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After 'Fiscal Cliff' Debate, The State Of The GOP

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Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Celeste Headlee in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Hillary returns to work, Boehner returns to the dais, Panetta returns to the farm. It's Wednesday and time for a...

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Dealing with a different set of nuts...

HEADLEE: Edition of the Political Junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

HEADLEE: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. President Obama builds a new national security for his second term, but can Chuck Hagel and John Brennan get confirmation? A new Congress divided, deeply unpopular, settles in to tackle the same challenges as the old Congress. And Barney Frank finds a new role as a lobbyist for himself.

Later in the program, departing Congressman Steve LaTourette talks about what's going on in the Grand Old Party, but first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we need to begin with our trivia question.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: We have to. Hello, Celeste.

HEADLEE: Hello.

RUDIN: OK, well, President Obama has named two senators to the Cabinet. First there was Hillary Clinton, and now it's John Kerry. He's also nominated a former senator, Chuck Hagel, for secretary of defense. The question is: Who was the last Cabinet member who became a senator after serving in the Cabinet?

HEADLEE: Oh interesting, was a Cabinet member first and then went on to win a Senate seat.

RUDIN: Celeste, that's exactly what I said.

HEADLEE: But I just said it a little better, Ken, slightly better.

RUDIN: If possible.

HEADLEE: Yeah, OK, so we're going to take your calls on that. Of course you can give us a ring here, and you can email us...

RUDIN: And what do they win, by the way?

HEADLEE: We have our T-shirts back, I've heard, and the button. If you have the answer, and you haven't won in the past six months, that's important, the number is 800-989-8255. Or like I said, you could email, talk@npr.org. And in the meantime, while people are calling in with their erudite answers, let's talk about this new Congress that I mentioned. They were sworn in on Tuesday, and their popularity is a subject of some debate.

RUDIN: Well, I don't think it's a debate at all. There is a public polling - Public Policy Polling poll, try to say that one time fast, that just came out today, and it says Congress is less popular than root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, the rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies, traffic jams, cockroaches, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used car salesmen and Brussels sprouts.

HEADLEE: Meaning that all those things that are more liked...

RUDIN: More liked than Congress or at least the...

HEADLEE: A colonoscopy is more liked than a member of Congress.

RUDIN: Even a semi-colonoscopy. I mean, that's how bad it is. But of course we're talking about the 112th Congress that just departed. The new 113th Congress not much different, but there are record numbers of African-Americans, record numbers of women and record number of gay and lesbian members. So it's a little more interesting, but let's see if anything changes.

HEADLEE: All right, well, we have some people calling in with answers to the trivia question...

RUDIN: Already?

HEADLEE: Already. Remember, the question was: Who was the last Cabinet member who became a senator after serving in the Cabinet? And here is Barbara(ph) in Indiana. Barbara?

BARBARA: It's Elizabeth Warren.

HEADLEE: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, Elizabeth Warren is a senator now. Now, we're talking about - we're looking for somebody who became a member of the Cabinet, now of course Elizabeth Warren was never a member of the Cabinet, but she was a proposed nominee for something, for an agency head by President Obama. But we're talking about after service in the Senate.

HEADLEE: Right, OK, sorry, Barbara. OK again, to make - to be clear...

RUDIN: Please, because I'm confused now.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Ken Rudin has confused himself, which actually is not that uncommon. Who was the last Cabinet member who became a senator after they served in the Cabinet, and let's go...

RUDIN: And you said after in the Senate.

HEADLEE: Right. And let's go to Doug(ph) in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug, what's your answer?

DOUG: Mel Martinez ran HUD and then became the senator from the state of Florida.

RUDIN: Mel Martinez is a very good guess. You're absolutely right, but he is not the most recent person to accomplish that.

DOUG: Oh...

HEADLEE: Oh, nice try, Doug. Let's try another answer. Here is Toby(ph) in Greenfield, North Carolina. Toby, what's your guess?

TOBY: Well, I was going to go with Dick Cheney, but I think I'm wrong now.

RUDIN: Right, because Dick Cheney never served in the Senate.

TOBY: I thought he did, except that then I was like no, it's Mel Martinez, OK.

HEADLEE: No, he was a deciding vote in the Senate as vice president.

RUDIN: That's true, and of course he served in the House from Wyoming. Right.

HEADLEE: All right, Toby. So again, let me just quickly reiterate the question: Who was the last Cabinet member who became a senator after they served in the Cabinet? And you can give us a call or email, of course, the number is 800-989-8255.

But in the meantime, let's move on to some other things. Let's talk about these nominations of both Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, as well, and why we're kind of bracing for a fight. Don't most Cabinet nominations kind of sail through?

RUDIN: They do, although it seems like since President Obama's been in office, nothing sails through anymore. And of course we have had - we saw what just happened recently with the Susan Rice trial balloon as secretary of state. And of course under pressure, either he withdrew the nomination, or Susan Rice - or actually never was nominated, or Susan Rice took herself out of consideration.

Now there seems to be a sense that President Obama is not going to back down now. He almost is looking forward to this fight. Having come from a successful re-election battle, perhaps he has more of the public behind him. But there is still a lot of people - I don't know what a lot means anymore, but there are a sizable number of people who are not happy with Hagel.

No, look, he's a Vietnam veteran. He's very close with President Obama. You know, he's a Republican.

HEADLEE: Wait, Vietnam veteran is a mark against him?

RUDIN: No, no, no, these are the good things. The good things, especially serving in the Defense Department.

HEADLEE: He was an enlisted man.

RUDIN: Absolutely. He was a Republican, he's a Republican, although some Republicans are questioning that. And that's part of the problem with the Republicans. They felt that by endorsing Obama over John McCain in 2008, he kind of dissed the Republican Party.

HEADLEE: Right.

RUDIN: A lot of it is personality-driven. We're talking - we're hearing things about anti-Israel, anti-Semitism, Auntie Em on "The Wizard of Oz." But all those things are - I think perhaps what it really is is personality, and maybe it is a little way of getting back at the president. But we have seen that the president, as we heard during the upcoming debt ceiling fight, the president looks like he's itching for a fight and not looking to back down.

HEADLEE: Trying to stretch out that mandate he thinks he has. All right, let's try for another - for another answer here on our trivia question. Again the question: Who was the last Cabinet member who became a senator after serving in the Cabinet? And let's try Phil(ph) in Mitchell, South Dakota. Phil, what's your answer?

PHIL: Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

RUDIN: Mike Johanns of Nebraska is the correct answer.

PHIL: All right, answer the prayer.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Phil, don't hang up because you got the right answer, which of course means you're going to get a T-shirt and a button, but...

RUDIN: Mike Johanns was President Bush's secretary of agriculture from 2005 to 2007, and he is a currently a Republican senator from Nebraska.

HEADLEE: OK, great, Phil, thank you very much.

PHIL: OK, thank you.

HEADLEE: I'm going to put you on hold if I can figure out how to...

RUDIN: I think it's a button that says hold.

HEADLEE: No, there's no hold button. It said drop call, which I don't want to do, and I don't think I want to touch dump mode, either.

RUDIN: Oh no, no.

HEADLEE: Sorry, let's talk a little bit more...

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Let's talk a little bit more about what's going on in D.C. ...

RUDIN: I love live radio. It's amazing.

HEADLEE: ...because we do have a couple other open seats. One for example is the Senate seat which will be vacated by John Kerry, who we just mentioned, since he'll be moving into a Cabinet position. And kind of a surprise to many people is that Barney Frank wants that seat.

RUDIN: Barney Frank, who just left Congress after 32 years, he just retired, and he says he wants the interim appointment. Now look, Deval Patrick will name somebody temporarily...

HEADLEE: The governor of Massachusetts.

RUDIN: Right, will name somebody temporarily to the Senate, which is what he did after Ted Kennedy died, he named Paul Kirk briefly for the Senate, and as before Scott Brown won the special. Anyway, he's going to name an interim appointment, appointee, and Barney Frank, again who left Congress, just left Congress after all those terms, says he wants the job.

He will not run for the special election, matter of fact he all but endorsed Ed Markey, who seems to be the consensus Democratic choice for that seat, but he wants that interim appointment.

HEADLEE: Which means Barney Frank, if he got it, and that's a big if...

RUDIN: Right, because there are other people who want it, as well.

HEADLEE: Would serve for how long?

RUDIN: Well, until there's a special election, and of course that depends on when John Kerry officially leaves the Senate because of course he still has to have the confirmation hearings and then get confirmed. Now of course given his views on Israel, Hagel would probably get confirmed but not bar mitzvahed. I think I just - that's part of the problem, too.

HEADLEE: Yeah, OK, all right, so...

RUDIN: So anyway, we don't have a date yet.

HEADLEE: It could be a while.

RUDIN: It could be. We're expecting a special election April, May, June, something like that.

HEADLEE: All right, so let's go back in time, if you can remember back this far, Ken...

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: ...to when John Boehner was facing, you know, a little bit of I guess opposition from his own party in order to get re-elected as speaker of the House. Now you mentioned earlier sort of this arguments going on in the GOP. How serious was this opposition, this challenge to Boehner? And is it reflective of kind of what's going on with the Republicans?

RUDIN: Boehner has always had the problem, in his two years as speaker, is he's always had to - look, he's a compromiser at heart. He's a legislator at heart. And of course many of the Republicans who were elected in 2010 were not negotiators or compromisers. They were Tea Party...

HEADLEE: On principle.

RUDIN: Absolutists, right. They were - but they were principled conservatives that did not believe in compromising. And so that was always the problem for John Boehner. Now of course when he was elected speaker two years ago, it was unanimous, Republican Conference voting for him. Twelve Republicans ultimately either voted for somebody else or abstained from voting for Boehner. That's not a lot.

But I think that's an all-time record for a vote during the speaker from your own...

HEADLEE: For an incumbent speaker of the House.

RUDIN: Right, for your own party. Even Newt Gingrich didn't have that many abstentions or objections, and Newt Gingrich was a very controversial speaker. So Boehner has a tough battle ahead of him. You kind of wonder why he wants it because of all the stuff - and I mean, given the fact that he was pushed aside during the fiscal cliff negotiations, his Plan B went nowhere because his own party didn't like it.

So, you know, it's tough trying to unite this party, but he's still - look, whatever you think about it, he's still, you know, got the - I think it was 220 to 192 against Nancy Pelosi. He will be speaker for a second session.

HEADLEE: All right, OK, so before...

RUDIN: Second Congress.

HEADLEE: OK, so before we go, and we're going to talk more about the identity crisis in the GOP more, let's talk about Hillary Clinton back at work. She's got a helmet now, just in case she falls again, but, you know, only for a short period of time before, obviously, John Kerry comes in to replace her. And she says she will testify about what happened in Benghazi.

RUDIN: Right, I mean, that was - I mean, all the crazy and mostly unfortunate stuff you read on the Internet about what her illness really was, whether she really had the flu, whether she really had a concussion, whether she really had a blood clot, and that's just so despicable is probably the best word I can think of.

But she came back, and she's now back at the State Department, back at Foggy Bottom, got a helmet as a present, you know, a sense of humor and everything.

HEADLEE: A football helmet, right.

RUDIN: But you know something? I mean, and she says she's not retiring, she says, it's just, it's a pause. And of course every time somebody says - hears the word pause and Hillary Clinton, 2016 is the next thing they think of.

HEADLEE: Right, of course. Political junkie Ken Rudin is my guest. After a short break, outgoing Congressman Steve LaTourette joins us to talk about where he thinks the GOP is headed. We're going to talk more in just a minute. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HEADLEE: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. It's Wednesday, and that means political junkie Ken Rudin is here. And Ken, I understand you have a new ScuttleButton puzzle and a new column?

RUDIN: Yes, a new Political Junkie column is up about John Boehner's travails, and there is a new ScuttleButton puzzle that needs to be answered by the end of this week.

HEADLEE: It has not been answered?

RUDIN: Well, it has been answered, but we haven't picked a winner until next week. So there's still a chance.

HEADLEE: I see. There's still time to get in. OK, something slightly less exciting than that.

RUDIN: If possible.

HEADLEE: Our Political Junkie Road Show is just a week away from today. That's next Wednesday, January 16, here in Washington, D.C. You can join us for an evening of political puns, wit - those two things don't go together - bad jokes, maybe a good one here and there, special guests including Clarence Page, Nina Totenberg, Ted Koppel and of course trivia and ScuttleButton.

If you'd like to attend the event, to buy a ticket send us an email with Junkie Road Show in the subject. And the address, of course, is talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: And if you talk about that on Twitter, the hashtag is junkieroadshow.

HEADLEE: Oh, you can get a ticket that way.

RUDIN: No, but you - well no, you can't...

HEADLEE: No, but you'll have tweeted something with junkieroadshow in it.

RUDIN: Exactly, and that's very important.

HEADLEE: OK, former Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette left Congress last week after 18 years representing Ohio's 14th District in the House. Yesterday the business advisory and law firm of McDonald Hopkins announced LaTourette will head their Government Strategies Division. And he joins us now to share his views on Congress, his own party and the direction for the future.

And Republicans, we want to hear from you right now. What do people get wrong about your party? Give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. The email address, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website, as well. Go to npr.org, and then click on TALK OF THE NATION.

But Congressman LaTourette joins us now to talk about his assessment of the Republican Party. Welcome, Congressman.

STEVE LATOURETTE: Happy to be here.

HEADLEE: So let's talk about first of all the state of the GOP right now. Fair to call it divided, I assume?

LATOURETTE: Well, divided, but the divisions aren't as deep as some either would like or are saying they are. But yeah, there are some problems. Every family has some problems. We've got ours.

HEADLEE: OK, but you're saying that there's debate over whether people want it to be divided or not? Why would someone want the party to be divided?

LATOURETTE: No, no, no - well, our opponents want the party, Democrats want the party to be divided because obviously a divided Republican Party is easier to roll. But not people within the party. There are people within the party, and there are divisions within the party, and we have to figure out a way. And actually John Boehner and the Republican Conference next week, when they go on their retreat, I believe the theme is how do we get the 218 to put forward some legislation?

HEADLEE: OK, but I guess I'm a little confused on what you're saying here. It seems to me like it's pretty clear that there are real divisions in the party. You've got - Chuck Hagel is a Republican. You've got Republicans saying he's not a real Republican. You've got people running - Republicans running ads against Mitch McConnell, as well.

I mean, you have divisions all over the party in terms of - and, you know, Ken and I were just talking about the at least simmering opposition to John Boehner as speaker of the House. You don't agree, or you do, that there is some kind of fighting going on over the GOP's identity?

LATOURETTE: Oh sure there is. What I think I said was that it's not as deep as some sort of suggest it is. There are divisions. There are problems that need to be solved. You have a group of people that run around and sort of have established a litmus test on what's, you know, a good Republican, what's a bad Republican.

And, you know, from my perspective, being from Cleveland, Ohio, the Midwest, you know, a Republican from Cleveland doesn't necessarily look like a Republican from Houston, Texas, or Mississippi or Alabama. And I'm not aware of any test that you need to take to be a Republican. You just, you know, we should be welcoming, and we're not doing that.

RUDIN: Congressman, before you announced - first of all, you won your primary, and then you decided afterwards that you were not going to seek re-election in 2012. And I'm just looking at some things here. You voted against Obamacare. You oppose abortion. You oppose same-sex marriage. You opposed the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. Why do some people say that Steve LaTourette is not a conservative?

LATOURETTE: I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But you know that's out there.

LATOURETTE: Well, I do, and here's the deal. I think that - and again it goes to what is a - you know, what's a Republican, what's a conservative. And I think, you know, I never paid much attention to scores, but I think if you uncovered my loyalty to the party score after 18 years, I'm sure it's in the low 90s or high 80s, which is, you know, a pretty good day, you know, if you're looking for a constituency.

But I - where I'm from, I haven't - you know, my district is on the shores of Lake Erie. I happen to like clean water and clean air and the environment. I happen to like people that ride bicycles. I never saw anything growing up where to be a good Republican you have to be against men and women in organized labor organizations.

And so those are the votes that they say, well, he's, you know, he's a RINO because he won't - he likes prevailing wages, or, you know, he was one of two people that voted against holding Eric Holder in criminal contempt and so forth and so on. So they will pick where there's a low percentage of the, you know, 12,000 votes I cast over 18 years and use that as the measuring stick.

I think it's ridiculous, and I think it's a measuring stick that's being - you know, I've been a Republican all my life. I'm 58 years old. And you have these people who used to be Southern Democrats, primarily, all of a sudden, you know, woke up and decided they want to be Republicans, and they're going to tell the rest of what a good Republican is.

RUDIN: If there's few of you left in the party, relatively few of you left, talking about union rights and things like that, why did you walk away?

LATOURETTE: Well because - and you're exactly right. I didn't actually win my primary; nobody ran against me. So I was nominated without opposition in the primary. And I had every intention of running because if I was thinking about leaving, I'm not a big fan of resigning and forcing a special election, and that's about a half-a-million-dollar prospect.

So - but as we rounded the corner, and I saw the highway bill blow up, and I spent 14 years on transportation, that's a no-brainer. There isn't a Democratic bridge in the United States. There's not a Republican road somewhere. We used to get that done. We didn't get a highway bill done. We didn't get a farm bill done. Everybody likes to eat. Everybody likes to support the family farmer.

And I think what really put me over the top was a very short speech that Boehner gave when you may remember at the beginning of June, interest rates on student loans were about to double from three to six percent. And there was, you know, a piece of legislation written to - it was a phony pay-for put in, you know, about five years ago.

And everybody knew that we didn't want student loan interest rates to double on kids trying to go to school, but we couldn't figure out how to pay for it. And Boehner just took to the microphone, and he said, you know, my God, do we have to fight about everything? And the answer is yes.

I mean, and this is a pox on both parties. I mean, I'm pretty conversant with what's going on in the Republican Conference, but it's both sides just on the no-brainer stuff won't give an inch or find that common ground to get it done. And, you know, then you can go back to fighting like cats and dogs on the big stuff.

HEADLEE: We're speaking with Steve LaTourette. He was a Republican congressman for Ohio, long-term, and again, I want to put a special call out to Republicans who are listening. What do you think people get wrong about your party? Call us at 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org.

I wonder, Congressman, what you think about the many people who say there are simply too many extremists on - taking over the reins of the party. And this is for either Republicans or the Democrats, that at times these squeaky wheels, who are a minority but a very vocal minority, end up steering policy.

LATOURETTE: Yes, well, I think you're - that that point is exactly right, and I do think it's both parties. I believe that the extreme wings of each party controls those parties and controls in the sense that, you know, to win elections, you not only need your base, but you need independents. Independents, by and large, don't vote in party primary elections.

And so what you're left with, and what most members fear more than anything else, not the November election. They fear the primary election, where a committed group, you know, on the Republican side, the Tea Party would be an example, comprise 35 percent of the potential primary voters. As motivated voters, that percentage grows, obviously, in terms of the folks that actually show up.

And so that sort of most conservative wing of the Republican Party can take a Republican out in the primary. And the same thing exists on the Democratic side of the aisle, as well. And so when you are so busy shoveling red meat into the lion cage of your base to make sure that, you know, they're fed, and you stay in favor, and you don't have a primary, and they're not calling you a RINO or I guess the Democratic alternative is DINO, that you can't - it's very difficult to move.

And I - you know, not a ton of people agree with me, but I think one of the reasons that Mitt Romney sort of faded at the end was he began to move to the center too late. You know, that...

HEADLEE: Yeah, or the primaries took him too far out.

LATOURETTE: Well, that's right, and he knew he had to get back to the middle and be the guy...

HEADLEE: And he waited too long.

LATOURETTE: Yeah, he waited too long.

HEADLEE: All right, Congressman LaTourette, let me read you this comment from Joshua(ph) in South Bend, Indiana. Joshua says: I don't identify as a Republican. I identify as a conservative, which means I do largely vote and support Republicans, as well as third-party candidates and the occasional moderate Democrat. Something I think people don't understand is that not all Republicans care about social issues. In fact, a true conservative stance on social issues would be for the government to not be involved, which would leave things like abortion and gay marriage up to the choice of the individual. I think there's a negative stigma that associates Republicans with social conservatism which is not always the case. What do you think?

LATOURETTE: Well, that's a great point by Joshua, and, you know, that's independent, conservative, almost libertarian in his views, and I think that's right. I mean, you know, what I hear from people all the time is I happen to be pro-life and I'm proud of that and so forth and so on. But I don't wear it on my sleeve, and nor do I need to have a vote on it every week to establish to a set of people back in Ohio that that's my position. And if you - even the Tea Party, if you look at the Tea Party what it stands for, taxed enough already, they don't have anything to do with abortion. They don't have anything to do with guns. They don't have anything to do with gay marriage. They have to do with fiscal policy...

HEADLEE: Right.

LATOURETTE: ...which should be the strong suit of the Republican Party. And - but what happens to these movements that are successful, however, we get these outliers, and so the Tea Parties at least in my area have become, you know, oh, well, they're getting news, and so all of a sudden, the LaRouchies who, you know, weren't getting press all by themselves, they become active. And the Ron Paul people come in, and they try to sort of (unintelligible).

HEADLEE: The squeaky wheel is getting all the grease.

LATOURETTE: Well, that's exactly right. And so they do a disservice to the Tea Party because they sort of morphed them into these extremists, when by and large most Tea Party people are just interested in paying fewer taxes and balancing the budget.

RUDIN: Congressman, I'm just wondering what prospects do you think — see for the 113th Congress? Do you see the same kind of interparty stuff going on between the Tea Party and the so-called establishment? And I also know that you're very close with John Boehner.

LATOURETTE: Yes.

RUDIN: Did you ever want to tell him or did he ever want to tell you privately like what - why do I need this job?

(LAUGHTER)

LATOURETTE: No. He - you know what? And John Boehner, we have been friends for 20 years. And if they were willing dance partners, he would make the big deals necessary to save America from the deficit and the debt. He would have made it with President Obama a year ago August. He would have made it this last couple of weeks on the fiscal cliff. But there's a variety of forces that that, you know, continue to - won't do it. Now, you know, I don't have a lot of not pleasant things to say about the president, but I do believe that the president is unwilling to challenge his party on the two-thirds of the budget that is spending, entitlement spending.

HEADLEE: Yeah.

LATOURETTE: And unless you, you know, it's like that bank robber, Willie Sutton, why did he rob banks, well, that's where the money is. And unless you...

(LAUGHTER)

LATOURETTE: You know, unless you're willing to go rob the bank where the money is...

HEADLEE: Right.

LATOURETTE: ...you're not going to solve the problem. And so I know that Boehner felt hamstrung by the fact that, you know, and what he said to us. He said, look, two irrefutable facts: the president of the United States was re-elected, and two, taxes are going up on somebody.

HEADLEE: Right.

LATOURETTE: And the question is: Can we maneuver ourselves, put ourselves in a position to get at what we also consider to be the problem, that's runaway spending?

HEADLEE: All right. We're going to be back with Congressman LaTourette in just a moment. First, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And I want to take a couple of calls here. This is David in Tulsa, Oklahoma. David?

DAVID: Yes.

HEADLEE: What do you think people get wrong about the Republican Party?

DAVID: Well, clearly, they, you know, they view Republicans having a lack of compassion for the poor and a priority of, you know, benefiting the wealthy over the interests of everyone in common, including the deficit, you know, and the debt, you know, (unintelligible).

HEADLEE: So you're saying Republicans are not coldhearted as they're portrayed?

DAVID: No. They want prosperity for everybody, and they believe that, you know, kind of the answer of lower taxes and a little bit of debt fuel growth for a while would benefit everybody. And unfortunately, you know, why I think there's a divide in the Republican Party now is because it hasn't really worked. I think the evidence says unfortunately it doesn't work. We can't balance the budget that way. It doesn't all trickle down. All the dollars that build up in wealthy people's pockets...

HEADLEE: Right.

DAVID: ...don't it end up getting spent in the economy so...

HEADLEE: So there's got to be another solution?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID: ...searching for a new answer I think while they still - most Republicans still kind of hanging on to trickle down because that's nice to think - it's nice to think it would work, low tax on the wealthy and everybody wins.

HEADLEE: Yeah. All right. David in Tulsa, Oklahoma, thank you so much. And we have another call here. This is Mike in St. Louis, Missouri. Mike, what do you think people get wrong about the Republican Party?

MIKE: Well, they get a lot of things right and still (unintelligible) wrong. When you take a label, money that's taken out of my paycheck and so forth, Medicare and federal taxes, I'm 62 years old, over 40-some years, and you call it an entitlement, I don't - that's not no entitlement, OK? Next thing is the thing that you get right is the same-sex marriage and this illegal immigration. It's devastating to the African-American community, and there are a lot of African-Americans out here that are sitting on the fence.

If you could get some of the extremists out of your party, such as this Todd Akin guy, I didn't vote this (unintelligible). I can't support Barack - the Democratic Party done left me. And now, a lot of African-American men will feel the same way, and one last thing: black men did not vote for this man at all. I mean we voted for him, some did, but if you've got the polling that was done because we sent 95 percent, you get someone 95 percent of your vote and get nothing in return...

HEADLEE: Yeah.

MIKE: ...I'm telling you, if you get some of these extremists out like (unintelligible)...

HEADLEE: Yeah. Like - you mentioned Todd Akin. OK, let me get the answer from the congressman here. That's Mike in St. Louis, Missouri. Thank you very much, Mike. So, Congressman, there he mentions Todd Akin.

LATOURETTE: Right.

HEADLEE: That's a vote you could have gotten had it not been for, you know, unfortunate comments.

LATOURETTE: Well, and I wrote a column about a month ago that's called "The Manchurian Candidate," and basically, I can identify five House - or excuse me - Senate races in the last two cycles that have been lost because of extreme positions taken by the candidate. And it's an example of what we were talking about before you took that call where in the primary - and I'd add Mr. Mourdock in Indiana and - I don't remember the name, but the witch in Delaware..

RUDIN: Christine O'Donnell.

HEADLEE: Christine O'Donnell.

LATOURETTE: Yeah. And the woman out in Nevada and...

RUDIN: Sharron Angle.

HEADLEE: Yeah.

LATOURETTE: Yeah. And so - there's one more floating around out there but so...

HEADLEE: At least.

LATOURETTE: ...it's exactly what I'm talking about, in that a concerted effort by a dedicated core group of Republican primary voters, very conservative, determined who the nominee was going to be. And they may have won the nomination but there's no way when you talk about, you know, a child conceived as a result of rape being a gift from God are going to get the independents in this country to think that you're nothing but a dangerous person when it comes to everything that the government shouldn't be involved in.

HEADLEE: OK. Steve LaTourette, this obviously a conversation that will continue. Steve LaTourette was a Republican congressman from Ohio, currently serves as president at McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies. Thank you so much for being with us, Congressman.

LATOURETTE: Hey, thank you so much.

HEADLEE: After a short break, on what would have been his 100th birthday, we remember Richard Nixon. A lot more to his legacy than Watergate, so don't go away. I'm Celeste Headlee. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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