The No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House made a brief stop in Boise Wednesday to meet with Russ Fulcher, the former state senator and current GOP nominee for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.
Fulcher said he has been in regular contact with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, since Fulcher won the Republican primary for the seat being vacated by Rep. Raul Labrador.
On Wednesday, “the majority of the discussion was around wildfires in the West,” Fulcher told the Statesman. He said they also discussed “the effort to maintain the majority in Congress, and the understanding that losing the majority would stymie the president’s conservative agenda.”
House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, also accompanied McCarthy to Boise.
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McCarthy and Fulcher had a private lunch meeting in the Eighth & Main building with representatives from J.R. Simplot Co., US Ecology and other Idaho business executives. Several Republican politicians also attended: Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Sen. Cliff Bayer of Meridian and Rep. Mike Kingsley of Lewiston.
First, McCarthy gave a brief interview to the Statesman. His remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What brings you to Idaho?
A: I’ve come here for Russ. ... We met. Amazing individual. He knows the background. But, most importantly, he was talking about some of the challenges here. So, I always want to see firsthand, because he is going to hit the ground running and make a great contribution from the very beginning. What I wanted to see is exactly what he had been talking about and meet the constituents so I can be helpful at the same time.
Q: So he has secured your endorsement?
A: Oh yes. I’ve invested in this race.
Q: What is it about Russ Fulcher that you are excited about?
A: You know what I think most about? One is character. Two, his background. From business, from being in the Legislature, and really that he is willing to listen and fight for those constituents out there. And so we met on the phone early on... he got in that little motorcycle accident and he came to see me. So he’s tough. To be able to hurt those many ribs and to be able to move forward. We had a real connection from the very beginning. I look at, one, the day he gets into Washington, he’ll hit the ground running to be able to represent everybody here strongly.
Q: What does your crystal ball tell you about the upcoming midterms?
A: History says this is going to be a real challenge for us. Because history shows since World War II the party in power, the party that has the White House, usually loses seats in the off year. On average, about 30 and 23 seats in the majority. So this is not going to be an easy battle. But we have a lot to talk about. Think about the economic growth. Let me give you just one statistic: In the last 49 years in America, unemployment has only been below 4 percent eight months in those 49 years. And three of those eight months were this year. Unemployment claims are at a 44-year low. What we have been able to do with the VA. The GI Bill is no longer just 15 years or you lose it, it is now for a lifetime. Opening up the Choice Act. Investing in rebuilding our military. These are important issues, but we still have a lot more to do. I am looking forward to what Russ has been working on to balance our budget. He knows how to balance a budget, from his business and from being in the Legislature as well.
Q: As the second-ranking House Republican you are next in line for speaker. With the current speaker’s retirement, are you actively seeking that position?
A: What I am actively doing is making sure a Republican can seek that position. If you do not have 218, no Republican becomes speaker. And if that is the case, then Nancy Pelosi comes back. And there’s three things the Democrats want to do: They want to abolish ICE. They want to impeach the president, which they’ve attempted twice before. And they want to destroy Medicare as we know it. They want Medicare for all, which is government-run healthcare. If you have private health insurance today, you lose that. And then they pile everybody into Medicare. So those who are currently on it, it will go bankrupt. We have done too much in this country of improvement of where we are going and we have a lot more to do. That is why we need Russ in Washington to help us.
Q: If the House maintains its majority and it selects a new speaker, what type of speaker does that need to be to lead you through this, to keep this momentum going?
A: First of all, we need to have somebody that can unite the conference. Somebody that can work very well with the president. I was just talking to the president this morning. I think I probably have the closest relationship of anybody in the House. But most importantly, that we are going to build on those things we have been able to achieve so far and finish the goal. We’ve got to balance the budget. We’ve got to continue to grow economically. The challenge of what we have been able to do this year. Think for a moment, a lot of people don’t quite realize, human trafficking. Adult modern slavery. What happens here is more than hundreds of thousands of Americans get trafficked in a year. Most of that is because of the internet. Do you realize what we have been able to do when the bill passed? We stopped 87 percent of that online. Backpage is now stopped. Opioids, 112 people will die today from that. But we’ve got to continue to rebuild the military. We’ve got to continue to build the economics. We’ve got to make the next century the American century. We’ve got to secure our border. I was just in Des Moines, Iowa, the other day. And look at the tragedy that we just have found. An illegal murdering that young college student. Sad situation. We’ve got to have legal immigration, but we’ve got to have a secure border at the same time. Then you think about our trade. Talking to our president today, I think we are going to get an agreement. But we’ve got to have fair trade. You look at what China has been doing and others. This is where Russ’ background is so critical, from the business background and others, to be able to hit that ground running and get that input early.
Q: You mentioned your close relationship with President Trump. Yesterday was a major news day. Paul Manafort was found guilty on some of the charges. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to several charges. What are your thoughts on Michael Cohen implicating President Trump by claiming he directed him to pay money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president?
A: First, Manafort, he was found guilty on those charges. Nothing to do with the president. Long before he ever worked for the president and others. Cohen, don’t quite know about what he is pleading to. I know he said one thing and then he said another. Not quite sure what part is the truth and what part’s not. One thing I know is this president, that I have watched through all of this, there is no collusion. He ran a race and won and he’s ... changed America in the right direction. I see a lot of this driven by politics and I would rather see this country come together than continue to split us apart. We need to get the work done that the American people have elected us to do.
Q: You agree with President Trump that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt?
A: I will tell you this, from what I know of this investigation, I’ve studied it greatly, I have a real concern about what went on in the DOJ. A high individual whose wife works for Fusion, who worked on the dossier. And then you have Strzok over at the FBI. If you look at the texts of what he wanted to do. They were taking their personal philosophical beliefs and trying to change the outcome. There is no collusion that went on. That is what the investigation was about. Having seen all that, I think it is time you shut that down so this country can move forward.
Q: Unfortunately, when you flew into Boise today you could not see our beautiful foothills, mountains or high desert because of the smoke raging across Idaho and your home state of California. To what do you attribute the increasing wildfire crisis and what is the solution?
A: There is a combination. The management. The thing you have to do for a wildfire, it is the fuel and the oxygen which creates it, so you have to manage the fuel in a better way. And this is where we look on the federal end to do a better job with. California state has these challenges. I had (Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue) out and we are looking at other ways to be able to look to have that. You have got make sure you have the fire breaks and the others to be able to go through. You are still going to have lightning fires and others. But if you are able to manage the fuel and manage the forests, everything is healthier.
Q: President Trump has stated the press is the enemy of the people. Do you agree?
A: I think there is an important role for the press. But I think everything should be treated fair and honest in approach. The greater transparency, the stronger we all are.