An Interview With Newt Gingrich
John Hawkins: You’ve criticized how the Bush administration has explained the war effort to the American people. If you were in the White House instead of George Bush today, what would you be telling the American people about what’s going on in Iraq and the War on terrorism?
Newt Gingrich: …Let me just say that I think it would be helpful for the country if the President were consistently reminding people that we have real enemies, that these enemies are the irreconcilable wing of Islam, that they’ve said publicly and clearly they want to kill us, and that anyone who thinks we should withdraw from Iraq without having won needs to be forced to answer the question, “What do you think Zarqawi would do?” Do you think he’s going to go home and declare victory and be happy the rest of his life or do you think he’s going to go to the next fight and at the next opportunity, kill Americans and try to destroy the Western world? We have to force the debate at the right historic level.
John Hawkins: Let me change gears here a bit. Health Care in this country is certainly expensive and a lot of people are uncovered. Briefly, what do you think we need to do to fix it?
Newt Gingrich: Well, I’m giving a speech today at the National Press Club on transforming the Medicaid system and I’m going to say that my goal should be for every American to have health insurance coverage. We should start by vouchering Medicaid money so that people who are the healthy poor can go out and buy insurance and be part of the insurance pool. We should then provide tax credits for the working poor and small businesses and then the current tax deductibility for everybody above that.
We should apply the same tax deductibility whether you personally want to buy your own insurance or whether you buy it through a company. Right now as you know the bias is against those who want to buy their own insurance and in favor of those who go to work for somebody else and I think everybody should have the same tax advantage in buying health insurance.
I also think that if you focus on health savings accounts where people have an incentive to save, an incentive to manage their own health, that you can dramatically bring down the cost of health care by giving people engaged in better health behaviors and better health activities. I think in that process that you have the right to know price and quality before you make a decision. Also you get to be an informed purchaser of health just as you are any other part of American life.
John Hawkins: What do you think about the idea that the Wall Street Journal recently brought up about having health care companies from all around the country able to compete for the business of anybody in a single state?
Newt Gingrich: I think we should create a national health care market. You know, all the big companies exist under what’s called a (inaudible) in a national market and I think that you ought to have the same right to buy into that kind of market if you want to. I mean, if you want to stay in your state’s mandated requirements, that’s fine, but that ought to be a choice for you, (instead of being a) captive of your state legislature.
John Hawkins: Back in 1994, when you led the GOP takeover of the House, one of the key issues was deficit reduction and the party was very serious about it back then. Today, there seem to be few people in Washington who are serious about fiscal restraint. Why have the Republicans in Washington lost their way on this and what do we need to do to get the country back on track towards fiscal responsibility?
Newt Gingrich: Well, let me say first of all that one of the most important achievements we had with the Contract With America was four consecutive years of a balanced federal budget. We paid off 405 billion dollars in national debt. We did that while cutting taxes, increasing economic growth, reforming Medicare, and reforming welfare. And we for only the second time since the Second World War, the other being 1981 under Ronald Reagan, we actually cut domestic discretionary spending in the Appropriations Committee which was a major achievement.
So, I very much believe in peace time you ought to have a balanced budget. I very much believe that means you’ve got to control spending, you’ve got to set priorities, and that means you have to transform the health system which is 26 percent of all federal spending. The federal government is the largest purchaser of health care in the world.
One of the reasons I founded the Center for Health Transformation is that you cannot possibly fix the health system and balance the federal budget unless you profoundly re-think it and transform it. So I would like to see the government make a commitment to get back to a balanced budget. I think that gives you lower interest rates, it gives you a lower burden on yourself and your children, it allows you to have more economic growth and I think that’s very important.
John Hawkins: There’s a battle going on in the Republican Party between people who are adamantly opposed to rewarding illegal aliens in any way, shape, or form and there are others who want to keep them here for cheap labor. How do you think we should be handling the illegal alien issue?
Newt Gingrich: Well, I think there are a number of absolute historic principles and that this deserves to be discussed among the country at the highest level of seriousness. The first principle is we have to have control of our borders and our coasts for national security reasons.
The Director of Central Intelligence warned publicly in congressional testimony that he fully believes a nuclear weapon could be driven across our border. Now after all the talk about 9/11 and learning the lessons of 9/11, how much clearer a warning could you get than to have the Director of Central Intelligence say publicly he’s worried that the border is so open that you could literally drive a nuclear weapon into the United States. Part One is — get control of the border; that means increasing the border control, it means establishing whatever technological and other systems you need to control the border…
John Hawkins: Newt, real quick, one thing – everybody seems to agree that we need to control the border, you would think. I mean, we hear that every time…
Newt Gingrich: You don’t see a budget designed to do it, you don’t see a plan designed to do it, you don’t see a public commitment to do it…
John Hawkins: That’s what I was going to ask. Why aren’t we seeing it because theoretically everybody – Democrat, Republican – keeps saying we need to control the border…
Newt Gingrich: I don’t understand it. I mean, you ought to call the White House press office and ask them. I don’t understand it. It seems to me, as a national security matter, we’re going to spend 9 billion dollars a year on a missile defense; we ought to spend some money on making sure they don’t drive the nuclear weapon in instead of flying it in a rocket.
John Hawkins: I agree 100%.
Newt Gingrich: So, Part Two of that is, I think, to have border control truly work, you have to have what I would call a Blue Card Guest Worker Program where they have to give you an iris scan, a thumb print, agree to obey the law, and sign a contract that says if they break the law, we can remove them from the U.S. in 48 hours.
Then I would say to everybody who’s come illegally in the U.S.: you have to go home to apply for the blue card. It’s not that we’re not going to be willing to give you a blue card, but we’re not going to allow you to start your career in the U.S. breaking the law for two reasons. First of all, it’s really sick for the person who’s broken the law (to gain an advantage) and second, it means that everybody who stayed at home in Guatemala City obeying the law and waiting for a visa was a fool. So I would make everybody go home to apply for a blue card for temporary workers and I would say — both to the businesses and anybody that thinks they’re going to stay as an illegal – once you create an honest, legal, temporary worker program – any business which hires a person who’s not an American citizen and doesn’t have a work permit – I would hammer, first, economically, and second, with criminal penalties.
At the same time I would say to anybody who’s in the U.S. illegally — once we’ve created this program – we’re going to take your iris scan, take your thumb print, kick you out of the U.S. and you will be on a computerized database and we won’t let you back in for a minimum of 10 years. So you really create a carrot and a stick pattern and then the last stage I would have is — I would have very open availability to learn English, special programs in English, something Chris Cox sponsored when he was in the Congress. I would have as a rule that you could apply to become an American citizen but you have to be able to pass a test in American history, in English, in order to become a citizen because I do think we want to say to people, “We’re very interested in having citizens who decide they want to become American, but we are not confused about the identity of being American.”
John Hawkins: You think the Supreme Court is misinterpreting the 1st Amendment with regard to religion?
Newt Gingrich: Totally. The Supreme Court study in 1963 with the school prayer decision has been imposing a cultural pattern which has nothing to do with the United States. The U.S. was founded by a group of political leaders who signed a document which says, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” That means that all of your political rights come from God and you then loan some of your power to the State which is why the Constitution begins, “We, the People of the United States.”
Now if that’s the system, how can you possibly drive the source of our political liberty out of public life? I think this is a very, very profound mistake and I’ve said so quite publicly. In my book, Winning the Future, and also at my website Newt.org, we have a walking tour to God in the national capital. I urge anybody who comes to Washington to get this and you can download it for free from my site. If you get really generous, you can buy the book.
The purpose of it is to start you at the National Archive with the Declaration of Independence, take you through the Washington Monument, on to the Jefferson Memorial – where you have 4 quotes referring to God – then taking you past the Lincoln Memorial where you have, “In God We Trust,” as part of the Gettysburg Address. You have in the Second Inaugural which is engraved on the memorial – in 732 words, you have 14 references to God and 2 quotes from the Bible and we walk you through this all the way up through Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Second World War memorial. When you get done with this walking tour you can’t conclude anything except that the Supreme Court is just wrong.
John Hawkins: Do you think we need a Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage?
Newt Gingrich: Well, I think that the question is whether or not the Congress could pass a law which protected marriage or whether because of states’ rights Congress does not have the ability to then enforce that without a Constitutional Amendment. I certainly think that we have every right to defend traditional marriage…whether it’s by passing a law or a constitutional amendment. Given what the judges in Massachusetts did, they in effect single handedly by judicial fiat began to change what had been several thousand years of tradition and history. I think it’s a profound mistake for judges to engage in social engineering.
John Hawkins: Do you think DOMA would pass Constitutional muster and that’s even setting aside judges making gay marriage legal in states over the…
Newt Gingrich: I’m told that it might not. I’m not a lawyer so I would defer to sound conservative constitutional scholars on this. I favor something like DOMA if it can be done at the statute level, but if it is literally impossible to enforce except by amendment, then I would favor an amendment. John Hawkins: Let me ask you two quick questions: #1) John Roberts — you think he was a good selection? #2) Terri Schiavo: You think Bush and the Congress handled that the right way?
Newt Gingrich: Those are great questions. Let me say, first of all, that Chris DeMuth, the president of the American Enterprise Institute is one of the people I lean on for legal advice because he’s a great lawyer and a great scholar and he believes that John Roberts is one of the two best appeals court judges that were available to be on the Supreme Court and he thinks that on balance conservatives are going to be very, very confident that this was a good pick. So I rely on his judgment. He knows Roberts, he’s studied his work, and he believes that we’re going to be very pleased and I would take Chris’ judgment because I’m not an expert in that area.
The challenge with the Schiavo case wasn’t what they did; it was how they did it. If we had a 6 or 8 week build-up and the country had understood that if you’re a convicted murderer, you get to appeal from the state court to make sure that your rights as an American have been protected — and all that they were trying to do was insure that families in conflict situations on behalf of an innocent person would have the same right to have a review of their situation that a convicted murderer has — I think the country would have shrugged and said, “Well, that makes sense,” and not worried about it.
The way it happened was so startling, it looked like such an over-reaction on behalf of one case, that I think people thought they had lost their sense of perspective. So I think the way they did it was actually more controversial than what they were doing, if, in fact, they had explained what they were doing.
John Hawkins: So basically it was a good idea, but they just didn’t explain…..
Newt Gingrich: I mean, if you’re asking me – in situations where there’s a conflict, over the life of a human being and where the state is, in effect, being asked to eliminate that person’s chances of living, should it be possible to have judicial review beyond a local judge who may or may not be prejudiced, it seems to me that’s pretty self-evident. Because you’re talking about a very peculiar set of circumstances and in situations where the whole family agrees this would never come up, but here you had an allegation by the parents that the husband was systematically trying to block her recovery by putting her at risk. Does that make sense?
John Hawkins: Yes.
Newt Gingrich: You need to recognize that we’re now entering a time of medical knowledge where the state in the form of the law is in effect making life and death decisions and having a bias in favor of life and in favor of caution strikes me as very reasonable because you know historically that there have been cases where people have manipulated the thing to kill somebody for insurance or to kill somebody for property. I think you have to establish a balance there.
John Hawkins: In your opinion, the 1994 Revolution you lead there in the House with the GOP, you know, we had huge wins that went very well — if you had to boil the success we had in 1994 down to its most crucial elements, what would they be? Why were we able to do that in 1994?
Newt Gingrich: Well, we had spent 16 years laying the ground work through GOPAC and through the congressional campaign committee and through hard work on the House floor so we had a very wide number of people who knew what we were trying to do. We had a country which was very unhappy with the way the Democrats were running Washington and we had a set of ideas which Ronald Reagan had popularized but not succeeded in passing.
So we could stand on Reagan’s shoulders, outline things like welfare reform, tax cuts, balanced budget, do so in a way that people could nod, “Yes,” and say, “That’s the right general direction,” and have enough candidates running with enough resources simultaneously to pull off what turned out to be the largest one-party increase in voting in the off-year in American history. We got 9 million additional votes, the Democrats dropped by a million, it was literally the biggest swing in an off-year in American history.
John Hawkins: So, in your opinion, it was just…
Newt Gingrich: You had to have a positive message that the American people instinctively believed in as well as having the other team fail badly enough that people were eager for something. It’s a combination of the two of them and what I see with the Democrats is, you know, they know how to be anti-Bush and they know how to be anti-Republican, but I don’t sense that they have any substantial positive message yet, partly because they haven’t found (their) Ronald Reagan.
John Hawkins: Just to get an idea of your priorities, let’s say you could get any three pieces of legislation you wanted passed – any three. Give us a quick run-down of what they’d be.
Newt Gingrich: That’s a very good question. I think there would be a comprehensive border control and immigration policy. There would be a position limiting the court’s ability to drive God out of the American public life and there would be a very dramatic overhaul of math and science education so that we could compete with China and India.
Those would probably be my first three, but that’s a great question. Nobody’s asked me that and there are 5 or 6 other ideas floating around in the back of my head, clamoring for attention. …If you go to Newt.org, you can see the beginning of a real outline of a legislative agenda that we think would make a huge difference.
John Hawkins: Are there any bloggers that you read at least semi-regularly?
Newt Gingrich: No, I flip around but I don’t read any one blog in particular.
John Hawkins: Tell us a little bit about your new book, Winning the Future.
Newt Gingrich: Well, Winning The Future is designed to say: what would a 21st century Contract with America be like. What are the great challenges? I have 2 grandchildren — Maggie who is 6, will be 6 in October, and Robert who is now 4 — and what kind of country are they going to inherit? What do you and I need to do to make sure they inherit a country that is as safe, as free, and as prosperous as the country that our parents and grandparents worked and fought to give us?
So we outline in there what we call the 5 great challenges of our generation and then I outline a series of steps toward solving and meeting those challenges — and it’s really an effort to outline how we might think if we wanted to write a 21st century Contract With America.
John Hawkins: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish?
Newt Gingrich: No, but I’ve been delighted. This is a very intelligent, very interesting interview. John Hawkins: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.