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I'll Work With The Other Side When It Makes Sense, Hagedorn Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The House of Representatives operates under a basic reality of power. The rules ensure that the majority party, if it is unified, has almost all the power. The minority has almost no power unless the majority is divided. For eight years, House Republicans had the majority. They passed dozens of repeals of Obamacare, which never became law, along with tax cuts and many other measures that did. Now they prepare for that minority role just in time for Jim Hagedorn to join them. In a big Democratic year, the Republican captured a Democratic seat in southern Minnesota, and he's in our studios. Congressman-elect, welcome.

JIM HAGEDORN: It's great to be here. Thank you.

INSKEEP: How do you see your role in the minority?

HAGEDORN: Well, you're going to go out and stand for what you believe and try to reflect the views and values of the people of southern Minnesota. That's what I'm sent out here to do. We'll have ideas that might conflict with what the majority believes. But, you know, the House is going to be Democrat. The Senate is Republican. The president is going to negotiate with both. There'll be compromise back and forth. We'll see how it goes.

INSKEEP: You said representing the views and values of Minnesota. That's interesting because while you represent a mostly rural district that was clearly conservative enough to elect you, it was represented by a Democrat up to now, and it's a blue state. Do you think that your constituents expect you to work with the other side?

HAGEDORN: When it makes sense, sure. I mean, if somebody has a good idea, I'll support it. But, you know, we want to come out here and make sure the country is strong with secure borders. My goal is to continue to try to make reforms in government so the economy can expand - reforms with regulations, taxes, energy, welfare and then health care - and then finally protect the God-given rights - the right to life, right to keep and bear arms, right to religious freedom...

INSKEEP: You just...

HAGEDORN: ...And lastly a sustained agriculture in our rural (ph) way of life.

INSKEEP: You just said taxes. I saw a note the other day that the federal budget deficit is on its way up to something like $1.38 trillion or pretty close to that. Is this a circumstance where you'd want to be lowering taxes?

HAGEDORN: Well, I'd want to make sure we have individual tax reform so the code is fairer, simpler and flatter for all, make sure that people can save, spend, hold, invest their own money the way they see fit. We'll see what proposals the Democrats have on taxes. And as far as the debt, we need to reform every agency of government. That's kind of my background. I was here for a time, and we've reformed a Treasury agency and saved a couple billion dollars. We need to do that across the board.

INSKEEP: But I'm thinking, you know, in the '80s, Ronald Reagan cut taxes and realized the deficit had gone way out of control and signed a tax increase. Do you think you might have to do that?

HAGEDORN: Well, you know, if you look back in the '80s, the deficit did go up, but revenues were at record as well. The problem was spending followed and then some. So in this case, we're seeing record revenues. The government needs to spend within its means. We're going to have to make reforms across the board and try to contain that spending.

INSKEEP: So let's be real about the politics of this situation.

HAGEDORN: Sure.

INSKEEP: Republicans were knocked out of power. They would like to be back in power. They would like to support President Trump - most of them would. Chris Collins, one of your new colleagues - he's a veteran congressman - was speaking to CNN the other day, and he said, quote, "when you're in the minority, your job is just to vote no to what goes on."

HAGEDORN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Is that your job?

HAGEDORN: Well, I'd probably - you know, we have two world views right now, the Republicans and the Democrats. And the Democrats are far left, and Republicans are conservative, to be quite honest. So they're probably going to propose a lot of ideas that we will fundamentally disagree with. And we'll voice our displeasure and offer motions to recommit and things like that. But like I said, the House is Democrat. The Senate's Republican. The president's going to negotiate with both. I think there'll be some back and forth.

INSKEEP: We should note also the group of incoming freshmen. There are dozens of you. It's a really, really diverse group overall - but almost entirely diverse on the Democratic side, lots of women, lots of people of color. And now on the Republican side, you may end up with Young Kim, a Korean-American. Her election is not quite decided yet. But when you look at the picture, it's way less diverse - overwhelmingly white, one woman so far. How do you address that?

HAGEDORN: Yeah. Well, there's lots of ladies, for instance, that ran for election, unfortunately didn't win. You know, when it came to the general election, some of them lost in primaries. This is just the way it is. I mean, in our race, we had a state senator who happened to be female run against me in the primary. But we have been pretty established, and we won it quite handily. I think it's - those things go in cycles. Hopefully, the best people will step up and keep running and fighting for what we believe in.

INSKEEP: Do you need, in some way, to reach out to people who are different than what your group of freshmen mostly is?

HAGEDORN: Well, I think you're out here to represent all of America and all of your district. And so as long as you're true to your beliefs and true to what you told the voters you're going to do, that's the most important thing.

INSKEEP: I have to note something because, as you know, the Internet is forever. And when you've run for office, you've sometimes been criticized for remarks you made in blogs years ago that appear to be very critical of women in public office. You referred to two U.S. senators as undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes. You referred to the Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers with a phrase that seemed to suggest she was only nominated for being a woman. Do you think a lot of women are promoted in politics just for their gender?

HAGEDORN: No, I think they stand up for what they believe in. You know, people vote for them on the merits.

INSKEEP: Do you stand by those remarks in the past?

HAGEDORN: No. I talked about that, you know, four years ago. They brought this up 2008, '10, '12, whatever...

INSKEEP: Oh, because you've run for offices in the past, sure, yeah. And what did you say then?

HAGEDORN: Well, in 2014, we just addressed it and said I understand it's political satire, and, you know, some of it's taken a little bit out of context and twisted, you know, so I said apologize for it.

INSKEEP: But it's an interesting - it's an interesting moment now because you will enter this body - this national body - as a full member and the speaker is a woman. It's an interesting situation to be in.

HAGEDORN: I saw her last night.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah?

HAGEDORN: I congratulated her, yeah.

INSKEEP: What do you think of Nancy Pelosi?

HAGEDORN: Well, she's very liberal.

(LAUGHTER)

HAGEDORN: So on most of the ideas, we disagree.

INSKEEP: Can you envision a crisis where you could imagine members of this House of Representatives getting together and saying, you know, something is important going on in the country here, we need to vote the same way, we need to set aside some of our differences?

HAGEDORN: I hope that will be the case on a number of issues, transportation issues and other things. And we should be addressing the debt, but we'll have to see. Like you said, the House of Representatives is a body that's controlled by one vote more than half. And right now, the Democrats have the power. We'll see how they exercise it.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman-elect, thanks for coming by, really appreciate you taking the time to talk.

HAGEDORN: Appreciate your time.

INSKEEP: Jim Hagedorn is the representative-elect from a district in southern Minnesota and one of the incoming House freshmen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.