Coble: 'C-Minus' for Obama
Residents of North Carolina's 6th Congressional District feel the Democrats' health-care reform bill is being "rammed down their throats," according to Rep. Howard Coble.
The 13-term Republican congressman from Greensboro, whose district includes Moore County, will seek re-election in the fall midterm election.
In addition to speaking of the district's "overwhelming" opposition to the health-care package, Coble also addressed the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan in a Jan. 28 interview with The Pilot. While Iraq has stabilized, Coble calls the situation in Afghanistan "a mess" and is unsure how he would vote on the war in the future.
Coble was critical of President Obama's -performance so far, giving it a "C-minus at the most." He argued that the president has not lived up to his campaign pledge of transparency, especially with respect to health-care reform.
He was lukewarm in his assessment of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, though he said she probably deserved a higher mark than the president.
While Scott Brown's victory in the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has changed his opinion of how well the GOP could fare in the November midterm elections, he still considers the prospect of Republicans winning back majorities in the House and Senate a "long shot." But he does think the party could win back a significant number of seats.
Here is an edited transcript of the interview, which included questions from Publisher David Woronoff, Editor Steve Bouser and Staff Writers Florence Gilkeson and John Krahnert III.
Q: What's the public mood you're encountering as you travel the district?
A: This is not scientific, but I am convinced that based upon the number of e-mails, telephone calls and conventional mail that we've received from our constituents, it was overwhelming in opposition to the health plan. I don't know about countrywide, but I'd say about 85 percent [of the messages opposed the plan]. It was overwhelming.
Q: What specifically did they most not like about it?
A: It was very general, and they just didn't like it. I got the feeling - well, some of them told me this - they felt like it was being rammed down their throats. And I'm sure both parties are probably to blame for this.
My Republican friends who sat on the -committee of jurisdiction - primarily energy and commerce - they said every time they would offer an amendment or make a -suggestion, it was just summarily dismissed, and they felt like it was being rammed home.
And folks, my two committees - well, Judiciary, in an ancillary way, we will have an occasional health-care issue - but for the most part, my two committees are just not involved with the delivery of health care.
But if I were a gambler, I wouldn't make book that this thing is dead. It may be on life support, but I think it's still alive.
Q: Should the president have made more of a gesture in the State of the Union Address about changing the health-care approach or something?
A: I'm subjective, so I think he probably should have, particularly in view of the Massachusetts message. I told Mac (Ed McDonald, Coble's chief of staff and press secretary) at 9 o'clock that Tuesday night, "I'll believe it when I see it." I mean Massachusetts, the bluest of all blue states probably, and by golly, they delivered in spades.
Q: What were your impressions of the State of the Union as a whole?
A: First of all, I think he should have been more forthright and maybe say, you know, "Listen folks, I handled this wrong." He may have skirted around that, but I don't think he addressed it that boldly.
I think that most Americans, and here again I can't prove it scientifically, but most of the folks in our district, I think their issues in this order would be, reckless and imprudent spending, jobs - of course those two are pretty well-connected - security, and then I think health care would have probably come in fourth, maybe even fifth, and I think that they just felt like, by golly, we don't want it, we've let it be known that we don't want it, but they're still ramming it down our throats.
And I think [Sen.-elect Scott] Brown, as best I can tell, more or less based his candidacy on opposing the Obama health-care plan.
Q: The president's been in office for a year now. What kind of grade would you give him?
A: Well, I'll try to be less subjective, but I'd say C-minus at the most. ... One reason is the fact that he campaigned so vigorously on transparency. And he kept insisting time and again, "It's going to be on C-SPAN, you'll be able to see it on C-SPAN." Now I'm told, and I can't remember who told me, or I either was told or read that C-SPAN offered, but it was never forthcoming.
I think when you run on that campaign, when that's one of the main planks in the platform, and you don't deliver, I think what surfaces then, folks, is lack of trust. And that's why I wouldn't go more than a C-minus. And I'm really groaning to do that.
Q: Obviously, issues of great importance here would be all matters military. Where are we in Iraq and Afghanistan, and where do we need to be?
A: At the elementary school today (Southern Pines Elementary), one of the questions was what's the hardest vote I ever took. And I told those youngsters, I said, I think the most difficult vote that I've taken was dispatching troops to Iraq. If I had known there was no post-entry strategy, I would not have voted to do it.
I thought, and continue to think, that Saddam Hussein was an international terrorist. And I'm still not convinced that there weren't weapons of mass destruction, or the wherewithal to at least produce weapons of mass destruction. But there was no post-entry strategy - I told the president (George W. Bush) that after the fact. He sort of bristled when I said it to him, but I said we had no post-entry strategy.
I'm still not convinced that Iraq is solidified. Many folks say, "Well, Iraq's taken care of." A lot of my friends say that. I'm not convinced of it, but at least it's better. Now, on Afghanistan, I think the president's probably doing the only thing he can do right now, shipping additional troops to Afghanistan. But I don't want our men and women to be over there for the next 15 to 20 years, and I'm not even sure I want them to be over there for the next five years.
So I don't know what I'm going to do when the time comes, but it's a mess. In fact, I'm going to go visit with Walter Jones next Tuesday to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]. I've never visited there, but Walter goes over there frequently. I'm going to go visit veterans, those who have been injured, permanently in many cases.
Q: How would the capture of Osama bin Laden factor into our two wars being deemed successful or not?
A: Well, I think it's significant that we haven't gotten him. I think, from what I'm told again, if people had responded correctly - and maybe even both parties are to blame here - he could have been nailed. I think it was imminent in at least a couple of cases with which I'm familiar.
He's still alive, as best I can tell. Pakistan, of course, is a part of the problem and the solution. On the one hand, we have friends there; on the other hand, we have Taliban sympathizers.
So I really can't fault him (Obama) at this juncture for sending additional troops there, but when push comes to shove, I don't know what I would do on an up-or-down vote for an extended, permanent footprint there.
Q: You graded the president's performance. What do you think of Nancy Pelosi's leadership as Speaker of the House of Representatives?
A: Someone asked me the other day how I got along with the speaker, and my dealings with her have been favorable but limited.
I talked to a Democrat - I'll give you the sanitized version - I asked, "How's the speaker to work with?" He said, "She's not easy to work with." That's the sanitized version.
I'm closer to [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [of Maryland]. I regard Hoyer as a good friend, although I don't see him socially, but he and I - I think he speaks as favorably about me as I do him. I think Steny would probably be the better of the two, but I really can't give her a failing mark. I'd probably grade her more than a C-minus, but I believe Steny would be the better speaker of the two.
Q: How do you think the chances are in next fall's election for Republicans, especially considering what happened in Massachusetts?
A: What happened in Massachusetts has altered my thinking. Prior to that, I said I don't think we can regain the majority, but I do think that we'll pick up a sizable number of seats.
Now I still believe the latter. As to the former - of course, you all know how fickle political winds are. They can change half a dozen times between now and November. But I think if the vote were tomorrow, we might could stand a chance of regaining the majority. But I still think that's a long shot, Massachusetts not withstanding.
Q: Can we assume that you'll be running again in the fall?
A: I'm going to be running again, yeah. I talked to a physician friend of mine the other day - as a matter of fact he's an old tennis buddy of mine - and he said many times he'll have folks come in and say, "I want to get rid of all of them except Howard Coble." I said, "Well, doctor, I'm not sure everybody embraces that," because I've had a couple of guys tell me, "I'm voting against everybody." One of them said, "I've always voted for you, Howard, but I'm getting rid of everybody."
And you know, folks, if people get that angry ... what's the old saying, "Throw all the bums out"?
I'm going to go again. I had thought about retiring, never said anything publicly about it. But one of my leadership guys cornered me on the floor one day - six months ago - and he said, "I hear you're thinking about retiring." And I said, "Well, I haven't said that." He said, "Well, I hear you're thinking about it." I said, "Well, it's crossed my mind." And he said, "Well, I don't want that to happen," and he 'splained to me. And I told him I would go, which I am going to do.
Q: We talked about job creation, the economy and health care being the issues that are dominating the political discourse in Washington right now. But are there any other issues that maybe Congress isn't giving enough attention to?
A: One of the TV stations up home talked to me last night about what could be done to enhance and encourage additional jobs. I said the president is proposing a tax credit, and I would favor a tax reduction, because many people don't have the money to hire anybody, so a tax credit is really not ... it's better than nothing, but I think a tax reduction would be a lot better.
And I think, of course, the estate tax has died unless something is done to revive it, so there won't be an estate tax collected this calendar year. I told some guy in Alamance County, "I don't mean this to be insensitive, but if you're going to die, this is the year to do it, because no estate tax will be collected."
Now, the next time, it will revert to a 55 percent, $1 million cap, I think. I could live with a cap of ... probably a $3 million cap. But I voted it against that the other time because I think the estate tax should be repealed in toto. I think it's the most onerous tax in the code.
Q: One last question: Do you believe there's such a thing as global warming?
A: This is going to sound like a politician's answer, but I've heard and read compelling arguments on both sides. But if I had to stake myself out, I would stake myself out in opposition to those folks who claim the world's coming to an end if we don't straighten out this climate business.
Now, I don't know how much scientific connection this has, but I've found it rather ironic that at the Copenhagen event, where they don't get that much snow normally, it snowed. Then, come back home and we have that tremendous snowstorm along the entire East Coast.
Compelling though it may be, I think the better argument to me is that this is not that big a deal. But that's coming from a non-scientist.
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