House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer sat down with the Alley's Chris Frates and Billy House in his terrapin-themed Capitol office to talk about the perceptions hurting Democrats heading into the fall, whether it's fair to ask him to step down from leadership after November and why the minority party still matters. The excerpts below have been edited for clarity and length.
Alley: What perceptions are hurting Democrats heading into the elections?
Hoyer: I think that the average working person, when you look at these polls, misperceives which party is fighting for them. I think from an insider's perspective, in my view, the policies being perceived by the Republicans largely are policies which will ask more from those who have less and ask less from those who have more. I'm amazed and disheartened in some respects by the fact that working men and women of this country -- nonsensically, but in significant numbers -- in the middle-income ranges somehow don't perceive how hard Democrats have been trying to fight for them.
Alley: Where has the party failed?
Hoyer: To some degree there is a perception that what Democrats are focused on is simply making sure that everybody has a fair shake. They're for fairness. But they really want opportunity. And I think they think we emphasize fairness to the exclusion of opportunity. I don't think that's accurate. Yes, we're for fairness and we think that's a very important value in our country. But what they want to see, and I think what the Republican rhetoric talks about, is trying to build up, make sure they have their money.
Alley: The conventional wisdom is that the minority party in the House is irrelevant. Why do Democrats matter?
Hoyer: We would have shut down the government twice, the debt limit wouldn't have been extended, Ex-Im Bank wouldn't have passed, patent reform would have had trouble. You put the Senate highway bill on the floor today, we could pass it. All the Republicans would need would be 30 votes out of their 242.
Alley: What leverage does that give you to be able to provide the votes?
Hoyer: Well, they don't want to do much. My view is we are certainly relevant when it comes to doing things that they decide they need to do because they can't get it done themselves.
Alley: If you lose seats in November is it fair for folks to ask you and your leadership team to step aside?
Hoyer: I think it's fair for people to raise the question, "Why did that happen?" Frankly, last time our members did not conclude that it was the leadership that was the problem. But it's certainly fair to ask that question. In either event, I certainly hope that my members would keep me in the leadership.
Alley: How much gets done in the lame duck?
Hoyer: I hope that we could get a substantial amount done because we're going to face a fiscal storm, some people call it a fiscal cliff, which is unlike any that I have seen in my 31 years in Congress. The consequences of inaction in the lame duck will be very, very negative and therefore we need to act.
Alley: What's your role there in avoiding the fiscal cliff?
Hoyer: I think I play the role of bringing people together. I think I've shown that through the years that I have that ability. I think if you ask the Republicans they'd say that Hoyer's a guy we can work with.
Alley: How tremendous are the Maryland Terrapins?
Hoyer: The Maryland Terrapin basketball team is going to be pretty good this coming year.
Photo: Richard A. Bloom/National Journal