Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Steny Hoyer explains how Newt Gingrich broke Congress


On Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer delivered a startling speech on the obstructionism of minority Republicans and the dangers that poses to Congress and the country. It's not common for politicians to address structural problem directly, or at length. It's certainly not common for congressional leadership to do so. But Hoyer, who is generally regarded as an old-fashioned moderate, is worried about the institution he serves. We spoke by phone earlier Thursday.

It's a bit abnormal for a sitting majority leader to deliver a policy speech lambasting his colleagues. What led to this address?

What prompted me to do this was that Roy Blunt and I are good friends, and Roy was leading the GOP's health-care task force. So back in March or April, I asked Roy to send over areas where he thought we could work together to fashion this bill. And, frankly, Roy was not able to, I think because he felt his caucus was not prepared to do that.

The reality of the Congress today is that the Republican base has become narrower and narrower as we have won their moderate seats. New York 23 was the perfect example, where the Republican nominee was too moderate for the party and so they forced her out of the race and lost. But when you're just dealing in a realm of 258 votes you have to fashion your compromises based simply on the views of one party. You don’t have the leavening effect of having a broader opportunity to fashion legislation that has a broader constituency.

So what do you do about it?

I didn’t come up with solutions because there aren’t any. The solutions are really elusive. As long as the base of the Republican Party is as narrow as it is, it will demand rigidity of its leadership. In my own state, Wayne Gilchrist, who voted right down the line with Republicans on economic issues but diverged on choice and guns and environment, was knocked off in a primary by a Club for Growth candidate. And then they lost the seat.

This all seems much harder because it's not clear that minority obstructionism is bad politics. Back in the early 1990s, of course, Bill Kristol, among others, urged Republicans to kill the Clinton health-care bill. Not modify it, or improve it, or amend it, but kill it. And then they picked up more than 50 seats.

Newt Gingrich was of course the chief proponent of that policy, and he and Bob Michel, who was leader of the Republicans, disagreed. And Gingrich eventually succeeded in pushing Michel out. Michel’s view was you sit down, offer your input, and move forward. The theory was that the American people elected the legislative body to make policy and so you make policy. Gingrich’s proposition, and maybe accurately, was that as long as you, Bob Michel, and our party cooperate with Democrats and get 20 or 30 percent of what we want and they get to say they solved the problem and had a bipartisan bill, there's no incentive for the American people to change leadership. You have to confront, delay, and undermine and impose failure in order to move the public. To some degree, he was proven right in 1994.

Haven't majority leaders been complaining about the intransigence of minority members since the country was founded? What's different now?

This is a United States Senate that has had more cloture votes in one year than in the '60s and '70s combined. They had three cloture votes on whether to extend unemployment benefits, and that bill passed 97-0! The reason this issue needs to be raised is that, ultimately, the political representatives will respond to the demands of the public. Now, the public has been polarized. Every night on television, they listen to polarizing people. We’ve gone from Walter Cronkite to angrier people who are trying to incite them.

So how do you fight that political logic?

It's very difficult. The motivation Congress has on each side of the aisle is to be in the majority so it can set policy. But it’s very difficult for the institution to move forward on a bipartisan basis when the minority party does not believe that that’s in their best interest to regain the majority. Rarely do you get a crowd ecstatic about a compromise. So the parties, to some degree, think the Gingrich strategy might be successful. And the only way to overcome that is to have it not be successful, and the only way for that to happen is for the American people to know what’s going on.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 10, 2009; 3:49 PM ET
Categories:  Congress , Interviews  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lunch break
Next: Krugman: Recovery means adding 300,000 jobs a month


Boy, could you have asked any more softball questions than that? You might as well change your title to official DNC mouthpiece.

Posted by: novalfter | December 10, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Is it asking too much for the Democrats to stop whining about things? They bashed Republicans relentlessly until Obama won... called the Repubs a "culture of corruption"... until Obama won... and then the enormity of ingrained Democratic Party Corruption became self-evident.

Ezra klein needs to grow up... and stop chasing after the little kids that point fingers at others. Klein needs to learn to think for himself.... research a little... perhaps even become a journalist when he grows up.

Posted by: wilsan | December 10, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

What a complete whitewash of history -- Gilchrest voted down the line with Republicans on economic issues? I think not.

The National Taxpayer's Union gave him an F grade:

And the Club for Growth -- which cares only about economic issues -- gave him a 41% rating:

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 10, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

You have GOT to be kidding me. What do you do when you're handed everything and you still fail and there's no one else to blame but yourself? Blame Daddy.

Posted by: reasonisstupid | December 10, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

As a follow up to Mr. Hoyer's comments about the "narrow republican base" causing the loss in NY23, did it occur to Mr. Klein to ask about the "narrow Republican base" in NJ and VA "barely" pulling it out against the DNC? Or would that mess with the party line?

By the way, I think some of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees are still awaiting a review by the Democrat Senate. Mr. Gingrich probably caused that too...

Posted by: Crashnburn01 | December 10, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The way forward Ezra, since you have their ears.

Is a stupid idea
whose time has come.
( I use that to describe my views on Term-limits. Really, term limits is a stupid idea. But it is necessary at this moment in time ).

The Majority Party sets the agenda.
The President sets the standards.
The Minority Party figures out how to solve it according to those standards.

Look. I feel that we should have been sole focus on the economy. Yes, I know the arguments for it is the best opportunity NOW and blah blah.
But 15 million families are facing no place to live, no food to eat, free healthcare for exposure and malnutrition is silly.

BUT I didn't win the majority.
The Democrats did.
And elections have consequences.

Imagine if the President said at the State of the Union address.

"I want the majority leaders to hand me the agenda the wish to fulfill by the end of the month.
By Feb 15th I and my staff will mark up what we consider acceptable standards for that legislation and hand it to the Minority leaders.
By April 1st, they will give me a schedule on how they are going to get this agenda passed by Christmas.
Now some say it is the President's job to set the agenda. And President's often do so. But if you look at the Constitution you will see it is my job to MANAGE the Agenda.
And to manage those things, like Katrina, like the economy in Sept 2008, that force themselves onto the agenda.
This is an idea whose time has come.
At least for now.
Let elections have the consequences of the winning side decides the order of our problems to solve.
And the losing side sees it as their opportunity to show how they can solve problems.
So that maybe next time they will be given the chance to set the agenda.
Imagine a country where the minority side is always working to regain power by showing how EFFECTIVE their solutions are.
Not how bad, immoral, and horrible the PEOPLE on the other side are.
Before we start running around calling each other knuckle-dragging neanderthals, or calling members of our own caucus like Mr. Stark here did, braindead.
Let's try it. Let's see. It can't be worse than the hate and venom I have seen, and to my shame have participated in, in this city and these halls for the last year."

Posted by: chromenhawk | December 10, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

For a party that controls the Senate, House, and White House, they sure whine a lot.

Posted by: go_figure | December 10, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

It is not just the "narrow Republican base" that is begging Republicans in Congress to put the brakes on this monster of a health care reform bill.

Lot of independents, including many who have voted for more Democrats than Republicans over the years, are horrified by how Democrats in Congress are using their power.

A year ago I thought of Steny Hoyer as a super smart, very sensible man who would make a great Speaker of the House.

Not now. Having seen him help push through the Stimulus, Waxman-Markey, and the House health care bill I no longer trust his judgment.

Posted by: junomoneta88 | December 10, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh for God's sakes. I don't know whether to laugh or throw up. It's nice to have Klein who worked on Howard Dean's primary campaign to interview another democrat...that's a gritty interview (as is evidenced here). Hoyer's account of Bob Michel is spot on. That's exactly what he would do. Sit down, offer input and then move on because he himself said there was nothing that Republicans could do...exactly they way democrats want it now (ironically for more on Bob Michels' stellar leadership, the Washington has an opinion article today). It took Gingrich to stand up and say no more. Also, I love how the democrats just avoid what happened in New Jersey and Virginia and point to the "moderate" Republican in NY 23 (who endorsed the democrat) and say Republicans lost that seat because they're all radical. It would be worth while for Hoyer to look in the mirror.

Posted by: mp2832 | December 10, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

What I learned from Hoyer in his speech was that Republicans were showing up for 15 minute votes without their voting cards (i.e. badges) and then signing in at the podium one by one and thus drawing out the votes for way longer than scheduled. Here is news for Hoyer: Democrats don't need Republicans to pass anything. Cut the votes off at 15 minutes. Republicans will whine they aren't getting to vote, but Americans are familiar with the "dog ate my homework" defense, it is an old one, plus we are used to bringing things like badges and bus passes to work with us; we aren't going to be forgiving of Republican who are complaining it takes them twice as long to do their job as someone else because they forgot their badge.
If Democratic leadership stops enabling the Republicans they will stop doing it.

Posted by: flounder2 | December 10, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Democrats have 258 votes when they only need 218. It is pathetic for them to even mention the word Republicans. Republicans have no power whatsoever. I think the American people understand that. If the Democrats can't get 218 votes out of their majority for a policy, then it must not be good enough policy. Make the policy better, and the votes will be there.

Posted by: lancediverson | December 10, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

There is nothing more damaging to the Democratic Party, than having Democrats own the White House, House and the Senate.

Posted by: wilsan | December 10, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

So we have Steny Hoyer who together with Nancy Pelosi passed the corrupt stimulous bill that has led to 10% UNEMPLOYMENT, and more debt and printed money than in the history of the government complaining about the obstructionist Republicans and Newt Gingrich who hasn't been in Congress for well over a decade? The same Steny Hoyer who with Nancy Pelosi called Americans who dared oppose Obama's total government takeover of healthcare UNPATRIOTIC. According to Nancy and Steny average Americans are UNPATRIOTIC and Republicans are Obstructionists and they both go about leading a corrupt Congress into destroying the American economy. How rediculous!!!!

Posted by: valwayne | December 10, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

This is rich, coming as it does on the very same day that Real Clear Politics' average of generic Congressional vote polls switched over from the Regressive Party to the Republicans -- for the first time in YEARS -- after less than ONE year of unified Regressive government. Dear Ezra and Steny: "YOUR SHIPMENT OF FAIL HAS ARRIVED."

Posted by: DonnyNobama | December 10, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

How pathetic these left-wingers running our country are. If they can't surpress opposing viewpoints, they blame them for the failure of their own extremist agenda's. What does this moron want? Doesn't he know that the Dumbocrats have historic majority's in both houses? And yet, STILL, they can't get their radical agenda moved ahead so the have the AUDACITY to blame the minority. November 2010 can't get here soon enough.

Posted by: mannettino | December 10, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I would have a lot more respect for Hoyer if he criticized how Democrats behaved during the Bush administration.

Posted by: ralph4100 | December 10, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

flounder2 of course they can, however they are motivated by survival and will never win reelection if they vote for this abdominal scam dressed up as healthcare. The reason they don't is that anyone with a brain can clearly see how "over the top" ridiculous and fraudulent the Democrat's proposals actually are. AKA ObamaCare has absolutely nothing to do with Health Care. You are obviously misguided and oblivious to the real world (unless it is a situation or issue directly affecting your own life on a personal level). Self-deprecating Statists, like you, are unmoved by reason, evidence and incontrovertible history.
How can anyone support something which: increases costs exponentially, provides less care than the status quos will decrease the number of Doctors and will stymie innovation & research and development. The goal of reform is to improve conditions not make things unimaginably wretched.
The two primary things which would verifiably reduce costs are portability and litigation stipulation reform. However, both of these issues where purposely not addressed in the Leftist “control for the sake of control” plans currently on the table. If it weren’t impossible for you to be honest, you’d admit that it’s part of an ideological plan. Things like this do not happen in a legislative body unless driven by an ulterior motivation. Only a confused buffoon could fervently support a bill that’s authors, went out of their way to assure wouldn’t apply to themselves.

Posted by: Cris1 | December 10, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

WOW!! only 36% of Americans support the proposals in congress according to the NEWEST CNN poll! whereas 61% oppose!

wow, this push is officially dead. normally i wouldnt put it past Dems to pass it even with these numbers considering their general disregard for openness, transparency and accountability throughout this process. but support down 10% in a month is too much of a blow for even nancy pelosi to ignnore

this is truly becoming a suicide march. so interesting to watch.

Posted by: dummypants | December 10, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Hoyer's, Reid's, San Fran Nan's chutzpah and the same exact words: Pubs with 40 Senate seats and the 177 House Reps are the ones blockading the agenda of all these socialist pacifists. Oh whine and cheese. The polls show that Americans are waking up to the fact that Dems are ruining the economy: debt raised to 1.8 trillion today. The Polls show that the public hates this healthcare bill as well as amnesty for illegals and public funding for someone else's abortion. But the gallant leftist Dems march on like lemming over the cliff. Prayerfully, all of them will be un-elected in 2010. Nov. cannot come too soon .

Posted by: phillyfanatic | December 10, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the interview, Ezra. Unlike novalfter, I thought your questions were reasonable and even thoughtful, not softball.

And judging by the previous comments here, thanks for driving up the right-wing trolls' blood pressure.

Posted by: Former_Prospector | December 10, 2009 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I advocated an ideological plan of openly making Republicans pay for acting like jerks and trusting that Americans would side with Dems over the Republican "dog ate my homework" vote stalling tactic, and for this I was informed that I am a liar who would never admit to ideological plans.

Posted by: flounder2 | December 10, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

I found Mr. Hoyer's comments amazingly accurate. The only thing he did not mention is that Mr. Gingrich was also the prominent Washington insider who in the early 1990s also introduced rudeness and hostility as the main tools of disagreement for the minority party instead of deliberate consideration and comment. Today his techniques have become so common throughout political discourse that it causes me to be greatly concerned about any possibility of advancement for our culture overall. Stevenson and Eisenhower were far more mature in their deliberations. Our culture of today has become adolescently immature. (Emotional tantrums are commonplace on both sides of the political spectrum.) At the same time we have become "dumbed down". Much of this is due to the presence of TV. But much also comes from the hostile atmosphere where college educated individuals are characterized as "elitists". In effect this hostility raises being less informed to being a virtue. How can we progress if intelligence is so vilified?

I wish us well because we will need it.

Posted by: reikidancer | December 10, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Hoyer we are coming for you!

Posted by: Ollie7 | December 10, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I hope you got a softball scholarship in college, the way you pitch them, LOL. I've seen tougher questions from James Lipton.

Posted by: uclajd | December 10, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Mr Klein:
When you open up your op-eds for comments, do you actually read them. If you did and you had the ability to count you would see an avalanche.
This avalanche is perhaps why, your paymasters are in deep finacial trouble. And when they fold, what do you think will happen to you?

write an op-ed for food?

Posted by: vic5 | December 10, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Democrats need to stop complaining just because Republicans do not support legislation that even Democrats admit is sweeping and revolutionary. Even moderate Democrats are choking on it. The real knock on Dems is that they can't (or won't) govern. They've got a majority in both houses and hold the White House -- and still can't get their party to push through the centerpiece of their party's legislative agenda. Why in the middle of a recession they've chosen to start with healthcare reform is hard to fathom. But it's sad that they won't man up and make a decision. Instead, they blame minority for their own lack of ... audacity and faith in the vision they're leader is selling

Posted by: ericnestor | December 10, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

its a shame ezra klein is such a ideological hack, he seems to have a half way decent grasp of these things.

that said, his usefulness has run its course as health care "reform" democratic style died sometime earlier this week.

Posted by: dummypants | December 10, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Gee, Ezra. Has E.J. Dionne been giving you "fawning" lessons?

Posted by: OttoDog | December 10, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

No, ericnestor, Democrats, and all Americans need to complain more, and louder. I have never heard of the minority party attempting to block legislative progress through the filibuster the way the Republican Senators have been, as a matter of course. Effectively, by falling back to just obstructing everything, and with the discipline that springs from their ideological narrowness, on a cloture vote they have very close to a controlling number, ie, they only need 41 (I think) to achieve their objective.

I'm fairly sure the current Republican obstructionism is historical, ie, without precedent, as was the Gingrich obstructionism before it. Fortunately, it's being exposed more than before. It calls for even more exposure. The American people voted for a Dem prez, Dem house, and Dem Senate, because it wanted to try some Democratic-style policies for awhile after suffering through the abject failure (or most likely, even, real concern) of the modern Republican party to do anything to improve the lot of the common working American. We didn't leave 40 Repubs in the Senate because we wanted them to block everything.

By the way, to all you liars above, the stimulus package has kept the unemployment from soaring even more out of control, but you know that. You just don't give a rat's you-know-what. You're not the one's suffering, nor intend to be.

I'm calling for the so-called Nuclear Option. Remove the filibuster. Period. It's anti-democratic and anti-republican.

Posted by: jonboinAR | December 10, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse

I support any action which will destroy liberal fascism. The GOP is to be congratulated for its efforts, however, if they had any balls they would be doing a lot more to stop Obama and his fascists in the US Congress. Every real American should do whatever they can to destroy liberal fascism. If you have any Democrats working for you, fire them. If you do business with Democrats or-Democrat supporting corporations(GE, Citibank)- stop! If you are married to a democrat - divorce them. If your children are Democrats - disown them and write them out of your will. If you rent to Democrats, evict them. Shut off your TV,cancel your newspaper, cancel your WAPO, NYT, Time, Newsweek subscriptions. Buy guns and ammo and learn how to use them.

Posted by: doctorfixit | December 10, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Obstructionism is not always a bad thing. It depends on what you are obstructing. In this case (health care 'reform') I think it is a good thing.

Posted by: invention13 | December 11, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse

So-o-o-o-o, if the Republicans as a whole disagree with Democrats in principle on wresting control of 1/6th of our Nation's economy - OR - on raising the debt ceiling by $1.8 trillion more or by merely striving to actually do the job their constituents elected them to do, they're always and automatically "obstructionists"? Stop posturing and preening for the cameras and micropohones, Steny, and start doing what the majority of Americans are screaming at you and your partners-in-crime to do.

Posted by: cappicola | December 11, 2009 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Steny... remember....




You sir are aiding the cause!

Posted by: im14fun | December 11, 2009 2:33 AM | Report abuse

Some weeks ago, I saw a cute young kid on the Oprah show interviewing Taylor Swift. The child-journalist was precocious, intelligent, and charming. Just about anything that Taylor Swift said got her excited and even more enthusiastic.

I see the same thing here.

I don't even understand Hoyer's problem, other than he hates the idea that the Democratic party is going to be judged on all the wacky positions the House has taken, and lacks any political cover --- the highly overrated "bipartisanship." Congressional approval ratings are now even lower than those for used car salesmen. The fact is that bipartisanship begins with the majority party, which must act in positive ways to include the minority. Opinions must be sought; compromises must be included.

Pelosi never intended to conduct House business in that way. Your reap what you sew. Steny, put this speech away. It makes you look like a whiner, and worse, a whiner without a good understanding of history.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | December 11, 2009 5:11 AM | Report abuse

Yes, we need the days when the lap dogs Rs, the permanent minority is back. Yeah, that's what's good for the country. Where is old Bob Michel, takes a kicking and comes back to the table begging for some scraps. We need Republicans like that, for the good of the country...

Posted by: Grabski | December 11, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

60 plus percent of Americans oppose the healthcare bill. Maybe if Democrats were doing what at least 50% of the population wanted they might have a little more cooperation.

Posted by: jfshiey | December 11, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Ezra: So what do you do about it?

Steny the Useless: I didn’t come up with solutions because there aren’t any.

PATHETIC! There isn't an obstruction problem in the House, it's in the Senate. Instead of calling out the other half of the bicameral legislative and starting the ball rolling to change the rules for all of Congress to ban things like anonymous holds and minority blocking except as specified in the Constitution, Hoyer gives speeches and interviews and acts on absolutely nothing. I'm so glad Hoyer's good friends with Roy Blunt. Hey Steny, why not get him a troll doll for Xmas that says "I Love You This Much" and maybe a handy as a stocking stuffer? That's MUCH more important than, you know, trying to govern as best you can for the people. Better to rule out any solutions to problems in advance and just throw up your hands.

I guess the "leader" part of the "Majority Leader" role is just ceremonial.

Posted by: jamusco | December 11, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company