for being here and said, Look I'm not going to just take potshots at you, I'd love to work with you. And he kind of reciprocated and said he had heard good things, and so I hope. I hope. I'm an optimist.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would you expect? I mean, you say that you hope. What would be, in your mind, like, a step forward to sort of confirm that this is, indeed, a step forward? What would you expect in the days and weeks to come?

CHAFFETZ: You know, I think what people want more than anything is they just want people to do what they say they're going to do. And so when the president makes the offer that, yes, we can go line by line through a particular bill, then invite people in to actually do that. And when opens up the door, say, Hey, we'll work with you on earmark reform, then I would expect that we go to the White House or they come up to Capitol Hill and we actually work on this.

And the real challenge here is, how do we also get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to have that same type of attitude? Because the president and the White House one situation, but boy, trying to get Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats to do that is a whole 'nother game. So I hope so. That's the way it should be!

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, it sounds like you might be on a roll. Keep it going, Congressman. Good luck. And thank you, sir.

CHAFFETZ: Oh, thanks, Greta.

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