Interview with Transportation Secretary LaHood

Interview with Transportation Secretary LaHood

By The Situation Room - August 4, 2011

BLITZER: For days, the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, has been lashing out at lawmakers over the failure to fund the FAA. Ray LaHood is a former Republican member of Congress. He also bemoaned what he called the loss of bipartisanship. Does this deal mean that Washington hasn't lost the ability to get things done?

And the secretary is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mr. Secretary, you must be happy about this.


I'm thrilled for these hardworking people right in the middle of the construction season. They're going back to work Monday in what they want to do, earn a good wage, take care of their families and do construction jobs. And our FAA employees are going to back to work, too. I am very, very happy.

BLITZER: Well, walk us through the legislative process, because the House is, for all practical purpose, not in session. The senators have disappeared. They fled Washington.

How do they pass legislation, the president signs it, in effect, and get this done within the next, what, 24 hours?

LAHOOD: Senator Harry Reid deserves a lot of credit, along with the president, even during debt and deficit. He told me, "Take care of our employees. Take are of the construction workers. Figure this out. Get it done."

BLITZER: How do they do it legally in terms of the legislative process?

LAHOOD There's a provision in their adjournment resolution that lets them come in, which the Senate will do tomorrow morning. They will ask for unanimous consent to pass the House bill, and if nobody objects, that will be the bill that passes, and the president will sign it. And over 70,000 people will go back to work, Wolf, and they need these jobs. They really do.

I want to thank Senator Reid, Senator Rockefeller, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Senator Baucus and the president. This could not have done it. You heard the president yesterday at the cabinet meeting. At the top of the cabinet meeting he said, "Get it done. Figure it out. Get these back -- people back to work."

BLITZER: It's not that complicated.

LAHOOD: It's not that complicated.

BLITZER: But technically -- correct me if I'm wrong -- one Senator who shows up tomorrow, in fact one senator shows up and says, "I'm not part of that unanimous -- that consent," he could hold up -- he or she could hold up the whole thing.

LAHOOD: That's correct. I think Senator Reid has talked to enough senators to know. And again, his leadership played a big part in this, along with the president who's been on the phone also and has played a big part in making sure that this gets done tomorrow morning on the floor of the Senate. That U.C. does get passed, the president signs it; 70-plus thousand people go back to work.

BLITZER: And then they have to approve it in the House of Representatives. When would that -- when would that happen?

LAHOOD: Wolf, that -- the bill that they will U.C., unanimous consent...

BLITZER: Of our Senate.

LAHOOD: ... is a House bill.

BLITZER: So they're not -- the House doesn't have to... LAHOOD: They have to go back.

BLITZER: They don't have to come back down.

LAHOOD: It goes right down to the White House. The president signs it.

BLITZER: And people go back to work right away, which is very important. Now, you blame Congress for this mess. Who is more to blame: the Democrats or the Republicans?

LAHOOD: Congress is more to blame.

BLITZER: I know Congress is to blame, but there are Democrats in Congress and there are Republicans in Congress.

LAHOOD: Look, I'm grateful to Senator Reid for what he's been doing the last few days, calling people to the president for what he's been doing by using the bully pulpit of the White House and our efforts to really persuade Congress this is the right thing to do for hardworking people, people who can little afford to go without a paycheck. And our people have been doing that, our FAA employees, and so have construction workers.

So the blame is done. We have success. We're going to take our success and -- but we need to begin working next week on an FAA bill so that we don't have these kind of problems in the future. And there's a commitment on the part of Senator Reid to get people together and to get a -- to get a bill.

BLITZER: You've been outspoken on all of this, as understandably so. You're the secretary of transportation. But Congressman Steven LaTourette of Ohio, he criticized you, and I'll play a little clip here of what he said. I'll give you a chance to respond.



REP. STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: Ray LaHood is a friend of mine and throughout this entire process last week, I called him more than I called my wife. And we talk on a regular basis about where it was and what we were doing, and he was very helpful. So -- so to then sort of turn on a dime when the Democratic Party here in Washington has decided that hostage takers is the new drain in the swamp is -- it's offensive to me.


BLITZER: You want to respond?

LAHOOD: What I would say is I was sticking up for hardworking people. I was sticking up for more than 70,000 construction workers who were laid off. I was sticking up for 4,000 FAA people who were furloughed. While members of Congress were headed out the door on their vacation, still getting their paychecks, we had over 70,000 Americans who were trying to figure out how they were going to get their house payment, their car payment. Those are the people that the president and I and others were looking out for. Those were the people that we were speaking up for. And I think people heard our argument.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that 70,000 figure is inflated. It was really maybe a third or maybe even a half of that, but there were other outside vendors who were affected by the loss of construction.

LAHOOD: For sure there were up to 38 -- 3,700 FAA workers. There are thousands...

BLITZER: Construction.

LAHOOD: Yes, of construction workers, and there were other people who were involved in these construction projects.

BLITZER: Who tangentially would lose their jobs.

LAHOOD: Exactly.

BLITZER: But there were no construction workers there who could hire them to do certain things or buy products.

LAHOOD: You know what? We tried to do -- what the president tried to do is say you make good speeches about jobs. We care about jobs. This is not the way to treat people.

BLITZER: You're a former member of the House from Illinois. You understand why Congress's job approval number, according to our most recent poll, is 14 percent. Only 14 percent of the American people think Congress is doing a good job.

LAHOOD: Well, look it: the FAA problem is symptomatic of the fact that people don't think Congress can solve any problems, that they can't really get their act together. They can't compromise. And there are -- you know, Wolf, there are a group of people in Washington that don't like the word "compromise." They won't use it. It's not in their lexicon; it's not a part of their vocabulary.

And as a result we've ended up with a -- with a mess at FAA and a very difficult time getting debt and deficit. And...

BLITZER: So what's the most important lesson all of us should learn from this fiasco? We call it a fiasco, because it really was. So that we don't repeat it down the road.

LAHOOD: I think when reasonable people realize that hardworking Americans were out of jobs, particularly construction workers right in the middle of their season, this is their season. This is their bread and butter season. And our people were out of work. I think reasonable people said what's wrong with Congress? Come together.

BLITZER: Taxpayers, we're going to lose $1 billion if they would have continued this until September 7.

LAHOOD: I think what resonated was what the president said yesterday at the top of the cabinet meeting: get back here, get it done. Take care of it for citizens. This is not the way to treat American workers. It is not the way to treat our friends and neighbors around America.

BLITZER: Secretary LaHood, thanks for coming. 

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