Ohio’s Rob Portman opened the show today, talking about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines 370, the alleged spying by the CIA on the Senate, and 2016. Portman, as my in studio co-host today, The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weintsein pointed out in the course of the conversation, gave us an answer that far from Shermanesque, was a ”maybe.”
HH: Sitting in with me as my co-host all day today, Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller. Jamie will be guest hosting for me tomorrow, so the old rule of watch, do, teach is in effect, Jamie with me throughout the show. And we open with United States Senator Rob Portman from my great state of Ohio. Hello, Senator, welcome, good to talk to you.
RP: Hugh, good to talk to you again, my friend. You’ve got to come see us in the Buckeye State.
HH: I’m going to be back there when the Browns get to the Super Bowl, Senator. That’s when I’m coming back. Actually, I’m there a lot, and I’ve got to run into you.
RP: I don’t think that’ll happen soon, but I don’t know.
HH: Oh, it’s going to happen this year. We just signed a great linebacker today for the Browns. But I want to begin with a…do you on Homeland Security know anything about Malaysian Air that we don’t know? Jamie and I have been talking about it.
RP: No, I really don’t. I’m on the committee as you know, and we’ve looked at this pretty carefully. But it appears as though the investigation is now leaning more toward a non-terrorism possibility. But we just don’t know enough, yet.
HH: All right, second question, your colleague, Ron Wyden, is on as we speak with Jake Tapper after your colleague, Dianne Feinstein, blasted the CIA today.
HH: Are you concerned that the CIA has been snooping on the Senate?
RP: Well, yeah, I mean, there’s an investigation going on, so I don’t know what it’s going to come up with. But according to what Dianne Feinstein said today, it sounds like she’s pretty concerned about it. And look, Hugh, as you know, I’ve worked for the Bush administration, I worked for the first Bush administration and the second one, and there’s a good relationship on both sides of the aisle with the intelligence communities. That seems to have broken down. And if, in fact, there’s been, as you say, some CIA activity up here on the Hill, that’s going to cause a lot more problems. So what you want to have is a classified relationship where you can have some effective oversight of these agencies from people on the Hill, and there’s got to be a good trust relationship between the two.
JW: Senator, Jamie Weinstein from the Daily Caller here.
RP: Hey, Jamie.
JW: I want to ask you about something that I think we’re seeing within the Republican Caucus. I think it has been percolating for some time, but it’s coming to the fore now, this kind of growing foreign policy rift between what you might say the Rand Paul non-interventionists versus those like, well, Ted Cruz is taking the lead, but Marco Rubio, John McCain, the more interventionist side of the Republican party. What do you make of this rift? Do you see it in the Senate on a daily basis? Where do you think the Republican Party is moving?
RP: Yeah, look, I think the whole country has moved a little bit on this, to be honest with you, Jamie, because there’s a lot of fatigue coming off of Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s understandable. On the other hand, I think most Republicans still take the position that America’s place in the world is indispensable. There is no other superpower that’s going to step in and create stability and freedom around the world, and we have a role to play there. So I agree not just with the party, but frankly, within the country, there are, you know, increasingly more isolationist instincts where people are saying gosh, you know, we went to Iraq, we went to Afghanistan, it seems like we lost a lot of troops, and what do we have to look at as successes? But on the other hand, if the United States does not have the ability to project force and the credibility with regard to our actions and what the president says with regard to his red lines and so on, then the world’s a more dangerous place and chaos will ensue. And I think that’s a reality. So maybe I find myself more along the lines of those who say look, we don’t want to be building up our national defense for empire building, but we do want to do it to keep the peace. And if we’re not out there doing it, don’t expect anybody else to.
JW: I think there’s no question this debate’s going to play out in the 2016 Republican primary. Can you imagine yourself a non-interventionist, someone who defines himself as a non-interventionist, being elected the nominee of the Republican Party? Or do you think the base is just, you know, believes in a strong presence in the world?
RP: I think, I mean, and by the way, I do believe in a strong presence in the world, and I do believe that’s where most Republicans still are, certainly when you have situations like what just happened in Crimea. It gets people’s attention. And conversely, I mean, you know, coming off of, again, Afghanistan and Iraq, there are a lot of people saying gosh, you know, what good are we doing over there? So I think it depends on what the sort of the topical issues are, Jamie, and what’s happening around the world for a lot of folks who might be more in the middle. But I think most Republicans still believe that the U.S. role ought to be the one that we’ve had traditionally, certainly under Ronald Reagan and George Bush, we had it, which is let’s have a strong national defense to avoid war, to avoid chaos, to avoid the kinds of conflicts that lead to even more problems. And also, frankly, if we’re not out there in terms of protecting people’s human rights and their right to a democratic future, don’t expect anybody else to do it. And there are a lot of conservatives like myself who believe that is part of what the United States role ought to be, which is in our own self-interest, as well as in the interest of those individuals.
HH: Senator, Hugh again. I haven’t talked to you since Mitt came out, the Netflix special on Governor Romney…
HH: …and the amazing sort of debate prep views that we got. You’ve done more debate prep than anyone in the country, I think.
HH: And it causes me to ask you this. Have you ruled out running for president yourself in 2016?
RP: You know, Hugh, I am focused on one thing right now, and that is 2014. And as you may know, I’m the vice chair, the national finance chair, for this effort to take back the Senate for the Republicans, because I really believe that is the best thing we can do for the country right now. And if we don’t do it, I think we’re in deep trouble. So to be frank with you, I haven’t really given it serious consideration, because I’m totally focused on getting this majority. And by the way, we’re making pretty good progress. We’ve got some good candidates we’ve recruited around the country. You’ve had some of them on. I know you follow this pretty closely. And I think folks who thought gosh, the Republican Party has seen its best days are going to be surprised.
HH: No, you’re going to have a great fall, but that was not a Shermanesque statement, Senator Portman.
RP: Well, look, it’s not something that I am considering right now. I’m considering focusing on my job as a senator and Ohio, and then second, trying to be sure that we are successful in 2014.
HH: I’ll try and land the plane one more time, then I’ll go to the jobs plan. When would you have to make up your mind about running for president, because a lot of us from Ohio know your record, know your executive branch experience, know your legislative success…
HH: …and would be, you know, thrilled if either you or Governor Kasich got in or both of you. But not many people put you on the list. And I’m just curious if you have a deadline in your mind when you have to decide by.
RP: Well, you know, I purposefully haven’t put myself on the list, and I don’t think there’s a deadline in particular, but the way these things go, Hugh, it seems like the election starts sooner and sooner. And frankly, that, I think, does not serve the American people well, because we should be focused on dealing with this incredibly weak economy, with this record level of debt, with these problems as you have pointed out in some of your online stuff I saw today about national defense and how it’s being weakened. And yet here we are talking about, you know, is it going to be Hillary Clinton or is it going to be somebody else, or what’s the latest with regard to the presidential candidates on the Republican side. I think it’s kind of premature.
HH: The reason it happens is people just want placeholders for their points of view. Now you’re out trying, I was just watching you on Neil Cavuto…
HH: …talking about the jobs program you put forward.
HH: It’s hard to get traction for a jobs program, because you guys are in the minority…
HH: …and it’s hard to get anything going there. But it’s necessary to talk about it. But people like me and Jamie, we want to talk about getting the Senate back so that we can get a jobs plan passed.
HH: Are you frustrated by this?
RP: No, it’s actually what I said on Neil, as you saw, was this is a blueprint for economic growth and prosperity. It’s also a blueprint for governing. In other words, if we did get the majority, I’m not predicting it, because I think sometimes, we get way ahead of our skis on the Republican side. We raise expectations and you know, we end up in the last two election cycles disappointing people. But if we were to get the majority, Hugh, this is the kind of thing we could do. And I said that on Neil’s show, because the House has already passed dozens of bills that would fit nicely within these seven principles, you know, regulatory relief, tax reform, doing something to get health care costs down actually, rather than Obamacare, dealing with trade, dealing with energy, producing more energy at home. They’ve actually passed legislation, and so we know the House is going to stay Republican. At least I think I believe it will. If we were to get the majority, with this agenda, we could actually get some stuff done, actually land some bills on the President’s desk. Would he sign them? Some he would, some he wouldn’t. But at least then we’d have the contrast we need going into 2016.
JW: Senator, Jamie here again, and by the way, Senator, given your answer to Hugh, I’m putting you as a maybe on my list for 2016. I think that’s a clear maybe to me. But let me ask you about Obamacare, Senator.
JW: There’s a remarkable study out by McKenzie saying that only 14%, from their study, that signed up for Obamacare were previously uninsured, which just seems amazing to me. So most of the people that signed up were either thrown off their plan or for some reason switched from a plan they had to Obamacare. What do you think that means? How do you interpret that study?
RP: I think when people find out about that, they are shocked. I said on Neil’s show it’s less than a third, because I’ve seen different numbers, and I’ve seen as high as mid-20s. But it’s, you know, maybe less than a third, maybe less than a quarter, maybe it’s in the teens. The point is most people who have signed up for Obamacare already had health care insurance. And a lot of them, by the way, were very happy with their plans. I hear from them, Jamie, as you can imagine. I had a tele town hall last night. I had about 25,000 Ohioans on at any one time, and I heard a lot about it, because people are really frustrated that they can’t keep not just their plan, but their network, their doctor of the hospital they like. And so this is not meeting the expectations that the administration laid out. Two other things I will say. One, the number of young people signing up according to that McKenzie report and others, is far fewer than was projected, and far fewer than is necessary in order to keep the costs within the ranges that the Obama administration were suggesting. So the costs are going to be even higher, because if you don’t have these young, more healthy folks signing up, it’s going to result in everybody’s premiums going up higher. And then finally, the number of uninsured who will be covered, the Congressional Budget Office here gave us some interesting information, which is a third party source, as you know, they are not partisan. They are saying that 30 million Americans will still be uninsured ten years from now under Obamacare.
HH: Senator Rob Portman of the great state of Ohio, thanks for joining us. We look forward to getting more than maybes from you in the future.
End of interview.