RCP Newsmaker Interview With Pat Toomey

RCP Newsmaker Interview With Pat Toomey

By RealClearPolitics - August 17, 2010

RCP: Think back with me six years. You narrowly lost a primary fight to Arlen Specter. He then switched parties, lost the Democratic nomination to Joe Sestak, and is barred by Pennsylvania's sore loser law from running as a third party candidate. Are you sorry you won't get a rematch?

Pat Toomey: No. This was never about Arlen Specter. I got into this race because I'm just worried sick about what they're doing in Washington.

It's true Arlen Specter was very much a part of what was wrong but Joe Sestak will be even worse. And what I want to do is restore economic growth in the private sector and fiscal discipline and bring some balance to Washington. That's my mission.

RCP: What do you make of Bill Clinton's recent statement that he didn't try to get Sestak out of the race?

Toomey: I guess this is at least the third different version of this episode that we've heard. First there was Joe's, and then there was the coordinated White House-Sestak version, and now we've got former President Clinton with yet a third version.

I really think Joe Sestak should have been more forthcoming. He should clear the air. Tell people what really happened. Let's get that behind us so we can focus on the very major substantive policy differences that the two of us have.

RCP: Sestak said that your ads against him, which say that he voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time are "misleading" because, I'm quoting here, "As Speaker, she votes 20 times. I voted about 400 times." What do you make of that?

Toomey: How is it misleading? He is in complete lockstep with Nancy Pelosi's whole agenda. He supports all the bailouts, the stimulus, cap-and-trade, card-check, government-run healthcare, the spending. In literal terms he votes with her 100 percent of the time -- at least he did as of the time that we launched that ad.

And in substantive terms, he's in lockstep with her agenda, fully supporting it and only criticizing that it doesn't go far enough. So it's a perfectly fair observation to make, both technically and thematically.

RCP: President Obama had trouble connecting with Democrats in the western part of the your state, but still carried the state in the general. Do you think Sestak will try make a real pitch to those voters, or write them off?

Toomey: I really have no idea. Joe's problem is that the agenda that he has supported is wildly unpopular all across Pennsylvania, very much including western Pennsylvania. Take cap-and-trade: an energy tax in western Pennsylvania in a region that still makes steel, still produces coal. We're the fourth biggest coal state in the union and cap-and-trade would be devastating to our industry, to our energy production, so this is enormously unpopular.

But, frankly, so is government-run healthcare, so are the bailouts, so is the stimulus package. You talk about western Pennsylvania. In a lot of western Pennsylvania the Second Amendment is a big deal and Joe has an "F" rating from the NRA. So I really don't know how he appeals to people in most of Pennsylvania.

RCP: You are an avowed social conservative. Rick Santorum's social conservatism seemed to hurt him with Pennsylvania voters, particularly exurban voters, when he ran for reelection in 2006. How do you get around that?

Toomey: First of all, 2006 and 2010 are two very different years. But probably more importantly, my focus throughout this race has been on job growth in the private sector, restoring fiscal discipline in Washington, and bringing some balance to a town that has lost all balance.

I think there is an overwhelming consensus that those are the right ideas, so I have enjoyed tremendously broad support all across Pennsylvania, very much including Pennsylvania suburbs. I'm confident I'm going to continue to have that support, because those are the issues voters care about. They agree with me. They disagree with Joe Sestak on those vital issues.

RCP: How well do you expect your party to do in November?

Toomey: Very, very well.

RCP: How much trouble is the American economy in right this minute?

Toomey: In big trouble if we stay on the path we're on. Now I'm confident we're not going to stay on that path. I think the voters are going to repudiate this leftward lurch this fall, and we'll have a very different composition of Congress starting in January. We'll get off this path. But the deficits and the debt are completely unsustainable. The huge tax increases -- some of which have already been passed others of which the Democrats are threatening -- those can only be devastating to the economy.

We already talked about how bad cap-and-trade is. Card-check is another real threat to economic growth. You look at the litany and these policies are already, today preventing us from having the kind of economic growth that we should be having. The wildly excessive spending and debt will prevent us from having the future growth that we could be having if we don't get it under control very, very soon.

RCP: Your campaign website, under "spending," complains of "wasteful pork projects, multiple bailouts, the so-called stimulus, and new government programs." But what about entitlements?

Toomey: You know, I've always said that we need to reform our big entitlement programs. These programs are not sustainable in their current form and so we're going to have to put them on a secure footing. That's what we have to do.

RCP: OK, how do we do that? Do we raise the retirement age? Do we cut benefits?

Toomey: I've got a whole chapter in a book that I wrote that deals with how I think, one of the ways I think we could reform Social Security to make it viable. So I have provided great detail on that whole idea. That would be a very important start.

RCP: Do you favor a new Contract With America this fall?

Toomey: You know, that's an abstraction. I'd rather deal with specifics. I think the most important thing is for these individual candidates to make the case to the people that they hope will be their constituents. That's what I'm doing.

RCP: How about something that's not an abstraction: what do you think of Representative Paul Ryan's roadmap?

Toomey: I haven't read it so I don't know. I certainly couldn't give you an opinion on it, since I haven't studied it. But I do give Paul a lot of credit for grappling with the big, challenging issues that face us and I know he's a very, very capable and very smart guy.

RCP: You've been very forthright against Obamacare. You debated Rep. Sestak last fall about it. Could it be repealed, given President Obama's veto pen?

Toomey: You mean as long Obama is president? That's unlikely. It's unlikely that President Obama would sign a repeal bill, but I think President Obama is going to be a one-term president and the next president very well could sign a repeal bill.

RCP: If Republicans take back both houses of Congress should they put a repeal bill on President Obama's desk for him to veto?

Toomey: Look, I support repeal of the health care bill. I support repealing it and replacing it with the kind of reforms that will lower costs and improve access and give individuals more control and more ownership of their healthcare -- of their health insurance and their healthcare generally. That's what I support. I want to move in that direction. As to tactics, I mean if there is an opportunity to move that ball down the field, I'm going to support it.

RCP: You wrote of President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, "If I were a U.S. senator, I would vote for her confirmation," yet you opposed the confirmation of Elena Kagan. Can you explain that for us.

Toomey: In a nutshell: with respect to Judge -- now Justice -- Sotomayor, while I acknowledge upfront that she's a liberal, she and I have different political views, the fact is she had a long history of judicial decisions that demonstrated restraint, demonstrated an impartiality, a willingness to administer justice properly, I thought. She made some unfortunate comments but I thought her record on the bench should speak most loudly to the question of her qualifications and I felt that she was within the political mainstream, even though she was certainly well to the left of me.

With now-Justice Kagan, we have of course no record of judicial decisions whatsoever. During her testimony, she did nothing to overcome the legitimate concerns that I and others have about how she would rule on things like the First Amendment, given her support for the government's position on campaign finance regulation that would actually, by her own admission, permit the federal government to ban books.

She gave no comfort to those who think that she would support the idea of unlimited federal powers under the Commerce Clause. When asked about that, she indicated no belief in any real limits imposed by the Commerce Clause. When she was the dean of the law school at Harvard, I think she subverted the law that forbids colleges and universities from getting federal funds if they prevent the military from having equal access to recruiting opportunities on the campus.

So what I saw in Elena Kagan was a pattern that was very worrisome, about her willingness to put her political agenda ahead of the law and ahead of constitutional principles. I saw nothing in her testimony that would provide any comfort that that's not the case, and she had no judicial record. So, on balance, I felt the right thing to do would be to vote no with respect to her nomination.

RCP: What do you think of the litigation over Arizona's immigration enforcement law?

Toomey: Well, I disagree with it. I think it's a fundamental responsibility of the federal government to enforce our nation's borders. I think our government has failed in that fundamental task. So I'm not surprised that Arizona -- being a border state, being a state that's borne the brunt of an enormous amount of illegal immigration, including recently some instances of violent criminals coming across the border -- I'm not surprised that they would decide that they would take matters into their own hands and enforce federal law that the federal government's not enforcing.

RCP: Just this year-to-date, 278 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, several of those from Pennsylvania. We may be on track to break last year's record. U.S. intelligence sources agree that al Quaeda has mostly been driven from the country. Should America draw down as well?

Toomey: I think it's too soon for us to draw down our forces. I think if we were to leave precipitously now, or in the very near future, Afghanistan would descend into a very violent, failed state where the Taliban would control large segments of the country. They would probably welcome back al Qaeda elements and provide the haven for al Qaeda that they provided in the past. I think it would be very destabilizing for Pakistan. This is not the time for us to withdraw.

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