Rep. Israel Aims To Win 25 House Seats For Dems

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel is on a mission for 2012: to recruit enough viable Democratic congressional candidates to win 25 house seats. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Israel has his work cut out for him, given the large loss Democrats suffered in 2010 — and the extremely low approval of Congress overall. Melissa Block speaks with Israel about his plan for 2012.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, we're joined by the man in charge of the Democrats' strategy as they try to regain control of the House: Congressman Steve Israel of New York. He's chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Welcome to the program.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL: Great to be with you.

BLOCK: Democrats, of course, took a huge thumping back in 2010. You lost 63 seats in the House, and you'd need to pick up 25 Republican seats if you're going to win back the majority. It's a pretty daunting number. How do you get there?

ISRAEL: Well, actually, it's not that daunting. Look, we did get shellacked. We got thumped in 2010. We picked ourselves up. We dusted ourselves off. We began fighting back. And as a result of the fact that we have fought back, we are in line to take the House back. The House is in play. We have out-raised the House Republicans by almost $4 million. We have out-recruited them. And the reason for those success is, quite honestly, is not just that we are that good, but that the Republicans' voting records are that bad. There is a deep sense of buyers' remorse that has set in among voters throughout the country because of the House Republicans' voting record, because of their extremism. And that's why we believe we have a shot at taking back the House.

BLOCK: Have a shot. How big a shot do you think?

ISRAEL: You know, I will not guarantee anyone that we are going to take the majority, but I will guarantee everyone that this thing is going to be razor close, and the razor is going to be sharpened or dulled based on the resources that we have, based on the recruits that we have. So right now, well, we have a wind at our backs and I hope the wind will continue.

BLOCK: Congressman Israel, I want to ask you about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Your group, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has circulated a petition. You're trying to get 100,000 signatures in support of the protesters and against Republican economic policies. And now the National Republican Congressional Committee has a video out about these protests, saying Steve Israel stands with them. And we hear a protester in the video saying: I'm against the Jews. Let's take a look.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Occupy Wall Street doesn't need a manifesto.

I'm against the Jews.

Why? Jews got the money. That's why you're fighting the Jews here. Why don't you go back to Israel?

We're just anti-capitalists. I'm a socialist. I'm a Marxist-Communist.

BLOCK: That's the video from the Republicans. Congressman Israel, does the movement, do you think, and the popular anger that's being expressed in the streets, does it hurt you? Does it help you?

ISRAEL: Well, first of all, it doesn't surprise me that the Republicans would do that. That's what they do. They can't defend their votes to end Medicare so they go so low as to call Steve Israel one who supports anti-Semitism. By the way, I founded the Institute on the Holocaust and the Law and I work for the American Jewish Congress. So if it weren't said, I would have to laugh at that kind of tactic to just deflect attention from what counts.

And what counts is middle class anxiety and the fact that the Republicans have waged a war, an assault on the middle class. Just recently, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group, published a report that the top 1 percent of America saw their income grow by 275 percent over the past 30 years. And the Republicans have done nothing to address those concerns or to create jobs, to help small businesses to expand our economy.

BLOCK: Congressman Israel, why shouldn't voters say there's a Democrat in the White House, Democrats still control the Senate, they have lost control of the House, why shouldn't Democrats be held responsible for what's going on in the country right now?

ISRAEL: Well, look, you have to hold responsible the people who are – in the House representatives who are in charge. In 2010 Republicans promised the American people that they had a plan to create jobs. We all - everyone in government has responsibility. Everybody does. But each and every time we have offer to compromise, it is these extreme House Republicans who have said, no, we haven't been sent here to compromise. Yes, they were sent here to compromise. This entire Capitol building was designed for compromise. Our Constitution was drafted for compromise. These people refuse to compromise and that's why we're in the mess that we are in today.

BLOCK: OK. Congressman Israel, thanks very much.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Steve Israel, Democratic congressman from New York. He's chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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