Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer On How The GOP Whittled Away At Democrats' House Majority

Nov 10, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, House Republicans were in the minority and forecasts showed that they could lose even more seats in a Democratic wave.

That's not what happened.

Although results continue to trickle in, the Democrats still hold the House majority, but Republicans managed to win back some competitive seats and hold on to some that they had feared losing.

"You win campaigns with great candidates, with the right message, and you've got to have enough resources," Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, tells All Things Considered. "The top issues were the economy and they were safety and security or law and order. ... And we offered, I think, the best alternative, candidates, and we had the best messages depending on the districts."

In excerpts from the interview, Emmer discusses Republican victories, whether there's room for cooperation and the results of the presidential election.

How do you interpret the message of this election where Americans chose Joe Biden to be president but did not give Democrats an outright victory in Congress?

One of the issues that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have is that they had a new group of elected officials join their conference two years ago who announced proudly that the socialists have arrived.

You're saying you ran an election against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, the members of "The Squad," freshmen members of the House?

We ran an election based on far left-wing policies that included the Green New Deal, that included open borders and frankly, raising your taxes by $4 trillion. But I'm going to give you an example. Down in Florida, we won two seats ... [Florida Districts 26 and 27, where Maria Elvira Salazar defeated incumbent Donna Shalala and Carlos Gimenez defeated incumbent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell]. ... In the Miami area, where these two seats are, there's roughly 2 million Cuban expats in this country and many of them live in that area, along with Venezuelans and Colombians. They know what socialism is and they know that it ends badly.

Give us a specific issue where you think the two parties can come together.

When it comes to what we have put forward, whether it's on health care, whether it's on transportation, no matter what the issues are, because we're going to have such a thin margin, guess what? I think they're going to have no choice but to work with Republicans in the Congress. And I think it's going to be an interesting dynamic going forward.

Very few Republicans in Congress have acknowledged that Biden has defeated Trump in the presidential race. At what point do you think that refusal to acknowledge reality begins to damage American democracy?

Well, first off, I think, if you look back at Bush versus Gore, that took 37 days and it involved essentially three counties in one state. I think people can be a little patient and allow the votes to be counted.

But we're talking about false claims of millions of fraudulent votes and stolen elections coming from the president of the United States. That's very different from what happened in 2000.

We're talking about 200,000 to 250,000 votes that remain outstanding in Arizona, where the candidates are separated by 15,000 votes. [The Arizona Secretary of State's Office estimates the number of uncounted ballots in Arizona is currently about 58,000 as of 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.]

Do you personally believe that the role that the race is not yet settled?

Rather than having the media make these declarations, let's allow the votes to be counted and make sure that everybody — and not everybody is going to be comfortable with the outcome, somebody wins, somebody loses — but let's allow the votes to be counted.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A couple weeks ago, House Republicans were worried. They were already in the minority, and forecasts showed that they could lose even more seats in a Democratic wave. Well, that's not what happened. And while results are still trickling in, we can say this. Democrats still hold the House majority, but Republicans managed to win back some competitive seats and hold on to some that they had feared losing. Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee and joins us now.

Welcome.

TOM EMMER: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How do you interpret the message of this election, where Americans chose Joe Biden to be president but did not give Democrats an outright victory in Congress?

EMMER: Well, it's - look; you win campaigns with great candidates, with the right message. And you've got to have enough resources. As Republicans, we typically do not have the resources that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle do, so we just got to have enough. And in this one, the top issues were the economy, and they were safety and security or law and order, however you want to describe it, Ari, but peace in the streets. And we offered, I think, the best alternative candidates. And we had the best messages, depending on the districts, and I'll give you an example. One of the issues that the - our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have is that they had a new group of elected officials join their conference two years ago who announced proudly that the socialists have arrived. And...

SHAPIRO: You're saying you ran an election against AOC, Rashida Tlaib and the members of the squad, freshmen members of the House.

EMMER: Actually, we ran an election based on far-left-wing policies that included the Green New Deal, that included, you know, open borders and, frankly, raising your taxes by $4 trillion, et cetera. But I'm going to give you an example. Down in Florida, we won two seats that we were reasonably confident we were going to win. The other side didn't think there was any chance that we could win these two seats, Florida 26 and 27. Now, why? The economy, safety and security - those are definitely issues. But keep in mind that in the Miami area where these two seats are, there's roughly 2 million Cuban expats in this country. And many of them live in that area, along with Venezuelans and Columbians. They know what socialism is, and they know that it ends badly.

SHAPIRO: So one way to interpret this mixed verdict from Americans is that people want the two parties to work together, and that's something that President-elect Biden says he wants to do. Do you see any bullet points on his agenda that you think, yeah, we can all get behind that?

EMMER: On the working together, clearly, this is the other reason that we've picked up several seats, Ari, including South Carolina's 1st District, New York's 11th District, New York 22, where Claudia Tenney is going to beat Anthony Brindisi. Those three Democrats all ran on a message two years ago that they were going to be moderate problem-solvers, that they were going to come to Congress, work with the administration, work with Republicans, and they didn't do any of it. In fact, they voted for impeachment. They voted for the same leadership that they said they weren't going to vote for. And clearly, the fact that they didn't keep that promise, voters remembered, and that's why they're not going to return.

SHAPIRO: But give us a specific issue where you think the two parties can come together, if that's what the American people are asking for.

EMMER: When it comes to what we have put forward, whether it's on health care, whether it's on transportation, no matter what the issue is, Ari, because we're going to have such a thin margin, guess what? I think they're going to have no choice but to work with Republicans in the Congress. And I think it's - I think it's going to be an interesting dynamic going forward.

SHAPIRO: I'm certainly not trying to debate the merits of different health care proposals but just the question of whether this is a place that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground - if health care is top of the list, that doesn't seem to bode well.

EMMER: People, I think, in America expect that we're going to have different perspectives, but they want leadership. Being obstructionist - and this is why they lost a lot of these seats. When you came in, you said you were going to be moderate problem-solvers. You were perhaps the most partisan, obstructionist majority the House has ever seen, and that's why we're picking up seats. So to your point, I think we do need to find a way to work together going forward to get things done, to advance the things that are most important to the American people. Otherwise, the voters will continue to speak at the ballot box.

SHAPIRO: Very few Republicans in Congress have acknowledged that Biden has defeated Trump in the presidential race. And at what point do you think that refusal to acknowledge reality begins to damage American democracy?

EMMER: Well, first off, I think, you know, if you look back at Bush versus Gore, that took 37 days, and it involved three counties in - essentially, three counties in one state. I think people can be a little patient and allow the votes to be counted. You still got over 200,000 votes...

SHAPIRO: Well, we're talking about false claims of millions of fraudulent votes and stolen elections coming from the president of the United States. That's very different from what happened in 2000.

EMMER: Again, Ari, we're talking about 200- to 250,000 votes that remain outstanding in Arizona, where the candidates are separated by 15,000 votes. You're talking about...

SHAPIRO: I mean, do you personally believe that the race is not yet settled?

EMMER: I think you've got to let every vote be counted. Hey, Ari, Georgia itself has called for a recount. So let's - rather than having the media make these declarations, let's allow the votes to be counted and make sure that everybody - and not everybody is going to be comfortable with the outcome. Somebody wins, somebody loses. But let's allow the votes to be counted.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota is the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Thank you for your time today.

EMMER: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And we should note the Arizona secretary of state's office estimates the number of uncounted ballots in Arizona is now below 60,000 votes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.