'Obama Can Be Bullied' - Rep. McDermott (D-WA)

Uploaded by TYTInterviews on 14.12.2010

Cenk Uygur: All right, back on The Young Turks. Now joining us, Congressman Jim McDermott
of the great state of Washington. Congressman, welcome to The Young Turks.
Jim McDermott: How are you?
Uygur: I'm excellent. Great to have you here. Congressman, as you know, the president has
reached a tax cut deal with the Republicans, they're going to get 13 months extra of unemployment
insurance, but the rich will get their tax cuts continued for the top income bracket
plus a cut in estate tax. First, for sake of clarity, I know where you stand on it but
I want to let people at home know, are you going to vote yes or no on that when it comes
to the House?
McDermott: I'm going to vote no.
Uygur: And why is that, Congressman?
McDermott: Well, for a lot of reasons. I think the first reason is that the accumulation
of wealth at the top of the income scale has been extraordinary over the last 30 years.
We've gone from $8 trillion in wealth to $40 trillion in wealth in the top 5% since 1980.
And there comes a time when we just have to stop that. The middle class is being clobbered
every single year. They don't get tax-- they don't get pay increases, they don't get...
their health care benefits are going up every year, and it's simply got to stop. And for
the Democrats to be saying let's shovel another $64 billion to the people on the top simply
does not make sense to me, and I refuse to go along with it. Other people can if they
wish, but my view is that that is not good public policy, and I think that it's time
for us to call a halt to it.
The second part is that it's unfair. If you're going to give the trust fund babies two years
of security in their tax cuts but you'll only give the unemployed one year, Ben Bernanke,
the head of the Federal Reserve, says we're going to have unemployment like this for the
next five years. So at least give the unemployed the same thing you give the trust fund babies.
Neither one of them have a job. And my view is that that kind of unfairness has got to
stop, and we have to begin to redress the social injustices that go on in this society.
Uygur: All right, Congressman McDermott, before we get into the policy angle, let me ask you
real quick what you think is going to happen in the House, because of course, the Senate
just passed this yesterday with only 15 senators voting no and five of them being Republicans.
When it goes to the House, do you think there's any chance that your side will prevail?
McDermott: My view is that the situation will be this: I think a number of Democrats will
vote no. I don't know how many will vote no, but I think that it's important that we make
an attempt to stop this. It's got a steamroller quality to it. The rich have mobilized the
media and everybody else, and I expect we'll have a real tough time stopping them, but
I don't think that means that's an excuse for not trying.
Uygur: Well, now, of course, the president says that he couldn't have gotten a better
deal and that in order to get the unemployment insurance extension, in order to get the middle
class tax cuts, he had to give the tax cuts to the rich. Do you simply believe that his
calculus is wrong? McDermott: Yes. I think that there is no question
that this Congress would not have ended with the president being unable to... the Republicans
would've come back the next day and put it in. And I think that he just...
Uygur: Why? Why do you think that?
McDermott: Why do I think that?
Uygur: Yeah, because the president and his advisors and the Washington media are positive
they couldn't have gotten a better deal, that the Republicans would've held out, etc. Why
do you think that the Republicans would've given in?
McDermott: Well, first of all, he could've gotten a better deal if he talked to us a
little bit before he went out and gave away the store. This whole thing was done as though
the House of Representatives didn't exist. And we would've given him the backing to make
it possible for him to have a stronger hand, but he simply did not use the House, he went
out and made the deal himself, and what he's got now is what he's got. He's going to have
to live with it. He will never stop this in two years, he says, oh, well, we're going
to get to two years from now and I'm going to make a stand right at election time. That's
nonsense, we know that.
And we know that they're going to be fighting, one year from now, it'll be the Republicans
in charge of the House, it'll be the Republicans in charge of the Senate, and we will be...
unemployment benefits will have run out again and the president will have given up his opportunity
to guarantee during his time, at least, that the unemployed in this country have benefits.
I mean, he simply... I don't know... he took Senator McConnell as though McConnell won
the war. And I guess if you think that, you give up. But I don't give up.
Uygur: So Representative McDermott, what do you think it is? I mean, do you think that
the president is just a bad poker player or do you think, well, his heart wasn't in this
fight, he didn't really want to win the fight, and... I mean, which one is it? Or maybe it's
something else?
McDermott: I think others will have to decide that as we go along. I personally think that
they started from a position that they... I mean, the president said I'm not going to
extend benefits to continue giving people at the top these extraordinary advantages,
and then he turns around and does it. I mean, I... I have a hard time understanding what
he's thinking, frankly, because I... I don't understand what is up. I really don't.
Uygur: Well, so that, again, that leads to two possible conclusions, I think. One is
that the president doesn't understand the politics of it, I mean, so let's talk about
that for a second because, look, some congressmen are saying hey, you know, the way that this
normally works, and some critics, etc., of the administration are saying, that you would
go out and you would pressure people like Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Olympia Snow
in Maine, etc., and say, 'Hey, look, the polls are on my side,' if you... I'm going to campaign
on this issue in your state, you will lose your seat the next time around if you're this
much against the American people on this issue. Do you think the president just doesn't understand
that concept, or just he didn't want to bother going up to Maine and Massachusetts? I don't
know, I'm at a loss. I'm trying to figure it out with you.
McDermott: Well, I think a lot of us are, in the caucus, we're not quite sure why this
is happening. It doesn't make political sense what he did, and it doesn't make economic
sense. I mean, when you have Mitt Romney coming down in the "USA Today" saying this is a bad
deal, you have to ask yourself what is this good deal that the president got? I mean,
I find myself wondering, when I'm on the same side as Mitt Romney, as to what's going on
in the process.
Uygur: Well, of course, Mitt Romney says no, we should give more tax cuts to the rich,
this isn't enough, and that we should... the unemployment insurance extension causes problems
with the deficit. He says it's the bedrock principle of the Republicans that they always
pay for things like the unemployment insurance. In the next paragraph he says we should not
pay for the tax cuts for the rich, so I don't know what kind of a bedrock principle it is,
but that's his claim. And it is interesting, because DeMint voted against this, so did
Bernie Sanders and Feingold, etc., it's strange bedfellows. But you know, the other possibility,
Congressman, is that the president isn't really that progressive. Have you guys thought about
that in the caucus?
McDermott: Well, we didn't talk about progressive or conservative or anything else. What we're
trying to figure out is how we are fair to the workers in this country. And if you believe,
and I don't believe this, I don't believe that the Republicans could've gone home to
Christmas and said we're not going to take care of the unemployed, we're going to leave
them hanging out there. They dragged them around for 51 days last August so they could
extract some things out of the Senate, and they're dragging them through this, from the
First of December on, they've been dragging them toward the first of the year, they put
2 million people out there without any way to pay their rent or their mortgage or buy
food for their children or buy-- or pay for their electric light bill, and they are willing
to do that to people in order for-- to get one thing. Because we passed from the House
the unemployment benefit extension, we passed the extension of the middle-class tax cuts,
and the Republicans said, 'No, we will not do it unless you give more money to the rich.'
And they have simply stood on that position, and I don't think that's a winning position
in this country at this point. I think that if the president had been hard and stood firm,
I think he would've seen a change, but that's, you know, that was yesterday's news now.
Uygur: Well, Congressman, let's go to tomorrow's news, because my guess is that over the next
two years, the president will cut many, many deals with the Republicans, and every time,
they'll come to you and they'll say, "You better accept these deals with the Republicans,
otherwise, you're the badguys." As Larry Summers said, you're going to cause the double-dip
recession, and...
McDermott: Remember... wait a minute, let's talk about Larry Summers. This is the guy
who brought us the catastrophe we have on Wall Street right now. For him to be going
around telling us about we're gonna have a doube-dip... [laughs] a double-dip collapse,
it's laughable! I don't know why anybody pays any attention to him whatsoever.
Uygur: But he is, or was, the president's top economic advisor. So here you have...
McDermott: Well, there's a lot of us who think he should've gotten a new team. If he'd have
brought in Joe Stiglitz or Paul Krugman or some others, he'd be in much better shape
today than he is now having listened to Larry Summers take us down the road a further piece.
Uygur: But Congressman McDermott, the fact is he isn't going to bring in Stiglitz, apparently
he's just not that guy. He's going to bring in people like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers
and he's going to cut deals with the Republicans. That's what he's done his whole life, that's
what he's done the first two years, that's what he's definitely going to do the next
two years if all this-- if the past is an indication. So how do you deal with that reality?
How do you deal with the reality of a Democratic president who doesn't really appear to be
progressive and works with the Republicans and blames you for it? How do you deal with
that as a progressive in the House?
McDermott: Well, we're going to see. I don't have the answer to that, it's... you're asking
a really good question, but it's one to which I don't have a good answer, I'll tell you
that. I think that we are in serious trouble because the president simply does not seem
willing to go after some things that I think he's going to have to if he's going to get
anything done for the people of this country. He simply has, in my view, given up the willingness
to fight for economic justice in this country. And to take one year of unemployment benefits
and say that that's worth giving, I mean, that's $56 billion, and he says well, I'll
give $65 billion to the wealthiest people in this country who already are making more
than $250,000, and I'm going to give them more money than I'm willing to give to the
unemployed. It's very hard for me to make any sense whatsoever out of that.
Uygur: So Congressman McDermott, let me ask you one final question, then. I mean, what
seems to have worked for the Republicans, and this is giving the president the benefit
of the doubt that he's just a bad negotiator, and so he thinks if they say they're immovable,
then they must be immovable, he just accepts that as the reality of Washington and then
does whatever deal he does according to that, right? Doesn't that give you guys, progressives
in the House, an incentive to be equally immovable, to say, "You know what? Next time you come
and ask me for a vote, my answer is hell no, and I'm going to gather up as many votes as
I possibly can in the House, and they're all going to be, 'Mr. President, hell no.'"
McDermott: Well, it's... you know, I don't know what the next game is. I think it's going
to take us a while to get over what's happened here, and I really think... it is very hard
to think how you're going to deal with the next round here, because the president has
now shown that he can be bullied, and I don't want my president to be bullied. I don't think
these guys deserve it.
And I think he... we would be all much better if we were able to say, you know, that we're
not going to back down, and that there's no excuse for us giving up like this. I mean,
that's the hard part for me, is that it's giving up without a fight, because I... well,
I just think you don't give up just because the other guy says well, I don't like what
you're doing, so I'm going to do it my way, that's it. My view is that there might be
some advantage to at some point saying, "I'm going to stop. I'm standing here. I'm not
moving." And apparently the president didn't see it that way, and I, you know...
Cenk Uygur: You know, I lied, I'm going to ask one more question, then, because based
on what you're saying there, but look, he moves against you guys all the time. I mean,
you know, when you say, 'Hey, no, no, no, I don't want to do tax cuts for the wealthy,'
he comes down on you like a ton of bricks. He says, you know, the people on the left
are sanctimonious. Remember when Senator Dorgan introduced the bill to import drugs into the
country from Canada, etc., he moved 10 or 20 votes in the Senate. He knows how to fight
liberals, so I'm not sure it's that he doesn't know how to fight. I think the real question
is why is he only choosing to fight liberals and not Republicans?
McDermott: I... I don't have a good answer for that. I think that he... we want him to
win. We want him to succeed, more than anything, we want him to succeed. And that's what's
the hardest part for all of us is that we think that... we think he's just made bad
choices here. I mean, that's all I can say, is it seems like the choice of where to fight
has not been clearly thought through, and when you start giving in on the kinds of things
he's giving in on, you really worry that there is no way back from that.  And I'm, I mean,
that's why I said it was... this was Gettysburg, because it really is... that was the turning
point in the war. And it really is a question of how you continue to rally your troops if
you keep giving in on things that people really care about. I... that's the troublesome thing,
for me at least, I find it the hardest part to deal with is the fact that there doesn't
seem to be a point at which the president will say, "Nope, we're not going there." And
I... I really worry about that because this is going to be a very, very, very tough session
in Congress. I don't see how he's going to get anything done positive unless he really
marshalls his forces to fight together.
Uygur: All right, Congressman Jim McDermott, very honest interview. We really appreciate
you coming on and discussing this with us.