The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana, that aired on “Face the Nation” on June 4, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to Face The Nation. We have a lot to get to this morning and we begin with Republican Congressman Garret Graves who lead Republican negotiators during the debate over raising the debt ceiling. He joins us from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Good to talk to you.
REP. GARRET GRAVES: Great to be with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden said you all were respectful, honest and operated in good faith. Do you see any sign on the heels of this that Republican leaders can work with the White House on big issues like immigration reform and border security? Is there momentum?
REP. GRAVES: Look, the negotiations certainly were in good faith, but they also included a lot of candor. We had some tense moments throughout. But I’d love to tell you that we could build upon this. We certainly have a crisis in the energy space, we continue to have a financial crisis. And as you indicated, immigration is a huge issue where we should be able to work together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, more Democrats and Republicans actually voted for the deal that you negotiated and it leaves largely intact most of the President’s economic agenda. How can you claim as you told my CBS colleague the other day that the White House got schooled?
REP. GRAVES: Because the White House laid down about seven red lines, including that they wouldn’t negotiate, they wouldn’t allow anything to be done on work requirements, that they wouldn’t allow any changes to environmental laws, that they wouldn’t allow us to take any funds from IRS agents, and on and on, and yet every single red line that they laid down, we crossed right over in negotiations, resulting in the largest savings in any legislation in the history of the Congress. This was a huge accomplishment. Huge legislative wins. And lastly, Margaret, I think when you look at the President’s statements, all he could do is talk about things that didn’t happen versus anything that did that was positive for his agenda.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, a trillion to a trillion and a half over 10 years in savings, but you said there was an erosion of trust within your own party between you and some of those harder line Freedom Caucus members, who said it was a bad deal that you negotiated and this morning, Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado said speaker McCarthy has credibility issues. And while a motion to vote vacate won’t happen right away, he should be concerned about being removed from office. How big of a problem is this right wing of your party?
REP. GRAVES: There were erosion of trust issues, because folks went out and began attempting to define or interpret a deal while we were still in negotiations, there wasn’t even an agreement struck. And of course, their interpretation or definition of the agreement, as you can imagine, was flawed. In regard to Speaker McCarthy. Let’s be crystal clear. This speaker has been one of the best strategies we’ve ever had delivering transformative immigration, energy, Parents’ Bill of Rights and other legislation that looking back at previous congresses, not even one of these things has been done much less, we’re about 10 huge wins this year.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But 71 members of the House Republican caucus voted against it. I know you had 67%. I mean, you had the majority of your caucus, but 71, that that’s not nothing there. I mean, can you rule out a government shutdown in the fall? Are these hardline members going to be emboldened on the back of this?
REP. GRAVES: Well, Margaret, let’s talk about what their goals are. Their goals are trying to change the trajectory of spending, transform Washington in a way that’s more responsive, long term thinking about the next generation and the fiscal crisis that we’re approaching. I don’t think that should be a partisan issue. We should all be on board with those objectives. In this case, I think that leverage was trying to be exercised that really threatened the economy in a large way. We’ve already seen under this administration, stock market has lost around $9 trillion in value, hurting retirement accounts and-and families all across the country. We can’t continue to see those types of challenges. And so I do think that in the appropriations process, we are going to be working hard to continue the momentum that we’ve gained through this negotiation, saving trillions of dollars
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you rule out a government shutdown?
REP. GRAVES: I’m not ruling out anything. It depends on how reasonable each side is, obviously, in the negotiations, it’s very difficult to predict. But I want to be clear, Republicans are going to demand continuing to build upon the success that we were able to achieve in debt ceiling negotiations, in changing the way that Washington spends.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But I know you’re one of Speaker McCarthy’s lieutenants here, but when you hear a member go out on television on CNN and say that he should be worried about his job, that he doesn’t have the faith of the caucus. That’s got to be concerning that affects your tactics at a minimum.
REP. GRAVES: Look, I’ve known Ken Buck for years and certainly respected him. It is not a mainstream position. I’ll tell you right now, Speaker McCarthy’s position is absolutely safe. He is going to continue delivering wins for the country, changing the direction of Washington and being more representative of the- of the priorities of Americans across the Country, I have no doubt his position is safe, and we’re going to keep marching forward continuing to build upon the historic wins that he’s been able to achieve this year.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So to-to get what you’re calling these historic wins, though, Democrats would say Republicans took the economy hostage. It was a pretty big game of chicken here to threaten default. I mean, Fitch Ratings is now saying, even with this deal, they sto- still could downgrade U.S. credit outlook here because of political standoffs around the debt limit and last minute suspensions before the X date, it lowers confidence in America. Why was it worth possibly damaging America as-as-as the benchmark of the financial system and the credibility?
REP. GRAVES: You know, yeah, Margaret, it’s a great question. I think it’s one that you need to pose to the White House considering the fact that they refuse to negotiate for 100 days, despite indicating otherwise, they’re the ones who brought us to the brink. If we had begun negotiations back in February, when the President and Speaker first had their- their meeting–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right but it was a point of leverage that Republicans are using.
REP. GRAVES: Then we’d never- we wouldn’t be in this situation today, we would have finished negotiation months ago.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So would you take some Democrats are talking about take the debt ceiling, just off the table entirely? I know you’ve suspended it for two years. But what about a vote to just get rid of it?
REP. GRAVES: No, I don’t think that’s appropriate–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need the leverage?
REP. GRAVES: I think that it’s really important just like if you had a child mark that hit their credit card limit and was unable to pay their credit card bill that month, you’d probably step in and help them out. I know that I would. But I’d also have a candid conversation about reform of spending. The Committee for Responsible Federal Budget has calculated that every child or grandchild born in America today is going to end up paying about four and a half million dollars, because of the irresponsible spending in Washington. Four and a half million over their lifetime. That is absolutely inexcusable. And we cannot continue on this trajectory.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, one of the things that fellow Republicans are criticizing is the fact that you adopted the Biden defense budget and the three and a half percent boost, which doesn’t keep up with inflation. How do you justify that that doesn’t hurt defense? Because that’s what Republicans like Lindsey, Lindsey Graham are saying.
REP. GRAVES: Yeah, yeah, it’s a great question. So-So let’s keep in mind that we’re actually increasing defense by about $20 billion to $886 billion, when you take every other function of government in equals about $704 billion. There’s no question in my mind that we can improve efficiency of the Department of Defense, the large scale acquisition programs, whether it be weapons systems, aircraft and others. We’re all familiar with the toilet seats and hammer stories of the past where the Department of Defense was paying outrageous prices. So we are going to continue ensuring that our warfighters have the upper hand while we also ensure that the Department of Defense improves its efficiency.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll have to have you back Garret Graves. We’re going to leave it there for today.