NBC's Gregory Asks Rep. Hoyer About Dem Strategy to 'Cast Republicans as Extremists'

In an interview with Democratic Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer on NBC's Today, Meet the Press host David Gregory, filling in for Matt Lauer, asked: "I wonder, as a Democratic leader, whether part of the strategy here is to cast Republicans as extremists and ultimately get a lot more of a winning political hand for the Democrats through this process."

With that setup, Hoyer proclaimed: "David, I think the Republicans are doing that to themselves very frankly. I don't think we have to cast them in that light. They're casting themselves in that light with the Tea Party coming to town and demanding that they either get 100% or shut down the government."

As part of his question to Hoyer, Gregory also touted the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: "...in terms of who would get the blame. Republicans, certainly a lot more than Democrats." A graphic of the poll appeared on screen, showing that 37% would blame congressional Republicans, 20% would blame congressional Democrats, and 20% would blame President Obama. Considering President Obama is a Democrat, the math would indicate that 40% would blame Democrats in Congress and the White House for a shutdown.

In addition, there were numbers that were not featured in that graphic. Beyond those three responses to the poll question, 2% blamed both the President and Democrats, while 17% blamed all parties involved. 4% of respondents were "not sure." So the real numbers would be 42% would blame Democrats in some form, 37% would blame Republicans, and 17% would blame members of both parties. In other words, a pretty even split.

Earlier in the interview, Gregory identified Republican efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood as "the real focus" of the budget debate and something that may "ultimately derail any potential compromise."

In a prior report, White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie similarly declared: "The parties are still sparring, not about money, but over so-called 'riders' to the budget bill, policy provisions the Republicans want, like a measure to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Another provision would sharply limit the EPA."

At one point in the interview, Gregory did challenge Hoyer, asking about Democrats getting some of the blame if there is a government shutdown: "Congressman, you know it takes two sides to shut down a government. Aren't you embarrassed by all this?" Hoyer replied: "I am embarrassed by it. I think – I'm not sure it takes two sides. It takes one side that is prepared to demand 100%, and if the other side doesn't lay down and totally give up then they'll shut down the government." Gregory did not press Hoyer further on Democratic stubborness.

Here is a full transcript of Gregory's April 8 interview with Hoyer:

7:05AM ET

DAVID GREGORY: Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland is the House Minority Whip. Congressman Hoyer, good morning.

STENY HOYER: Good morning, David.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Deadline Day; Will Washington Get A Budget Deal Today?]

GREGORY: So deal or no deal? How's it going to go down?

HOYER: Well, there's no deal yet, unfortunately. And you know we have a history, a pattern of the Republicans taking control and shutting down the government, as they did in '95. It hasn't happened since then, even when we had significant disagreements between George Bush and the Democratic Congress. That's not an alternative we ought to be taking. I think we're very close. I think we've come 70% of the way, in terms of dollars. That's a long way to go in trying to reach compromise. Now, of course, as the President has pointed out and Harry Reid pointed out, there are some social issues, which the Republicans are demanding and holding hostage the government.

GREGORY: And Congressman, my understanding is the real focus is on those issues, like limiting funding for Planned Parenthood. How does that get resolved? And does that ultimately derail any potential compromise?

HOYER: Well, I think the President has clearly indicated – as George Bush did, his predecessor – that he would not sign bills that were contrary to the policies that he believed the American public elected him to carry out. After all, he was elected overwhelmingly as President of the United States.

The Republicans have taken one-third of the government, the House of Representatives. When we were in charge of the House and we had disagreements with George Bush, we compromised, we kept the government open. We understood that the President could veto and I would hope the Republicans would make that same understanding.

After all, this debate began about bringing down deficits, about bringing down numbers and cutting spending. We have done that, as I say, we've come 70% of the way. I think that the agreement on numbers is close and we ought to make those agreements on numbers. And as Governor Daniels said, of Indiana, we ought to fight the social issues on another bill.

GREGORY: Congressman, you know it takes two sides to shut down a government. Aren't you embarrassed by all this?

HOYER: I am embarrassed by it. I think – I'm not sure it takes two sides. It takes one side that is prepared to demand 100%, and if the other side doesn't lay down and totally give up then they'll shut down the government. They know we don't want to shut down the government, so they think they can hold hostage things that we certainly don't agree with but that we will cave in order to keep the government running, which we want to do.

GREGORY: Well, you talk – you talk about compromise. Look at the findings of our NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, in terms of who would get the blame. Republicans, certainly a lot more than Democrats. And I wonder, as a Democratic leader, whether part of the strategy here is to cast Republicans as extremists and ultimately get a lot more of a winning political hand for the Democrats through this process.

HOYER: David, I think the Republicans are doing that to themselves very frankly. I don't think we have to cast them in that light. They're casting themselves in that light with the Tea Party coming to town and demanding that they either get 100% or shut down the government. Last night the founder of the Tea Party, one of the Tea Parties, said if Boehner came out with $99 billion that would not be enough. $100 billion was what they wanted and nothing less. You can't negotiate, in a Democratic society, on the basis that one side gets 100%, the other side gets zero. That doesn't work.

GREGORY: Just a few seconds left, Congressman. Should you get paid if there's a government shutdown?

HOYER: Well, I think that probably we ought not to get paid. Of course the Constitution says you can't have your salary diminished, so that people can't threaten one another for votes on that basis. But the fact of the matter is, we should not shut government. We should keep government going, not just for the federal employees, David. But for the millions and millions of businesses, people's families, that will be adversely affected and the hit that the economy will take by shutting down government. This is not a good strategy. Taking us to the brink like this is not appropriate, particularly when we have agreed, the President has agreed, to come 70% of the way toward what the Republican position was on cutting spending.

GREGORY: Alright, we'll leave it there. We'll be watching. Congressman Hoyer, thank you very much.

HOYER: Thank you, David.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC