Earlier this year, former Rep. Tom Tancredo told KNUS 710-AM’s Peter Boyles the story of how Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert made it clear to fellow Republican Rep. Joel Hefly, during the 2003 House debate on Medicare Part D, that Hefley would lose his chairmanship of a subcomittee if he didn’t vote for the measure. Both Hefley and Tancredo represented Colorado districts at the time.
TANCREDO: This was the worst day of my life: sitting through a debate and then a vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill, Part D. That was the worst day because, here we were, the Republican Party, a president–Republican president, and Republican Congress putting through the greatest increase in government since the creation of Medicare! We were doing it, and we were all doing it because Bush wanted the electoral votes of the state of Florida.
TANCREDO: And we were spending $1 trillion bill. This is a trillion dollars over ten years.
BOYLES: Was that for brother [Jeb Bush], principally?
TANCREDO: No, no! He was – it was coming up! He knew he was going to –. No. He was running again. He wanted the electoral votes!
BOYLES: No, but was that to help his brother, Jeb?
TANCREDO: No. It was for the presidency.
BOYLES: For him to get over. Okay.
TANCREDO: Yes! Absolutely. This was – and you know, there was a hanging chad, there, situation, right? But it was all Florida. He needed Florida. This was, you know, a very thin band of need, out there –the very few, I mean, there was a – but, like, that many people that actually were too poor for Medicaid, too much for – but the expenses were high for the –. So, we were going to do this for them, right? All for Florida! [inaudible] We had to stay there from 12 o’clock, the vote started – it’s supposed to be a 15 minute. This is midnight! Not 12 o’clock in the afternoon. We had been there since 9:00 debating it. They didn’t have the votes! Didn’t have them, man! The Democrats had promised them they were going give them the votes to pass this thing, because you never bring a vote—a bill up that you don’t think you’re going to pass. It’s a big no-no. So, the Democrats had promised them, because he couldn’t get Republican votes. But the Democrats took one look at the thing—at the counter, and said, “Hey! I think we can embarrass them pretty well!” And all of a sudden, we didn’t have the votes. Well, there we were – midnight. You’re supposed to have a 15 minute vote, Peter. Fifteen minutes. Sometimes, they push it to about 20 to get everybody in. Six and one half hours – we’re still sitting there. Six-thirty in the morning, people – I mean, I’m sleeping on –. They’re putting buddies with you. Anybody from your delegation who was for it had to come and bug you all six hours, until. And my buddy was Bob Beauprez [laughing]. I kept telling Bob, “Hey, listen, buddy! Go to sleep! I am going to go to sleep. You’re never—I’m never going to vote for this. Save your time! Never, ever!” But, polling people – all you could hear was arms being twisted and broken on the floor, right? — promising things. I mean–.
BOYLES: “Give me this, I’ll give you that.”
TANCREDO: Oh, yeah! And it was never like, — it was, “We know you’ve got a lot of stuff in the pipeline. You’ve got that bridge. And you know, we want to help you out.”
BOYLES: “We’ll work with you!”
TANCREDO: “We want to work with you.” Right. It was the most horrible thing. And I saw one of my best friends in Congress, a guy from Colorado – Joel Hefley. He was like a 98–.
BOYLES: [inaudible] I thought he was a good guy.
TANCREDO: Oh, Joel was the best! He was like a 98-percenter. And we’re sitting there – 6:30 [a.m.] – nothing. I mean, it’s 217. You need 218, one more vote. And they can’t get it! Here comes the Speaker. [gesturing with his hands, indicating a man walking down to the floor]. Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo,– down, comes, sits next to Joel. I’m in back of them, going [gestures that he was eavesdropping]. You know, because everyone is – there’s quiet. Everybody is, you know – you’re all on the floor. They won’t let you leave. So, but everyone can see what’s happening. And then, the Speaker walks down, and he says, “Joel, we came in as Freshmen together, 22 years ago.”
TANCREDO: Freshman class. And Joel said, “Yes, sir, we did.” And he said, “I’ve always enjoyed it, you’re such a great guy,” he said. “And you’re the Chairman of the, uh—what was it? It was the sub-committee on – oh! Armed Services.
BOYLES: [inaudible] Yeah!
TANCREDO: And he said, — because he was [from] Colorado Springs, you know –.
BOYLES: Of course. Of course.
TANCREDO: And he said, uh, and he said, “You’re the head of the” – I think it was called – “the NATO Parliamentary Assembly” – it was kind of a hot-shot thing. We got to travel all over. He always asked us. It was great fun! Anyway, great guy, great guy. “But I need you,” [the Speaker said to Joel Hefley]. “I never asked you before for anything, right?” And Joel says, “No, sir.” And he says, “Well, I need you. This is it, buddy. I want it.” And Joel says, “I can’t, Mr. Speaker. I just can’t do it.” And he goes, “You enjoy being that Chairman, right?” –and all that. And he says, “You want to be [Chairman] tomorrow?”
TANCREDO: This – this—this—this is his buddy! This is his pal! And he goes back and sits down. And I leaned over and I said, “Did I just hear him threaten you with your Chairmanship?”
BOYLES: Yeah. Yeah.
TANCREDO: Joel just looks ahead, right? Doesn’t say a word. We wait. We wait, it’s quiet. There’s nothing. All of a sudden, he gets up, votes,– walks down. Oh, my God! I literally – and I’m not kidding you, I almost threw up! I mean, I got – we had been there all night. It was very emotional. There was a lot of crap going on. And now, here’s my best – oh, my God! And he walks down, and he would have to pick up the green thing and go, and hand it to the girl. And she goes, “REPRESENTATIVE HEFLEY: OFF “NO”! ON “AYE!” And they – and the hammer goes down. Boom! Two-hundred and eighteen. It passed. You know, he never was the same after that. He stayed another term but, you know, he got shingles.
BOYLES: Oh, no, he went through all kinds of stuff.
TANCREDO: Oh, my God! And it’s an emotional – shingles is an emotional – I think there’s some component there, right? Up here, and down into his throat – it damn near killed him.
BOYLES: Yeah. Yeah.
TANCREDO: And then he quit, and it was the most horrible –. That was the worst day of my political life.