Renee Montagne Talks to John Podesta

Renee Montagne talks to John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, about the Democrats' election gains.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

With Democrats now ready to control the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years, the question this morning becomes what are they going to do with their majority?

To offer some answers we're joined by John Podesta. He's president of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank, and he was Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. Good morning.

Mr. JOHN PODESTA (President, Center for American Progress): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So let's get right to question of the hour: How will the Democrats govern?

Mr. PODESTA: Well, I think Nancy Pelosi knows that now she's got the job of delivering for the American people. She's laid out an agenda, you know, beginning with raising the minimum wage and passing a strong ethics package, that they'll do really within the first few hours I think of coming back into session. It looks now like maybe the Democrats will control the Senate, which gives them the opportunity I think to work with her.

The real question in this of course we're - we're all going to wait and hear what the president has to say at 1:00 today. But the real question is, does he reach out his hand and try to work together? I think there's the opportunity to do that. But, you know, he took a hard slap last night and he's got to wake up this morning and figure out what he's going to do, too.

MONTAGNE: And we should probably just add, though, that Virginia and Montana are still in the balance, as far as the Senate goes.

Mr. PODESTA: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. It looks that way in one sense but I may not turn out that way.

Mr. PODESTA: Sure.

MONTAGNE: You know, back to that, the soon - the soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, she has already talked last night about reaching across the aisle. But in a way, how long do you think that will last? What's the likelihood?

Mr. PODESTA: Well, you know, I think that she is going to try, and that'll be a change of posture I think in Washington. There's a whole series I think of what maybe you could call kitchen table issues or bread and butter issues that she'll try I think to work with Republicans on, from providing energy security for the country to putting more qualified teachers in the classroom, particularly in high-poverty schools, lowering the cost of college.

You know, those are things that Republicans could work with Democrats on. And I think Speaker Pelosi knows that the American people are kind of sick of the partisanship. That was one of the reasons I think that they got the majority, and I think she's going to reach out and try to do that. On the other hand, I think there's no question that there's going to be more oversight in this House than there has been in the last six years. And that puts her and her caucus, to some extent, in a confrontational mode particularly with the White House.

MONTAGNE: And legislating aside, what about investigating, something Democrats have been promising or talking about doing in regard to the war in Iraq?

Mr. PODESTA: Well, I think, you know, we certainly - from my perspective, I think we certainly need that. We've had precious little of it, again, during the Republican control of both Houses and the executive branch. And so I think there will be investigations of everything from a contractor abuse to really the direction of the war. But I think if she does it in a way that serious and substantive - and when I say she, the leaders of her committees, the people who will be chairing those committees and setting that agenda - if they do that in a serious and substantive way, I think the public will understand that, applaud that and I think will actually end up with a better result. There's a reason that the founding fathers created checks and balances, and that was because it produced a better result for the country.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Mr. PODESTA: Great.

MONTAGNE: John Podesta is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank.

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