From NBC’s Domenico Montanaro
WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Dan Coats, running for the open Indiana Senate seat that will be vacated by Evan Bayh (D), said he is running out of a “call of duty,” because he said he believes the current “radical” administration, is “moving this country rapidly toward a European Socialist style of government.”
“Wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher that said the whole thing wrong with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money?” Coats, 66, said in an interview here with First Read. Asked if he sees this administration as “moving toward socialism,” Coats said, “I do. I do. I think this is a socialistic agenda. It’s definitely moving this country rapidly toward a European socialist style of government.”
Coats, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, is facing a primary -- which takes place in 22 days -- from the right, notably from former congressman John Hostettler. Coats served in Washington for 28 years, beginning in 1980, first as a congressman then, in 1989 as a senator. Coats served as a district representative for Dan Quayle from 1976 to 1980 and was appointed to replace Quayle, when Quayle became vice president.
His ties to Washington have become an issue in this cycle of anti-Washington fervor. After leaving the Senate, Coats was an ambassador to Germany, registered as a lobbyist and lived in Virginia -- not Indiana, something that has become an issue as well.
But Coats said he is focused on retail campaigning and getting reacquainted with Indianans by participating in numerous forums sponsored by various Tea Party groups and county Republican parties. And today, in fact, his wife Marcia was baking apple pie at a pie auction in the Hoosier state. (What makes it great, he said, is the crust.)
With regard to the other Republican candidates, Coats said he is trying to stay positive. “Ideologically, we’re all singing off the same song sheet,” Coats said. That’s the message he reiterates to conservative primary voters, particularly those who identify with the Tea Party and are wary of an insider like Coats with more than three decades of Washington experience.
Coats, however, is trying to sell his experience as a positive. He tells them that his knowledge of how the Senate works can bring real change. “The nature of the issues before us, you know, experience helps.”
Plus, he said, “It’s been 12 years since I’ve served. And a lot has changed.” In particular, this administration. He explained that there is “downright anger toward the Obama administration for what they perceive as, which I agree with, a pretty radical leftward tilt. And a massive expansion of government resulting in massive debt and frightening deficit and long-term debt.”
But Hostettler, for one, doesn’t see Coats’ experience as a good thing. In a Web video, he attacks Coats on abortion (for voting for Bill Clinton Supreme Court appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and on gun rights (for voting for “the Clinton gun ban and the Brady Bill.”)
"When Dan Coats was elected to the Senate,” an announcer in the ad says, “he assured us that he was one of us, a Hoosier conservative. But something happened to Dan Coats while he was in Washington. … Now after a 12-year absence from Indiana, Dan Coats wants us to believe he will represent our values in Washington. ... We've had enough of compromise.”
The 1998 Almanac of American Politics, however, wrote: “Coats is strongly against abortion -- a leader on the fetal tissue research ban, an opponent of RU-486 and the Henry Foster for surgeon general nomination. He sponsored a law allowing parents to block dial-a-porn phone numbers and one banning ‘indecent or lewd’ material on the Internet. Most interestingly, he has proposed a series of laws designed to strengthen families and faith-based institutions.”
Home -- Indiana or Washington?
Coats has been criticized for living in Virginia since leaving Congress -- instead of Indiana -- and for taking a job as a lobbyist. Coats, who is originally from Fort Wayne, now maintains a residence in Indianapolis.
He said he stayed in Washington for family -- and money.
“Grandkids were here,” Coats said of the Washington area. “My kids were here. They’ve been raised here. … It was mainly a family matter and a financial matter. … There were good job opportunities here, better job opportunities here.”
“Better paying, in particular,” this reporter said.
“Better paying,” Coats affirmed, and then pivoted. “So, we’re back. I am a resident of Indiana now, living in Indiana now. I feel a very close connection to the people who welcomed me back.” He added that he chose Indianapolis, because it’s easier to campaign from there. “Right now, we’re living in Indianapolis,” he said, “because it’s the center of the state and campaigning and all statewide. Fort Wayne’s up in the corner.”
It’s a seven-hour drive from Ft. Wayne to Evansville, Brad Ellsworth’s hometown, Coats pointed out. From Indianapolis, it’s 2 ½ hours. Ellsworth, a former sheriff and current congressman from the eighth congressional district, a swing district in the southwestern corner of the state, is the likely Democratic nominee.
In 1996, when he announced he would not run for re-election, Coats explained his reasoning for stepping away this way, per the Almanac: “If politics is not your life, when do you leave? I want to leave when I am young enough to contribute somewhere else -- young enough to resume a career outside government. I want to leave when there is still a chance to follow God's leading to something new.”
Defending lobbying role
Coats also spoke at length about his lobbying, defending his role.
The Washington Post reported:
“The former senator has had scores of corporate lobbying clients over the years, including health-care firms (Amgen, United Health Group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), bailout recipients (Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch) and communications companies (BellSouth, Sprint Nextel, Verizon). Another past client is Cerberus Capital Management, where Dan Quayle -- whose seat Coats took over in the Senate -- is a top executive. Lobbying disclosure records also show that Coats represented foreign firms or governments that could prove controversial, including the Indian government and Bombardier, a Canadian aerospace firm. Coats also represented a Texas oil-and-gas company that partnered with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, records show.”
Coats said that characterization of the work he did unfair. “What it turned out was that every allegation they put out there was factually wrong,” Coats said of Democratic operatives.
He went point by point. Coats, who said he was just a “part-time” lobbyist, said he never lobbied for any company while they were trying to secure bailout money.
“Our firm represented Bank of America on one issue and one issue only for about a three-month period that ended long before TARP was ever thought of.” He said it was a “very narrow patent issue” that “had nothing to do with outsourcing of jobs; it had nothing to do with TARP. End of story. We represented Bank of America for three months. We wish we represented them on a lot more things, but we don’t.” And he said he wasn’t involved “at all” in representing Bank of America.
On the Chavez oil company connection, Coats said, “The company we represented Harvest Natural Resources Company was a Houston oil company Chavez was trying to put out of business by annulling their contract, and extorting them and saying, ‘We’re going to nationalize you unless you pay us an exorbitant amount of money.”
Coats took it on because of his connection to the Indiana delegation. The head of that company wanted “to tell our story to Sen. Lugar” and Rep. Dan Burton. Lugar is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Burton is a member of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. He said he made two phone calls -- one to Lugar’s office and one to Burton’s office.
On being a “foreign agent,” Coats said, “Yes, I was in one instance” with relation to India. “One attorney in our firm was representing India and that person had received a request from the Indian government that their prime minister when he came here speak to the joint session of Congress. ‘Could you help me with this? Could you call Sen. Lott, then Senate majority leader, and Congressman Haster, then speaker of the House and say that the request has come in from the state of India that the prime minister speak to a joint session. I made those two calls. I had to register. So I registered.”
He said he represented Cerberus to help with their German operation because of his Germany ties, but never on getting bailout money.
Coats vs. Ellsworth, all about health care
While Coats didn’t want to criticize his Republican primary opponents, he had no problem taking shots at Ellsworth. He said Ellsworth used to be a “conservative Democrat,” but no more.
Why? Health care. Coats said he was “shocked” that Ellsworth “ignored the governor’s plea and the voters’ plea and instead voted for health care. That’s going to be a primary issue.”
He added, “Brad ran as a conservative Democrat in his first two race, but his support for Pelosi and Obama, and particularly on this health care against the wishes of the governor and strong wishes of the pro-life community, have left him in a position where he’s no longer seen as a conservative Democrat. He’s seen as someone who goes to Washington and falls right in with the rest -- and that is whatever the president and his leader in the House tell him to do, he does.”
On health care, Coats said he is running on repeal, but with a caveat. “I run on repeal,” he said, “but I am also candid that there’s no guarantee that repeal can succeed as long as President Obama has the veto pen. The numbers that would need to be reached to overturn a veto on that -- a two-thirds majority -- are going to be very hard to get unless there is a dramatic shift in numbers, but that’s why the election’s important.”
He also advocates for the conservative attorneys general push to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, particularly the mandate.
Obama, more ‘radical’ than Clinton
Coats served in the Senate in the 1990s when Clinton was president. In comparison to Clinton, Coats said Obama is much more “radical.”
“This agenda,” Coats said, “This pushing through in spite of the will of the people is in direct contrast to Bill Clinton, who had an agenda, but realized that it needed support from the people in order to succeed. Bill Clinton’s very good at measuring the public and the public mood and the public’s support. Barack Obama could care less about what the public thinks. He’s got the numbers and he’s going to jam his proposals through.”
The reality, however, is that Democrats wound up killing Clinton’s health-care bill. Clinton, like Obama, had sweeping majorities. And like Obama, the health-care bill ran into stiff resistance from a GOP opposition. But Democrats didn’t rally around Clinton the way Democrats did for Obama this time around. One of the reasons, arguably, is that Congressional Democratic leaders had more buy-in, since they were allowed to write the bills. It wasn’t handed to them from the White House.
Still, Coats dismissed Obama, who became the first Democrat to win Indiana since 1964. Coats said Obama “won on charisma” and has now ignored the will of the people, that he acts like “he knows better” -- something, he said, “that’s insulting to a lot of people. “And there’s a lot of frustration and a lot of anger and a lot of frankly,” he added, “disillusioned Democrats and independents who voted for him."
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