Republicans Prepare for a Shift in Power

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Jeff Flake (R-AZ), has criticized the Republican Party's leadership over the past few years, especially with regard to the GOP's handling of recent scandals, and an explosion in congressional earmarks. He looks ahead to how republicans will handle the recent shift in power.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Joining me now is Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona, a conservative Republican. And Mr. Flake, how do you see this election? Republicans were beaten back.

Representative JEFF FLAKE (Republican, Arizona): It wasn't totally unexpected. I didn't expect to lose the Senate, but certainly expected to lose the House.

SEABROOK: Do you blame your leaders in the House?

Rep. FLAKE: Well, not just the leaders, but I think the whole Republican House shares the blame. It really trickles down from the leadership. I think the leadership just felt that would could have continued to win elections by passing out pork and paying the pay-to-play game.

SEABROOK: You have not been shy of criticizing your leaders in the last couple of years and the House Republicans, and I wonder if you could give our listeners a sense of what you see has happened to the Republican majority that has led to this?

Rep. FLAKE: Well, I think we've simply forgotten who we are and what we stand for. Somebody did a pretty extensive poll just before Tuesday's rout and asked the simple question - which is the party of big government? And overwhelmingly the answer was Republicans. When you don't know what you stand for anymore, then you simply have to try to win elections one at a time by using the power and influence that you have, and you can only do that so many times before the public wises up.

And the level of corruption as well, largely because of earmarks, where one member can basically designate a pot of money for his or her district.

SEABROOK: Just before this election, in the past few months, the Republicans passed a bill that the leaders said would clean up the earmarking process. What would it do, and do you believe it would do what they say?

Rep. FLAKE: Well, it was a good start. It would force members to actually put their names next to their earmarks.

SEABROOK: So if in the bill it said, you know, $100 million for a bridge in Alaska, it would say next to it...

Rep. FLAKE: Whoever requested it. That might seem elemental, and some will say, well, aren't members proud of the bacon that they bring home? And in many cases they are. But often they don't want anyone to know except for the lobbyist who requested it.

SEABROOK: Explain to our listeners again the connection you see between being able to earmark, or the Republican majority making these earmarks, and corruption and this backlash against the Republican majority.

Rep. FLAKE: Earmarks are the currency of corruption. We already know that, you know, people like Jack Abramoff referred to the Appropriations Committee as a earmark favor factory. You have earmark request forms that are now standard. And in the vast majority of the cases, those earmark request forms are actually filled out by the lobbyists and just given to the member's staff to turn into the Appropriations Committee. The growth in lobbying in Washington is almost all related to earmarking.

SEABROOK: Congressman Flake, Nancy Pelosi, who is the presumed Speaker coming in in January, has pledged to put in new earmark reform, clean up the Ethics Committee, start with a so-called clean House. Are you going to work with her to get this done?

Rep. FLAKE: Oh, you bet. I think that there have been a number of good ideas that the Democrats have put forward, so I hope to be able to work on a bi-partisan basis with the leadership. And also members like Jim Cooper and Jim Matheson and others who've been working on this already.

SEABROOK: You're speaking of Blue Dog Democrats, conservative Democrats. We just spoke with Congressman Matheson about exactly that. And I wonder though, are there things that you will not work with the Democrats on? What are you hoping to get accomplished now that you're in the minority?

Rep. FLAKE: Well, the big one is immigration reform. A number of us have been trying to get a bi-partisan, comprehensive solution through. And it was difficult when our majority took the position that we would only pass something that we could pass with our own members. And that's difficult to get a comprehensive solution through when you're simply ignoring the other side. There are reasonable Democrats on the immigration issue, and I think that we can work a bi-partisan solution very quickly.

SEABROOK: Does the minority make itself into a majority by working with the other side?

Rep. FLAKE: Well, let me simply say, there are plenty of areas where we will disagree with the Democrats, and rightly so. In the few areas where we can agree, we ought to agree with them and pass legislation that will benefit everyone. On levels of spending and the issue of spending in general, as spendthrift as we've been as Republicans, and I've been very critical of how much money we've spent, I never saw the Democrats offer a better alternative, or a cheaper alternative. The differences that have always existed between Republicans and Democrats will come to the fore, as they should.

SEABROOK: Arizona Republican Jeff Flake. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rep. FLAKE: Hey, thanks for having me.

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