What are the prospects for an immigration overhaul in the House? Are Republicans relishing another debt ceiling showdown with President Barack Obama?
In the second part of our Tax Day Q&A with House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam, the Illinois Republican opens up about those subjects and others. As co-chairman of the House Korea Caucus, Roskam also offers his thoughts on the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. And he doesn't mince words on his opinion of the president's leadership.
We also couldn’t resist asking Roskam, serving his fourth term in suburban Chicago's 6th District, that most basic of constituent questions: Cubs or White Sox? Read all the way through for his answer.
CQ Roll Call: On an immigration overhaul, what’s more likely, comprehensive legislation or running an overhaul through in pieces?
Roskam: The immigration issue is an interesting one. I’m of the opinion that it’s an issue that we’re best to break down into smaller components. It’s not a settled question at all, in terms of how you would approach it. But procedurally, you have a higher likelihood of passage if you focus in on borders first. Pass a borders piece, then you can pass what I characterize as the high-wattage visas, then the guest workers, then ultimately deal with the people that are here now.
And, if you break it down, then you can imagine moving different pieces of legislation with different roll calls. Now, you can’t move these in an abstract setting. They’ve got to be negotiated, and I’m not suggesting that they’re not negotiated, and they still have to relate to one another. But if you break it down, I think it’s a much more artful way to try and get things moving, and it reflects just different constituencies within the House.
The longer I’m around, with the exception of tax reform — and I acknowledge that I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth — “comprehensive” and “immigration reform” has not worked in the past and there’s a reason for everybody to vote against a comprehensive immigration bill.
Q: The debt ceiling: Are we headed for another August 2011-type showdown, or do you think there’s going to be a way to do this that keeps both House Republicans happy but doesn’t therefore cause a fight with Obama and Senate Democrats?
Roskam: I don’t think there’s much of a desire to dance on the edge of the debt ceiling. But by the same token, when you’ve got an administration that’s just perceived as incredibly cavalier about debt — and the president’s own plan now takes us to $26 trillion — we perceive ourselves as the only restraining influence towards a debt crisis. I think you’ll end up seeing the House move sooner than later to avoid countdown drama. Countdown drama doesn’t yield good policy, necessarily, and it sends ambiguous messages. And what we try and couple that with, I think we need to hear from our members.
Q: North Korea: Should Americans be concerned that the dictator there is going to do something that requires U.S. military action? Or should they view him as a harmless mad man?
Roskam: Americans should be concerned because nobody knows what is going on in the mind of Kim Jong Un — nobody knows. The decisions that they’ve made in terms of the bluster and the language notwithstanding, bluster and language get you in positions where they can cause cascading events that get out of control very quickly.
Q: You served with Obama in the Illinois Legislature. Is there something that Republican members and grass-roots conservatives need to understand about him?
Roskam: The president is playing a zero-sum game of politics. He’s demonstrated the inability to create the sort of win-win scenario that he describes and celebrates. But he actually doesn’t do the things that get you to a win-win situation. Historically what leaders do — good leaders — is create those kinds of scenarios. I’m of the opinion, based on my observations now, the president is just choosing to play zero-sum games. When he’s had open-field running, he’s been able to accomplish Obamacare, stimulus, Dodd-Frank. But absent open-field running, from a tactical point of view from being able to work in divided government, he’s a complete failure.
Q: Since Obama launched his charm offensive, you don’t see any change in his leadership style?
Roskam: The night that he met with us, he gave a speech at OFA. [Organizing For Action is a grass-roots organization built from of the Obama re-election campaign].
Q: You’re a leader in the House. Congressional Republicans have awful poll numbers. What is the state of the Republican Party?
Roskam: The party has to persuade a core constituency that should be our voters — persuade them on the merits of these economic policies that we’re laying out. Those line workers — those are our voters. When I go in and I talk at a company, and I’m meeting with the management, they’re completely with me on taxes and spending and cap-and-trade, card-check and you name it. When I’m interacting with the folks that are working on the line, that’s an entirely different interaction. That’s where the GOP [hasn't succeeded]; it’s got a great message, it’s a compelling message, it creates economic opportunity and is very robust and dynamic. And what we’ve got to be doing is offering a message of contrast.
Q: Then why have you failed to attract the support from the folks working on the factory floor, as opposed to just their management?
Roskam: What we’ve been doing is talking about features and not benefits. We’ve been talking features — balanced budgets. It’s like, well, that’s interesting. But what’s the connection to where I am? Communicating why that matters is what we need to do.
Q: What about the whip operation and the challenge of handling competing pressures from different factions of your conference?
Roskam: It’s challenging. Part of the nature of the challenge is understanding and communicating expectations. So, although we’re a majority in the House, we’re a minority in town. And, where the political left has an advantage is that they tend to be better at incremental change than conservatives are. They will take an incremental win and take it to the bank and come back. They’ve got this down to an art form. Where the political right has to be skilled is to take incremental change. There is where [Ronald] Reagan was brilliant.
Q: What’s the state of the leadership team? You’ve been under a lot of pressure. And how do you feel about the 2014 elections?
Roskam: I think we’re upbeat. It’s going to be a good cycle for us. There’s a sense of clarity in that we know what the president’s intentions are. It’s not ambiguous. His goal is to thin our herd and to make Nancy Pelosi speaker again, and so we’re not operating under a false premise that he’s really interested in substantively negotiating with us. In terms of the leadership, I don’t feel sharp elbows at the leadership table. I give a lot of credit to [Speaker John A. Boehner; Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy] for putting together a team that is cohesive and is talking to each other and is functional.
Q: Last question: Cubs or Sox?