MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" Interview with Rep. Peter King (R-NY); Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL)
Interviewer: Chris Matthews
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MR. MATTHEWS: Well, is President Obama waging a stealth war on the Republican Party by wooing away its moderates secretly? He just nominated New York Congressman John McHugh to be his new secretary of the Army after sending Utah Governor Jon Huntsman off to China and getting Arlen Specter to switch parties, although I think Specter had his own intentions there.
So is the president trying to isolate Republicans and make them the party of the South?
Aaron Schock is a newly elected Republican congressman from Illinois.
Congressman, welcome aboard.
REP. SCHOCK: Thank you.
MR. MATTHEWS: And U.S. Congressman Peter King has been aboard for a while. He's one of -- well, he's one of only two Republicans left standing in New York.
Peter King, you're a man who understands politics better than I do, since you've been elected to something. Let me ask you, do you have a sense that they're treating you like the last of the Mohicans, your moderate Republican Party up there in the Northeast, that Barack Obama is just looking around for guys he can pick off and make them like secretary of the Army and things like that?
REP. KING: Well, first of all, as far as secretary of the Army, John McHugh is superbly qualified. He'll be a great secretary of the Army. And it could well be that President Obama is combining good government and good politics. I mean, it's good government to have John McHugh as secretary of the Army. If you're saying that Rahm Emanuel -- who some people say is a combination of Rasputin and Macchiavelli -- may have another motive --
MR. MATTHEWS: (Laughs.)
REP. KING: Rahm is a great friend. He's always thinking politics. He's always thinking government too. So I have no problem with this. First of all, we as Republicans should hold on to that seat. If we don't, it's our fault. To me, I give the president credit for picking John McHugh. And it's up to us to hold the seat, and I think we can.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, what do you want, Peter? Do you want the Vatican or Ireland? What's the best bet you can come up with here?
REP. KING: I just want to keep going on "Hardball" with you, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: (Laughs.)
REP. KING: As long as I can do that, I'm the happiest guy in the world.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
Congressman Schock, congratulations. You have a great congressional seat. I think it was Abraham Lincoln's legislative seat you represent.
REP. SCHOCK: Right.
MR. MATTHEWS: And you represent great people like Ray LaHood, and before that Bob Michel. So congratulations on being elected.
Do you feel that there's a cold draft out there, that the president of the United States is looking for moderate Republicans to put into his team, onto his team, and keep them off the Republican team?
REP. SCHOCK: Well, I don't feel a cold draft. I don't feel at all threatened. I think the president is being very smart, as Mr. King mentioned. You know, he made a pledge to be bipartisan. He made a pledge to include Republicans in his Cabinet, and he's doing just that. And it makes sense that he would pick moderate Republicans, who would be the closest to the ability to carry on his administration's plans and policies.
And for the most part, you know, I think we can hold on to the vacant seats that he's created. You mentioned Ray LaHood, who is my predecessor, who's now his Transportation secretary, who's doing a great job, but I'm his replacement -- another Republican, someone who's younger, and someone who's also looking forward to rebuilding our party.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman, you lack my Macchiavellian sensibility. Let's look at what John Thune of South Dakota -- and he's a Republican -- here's what he said. The senator from South Dakota says this, and he's a Republican. "They're making some really strategic moves in terms of sending them to China or plucking them out of New York. It's obviously a loss to us, a loss to Republicans in the House, and a loss to the party in that region of the country and generally, but obviously a great get for the new administration. I just hope McHugh would stay here instead of going there."
Now, let me -- Congressman King, look at these names: Jim Leach of Iowa; they picked him off. He got defeated, but they grabbed him and made him head of the National Endowment for Humanities. They took Judd Gregg and almost made him secretary of Commerce, but he pulled out. Ray LaHood retired, basically, but they made him secretary of Transportation. Specter is now a "D." Huntsman is now his ambassador to China, our ambassador to China; and McHugh now.
Do you sense that your part of the party, your northern Republican Party, the party of Javits and Keating and Rockefeller and all those guys in the past, is getting diminished here?
REP. KING: But also the party of Jim Buckley and Al D'Amato. No, listen, we are being diminishing, and it's up to us to fight back.
MR. MATTHEWS: No, Jim Buckley was a conservative.
REP. KING: Yeah, but he also ran on the political line the second time around when he ran against Moynihan. No, listen --
MR. MATTHEWS: But he lost.
REP. KING: Yeah, he did. Well, listen, Moynihan was a good candidate, and he was from the old type of Democrat.
No, but Chris, you know, we are diminishing. A lot of it is our own fault. Also demographics are changing. But I don't blame the president. If you want to pick John McHugh to be secretary of the Army, again, it's good government and it's good politics.
I don't think we should be sitting around whining and saying Rahm Emanuel outsmarted us or President Obama outsmarted us. We should get good candidates, put them up there and run. And I do come from a pretty tough political school in New York. I've dealt with some tough people over the years, so I know how the game is played. And maybe there is some gamesmanship here.
But also the president is picking good people. It would be one thing if he was putting in hacks or unqualified people and giving them some plum ambassador's job somewhere where they do nothing. He's taking guys and putting them in tough positions -- Ray LaHood in Transportation, John McHugh in the Department of the Army.
Especially in a Democratic administration, it's really important that the Army have confidence in the commander in chief, and I think John McHugh is going to help do that, is going to show that President Obama is doing the right thing in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, you know, it comes together. And again, I hope we defeat President Obama in 2012, but I don't blame him at all. I think he's doing the right thing by picking a guy like John McHugh.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman Schock, I want to ask you about Illinois, your state.
It seems to me the only Republican chance in big states like Illinois or New York anymore is if the Democrats have a very weak incumbent, like Senator Burris or Governor Paterson of New York. It's your only prayer anymore in these big states is to have a withering- on-the-vine Democrat who you can pluck off if the Democrats don't do it in the primaries.
For example, you could beat Burris probably, couldn't you?
REP. SCHOCK: (Laughs.) Well, Chris, I'm not old enough. I'm only --
MR. MATTHEWS: After what happened last week.
REP. SCHOCK: I'm only 28. I'm not old enough to run for Senate. But Chris --
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, that's a hell of a situation.
REP. SCHOCK: -- that's really a defeatist --
MR. MATTHEWS: You're going to have to wait two years. But go ahead.
REP. SCHOCK: That's really a defeatist mentality. I don't believe that we have to have weak Democrats to win. We have to have strong Republicans. We have to have the right candidates. Part of this is message and part of it's messenger. And I'm in a congressional district that Barack Obama won. I'm from his home state. And I'm a Republican and I still carried the seat.
So we can win in the Northeast. We can win these seats back in New York. But we've got to have the right candidates who are out there, aggressive, people who are younger, people who represent different minorities and can reach out to these demographics that have been neglected by our party in the past years. Nobody's irreplaceable. And with the right candidates and the right message, we can make a comeback in 2010, and I think we can win back the presidency in 2012.
MR. MATTHEWS: You know, Congressman King, I want to ask you this, because I keep looking at this -- we're going to talk about this when we come back at the half-hour about the Republicans running for president. And what stuns me is the popularity within your party of the far right people.
If you take a look at the numbers -- we're going to talk about them at length later on -- it's not the Mitt Romneys that are getting good numbers or the more moderate members. It's the Sarah Palins. It's the Huckabees. It's the Newt Gingriches. It seems like the people on the right are dominating your party in terms of preferences right now. It shows to me the party is getting smaller when Sarah Palin and Huckabee can get almost half the vote.
REP. KING: Yeah, well, actually, I think Sarah Palin is sort of a phenomenon. I would put her -- yeah, she is very conservative, but also there is a real women's vote that she does appeal to; maybe not the NARAL women, but there are a number of women who really are attracted to Sarah Palin. I think Governor Romney would be a good candidate.
You know, I think any time you lose an election, I think people are more likely to, you know, go back to their base in the short term. But it's a long time between now and 2012. I mean, three years ago I endorsed our next president, Rudy Giuliani. Most Democrats endorsed their next president, Hillary Clinton. And, you know, look where we are today. So 2012 is a lifetime away.
REP. SCHOCK: And Chris, let's look at who the Democrats used to come back to the majority. They nominated the most liberal guy in the United States Senate, not Hillary Clinton but Barack Obama. And he's ultimately the one that led them to victory.
MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Okay, I guess that was a shot at him, right?
REP. SCHOCK: Well, no, it's just the point that just because you elect someone or nominate someone who is ideologically to the right or the left doesn't mean that they can't carry the day in the general election. A lot of it comes down to personality and the ability to carry the message forward. Obviously George W. Bush did a better job than Al Gore did in the 2000 election, and obviously John --
MR. MATTHEWS: Why do you say that? He got fewer votes.
REP. KING: But he won the election.
REP. SCHOCK: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: But he got fewer votes.
REP. KING: Yeah, but he got the most electoral votes, Chris. He got the most votes that count. Also --
MR. MATTHEWS: I know, but he --
REP. KING: Also, Chris --
MR. MATTHEWS: He got fewer votes. I mean, we've got to keep remembering that, that Al Gore got more votes.
REP. KING: Chris --
MR. MATTHEWS: With all his stiffness and his terribleness as a candidate, he got more votes than George W. Bush.
REP. SCHOCK: Okay --
MR. MATTHEWS: That should have been a leading indicator of the problem, right?
REP. SCHOCK: All right. Well, can we agree on this? George W. Bush did better than John Kerry, who was arguably more conservative than Barack Obama.
REP. KING: And John Kerry had the entire media behind him. Chris, in 1977, the Republican Party looked toward Ronald Reagan, who was considered the right wing of the Republican Party, and he won big in 1980. So, again, these things play out. History has a way of working itself out. And you and I will be fighting about this in 2011 and 2012.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, this show is a free-fire zone, so thank you, gentlemen.
REP. KING: And Aaron Schock will be running for president. Chris, can you imagine if you were that smart when you were 28, like he is?
MR. MATTHEWS: I lost when I ran for the House at 28. I'm jealous of this guy. I'll admit it.
REP. KING: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: He can't be a senator from his state because he's not old enough? God, that's a pretty good deal.
Peter, are you going to run for the statewide? Are you going to try to knock off Gillibrand?
REP. KING: I am seriously looking at that. I'll decide by Labor Day. And as I said, I will announce it on your show, Chris.
REP. SCHOCK: Wow.
MR. MATTHEWS: We take that as an offer, and we accept. Accepted, sir. We've booked you to lead the hour that night.
Thank you very much, Congressman Aaron Schock, and my good friend --
REP. SCHOCK: Thanks, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- the Irish-American, Pete King.
REP. KING: Thank you, Chris.