Interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar

Interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar

By Anderson Cooper 360 - March 18, 2010

COOPER: Well, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said today he was giddy with the Congressional Budget Office report, saying the health care bill would cover more people and bring more deficit reduction than expected. He said it would help him round up wavering, those so-called Blue Dog Democrats, fiscal or social conservatives, mainly from the South and Southwest.

Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar is one such Blue Dog. He is still undecided.

I spoke with the congressman earlier tonight.


COOPER: Congressman Cuellar, you're still undecided on this bill. What's it going to take to change your mind, to make you make up your mind one way or the other?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Well, just this afternoon, we just got the amendments to the Senate bill.

And, as you recall, last year, people were asking us, don't vote on the bill until you read every part of the bill. So, as a good attorney and as a good legislator, I think it's my responsibility to read the amendments. And, of course, we got the CBO today, which gave us some promising numbers as to the cost of the bill itself and how much it's going to reduce the deficit in the next 10 years, $138 billion.


COOPER: So, is abortion the bottom line for you?

CUELLAR: Well, that's one of the factors.

And, as you know, the -- what -- what we do now, since it looks like we're going to be looking at the Senate bill language, I'm looking at some legal analysis as to what this language says. And, as an attorney, I think, you know, we can adhere to the Henry Hyde amendment by saying that no federal funds will be used for abortions. And that's the bottom line for me.

COOPER: From that, from the instances you cite, though, it sounds like you're hedging towards supporting this?

CUELLAR: If you would ask me right now, I'm probably leaning more to what -- to supporting the Senate language, from what I have seen so far.

But, again...

COOPER: Right. You've got to read it.

CUELLAR: ... that's only one factor. And I have got to look at the rest of it.

COOPER: What kind of pressure are you under from Democratic leadership, from the president? I mean, has the president called you?

CUELLAR: No, he hasn't. And I know I probably will, but what I'm looking at, what's important to me is my district.

You know, I got the third most uninsured district in the whole state of Texas, probably number nine in the whole country. As a Blue Dog, I'm also looking at the cost. So, I have got a very unique district.

COOPER: There have been some, I guess -- threats may be too strong a word, but threats, I guess, from -- even from some very liberal groups, and others, talking about primary challenges for those who do not support this. Does that weigh on you?

CUELLAR: Well, look, let me put it this way. Back in 2005, when I was a freshman, I -- I was the first Democrat to support CAFTA.

My labor union folks made me their number-one target. They came after me, and I'm still here. So, I mean, I take all those suggestions in stride, because I have been through that, and I have won in the past. And the people of my district have supported me. COOPER: And in terms of the way this process has been handled, the way this vote may take place, are you comfortable with the idea of not having a straight up-or-down vote?

CUELLAR: Well, you have got to look at the procedure.

This has been used by both Democrats and Republicans. It's allowed under the -- under the rules. If you are looking at the deem and pass, back in 2005, 2006, the Republicans used it 35, 36 times. And it's been used by Democrats also.

If you're talking about conciliation, you know, since 1974, 16 times, it's been used by Republicans out of 22 times. So, you can see it's both used by Democrats and Republicans.

COOPER: Have you given yourself a deadline for making a decision?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, today, I have been having hearings on border security. I have had two and three hearings on that. So, I'm focusing today on that.

Now that we got the language, I'm going to look at that, and, hopefully, in the next day or two, I will be certainly making up my mind as to what I want to do. Bottom line is, last year, people were saying, Congressman Cuellar, don't vote on this until you read everything.

And, certainly, as an attorney, I'm going to read everything before I decide how I'm going to vote on this.

COOPER: Congressman Henry Cuellar, appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.

CUELLAR: Thank you very much.


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