Wednesday Q+A With Patrick McHenry

The House GOP’s chief deputy whip on repealing Obamacare, building Trump’s border wall, and the “rambling brood” of Republicans he helps manage.

Rep. Patrick McHenry is interviewed in his Capitol Hill office on Jan. 3, 2017.
Chet Susslin
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Jan. 3, 2017, 8 p.m.

As the chief deputy whip for House Re­pub­lic­ans, Rep. Patrick McHenry has his hands full count­ing votes in a some­times di­vided con­fer­ence. The North Car­o­lina law­maker spoke with Daniel Ne­whaus­er on Tues­day about the pri­or­it­ies and chal­lenges of the 115th Con­gress.

We’ve got a big year ahead, with lots of le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­it­ies. What will the or­der of these big-tick­et items will be?

What we do know is the open­ing act is: re­peal Obama­care. That is a more con­trolled op­er­a­tion, mean­ing there are time lim­its in the Sen­ate, there’s a 51-vote mar­gin to vote all those things that en­able us to get a re­peal budget res­ol­u­tion through, and our pro­cess is con­trolled get­ting the re­con­cili­ation pack­age out of the House and in­to the Sen­ate. We have, then, Janu­ary, Feb­ru­ary mapped out, res­ult­ing in a re­peal, and per­haps that goes in­to March. We then have the un­do­ing of a num­ber of reg­u­la­tions that will hap­pen in the first two months. …

In­fra­struc­ture is sort of an un­deter­mined time peri­od be­cause you have to have the abil­ity to pay for that, and that leads to its own level of com­plex­ity. So all the while that’s hap­pen­ing, you have the form and nature of tax re­form work­ing its way through com­mit­tee and work­ing its way through the pro­cess to build some type of broad­er con­sensus around our tax-re­form plan. That has to hap­pen over a series of months. And the health care re­form pack­ages that we want to put to­geth­er have to take form in com­mit­tee. So a lot of that stuff will take time to bake. How you fund a wall, how you fund bor­der se­cur­ity, how you fund im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment and that pack­age around im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment can hap­pen in the next six months. … Then the cul­min­a­tion of tax re­form is between now and Septem­ber, for us here in the House.

Can you re­peal Obama­care out­right on Day One, or does there have to be a wind-down peri­od, and if so, how long?

It’s really a ques­tion of two or three years, be­cause you have to first ad­mit you’re not go­ing to do it im­me­di­ately. You’re not go­ing to take away people’s in­sur­ance. So how do you en­sure you have a struc­tur­al change? OK, then you’re look­ing at two or three years, and that de­cision has not been fi­nal­ized. It’s go­ing to be a ques­tion of, really, the prac­tic­al real­it­ies of im­ple­ment­a­tion.

In­fra­struc­ture has not ne­ces­sar­ily been a House or Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an pri­or­ity, but will this get done if Pres­id­ent-elect Don­ald Trump really pushes for it? And how?

To achieve an in­fra­struc­ture plan, I think we would have to have a way to pay for it. I’ve long sup­por­ted, and a num­ber of us in the House have sup­por­ted, a con­nec­tion between en­ergy sources and the move­ment of goods and people. … Let’s go to that next gen­er­a­tion of rev­en­ue, which is our nat­ur­al re­sources on pub­lic lands, and con­nect that in­come to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for util­iz­ing those re­sources, pay­ing for our in­fra­struc­ture. Or en­able us, for the oil that we ex­port—which we can now ex­port be­cause we lif­ted the ex­port ban on crude oil—and con­nect that rev­en­ue to fund­ing our high­ways, roads, and bridges.

Will there be an ac­tu­al wall along the na­tion­al bor­der? Are we talk­ing about a fence, or a sur­veil­lance wall, like drones?

The pres­id­ent ran on build­ing a big, beau­ti­ful wall. He will achieve the first steps of that, I be­lieve, in the first half of this year. … How Con­gress has pre­vi­ously passed this is we’ve en­abled the ad­min­is­tra­tion to define what that is. So in cer­tain areas, the in­fra­struc­ture will be dif­fer­ent. But that’s a de­tail to be worked out. … So the ques­tion be­comes, how do you have a more im­me­di­ate down pay­ment for real bor­der se­cur­ity? … We can change the law so the Bor­der Patrol can ac­tu­ally patrol the full­ness of our south­ern bor­der. We can change the law so that those that present them­selves at the bor­der are not taken in­to cus­tody in the United States and re­leased in the United States.

The CIA, FBI, and Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment have all said Rus­sia hacked U.S. tar­gets to in­flu­ence the elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor. With the Benghazi and Planned Par­ent­hood scan­dals, spe­cial com­mit­tees were em­paneled. Why would it not be ap­pro­pri­ate to do the same for this?

I’m not a big be­liev­er in cre­at­ing new com­mit­tees. … We have the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. We have sol­id, smart mem­bers who are work­ing on this to make sure they are hold­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­munity to ac­count and mak­ing sure there’s a check and bal­ance on what hap­pens in the ex­ec­ut­ive-branch in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. I’m con­fid­ent they’re do­ing their part to en­sure there’s prop­er over­sight. I’m not go­ing to rush to judg­ment about the next steps that will be taken.

Do you think a Trump vic­tory makes it easi­er to deal with the Free­dom Caucus?

We have a ram­bling brood, a cir­cus of a fam­ily, if you will. Like any good fam­ily we can have large dis­agree­ments, but when we’re ac­tu­ally try­ing to achieve something, we can work to­geth­er and we can achieve res­ults. I ac­tu­ally am ex­traordin­ar­ily hope­ful. The Free­dom Caucus is smal­ler go­ing in­to this Con­gress and is smal­ler as a per­cent­age of the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence, but those battles of last Con­gress are so dif­fer­ent than what we’ll face go­ing in­to this Con­gress.

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