Failed House Vote Is 'A Great Opportunity' For Republicans, Former House Leader Says

Mar 25, 2017

After yesterday's pulled health care vote, many on the left and the right are seeing it as a failure for Republicans — but former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says it's actually a blessing in disguise.

Tom DeLay served in Congress as representative for Texas's 22nd district from 1984 to 2005, when he resigned in the midst of a money laundering scandal. In 1995, DeLay was elected House Majority Whip and in 2002, he was elected House Majority Leader.

DeLay gained a reputation for his ability to whip votes — he became known as "The Hammer" and still claims he never lost a vote in his time in Congress.

DeLay spoke to Michel Martin on Weekend All Things Considered about how Congressional Republicans can move forward after the failure of this vote.


Interview Highlights

On why the American Health Care Act failed

I did see it coming — I want to kind of put it in perspective, because I'm no guru, but the beginning of the end for this bill started in 2010.

The American people were demanding that Obamacare be repealed. They weren't demanding replacement — replacement came as a political move by the politicians to respond to the liberal media and to the Democrats, who were complaining that, "If you're going to repeal, what are you going to replace it with?"

This whole replacement idea is the reason it failed, because when they came and they wrote write a bill without checking with their members — which is always a bad idea — they wrote a bill that basically kept Obamacare in place.

On DeLay's health care philosophy

I don't believe health care is a right. It's a responsibility. The Democrats and Obama feel it's a right and the federal government has a right to be involved in your health insurance. So that's where I come from. This whole notion that the government can run a health insurance is doomed to failure in the first place.

The problem is you have some that have been elected in the House and the Senate that we call moderates that believe that the federal government has a constitutional role in health insurance. But the base of the party, as exhibited by the last four elections, wanted repeal of Obamacare because they basically understood that it was wrong and something needed to be done about it.

On how to unite Republicans in Congress

I invented a whole new process of whipping the vote, and I called it "grow the vote." It was much harder to do, but what I did for 11 years as the Majority Whip and never lost a vote, was I had an agenda, that agenda was developed with our members, and once they bought into the agenda, we would check with our members before we even attempted to write the bill or introduce it, so that we knew where they were.

So by the time the members got to the point of voting, they had ownership in the bill and they wanted to vote for it — I didn't have to break legs. That's the way the Democrats do it, and now it's the way the Republicans do it, if you looked at what happened over the last couple of weeks.

On whether President Trump is tearing the Republican party apart

I'm off of that. I don't think he'll tear the Republican party apart. ...He tried to work with Congress on a failed strategy and he accepted their strategy rather than demanding his strategy. I think he's learning. I think this was a good experience for them. To be honest, I think right now, after yesterday, it's a great opportunity to move forward on Obamacare.

Now we can back up and do the things that should have been done. The situation is we have people that it's hard for them to afford health insurance right now, and frankly, the health insurance market is totally shattered. And so what we need to do is rebuild that market — and the way the federal government can do that is get out of the way.

I would take Rand Paul's idea that I heard last night: Come to the Senate floor next week, and pass a bill that allows people with pre-existing conditions to join pools, associations, co-ops, to buy insurance, and show that you're going to remove the government and the regulatory structure away from it, so that the insurance companies can sell to people the kinds of policies they want.

And while you're doing all of that, the whole Obamacare implosion that's going on is going to raise the political pressure to repeal Obamacare. So the whole idea is those that want health insurance and can't afford it, you're helping them afford it, and at the same time, getting ready to just repeal Obamacare, and it's a place for them to go.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we want to take a look at what the failure of the health care replacement bill means for the Republican Party. And we're going to do that by speaking with someone who knows what it is to corral votes, former House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay was the Republican majority whip from 1995 to 2003, and then he spent another two years as majority leader during a time when Republicans, as now, controlled both the House and the Senate and the presidency. Mr. DeLay joined us from Houston Public Media earlier today. His former colleague, House Speaker John Boehner, had said that he saw this failure coming. So I started by asking Mr. DeLay if he did too.

TOM DELAY: Actually, I did see it coming. I want to kind of put it in perspective because I'm no guru, but the beginning of the end for this bill started in 2010. The American people were demanding that Obamacare be repealed. They weren't demanding replacement. Replacement came as a political move by the politicians to respond to the liberal media and to the Democrats who were complaining that if you're going to repeal, what are you going to replace it with? This whole replacement idea is the reason it failed because when they came and they wrote a bill without checking with their members, which is always a bad idea, they wrote a bill that basically kept Obamacare in place.

MARTIN: So as you just told us, you've been a strict repeal Obamacare all the way through, and I'm going to ask you to take a step back and explain why. And I particularly want to know what your philosophy is when it comes to what you think the government's job should be, if any, when it comes to providing health insurance for Americans.

DELAY: Well, I don't believe health care is a right. It's a responsibility. The Democrats and Obama feel that it's a right, and the federal government has a right to be involved in your health insurance. So that's where I come from. This whole notion that the government can run health insurance is doomed to failure in the first place. The problem is you have some that have been elected in the House and the Senate that we call moderates that believe that the federal government has a constitutional role in health insurance. But the base of the party, as exhibited by the last four elections, wanted repeal of Obamacare because they basically understood that it was wrong and something needed to be done about it.

MARTIN: So when you were leading Republicans as majority whip, you were known as The Hammer. I'm not sure if that was a term of affection or not.

DELAY: No.

MARTIN: You'll have the...

DELAY: It wasn't.

MARTIN: No, it was not.

DELAY: The Washington Post gave that to me.

MARTIN: Well, it speaks to the fact that you resorted to some strong tactics to see through important legislation. So my question is is the failure of the bill a failure of skill on the part of the current House speaker, Paul Ryan, or is this vote a reflection of what we just talked about earlier, that there are different philosophical opinions in the caucus that could not be reconciled?

DELAY: Well, first of all, you're right. The Hammer moniker was given to me by The Washington Post trying to disparage me. And as you just said, they just assumed that I broke arms and bought members and did all that. I invented a whole new process of whipping the vote, and I called it grow the vote. It was much harder to do, but what I did for 11 years as the majority whip - and never lost a vote - was I had an agenda. That agenda was developed with our members. And once they bought into the agenda, we would check with our members before we even attempted to write the bill or introduce it so that we knew where they were. So by the time the members got to the point of voting, they had ownership in the bill, and they wanted to vote for it. I didn't have to break legs. That's the way the Democrats do it. And now it's the way the Republicans do it if you look at what happened over the last couple of weeks.

MARTIN: Before President Trump was elected, you were on the record saying that you thought he would tear the Republican Party apart. Do you still feel that way, and do you feel that the president's role in this had some effect on the outcome?

DELAY: No. I'm all for that. I don't think he'll tear the Republican Party apart. I think that Trump needs to understand that - and he has and he tried to work with the Congress on a failed strategy and he accepted their strategy rather than demanding his strategy. I think he's learning. I think this was a good experience for them. To be honest with you, I think right now, after yesterday, it's a great opportunity to move forward on Obamacare.

MARTIN: Well, tell me more about that. Why do you say that?

DELAY: Now we can back up and do the things that should have been done. The situation is we have people that it's hard for them to afford health insurance right now. And frankly, the market - the health insurance market is totally shattered. And so what we need to do is rebuild that market, and the way the federal government can do that is get out of the way. I would take Rand Paul's idea that I heard last night. Come to the Senate floor next week and pass a bill that allows people with preexisting conditions to join pools, associations, co-ops, to buy insurance and show that you're going to remove the government and the regulatory structure away from it so that the insurance companies can sell to people the kinds of policies they want.

And while you're doing all of that, the whole Obamacare implosion that's going on is going to raise the political pressure to repeal Obamacare. So the whole idea is those that want health insurance and can't afford it, you're helping them afford it and at the same time getting ready to just repeal Obamacare, and there's a place for them to go.

MARTIN: That's former House Majority Leader, former House Whip Tom DeLay. His latest book is "Revival! Revolution! Rebirth!" It was published in January. Mr. DeLay, thanks so much for joining us.

DELAY: Thank you. It's great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.