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Interview with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

Interview with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

By The Situation Room - March 3, 2011

BLITZER: And joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Reince Priebus. He's the new chairman of the Republican Party.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, RNC: As a guy growing up in Kenosha, it's an honor to be here with you today.

BLITZER: Well, good for you, and good for those Green Bay Packers. I know you're pretty happy about that as well.

PRIEBUS: The cheese heads have had a pretty good two months.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see how your future months are going to be. You've got a lot of issues on your agenda.

PRIEBUS: Yes, we do.

BLITZER: Let's go through a couple of little political things. The political season, heating up.

Mike Huckabee, when he said -- we just heard Lisa Sylvester's piece about the president of the United States growing up with madrassas, as opposed to Rotary Clubs.

Does he owe the president an apology?

PRIEBUS: I don't think he owes the president an apology. You know, he has -- we have freedom of speech in this country. I suppose he can have his own opinion. I don't think he owes an apology to the president, no.

BLITZER: What is Huckabee's agenda do you think right now? Because he knows he didn't grow up in a madrassa. I mean, he went to a school in Indonesia, but that was not a madrassa.

PRIEBUS: Well, listen, I can't speak for where Mike Huckabee's coming from. I wouldn't pretend to try. And it's not my position to do that. So I don't think he owes him an apology. He has his opinion, and I would just leave it at that.

BLITZER: And let him state his opinion.

Let's talk a little bit about the Tea Party right now, the Tea Party movement and the mainstream Republican leadership, John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.

The Tea Party nation founder, Judson Phillips, he's suggesting that Boehner is letting them all down. And if he continues to do so, in a statement he said, "The Tea Party movement should find a candidate to run against John Boehner in 2012 and should set as a goal to defeat in a primary the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives."

Wow. That shows a significant split is developing, potentially among your people, the conservatives and the Republicans.

PRIEBUS: Well, I don't think so. I mean, I'm not sure what the context is of this statement or where it comes from.

BLITZER: That Boehner's not doing enough to cut the deficit, to cut the budget.

PRIEBUS: Right. And I'll tell you this, as chairman of this party, and I think speaking as part of a conservative movement in this country to get our fiscal train back on the rails, I'm grateful that we have people like Speaker Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, who I think are being very serious about deficits and spending in this country. And thank God that we are, as a party, debating how much to cut right now in this country. And I think that's where the debate needs to be had.

I'm grateful we have a caucus that's debating this issue, how much to cut. And I think that's the right debate to have, and I'm grateful that they're doing it.

So I don't agree with that particular statement, but I do think that we need to focus our energy on cutting spending, getting our deficit under control, and putting our financial train back on the rails.

BLITZER: Do you see a split, though, developing between the Republican leadership, the gentleman you just referred to, as opposed to the Tea Party movement?

PRIEBUS: No, I don't. I think we're all on the same page here on what we need to do in this country.

We are very shortly going to be, when my son is my age, spending 42 cents on every dollar made in America to run the federal government. Now, that's an America that I don't want to pass on to my kids and grandkids. So I think we're all on that same page.

Now, I think, certainly, there will be disagreements on how much to cut, but I think we're having that debate. And I think Paul Ryan is going to come back in April and deliver a very serious budget, and everything is going to be on the table.

BLITZER: You've inherited a real financial mess at the Republican National Committee. How much in debt is the RNC right now?

PRIEBUS: Well, Wolf, it is a mess. We have a $15 million line of credit that is hocked up to the maximum it can go. We have $8 million, approximately, of unpaid vendors right now from the last election.

So we have approximately $23 million in the hole. We're trying to rebuild trust with our donors, rebuilding our party. And that's a big job.

BLITZER: So the question that some folks will say, if the Republican Party can't get its own financial house in order, why should they trust the Republicans to get the nation's house in order?

PRIEBUS: Well, that's why I'm working like a dog here, Wolf, to get the financial house in order. And that's what I need to do as chairman.

That's why I ran for chairman, is to get our finances under control, why we need to pay off the debt, add to the presidential trust so that we can defeat this president who's taking our country in the wrong direction. And that's what I need to do as chairman of this party.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation, but a quick question.

"Reince Priebus" -- I've got an unusual name, "Wolf Blitzer." You've got an unusual tame.

Tell us about your name, because a lot of my Twitter followers want to know how you got the name Reince Priebus.

PRIEBUS: Well, it's what happens when a Greek and a German get married. I mean, I admit, it's a bit of a bizarre name.

I'm about as normal as they get, I promise you. And to prove that, my kids are Jack and Grace; my wife is Sally; my dad is Richard, and my sister's Marie. So I --

BLITZER: Look, I totally can relate. I can relate with you. And I'm following you now @ReincePriebus on Twitter.

PRIEBUS: That's right.

BLITZER: And we'll see what's going on.

PRIEBUS: Well, thank you for tweeting that today, too. I appreciate that.

BLITZER: Well, of course.

PRIEBUS: Any time. Thank you, Wolf.

 

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