Former Maryland congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican who served from 1990-2008, left Congress after losing in the 2008 Republican primary to State Sen. Andy Harris (R-MD). Last weekend, Gilchrest offered his “straight shooter” views on the Republican Party to the Chestertown Spy.
Gilchrest delivered blunt criticism of his former colleagues in the House GOP leadership. He mocked House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) refusal to engage in the substance of the health reform debate. Instead of offering ideas, Gilchrest noted that Cantor brought a copy of the health care legislation to President Obama’s health reform summit to demonstrate its size and complexity. Gilchrest, clearly incensed by Cantor’s gimmicks, said complaining about the health bill’s size was “really a waste of time” and that the tactic was designed to merely “disrupt” the summit.
Gilchrest also said he observed an increasing level of partisanship from Republican Party leaders as he left Congress. In one incident, Gilchrest recalls Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson coming to a meeting of lawmakers to caution about “potential economic calamity,” only to be ignored by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), whom Gilchrest said was more interested in partisan games to undermine the Democrats. “Boehner dismissed Mr. Paulson because we had to get to…how to disrupt the Democrats from the subcommittee to the House floor, and how to raise money for the next election”:
GILCHREST: For example, when Obama asked a large contigent of Democrats and Republicans to come to the White House to begin to talk about the healthcare bill, the whip — who I know well, my good friend Eric Cantor from Virginia, a Republican — brings in the bill. Now he didn’t bring in suggestions. He didn’t want dialogue about how to make this better, he brought in a bill. And when it was his time to discuss the issue, all he talked about was how big the bill, how complicated the bill is, how much they don’t have time to read the bill and all these things, which was really a waste of time. […]
But the Republicans came to that meeting, and they planned prior to that meeting how they would try to disrupt that meeting. And the reason I say that is because I’ve been in many meetings with Republicans, as a Republican member of Congress, when they discuss certain pieces of legislation, but when they discuss how we can totally disrupt the Democratic majority from the subcommittee right on to the House floor. That’s how often, that’s how meetings were at times. I remember one time Secretary Paulson came into a meeting to give us a heads up about potential economic calamity and we listened to him for 15 minutes and the Minority Leader, John Boehner, dismissed Mr. Paulson because we had to get to two things — how to disrupt the Democrats from the subcommittee to the House floor, and how to raise money for the next election.
Indeed, as Paulson writes in his own memoir on crisis, Cantor and other Republicans were “unformed” and unable to grasp economic policy as the financial system melted down. As the economy collapsed in 2008, Boehner and other members of his leadership staged a protest for weeks to demand a vote for more offshore oil drilling.