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Congresswoman McCollum's Interview on The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd

August 15, 2011

CHUCK TODD: We're expecting the president to arrive in St. Paul in about 90 minutes from now, and then he'll head over here for the first of five town halls over the next three days. We met in St. Paul with Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum, but she drove down here, and she joins me now.

REPRESENTATIVE BETTY MCCOLLUM (D-MN): Well, it's good to be here. Great Minnesota weather. Welcome.

MR. TODD: Well, there's a lot of Minnesotans in the news over the last 24 hours, so let me ask you about former Governor Tim Pawlenty. Were you surprised that he got out?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Well, Tim Pawlenty and I went to the same hometown, South St. Paul, and Tim's a realist, and I think he saw that

the numbers just weren't going to be able to add up with him to keep the fundraising going. So he's out.

MR. TODD: Three months ago, were you -- if I would have told you Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty are both going to be running for president, who would you have thought the first one to get out would have been?

REP. MCCOLLUM: I'm not surprised by Michele's surge. She is very charismatic and very focused on a message. And Tim was kind of talking more about policy and what he could do. But, you know, where they're similar on all their economic attacks on President Obama at a time when we need a positive message about job growth doesn't surprise me.

MR. TODD: A lot of delegations sometimes have to work together on legislation. Have you worked with Michele Bachmann on any legislation?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Not really, no. I can't think of a major piece of delegation outside of when the 35 bridge collapsed. But, you know, Congressman Oberstar was chairing the Transportation Committee at the time and really helped get things through, and Congressman Ellison and I both represent the Twin Cities. So it was a delegation, but it was not carrying the heavy water on it.

MR. TODD: All right. You've done some town halls since Congress recessed. What have you experienced? What do you think the president may hear from today, and what have you heard from your constituents?

REP. MCCOLLUM: We had a huge turnout. It was quite amazing for an August --

MR. TODD: A little bigger than you thought it would be?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Bigger than we thought. And people are -- you know, people are stressed. I mean, they want to see Congress working together. They see the president reaching out, the president making lots of compromises. Sometimes, the Democrats think he's making too many compromises. Independents --

MR. TODD: Do you think that?

REP. MCCOLLUM: You know, he only can do what he has the votes to carry forward. And so these weren't my first choices of pieces of legislation that he's had to sign, and I'm sure they weren't his first choice. But he has a job as the president to make sure that our economy doesn't go into freefall, and the tea party Republicans were definitely leading us in that direction.

MR. TODD: You know, you were -- I don't want say critical. I think that was too tough a word. But you seem to imply that it would have been better if the president had owned a plan earlier.

REP. MCCOLLUM: I think the president wanted to not come out saying, you know, my way or the highway, as we were hearing so many especially from the tea party doing. And so he was, you know, trying to bring the great compromise together. And I give Speaker Boehner a lot of credit for trying to make that happen, but he didn't have control in his caucus in order to do the compromise that we needed to have in order to keep our economy not going through the freefall it went through last week.

MR. TODD: But in hindsight, do you wish the president had sort of grabbed, I guess, you know, Steny Hoyer and said I wish you'd own Simpson-Bowles or something like that, laid something out maybe a little more tangible earlier on? I mean, was that what you were trying to say?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Well, I'm on the Budget Committee, and we did talk -- we did speak at one point of bringing up Simpson-Bowles on the floor when we were doing the Budget Committee -- the Democrats did.

MR. TODD: Is that right?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Yeah, we did. And the gang of six -- actually, the gang of six, all of six of them, actually asked us not to do that because they were afraid it would have a defeating vote, would hurt them because they figured they wouldn't get any Republican support for it and it would look like the Simpson-Bowles was a Democratic plan.

So we've been having those discussions, and it's about -- it's about how to move our country forward together so it doesn't look like all this, you know, Republican versus Democrat.

MR. TODD: But, see, this is the frustration I think people see. You just brought up sort of the fear -- the gang of six -- Simpson- Bowles. None of those -- the president didn't really back either one of them. He kind of liked a little bit of one and a little bit of the other, and yet you also seemed to imply, ah, had he come out with his own plan, it might have gotten attacked too.

So how do we get through this?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Well, you know, my mother was a Republican. My father was a Democrat. And at the kitchen table, they would discuss politics. It was always with great respect and great civility. They'd have differences of opinion. They voted for different candidates, but we always knew they were coming together for the common good.

And I think people don't feel that right now in politics. I'm not feeling it with a lot of my colleagues that I serve with on the other side of the aisle.

MR. TODD: How much is this, do you think, reflecting with the president? Some may say it's unfair criticism, but he's the guy running Washington. He's the guy in charge. And do you think that's what part of this is hurting him a little bit?

REP. MCCOLLUM: Well, he's the executive branch. Right? He's the president of the United States, but he's not the king of the United States. And so he needs a Congress that's going to work together with him in order to accomplish things. And when Mitch McConnell comes out, you know, months ago saying, you know, it's my goal to keep this president, President Obama, a one-term president, I mean, that stuff -- I expect him to say that but closer to the election for the presidency, not in January, February, March and April when we're trying to put a budget together, not when our economy is so fragile.

So I think all of our leaders need to step up to the plate and lead with the president and not be, you know, just looking for the next election.

MR. TODD: All right. Betty McCollum, congresswoman from the Fourth Congressional District. We're actually in another district here. You've got to head back to St. Paul. We'll see you there.

REP. MCCOLLUM: Thank you.

MR. TODD: All right. Thanks for coming on.