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September 1, 2013

Cole: Ballot box is GOP’s best shot at big fixes

DUNCAN —  Some call his recurrent, bottom line on GOP complaints and criticisms of President Obama and Congress and the country a sure sign he’s not a stout, conservative Republican.

Some say he’s just politically pragmatic.

Whether it’s one way or the other — or somewhere in between — Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma says Republicans upset about the state of affairs need to look at themselves and do something truly big about it.

At the ballot box.

“This is where we have got to look in the mirror and say, Why don’t we have more members of the Senate?’” Cole said during a town hall meeting in Duncan this week.

He was referring to calls for holding President Obama more accountable for controversies — many Republicans call them scandals — that have hit the White House in the past 18 months.

They include Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Justice Department secretly getting phone records of Associated Press reporters and a Fox News correspondent.

Cole was asked about those issues and more at the town hall meeting and during an interview with The Banner. And time and again, he went back to his bottom line.

The best thing Republicans can do is start winning elections, he said, first by taking the U.S. Senate next year and then the White House in 2016.

“You play within the process,” he said. “You don’t say we didn’t get our way so we’re going to shut down the government.”

During the town hall, one Duncan resident became emotional, demanding Cole join some other House Republicans in supporting a new move to defund Obamacare.

She wanted Cole to sign a letter, which at least 80 other House Republicans have done, urging House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to oppose any spending bills that include funding for Obamacare. Such a demand, if followed, could lead to a government shut down.

Boehner has balked at that kind of GOP talk, noting the political backlash the party got when the government shut down in 1995-96.

Despite pleas from the Duncan resident to at least make a symbolic stand, Cole didn’t waver. He would not threaten a government shutdown over Obamacare.

It would be unfair to millions of Americans who rely on federal money for a paycheck, including soldiers and veterans and meteorologists at the National Weather Service who gave residents of Moore — Cole’s hometown — warning about the deadly tornado that struck that city in May.

And, Cole said, it would never work

He noted he has voted 40 times to repeal the federal health care law since Republicans regained the House in the 2010 election. The bills have landed with a whimper in the Democrat-led Senate.

Passing a bill to stop Obamacare at all costs — even if it meant shutting down the government — would never pass the Senate, Cole said. Even if it did, President Obama was sure to veto it, and Republicans would need even more Democrat votes to override a veto.

Those votes simply wouldn’t be there, he said.

Cole said many Democrats, with their eyes on the next election, too, would love for Republicans to shut down the government again.

“I think it would be a political disaster in 2014,” he said.

The GOP has had ample opportunity to change the political landscape in the past two elections.

Cole said Republicans let six Senate seats they should have picked up in 2010 and 2012 slip away. They lost their chance of winning the White House last year.

Democrats aren’t to blame for that.

“The sad thing is, if we hadn’t have thrown seats away in the last two elections, in my opinion, we would already have the majority (in the Senate) and would probably be expanding it dramatically this next election,” Cole said.

Cole said he expects Republicans to keep the majority in the House in 2014 and have a very good shot of taking the Senate. He thinks Republicans can win the White House in 2016, too.

He and other Republicans will do what they can in the meantime to thwart Obamacare and hold the president accountable on Benghazi and the IRS and other issues, Cole said.

And the immigration bill that passed the Senate with some bipartisan support is “DOA” in the House, Cole said, because most Republicans say it won’t secure the border. But, he said, “The American people knew what was on the line when they voted in November 2012.”

And despite one resident’s pleas for Cole to at least take a stand — even if it’s just symbolic — Cole calmly dismissed the idea.

“The worst thing is to tell you only something you want to hear,” he said.

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