South Carolina Gov-elect Haley visits Washington

WASHINGTON – Gov.-elect Nikki Haley moved onto the national stage Wednesday as she and other newly elected GOP governors met with Republican congressional leaders to craft strategies for devolving federal power back to the states.

House Speaker-designate John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose Haley to lead off a crowded news conference at the U.S. Capitol after their closed-door meeting with 15 incoming GOP governors.

“It is a great day today in DC because what you see is a coalition of governors who have gotten together with the leaders in DC,” Haley told dozens of reporters at a briefing broadcast live on C-SPAN.

“We are now going to start conversations about why we don’t need mandated health care and what we as states can do with solutions instead,” she said. “We are not just going to say no, but we’re actually going to tell our federal leaders what we can do instead so that they can go back and fight for why states should have more rights.”

Haley, a Lexington, S.C., state representative who defeated S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election, was to join newly elected governors from both parties today (Thursday) for a White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

Haley’s debut on Capitol Hill presented an odd tableau of an anti-Washington tea party favorite attacking federal power from a gilded corridor off the Senate chamber, surrounded by alabaster columns and oil portraits of past political giants on the walls.

John Kasich, a former Ohio congressman who the Midwestern state’s gubernatorial race last month, and Gov.-elect Mary Fallin of Oklahoma appeared with Haley, Boehner and McConnell at the news conference.

The Republican rout in last month’s congressional elections restored GOP control of the House and sliced the Democratic margin in the Senate.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican who will assume the top House post when the new session of Congress starts in January, said he’ll work closely with GOP governors after he replaces Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Today we welcomed newly elected governors – and their ideas for creating jobs and cutting spending – to Washington,” Boehner said. “Washington doesn’t have all the answers, and the best ideas usually come from outside the Beltway.”

Boehner said the strategy session Wednesday focused on finding ways to repeal the historic health-insurance bill that Obama signed into law in March after Congress passed it almost exclusively with Democratic votes.

“We agreed to build on the states’ revolt against the job-killing health care law with the same kind of strong partnership that led to the successful 1996 welfare reforms,” Boehner said.

Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, denied that national Republican leaders are promoting her as an appealing example of ethnic and gender diversity in a party that has not fared well with minority voters.

“I think the reason they’re promoting me is because I was very vocal in my state on how I was going to fight back on mandatory health care,” Haley told McClatchy before the briefing. “I am very vocal that I don’t want the federal government intruding in my state.”

Haley said she didn’t plan to follow the lead of Gov. Mark Sanford in becoming a national political figure. Sanford was head of the Republican Governors Association and was viewed as a possible 2012 presidential candidate before an extramarital affair damaged his political prospects.

Haley won South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial primary in June thanks in part to her endorsement by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee.

Haley defeated S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer to capture the primary.

Palin is scheduled to be in Columbia on Friday at the Village of Sandhill Books a Million store to promote her new book, “American by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag.”

Haley said she hopes to meet with Palin in the state capital and their aides were trying to mesh their schedules.

Sanford clashed with Obama last year, making national headlines, over his failed efforts to reject $700 million in federal economic stimulus funds.

Haley said she hoped that today’s meeting with Obama would be constructive and respectful.

“What I hope to have is a strong line of communication to where we (governors) don’t just say no, but we actually give solutions to why Washington should not just intrude into our state and why states rights matter,” Haley said.

Haley said of Obama that she planned “to let him know that a tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase – and it’s something our state cannot afford.”

Obama is negotiating with congressional leaders on how long to extend President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year, and whether to continue to apply them to all Americans regardless of income.

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