Interviews with Reps. Fred Upton and Steve Israel

Interviews with Reps. Fred Upton and Steve Israel

By John King, USA - September 14, 2011

KING: The man heading that investigation [into Solyandra] is the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton; we spoke a short time ago.


KING: Mr. Chairman, I want to get into the details in a second, but first I want to set the threshold question, is it your question whether political influence, campaign contributions had role here or is your biggest question whether the administration should have seen a flashing light saying this company was in trouble and not giving them the money?

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: All of the above. From the way that I understand it, the Bush administration said there's not enough evidence for this thing to move forward. And they said that in early January of '09 before President Obama took office. Six days after he takes office, they begin to reignite this whole episode. We have now seen the e-mails saying this is not ready for prime time, you know, what needs to happen.

As our committee began to investigate the whole scenario, they, then, began to restructure the loan, which by the way is in violation of the law and because the law clearly says that the taxpayer -- if one of these companies goes belly up, the taxpayer comes first, not last. And so literally as we begin the investigation, they restructure the whole thing and the taxpayer ends up last, so not only do we have 1,100 people lose their job, the taxpayers lose maybe more than half a billion dollars.

KING: All right, let me --

UPTON: And never ready for prime time is what their own internal memos were saying.

KING: All right -- excuse me for interrupting, sir. Let's get back to the questions in order, then, you say all of the above. By saying politics played a role, perhaps campaign contributions played a role. That's a big -- that's a big thing to say. We can have a question about whether they made a bad judgment but what's the evidence that they were influenced by campaign contributions or politics of any kind?

UPTON: Well, we'll see where the investigation takes us. We know that Mr. Kaiser (ph) was a major bundler for the Obama administration. We know that the White House log show that he was at the White House a good number of times when this thing was proceeding again. We're going to be having the executives from the company; they've agreed to come testify next week for the Oversight Subcommittee Friday. They'll be sworn in as all witnesses are, and we'll see where this takes us, but I think right now you have to look at all options are on the table as to how did this proceed and how did the taxpayer lose literally a half a billion dollars?

KING: I want to read from one of the e-mail exchanges that has people curious and some people suspicious of whether the White House was trying to help a donor. This is an e-mail exchange August 31. "The special assistant to the then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel noted the vice president's announcement at Solyndra" -- the vice president was planning to go out there for a trip and asked whether, quote, "There is anything we can help speed along on the OMB side". Essentially the chief of staff's office saying can we help speed the process up. How is that any different? I bet your office from time to time has called whether it's the Small Business Administration or the Veterans Administration to help a constituency, saying hey the bur bureaucracy is bugged up, gummed up, speed this up.

UPTON: Look, when you're looking at $535 million, shouldn't someone be asking the question is this viable or not, particularly when the administration itself said, do you know what, if this thing goes forward, they could be out of cash by September of 2011. That was two years -- a year and a half before September 2011 came about. Their own -- own stuff that they had showed that this was not perhaps going to be a viable company.

Why, then, are they speeding forward? Why are they change -- or going against what the law says in terms of restructuring to try and push this before the evidence is there? We've seen evidence that they knew that, in fact, it cost $6 per panel and they were selling them for three. Who makes money that way? The taxpayer loses.

KING: We've dealt with the politics question but I just want to ask you clearly because people (INAUDIBLE). You say want to find out, you bring in the witnesses. As we speak today, you have zero evidence of any wrongdoing, correct? You just have suspicions.

UPTON: Well we've got now -- you know we tried to get the documentation early on. We scheduled hearings and the administration literally didn't show up. They promised us that they were going to provide documents. They never came. Finally we resorted to the last resort and that was a subpoena, and in mid-July we served a subpoena on the administration. It still took more than a month to get a lot of the stuff that was there, and as we're examining now a lot of the stuff that we finally got, we're now finding these e-mails that nobody knew about before.

So, we're going to see exactly where this takes us. How did this thing get approved and how -- who made the decision to restructure the loan so that, in fact, at the end of the day because they did go belly up, in direct contradiction to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, did someone make the decision to put the taxpayer last instead of first when they filed Chapter 11.

KING: As you know, some of the Democrats on your committee say this is an overzealous Republican majority trying to embarrass the president and trying to advance some of your own policy decisions. Listen to your colleague Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The majority has chosen to politicize this program and it is attempting to discredit clean energy the same way they have tried to do -- to climate science. It is that simple -- that simple.


KING: Is it that simple?

UPTON: This has nothing to do with climate science. This has everything to do with are we going to support a company that is actually going to be able to pay the money back to the taxpayer. I support renewable energy. We had a key vote earlier this summer. I was -- I was a yes vote, it passed by two votes. This is -- appears to be when the administration's documents themselves show that it's not viable, it's not ready for prime time, it's -- they're going to run out of cash by September of 2011, who in their right mind would support them a half a billion dollar loan that they know may never get -- be paid back and now for these unfortunate 1,100 souls that worked there, they're left with absolutely nothing at the end of the day.

KING: The White House press secretary says this is what happens. This is how business works. You invest in 10 companies. One or two of them might fail.

UPTON: Well when they have the evidence to show that it's not going to succeed, why does someone push the button and move ahead? And was it just because it was a campaign donor? We'll find out.

KING: What do you think?

UPTON: I don't know. We'll find out. We're going to wait for all the evidence to come in.

KING: Chairman Upton, appreciate your time tonight.

UPTON: Thanks.


KING: Still to come, another day, another 2012 battleground state. North Carolina this time as President Obama plugs his jobs bill.


OBAMA: There may be people, whose refrain is, no we can't. But I believe, yes we can.


KING: And next, the stunning upset in a New York City congressional district and what it does and doesn't tell us about the landscape for 2012. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Republicans are downright giddy tonight over a stunning upset in a congressional district held by Democrats since 1920. Republican Bob Turner not only won but won big in the district last represented by Anthony Weiner who, of course, resigned in disgrace after admitting inappropriate online relationships with several women. Geraldine Ferraro also once represented the congressional district that includes chunks of Brooklyn and Queens and given that Democrats held the seat for 90 years, well it's hard to argue with Turner's take on the results.


TURNER: We have been told this is a referendum and we're ready to say, Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.


KING: So, let's take a closer look at just what we're talking about. Here's the state of New York, the district down here. In New York City you see Manhattan over there, this district has Brooklyn and Queens, let's take a closer look now. In the November 2010 midterm -- let me close that down for you -- Anthony Weiner, remember he just resigned; he got 61 percent of the vote against this same Republican, 61-39. That was just last November. What happened last night, 54 for Turner, 46 percent for his Democratic opponent who is a scion of a big political family. A huge win for the Republican there, so what about in presidential politics, yes, this is not a strong district for President Obama, 55 percent of the vote, John Kerry at about the same four years before that.

Here's the big thing that makes you jump. Remember, the Republican won this district. Look at the voter registration. Look at the voter registration. Even if you add in the conservatives to the Republicans, 3-1 voter advantage for the Democrats and yet they lost. Yes, just one special election but to lose in the heart of one of America's most Democratic cities and lose by eight points is a stunning rebuke to President Obama and the Democrats and an embarrassment for the man who hopes to lead the Democrats back to a House majority. Congressman Steve Israel also of New York heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.


KING: Congressman, you are charged with getting the Democrats in majority, getting the gavel back in Nancy Pelosi's hands. If you can't win in the heart of New York City, how are you going to win in Colorado, in rural Michigan, across the Midwest and in the South?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), CHMN., DEM. CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN CMTE.: Well, the same things were asked of the Republicans when we won a special election in one of the most Republican districts in the United States in upstate New York. Look, the fact of the matter is that they stole one from us in downstate New York and it's not the end of the world for us just as we stole one from them in upstate New York and it wasn't the end of the world for them.

Special elections are not predictive, John. Let me just give you one statistic. In 2006, we lost every single competitive special election and Democrats won the House of Representatives. In 2010, we won every single competitive special election and we lost control of the House of Representatives. They are moments in time. They are not predictive of trends.

KING: You don't think this means anything, then, just one loss even though Democrats have held this seat for 90 years?

ISRAEL: Look, it was a tough loss. You know, I wish we had won. I'm not going to minimize it. I'm not going to sugarcoat it --

KING: But what happened? But what happened?

ISRAEL: But it was a loss based -- it was a loss based on a confluence of events, a perfect storm, if you will, of so many different factors in a particular district on a particular day. And those factors will not be operative in every district we need to win on the days we need to win them. This is the loss of a battle in a war just as the Republicans lost a battle in New York 26 in a war. They'll have good days. We'll have good days. At the end of the day, people are going to vote for the party that's pushing for job creation not the party that's obstructing job creation.

KING: You know well how this works, when Kathy Hokele (ph), the Democrat you just mentioned, when she won that seat, a lot of Republicans in private and some publicly said what do we need to do differently? What did we do wrong? Are you telling fellow Democrats especially those in tough districts next year don't worry, don't do anything wrong, or do they need to adjust and learn a lesson from this?

ISRAEL: No, look it is certainly not my style to tell everyone -- anyone not to worry. I am paid to worry. We're not going to win elections by optimism. We win them with a cold-blooded, clear-eyed plan. I'm telling not just Democrats, but I think that Republicans ought to take the same lesson from this election. People are not too fond of incumbents. The bad news for us is that our candidate was treated as an incumbent in that election. The good news for us is that there are many more Republican incumbents that have to defend seats going into the cycle than we do. And so at the end of the day I would not call the 2012 election based on what happened yesterday in Brooklyn and Queens, 40,000 voters.

KING: The winner of that one special election says to President Obama this is a referendum and this is just a down payment. Tell him why you think he's wrong.

ISRAEL: Well again, I think that there was a confluence of events. Look, the president's numbers were low in that district, 33 percent disapproval, but that's a 33 percent disapproval in a congressional district on one day --

KING: Isn't it worse than that in many parts of the country though? Isn't it -- you make a very key point here, you say the president's disapproval rating there in New York City, it's down I New York City, but if you look elsewhere in the country, if you look in white rural America -- I was just looking at the polling last night in the Midwest and out in the West, key areas for the Democrats, both in the Senate and as you try to take back the House, the president's numbers in that part of the country, those parts of the country are lower than they are in New York City.

ISRAEL: I'm not going to quibble with you on that. They are. The question is where will they be next year? If this special election was in September of 2012, I think that the White House would have to be far more concerned and worried than they are now. The fact of the matter is that there was a confluence of events, again, a perfect storm. It wasn't just the fact that the president's numbers needed to be higher than they were. There were a variety of other factors.

You had some cultural issues. You had some disagreements on U.S./Israeli relations and those disagreements don't necessarily play out in other districts throughout the country. You had some disagreements on marriage equality. There were a confluence of different events that came together converged on this district. It was a perfect storm and we couldn't prevail, but we're going to stay focused on our strategy. We're not going to change our strategy based on a moment in time.

KING: And if the president's numbers don't go up between now and then? I assume you'd be willing to admit that Nancy Pelosi will not be the speaker and that the Senate Democratic majority would be in jeopardy?

ISRAEL: Look, I take it one district at a time, one day at a time and we're not focused on who the speaker is going to be and what the president's numbers are going to be, because quite honestly, that's out of my control. What's in my control is number one, do our candidates have the mechanics, the financing, the message that they need? Number two, if Republicans are going to continue to obstruct job creation and small business growth in this economy are we effectively holding them accountable and responsible for that obstructionism? And if we're right on number one and we're right on number two I feel confident that the House will continue to be in play --


ISRAEL: The House is in play even today after yesterday's special election.

KING: But isn't it fair to say that history proves number three especially when the -- when the president is an incumbent that your party -- your party will rise or fall based on his numbers?

ISRAEL: We're going to -- well, the numbers are where they are today. But we'll see what happens with those numbers over the next several months and into next year.

KING: Steve Israel is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sir thanks for your time tonight.

ISRAEL: Thank you, John. 

John King, USA

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