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Rep. Dave Brat On The Freedom Caucus And The GOP's Future


Republicans are looking for a new leader of their House. Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this week he won't run for re-election in the fall. His No. 2, Kevin McCarthy of California, is considered the frontrunner for what is by all accounts a very difficult job. But he could face a challenge from the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative Republicans aligned with the Tea Party movement. This week, Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows sidestepped the question of his ambitions for the speaker job.


MARK MEADOWS: This institution is more important than any one person. So it's never been about a speaker. It's been about the American people.

MARTIN: Congressman Dave Brat joins us now. He's a Republican from Virginia and a member of the Freedom Caucus. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

DAVE BRAT: Hey. Thanks for having me on. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. We just heard your colleague, Mark Meadows, say there that it's not about one individual. But wouldn't the Freedom Caucus, if given the choice, like to see one of their own in the speaker's chair?

BRAT: Well, sure. I mean, I think Mark had it right. We adhere to principles - right? - not to personalities. And so, you know, my goal for the Freedom Caucus is just to put a list of principles, you know, just free market adherence to the Constitution, shrinking the size of the swamp up in DC, just basic principles that most Americans want to see. And whichever speaker candidate comes closer to those principles, that's who we back.

MARTIN: Did Speaker Paul Ryan uphold those principles?

BRAT: Yeah. I mean, he's been a free marketeer. And so we've got the tax cut piece through. Now, economic growth is 3 percent. Wages are growing at 3 percent. If you grow out 3 percent, the tax cut pays for itself. And so that's great news.

The regulatory is moving in the right direction to get business moving. And then reducing the size of the swamp, we didn't do so great. There we've got some work to do.

MARTIN: What is Paul Ryan's legacy?

BRAT: That's it. I mean, his legacy is just a great thought leader in terms of - he's wanted to reform the mandatory programs. Medicare and Social Security both go insolvent in about 17 years. And so he had some rational plans to try and reform those.

But then, unfortunately, the other side runs negative ads against you and, you know, grandma over-the-cliff kind of stuff. And that's unfortunate because if we don't solve these programs, they're not going to be there for the kids.

We've just surpassed the $21 trillion mark in debt we've put on the kids. They have to go get jobs and pay their bills, et cetera, and then pay off the debt our generation has put on them. And they have $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities in Medicare and Social Security that we put on them.

So Paul is known for being a thought leader on those issues. But, unfortunately, there's just not enough political will up here in the swamp to get things done.

MARTIN: Let me ask you about an issue that has been in the spotlight over the past year, the issue of immigration.

BRAT: Yep.

MARTIN: Do you think that Speaker Ryan brought your party to where it needed to be on the issue of immigration?

BRAT: I - he promised the - that he'd put the Goodlatte bill on the floor. And so we're still waiting for that this year. The Goodlatte bill is just rational policy. All the Democrats agreed with it, right? It's Bill Clinton's State of the Union speech, Barbara Jordan.

MARTIN: We should say the Goodlatte bill, Congressman Goodlatte's co-sponsor bill doesn't provide a permanent fix to people who get DACA protections. It also cracks down on sanctuary cities. So there are elements of it the Democrats are against.

BRAT: Yeah. Well, you know - no, it does provide a permanent - it's 700,000 folks out of the shadows, which is what they wanted for the DACA kids. And that is a permanent fix. And then it goes on and, you know, helps on border security.

And sanctuary cities is in there, right? Virginia - unfortunately, the governor of Virginia just vetoed that. And so now Virginia can have sanctuary cities where we don't uphold the law of the land, which is pretty remarkable. I don't know if Virginians are ready to become San Francisco. And you can see what's going on in California on that issue. I mean, there's chaos. And I don't think people like that direction.

MARTIN: But, needless to say, Speaker Ryan was not able to corral the Republicans in order to push forward some kind of immigration bill. Is that a disappointment to you?

BRAT: Yeah. I mean, I think it's close. I think we're over 200. And so we - we're within striking range on that bill. And that tells you - right? - it's rational policy. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were for this until a couple of years ago, right? So the Democrats now are doing identity politics. They used to care about the blue-collar worker and the middle-class worker.

And having legal immigration, it doesn't seem like a radical idea to most people. I mean, these days, everything is so politicized. But being for the rule of law and legal immigration that's good for the country is - it seems like a no-brainer.

MARTIN: In seconds remaining, do you have a top contender for the job?

BRAT: Nope. We're just seeing names kind of come up by the day. And so we're just going to put out some principles and ask all the candidates where they stand on those principles. And I think that's the way to proceed - a positive, fair way to proceed.

MARTIN: Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia, thanks so much.

BRAT: You bet. Thank you, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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