How The Tea Partier Who Wants To Replace Eric Cantor Defines ‘Bipartisanship’

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador is a leader in the bipartisan movement to change the way mandatory minimum sentences work.

Rep. Raul Labrador, right, and last year. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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WASHINGTON — On Friday, Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador threw his hat into the ring to replace Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader, casting himself as the choice of conservatives cool to supporting Cantor’s choice of a replacement, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Last month, in an interview with BuzzFeed about his support for the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, Labrador veered off into a brief discussion on his vision of bipartisanship overall.

The second-term Republican believes the media unfairly portrays the tea party as obstructionists unwilling to work with Democrats. Rather, he said, the right way to think about them is ready to work with anyone who agrees with them on specific issues, but doesn’t demand they “meet in the middle.”

Labrador called this a new way of looking at bipartisanship, most common to the new crop of “southern and western conservatives” that came into the House with Labrador in 2010. One way tea partiers have shown their interest in that new form of bipartisanship, he said, is found in where they actually sit on the House floor.

“All of these southern and western new conservatives, we are all trying to work in a bipartisan basis,” he said. “Look where we sit, we actually sit in the aisle there. We talk to Democrats all the time, because they come over and start talking to us. So even on a personal relationship level.”

As Labrador makes his pitch to the GOP caucus for a slot in leadership, the month-old interview offered some insights into what a Labrador led-House Republican approach to legislating might look like.

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Labrador on bipartisanship, from the May interview with BuzzFeed:

Labrador: Has the media actually misidentified the conservative movement and especially the new conservatives in the House? I think they have. All of these Southern and Western new conservative, we are all trying to work in a bipartisan basis.

Look where we sit, we actually sit in the aisle there. We talk to Democrats all the time, because they come over and start talking to us. So even on a personal relationship level.

BuzzFeed: So you sit on the aisle so people can physically find you easier?

Labrador: Correct. I don’t think that was done on purpose but that’s something that’s happened.

BuzzFeed: So why do we talk so much about partisan breakdown then? It is true that Congress hasn’t done much to pass much legislation in a while. Where’s that coming from?

Labrador: I do think we have some major differences with the other party on some specific issues. The old way of looking at bipartisanship is, you know, I need to meet in the middle. We’re not centrists. What we are talking about, the new conservatives, on the issues we can work with, like immigration, like prison reform, we have no problem working with you [the Democrats.] On other issues like taxation and growth in government, we’re not going to meet them in the middle because that makes us centrists and we’re not centrists. Can you understand the difference between those two? It’s definitely not, ‘I’m going to meet you in the middle.’ It’s, ‘Let’s figure out the issues that we can work on together that we can actually move forward on an agenda that helps America.’

BuzzFeed: So, basically, it’s ‘if you want to come to us, we’re willing to work with you.’ That’s how you’re saying it?

Labrador: No, no. It’s just on prison reform, we agree with you so let’s work on that together. On taxation, we don’t agree with you so I’m not going to meet you in the middle.

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Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at evan@buzzfeed.com.

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