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Republicans in Peril

Friday, 16 May 2008 | 3:48 PM ET

The following is a transcript of my conversation on last night’s Kudlow & Company with Chief Deputy Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) on the various ethical and political hurdles facing Republicans.

Kudlow: Congressman Cantor, thank you for coming on, we appreciate your time. I want to start with you. The only thing worse that I can think of for the GOP, than having 100 Republicans vote for this farm bill – which is just an unmitigated disaster – is the fact that you all have not read Vito Fossella out of the caucus. That, I think, is even worse. One is a financial and political issue. The other is a moral and ethical issue. Both are undermining the Republican brand, Eric. What’s your response please?

Rep. Eric Cantor: Larry it’s good to be with you. Larry there’s no question right now that the public is questioning where Republicans are, and what we stand for. You mentioned the farm bill. I too believe that is probably one of the worst votes that anyone could take. There was so much pork in there. There was so much special interest politics at play. And frankly, when you’re giving farmers who could potentially make $2.5 million dollars as a couple, and still get government aid, while we have plenty of uninsured, real uninsured people out there who can’t get government assistance, I think there is a serious problem with Washington. But you know look, we have got a lot of challenges. We’ve only got six months before the general election. What the Republicans need to do, what we’ve got to do is get our message out.

GOP: Endangered Species?
Debating whether congressional Republicans are an endangered species, with Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Institute; Jerry Bowyer, Benchmark Financial; Brian Gardner, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods; Greg Valliere, Stanford Financial Group; Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia (R); and CNBC's Larry Kudlow.

Kudlow: But Eric, if I may, just for a moment, before we get to the message part. And I appreciate the importance of that. I do not see how the Republican brand recovers when you have a chap like Vito Fossella, whom I’ve known for a long time, you’ve known him for a long time – who knew what he was up to? But now that we know what he was up to. Heavy drinker with literally two families – literally two families. One in Staten Island, New York, the other one down there in the Virginia suburbs, with a love child to boot, down there in Virginia. I don’t see on ethical and moral grounds, how the House Republican caucus cannot take the sternest possible action to push him out of the caucus and send him a message you must resign. In other words, Vito has to go. You know it, and I know it. And if you don’t do that, aren’t you continuing the damage to the brand? You know what? We have a clip. Let me just stop for a minute. This Vito Fossella story is becoming a national laughingstock. Let’s just take a look at this for a second, hang on.

[The Video clip is: Saturday Night Live, “Weekend Update” – TEXT: “New York City Congressman Vito Fossella was arrested for drunk driving, then caught having an extramarital affair, then exposed for a having a secret child with his mistress. Or, as it’s known in Washington, ‘The Trifecta.’”]

Kudlow: Now that’s very amusing. Saturday Night Live is a pretty clever bunch. But Congressman, my question is what are you going to do with this? The clock is ticking and the public is watching.

Rep. Eric Cantor: Larry look, there’s no question this isn’t good for the brand. There’s no question that what had happened there is just, you know, unfathomable to many Americans. Vito’ s got some decisions to make. I believe he will make them quickly and we will be able to go forward. And frankly, we need a lot of work. And we’ve got very little time in order to repair our brand.

Republican Meltdown
Assessing whether the GOP is in peril, with Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Institute; Jerry Bowyer, Benchmark Financial; Brian Gardner, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods; Greg Valliere, Stanford Financial Group; Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia (R); and CNBC's Larry Kudlow.

Kudlow: Jerry Bowyer, is it enough for Vito Fossella to make up his mind, or would it be better if the Republican leadership showed some real spine, principle, moral and ethics, and made a decision for Fossella?

Bowyer: They need to shove him out. He should make the decision right now to leave. And if he doesn’t make that decision, they should show him the door.

Kudlow: I mean, to some extent Eric, this is a rerun of what happened in 2006. It is. It’s a rerun of the whole business of the congressman in Florida and the pages.

Bowyer: Mark Foley.

Kudlow: And not just Mark Foley, but the way the leadership handled it. The way Mr. Hastert handled it. Slowly, haltingly – there seemed to be an undertone that he knew more than he was letting on. You’re in that kind of box, sir. And I think you’ve got to take stern action right now.

Rep. Eric Cantor: Well listen, I appreciate that Larry. And you know, it is symptomatic of the situation that we find ourselves here, that we’re even talking about this kind of stuff, which is exactly why the Republican brand is where it is.

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  • Lawrence Kudlow is a CNBC senior contributor. Previously, Kudlow was anchor of CNBC's prime-time program "The Kudlow Report"