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Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn talk with Business Insider

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Phil Bredesen talks with a supporter at a campaign event on October 27.
Phil
Bredesen talks with a supporter at a campaign event on October
27.

Eliza Relman/Business
Insider


Business Insider recently spoke with Republican Rep. Marsha
Blackburn in Franklin, Tennessee and Democratic former Gov. Phil
Bredesen in Nashville, Tennessee about their competitive race for
retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker’s seat.

Below are transcripts of the interviews, lightly edited for
clarity. 

Bredesen interview

Business Insider: Healthcare seems to be a
big issue for many voters. How do you draw the contrast between
yourself and the congressman on this issue? 

Bredesen: Healthcare is a big issue, but when
you start parsing it, it’s different issues in different places.
In rural parts of Tennessee, it
tends to be just about access — hospitals closing and you can’t
get doctors to locate there. It’s more about the cost of
healthcare when you get into the suburbs and so on. 

I’m trying to
run
 to run the
campaign not by just criticizing everything she’s ever done. I
think one of the big things, though, that I have talked about is
that we’re all concerned about how you get people with
pre-existing conditions some kind of insurance. And in today’s
world, unless you work for a corporation that has a big
comprehensive health plan, the Affordable Care Act is really the
only way to do that — that’s what it was designed to do. So
o
ne criticism I’ve
certainly made — and I did in one of the 
debates — is
that you claim, you brag that you’ve voted 60-plus times to
eliminate the Affordable Care Act without having anything really
to replace it. There’s 225,000 Tennesseans who are depending on
the Affordable Care Act for their insurance, many of whom would
not be able to get insurance somewhere else. And you’re doing
this from a platform of you’ve got free, lifetime, excellent
healthcare from public funds. And I think that’s hard to justify
— I think it’s impossible to justify when the only reason you’re
doing it is a political reason. It’s one thing if you run out of
money, but it’s all just political posturing. 

Obviously, I’ve [drawn a
contrast] on the opioid issue — you’ve probably followed some of
that, I won’t repeat it all.

One area that I just want to
emphasize a little bit — there’s a lot of issues with the VA, the
Veterans’ Administration, and that’s been my field. That’s
a
 place where
having been someone who’s run large healthcare operations — I
think I’d have some understanding of it and I ought to be able to
help sort this thing out and getting it more responsive to the
needs of veterans. And that’s simply a contrast in the sense of
that’s something I spent a significant part of my life doing as
opposed to she has no experience whatsoever in that area. 


BI: A lot of Democrats
are signing on to single-payer — Medicare for All. Do you think
that’s a good long-term goal? Should it be pushed for in the
short term? 

Bredesen: I’m not ready to sign on to that
at this point. I do think we need to take some first steps to
just solidify the Affordable Care Act. I mean, It’s the law of
the land, as I said there’s 225,000 Tennesseans who are depending
on it. Lamar Alexander [the senior senator from Tennessee] who
heads up the health committee has a bipartisan bill that I think
does a lot of good things to help stabilize the markets —
and I think that’s what we need to do to while we talk about the
longer-term solution. This is one thing that I really
believe has got to be done on a bipartisan basis. I think one of
the flaws of the Affordable Care Act is that it wasn’t done on
bipartisan basis. 
We’ve always done big things in
this country on a bipartisan basis — Social Security was that
way, Medicare was that way, the Voting Rights Act was that
way, and I think we’re not going to make progress on a long
term solution to healthcare until both parties figure out a way
to do it together.

BI: Are you surprised the Republicans have changed their
tune recently on the ACA and pre-existing conditions
protections? 

Bredesen: Yeah, I think it’s one of the
things that’s confusing to the public. “We’re going to get rid of
Obamacare, but we’re going to protect pre-existing conditions.”
Well, okay, how are you gonna do that? So I’ve tried to
call that out. 
I think it’s certainly
appropriate to contrast yourself, but
I have not been
trying to correct or fight back on every single crazy thing that
comes of out these ads and so on, on the basis that I don’t want
to run a campaign in which the issues are driven by the opponent.
I like to talk about my own issues. And I’ve talked about
healthcare from several aspects — most recently this stuff having
to do with the drug prices and our approach to dealing with that.

BI: What do you think Democrats are getting wrong on the
national level? 

Bredesen: I think we’ve gotten too elitest
about things, I think we’ve gotten a little too narrow about the
definition of what it is to be a Democrat. I’d like to see us
getting back to being a muscular party, whose common theme is
about creating opportunity for working and middle class
Americans. And picking issues that clearly focus on making that
happen. And I do
think 
the tent needs to be bigger. I’m from
Nashville now, but I’m originally from a rural upstate New York
area, and I know 
these non-urban folks all over the
country, and certainly in this state — it’s a different
culture, it’s a different set of values. They’re not better
or worse, they’re just different. And I think Democrats, we
claim to have respect for multiculturalism — well, some of those
cultures are American. And I think we need to broaden the tent a
little bit and have a little more respect for the needs of people
in these different places.

BI: How, specifically, should the message or the policies
change? 

Bredesen: I think, first of all, we need to focus the message
there and get off of a whole variety of social issues and other
issues, which I’m not saying we’re wrong on, I’m just saying
they’re appealing to relatively small parts of the base. I think
we should be much more creative about healthcare than we are.
When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, I was still
governor then, but it struck me that healthcare has changed
dramatically since 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid came in, and
yet the ACA is kind of doubling down on the system that worked in
1965. So, I’d like us to be looking forward. It’s a little bit
like when we passed Social Security, we were thinking of the
conditions that existed in 1880, not 1935. 

So that’s one area where I think
we could just be much more creative. There’s a lot of smart
people in both parties who could get some good ideas out
there. 

BI: How well do you think Democrats are handling
immigration? What do you think of the “abolish ICE”
movement”?

Bredesen: I don’t think particularly well.
And again, when you say Democrats — there certainly are a
few visible, national people who are sort of taken to be the
voice of Democrats, which I haven’t always accepted, but I think
we do have an interest in our country in being able to control
and secure our borders. And so when somebody says something like
abolish ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], my reaction is
that’s a stupid idea. Obviously, we need to control our borders
and if they’re not doing something right, let’s fix what they’re
not doing right, but I think most Americans want to control the
borders. We can debate whether there’s 50,000 or 150,000 people
who come in from some country or some area or under some set of
circumstances, but controlling the borders I think is basic. I
think we should recognize that and stop this stuff of trying for
more open borders through lack of enforcement. 

BI: Taylor Swift recently endorsed you. Were you
surprised by that? 

Bredesen: Yes. I wish I could claim that it
was something I had organized or orchestrated, but it was not. I
had known her very slightly before she became really famous
because we went around and did some things in schools, talking to
kids about drugs together, but not a lot — a few times. And I’ve
seen her backstage at things over the years once in a while. But
I had no reason to believe she would even know I was running, let
alone that she would do this. So it came out of the blue and it
was surprising. And I think it was helpful. You know, for
somebody who’s on the other side of 70, relating to millennials
is not as easy as if you’re [Texas Democrat] Beto O’Rourke or
somebody, so I think that really helped me.

BI: How have you reached out to communities of color, to
younger voters? 

Bredesen: It’s different — I mean, with
people of color, I’ve had a long record there. I’ve been, I
think, respected and in good shape in those communities. When I
was governor we really, I think, did a good job of having
appointments and members of our cabinet, and judges to be
representative of the larger community — and they recognize that.
And there were a number of issues I worked on that were important
in those communities — in education, we did a lot of work on
infant mortality in Memphis, for example — so I’ve always been in
reasonable shape there. Obviously, you need to campaign and pay
your respects, but I’ve always been in reasonable shape
there. 

For millennials, it’s more like,
they just don’t know what I did as governor because they were
five years old or something and now they’re 20. For them, you
need to reach out. I’ve really done that in two ways, one of
which is to talk about a couple of issues that seem important to
them — obviously, college and student debt is one of them. I’ve
found that net neutrality — they tend to know more about that
stuff than other people. I always make a point of trying to talk
to them as adults because even if they’re 22, someday they’re
going to get married, some day they’re going to have kids, they
want to have good jobs, they want to have a strong economy, they
want to have education for their kids and so on. I think it’s
also important to not just segregate people into these little
demographic groups and talk about just their issues because these
young people are also young Americans who are going to have a lot
of the same concerns that anybody else does. 

BI: Do you think Tennessee is becoming more conservative?
How do you think the state has changed — in terms of political
demographics — since you were governor? 

Bredesen: I’m not sure whether people’s
opinions have changed, but I think their view of what party is
likely to better address their issues has tilted very much in
favor of the Republican Party in the last 10 years, 15 years. It
was starting to happen when I was elected. I was elected in 2002
and that was two years after [Democrat] Al Gore had lost the
state famously and the presidency. And it’s continued in that
path ever since then. But I think, in a way, something
that’s good for me is I’m really trying to reach out to voters
who have abandoned the national Democratic Party to try to get to
see me as acceptable, and okay, and desirable, as opposed to
trying to convince people who have a lifetime commitment to the
Republican Party as an organization change their views. I will
get a fair number of Republican votes from — I call it the
economic wing of the Republican Party. But I think their view of
what party is being responsive to their issues has definitely
shifted. 

BI: You had a long career and didn’t need to get back
into politics. Why did you do it? 

Bredesen: I hadn’t really retired. When [my
wife] Andrea and I talked about it I think we just decided this
was the highest and best use of me. I was getting discouraged for
a long time over what I saw was happening in Washington. When Bob
Corker said he wasn’t going to run, there was an opening there
and I was uniquely positioned for that opening because it had
been my background for so long. And I just kind of felt it was my responsibility to step
forward and do that. I’d be much more satisfied personally by
trying to fix that problem while sitting on a beach somewhere. It
was a big decision — I’m 74, it’s no secret. So if I’m elected,
I’ll spend a significant part of the rest of my life — maybe the
rest of my life — getting on a plane to Washington on Monday
night, coming back on Thursday night, being in Memphis on
Fr
iday and Chattanooga on Saturday and all this kind
of stuff. So it obviously has to be for something I care about.
But just this issue of trying to get the mechanics of
government
once again working for the benefit of the
people in the country is a really important issue and there’s
nothing I’d rather do. 

BI: Was there a tipping point for you? 

Bredesen: I don’t think so. There are
several people who have taken credit for convincing me, but it’s
not right. I started out talking with Andrea about it, talked to
a few of my friends and associates from the days as governor, who
I trusted, and obviously did a little research — I’m not
interested in any windmills or suicide missions or anything like
that, I wanted to make sure it was possible. I think what we
decided was that it was a very close race, that it was doable and
worth the effort. 

BI: What other issues would you try to work across the
aisle on in Washington? 

Bredesen: I’ve often talked about the fact
that we’ve always done things in this country — the big things —
in a bipartisan way. Social Security was that way, Medicare was
that way, the Voting Rights Act was that way — I think
immigration’s in that category. It’s something that’s that’s
built up over the course of 30 years, of 35 years, and in the
same way that I was very critical of the Affordable Care Act and
trying to do a big thing by ramming it through as a partisan
issue, I don’t think we’re going to get any significant
immigration [reform] through as a partisan issue, we’ve got to
find some ways to do it. I think that DACA [Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals] and solving that problem could be the entree
into that, solving it is popular across the board. I think we
should just deal with that as an isolated issue. 

BI: Would you tie the president’s rhetoric — and attacks
on the media and his political opponents — to the actions of a
Florida man who recently sent explosive devices to several top
Democrats and CNN?

Bredesen: I don’t care to second guess how
the president is handling it. I do think that — while, obviously,
I don’t know all of the motivations and the background of this
guy — I think the sort of volume right now of rhetoric and stuff
that verges on hate speech and the notion that if you’re not in
my tribe you’re the enemy and evil and so on, as opposed to we’re
all Americans who have different views about how to solve some
problems, I think opens the door for people who are on the
fringes of society to consider more of this kind of thing, which
I think is not healthy. You just make it more acceptable with
that kind of rhetoric.

We just had this tragedy with the shooting at the synagogue and
again, not knowing all the reasons, I suspect it will turn out to
be the same kind of thing — somebody just harboring his
hate-filled notions. In a
different environment might not have gone anywhere, but in this
environment might have seemed more reasonable.

BI: What do you say to those on the left who want you to
move to the left on policy issues and campaign more aggressively
against Rep. Blackburn? 

Bredesen: I’m going to campaign as who I
am. There have been some places where I’ve tried to draw
contrasts with my opponent, and there’s been third party ads on
both sides, but we certainly haven’t done anything in the
category of ‘let’s throw something against the wall and see if it
sticks to the wall for some reason.’ I’m running a campaign based
on who I am, I get the support to talk about issues, I get the
support to be civil about things.

The thing which people remarked most about that last debate to me
was the final question which was, ‘would you support your
opponent once they’re elected.’ She basically said no and I
basically said yes, we’ve got an election which is about making a
decision, and when that’s done we need to come together and
figure out how to help that person be successful — that’s a
pretty fundamental difference. 


Rep. Marsha Blackburn talks with a supporter in Franklin, TN on October 27.
Rep.
Marsha Blackburn talks with a supporter in Franklin, TN on
October 27.

Eliza Relman/Business
Insider


Blackburn interview

Business Insider: What would you say is the biggest
policy problem in the state? 

Blackburn: What we hear in the state is
that people want to keep growth and jobs. The number one thing
that they will bring up is ‘let’s keep this economy growing
because Tennessee’s economy is very robust, it’s doing very
well.’ Unemployment is below the national average. And they bring
that up with me because when I was in the state senate, I led a
four-year fight in opposition to a state income tax and people in
this state joined with me, we won that battle, I went to
Congress, worked with Kevin Brady, who now chairs the Ways and
Means, and we restored sales tax deductibility for those of us in
non-state income tax states. It was a driving force and the
only promise I made when I ran, and I was able to get that done.
And that is worth about a billion in tax savings to Tennesseans
every year. So people will talk about that, and they bring the
state income tax up because in 2014 the state voted in a
referendum to amend the state constitution to forever prohibit a
state income tax, so it is a settled issue in our state.

And people will say the Trump tax cuts are working, the
regulatory relief is working, let’s keep these policies going.
They also mention wanting to see more federal judges — the
district courts, the appeals courts, they like Gorsuch and
Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, so they mention that. Law
enforcement talks a lot about the immigration issue. When
Bredesen was governor, he gave driving certificates to 51,000
illegal aliens. And we became kind of a magnet for illegal aliens
that were looking to get those driving certificates. And those
problems of drug trafficking, sex trafficking, gangs, they end up
in local communities and local law enforcement is on the front
line with that. 

Healthcare comes up quite a bit. When you look at the Tennessee
work place, you have about 93% of all the jobs are small business
jobs or independent contractors and health insurance rates have
skyrocketed under the Affordable Care Act, and we have — I think
it’s about 15 or 20% of the state — that has either no, or only
one, provider of an ACA-compliant plan in the marketplace in
their county, so the cost has just become cost-prohibitive. And
we have 160,000 Tennessee families that had to pay the penalty
because they couldn’t afford to buy the insurance. And I just
talked to a lady and that was her number one issue. She is a
single mom, a teacher, has a couple of kids and one still — she
said she can’t afford the family plan so she has to go to the
marketplace. 

BI: Where do you stand on protecting people with
pre-existing conditions? 

Blackburn: Oh, that was a Republican provision
and has been. 

BI: I think reporting has shown it was actually a
Democratic initiative.

Blackburn: It goes back to ’06 — and we
supported it then. I support it. When we had it in committee
back in 2006 and were trying to push it forward. I support
providing pre-existing conditions and older children staying on
insurance policies. 

BI: Do you still believe people with pre-existing
conditions should be put in high-risk pools?

I think there’s a way work on those. The House has done some work
on the high-risk pools looking at the Maine model and certainly
we were hopeful that we’d be able to do something with
that. The object is to get to the point where you have
access to affordable health insurance and access to affordable
health insurance for all Tennesseans.

BI: You’ve said you’re to the right of Sens. Alexander
and Corker. What do you disagree with them on? 

Blackburn: I wouldn’t even say it is
disagreement. I think that when you look at the Republican Party,
what you’ve got is a big tent and a lot of discussion about how
to approach issues and I’ve had the opportunity to work with Sen.
Alexander a good bit on healthcare issues, certainly on 21st
century cures, that we did in a bipartisan way coming out of the
House and the Senate and the SOFTWARE Act, which I had authored,
was included in that, that set up the definition for healthcare
technology. Also the Children Count Act, that was clinical
trials, allowing children into clinical trials. So we’ve had
a good working agreement on that.

Issues where I’ll have a difference of opinion or a different
approach many times deal around government funding issues. I
prefer to see us lower our spending. Every year I offer one, two,
and five percent across-the-board spending cuts and I think that
is a fiscally responsible position to take. We’ve got to get the
spending under control. I support a balanced budget amendment
that includes no tax increases. 

BI: There was another mass shooting this morning — this
one at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Would you work across the aisle
on any gun control measures? 

Blackburn: The shootings are just
heart-wrenching and I fully believe that we can protect the
Second Amendment and protect our citizens in public places. We in
the House have already voted to put the red flag system in for
mental health. There is no one that wants a person who is a
danger to themselves or others to have a firearm. 

BI: Is Tennessee becoming more conservative, in your
view? 

Blackburn: As you walk around and talk to
people, what you will hear — and I think much of this is because
Tennessee is such an entrepreneurial state — they will say, ‘get
government off our back, get it out of our pocketbook, lessen the
regulation.’ I use a little formulary many times speaking to
business groups — less regulation plus less taxation plus less
litigation equals more innovation and job creation. And that
really is where a lot of Tennesseans are.

With so many jobs being small business jobs, sole proprietors,
independent contractors, people just want less interference from
the federal government. They are very constitutional in their
view of the responsibilities of government, they do not want
micro-management of the government, they do not want big projects
managed by the government. They want freeing up of the private
sector. I talk about it in terms of freedom, free people, and
free markets. And that is really where Tennesseans are. And
they’re pretty pragmatic.

BI: Do you think President Trump is a good role
model? 

Blackburn: President Trump is and continues
to be a good role model for politicians. He made promises and
he’s kept them and he’s good at getting the job done. As we saw
through the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, he’s very loyal, and he
stood with him through that process and now he is Justice
Kavanaugh. So for elected officials that are in public office, he
presents a good role modeling of how to keep those promises and
get the job done. 

BI: Some that I’ve talked to here don’t like the
president’s rhetoric. Do you think he should change his
rhetoric? 

Blackburn: There’s a couple of times I’ve
said we need to take a kinder approach. This is the South and
people have a lot of respect for manners. They also understand
that sometimes it is important to draw a proper contrast and to
show where someone truly stands on an issue. I had a gentleman
today who said I don’t appreciate some of the rhetoric, but we
elected him to go drain the swamp and if this is what it takes to
get elitism out of Washington, DC then that’s great. This
gentleman said he always knew I’d been a fighter on the outside
kind of pushing against the establishment and trying to return us
to a government of, by, and for the people. He said, “I’m hanging
in here with this and very appreciative for the tax cuts, for the
federal bench, for the work that’s being done to curb illegal
immigration, for the push you all are making trying to get the
Affordable Care Act off the books so that we can free up the
insurance marketplace and increase access.”

BI: I just spoke to one of your supporters who thinks
that the mail bombs sent to top Democrats was orchestrated by the
left-wing, rather than the right-wing — 

Blackburn: Let me just say this, when it
comes to any of these bombings, whomever does these things, makes
these death threats, they need to be prosecuted to the full
extent of the law. There is no place for this in civil
society. 

BI: The accused bomber was a big Trump supporter. Do you
blame the president at all? 

Blackburn: This happens from both sides.
I’ve had plenty of threats, my staff has had personal harm
threats, I’ve had death threats. There is just no place for this.
We had a group that set up a Facebook page that had to be taken
down. It was a “Rape Marsha Blackburn” page. There is just no
place for this. It’s one of the things that will cause
individuals to say I don’t want to choose to serve. 

BI: Do you agree with Gov. Bredesen that there is too
much partisanship in Washington? 

Blackburn: I’ve got one of the most
bipartisan records in the House. You can look at my record at my
committee that I have led and I’ve led that committee — the
subcommittee on — in a very bipartisan way. There is a lot of
partisan rhetoric. Gov. Bredesen could have run as a Republican,
chose not to — didn’t have the courage to. Chose not to run as an
independent. He has been running as a Democrat since 1970, so he
would go to Washington as a Washington Democrat.

BI: You would be the first female state-wide elected
official in Tennessee. You talked about…

Blackburn: People that I have had the
opportunity to serve and to represent know that I’m going to be
the most hard-working elected official they have ever had. They
know they can count on that, and that word gets out.

BI: Do you think they ever think about how you being a
woman might change the way you legislate, in a good or bad
way? 

Blackburn: The more barriers I break, the
less of an issue it becomes.

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