9/24/22 Rep. Cheri Bustos, former chair of the DCCC, talks inflation, abortion, Jan. 6th & midterms

Former DCCC Chair Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois) says backlash to Roe v. Wade reversal could benefit Democrats in midterms: “That changed the feeling on the ground”
Episode Title: 9/24/22 Rep. Cheri Bustos, former chair of the DCCC, talks inflation, abortion,...
Episode Title: 9/24/22 Rep. Cheri Bustos, former chair of the DCCC, talks inflation, abortion, Jan. 6th & midterms
Published: Sep. 24, 2022 at 7:35 PM MST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Washington, DC – Gray Television White House correspondent and senior national editor Jon Decker interviewed Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois), former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the third episode of Gray TV’s Midterm Election Series, “Election 2022 Just the Facts,” airing Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25.

On the conventional wisdom that the party in power loses seats during a midterm election, Rep. Bustos cited the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the subsequent Kansas abortion vote as “an indication of things to come.”

“I am a Democrat in a Trump district … So I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for those swing voters,” she said. “And that changed the feeling on the ground.”

When pressed on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s vow that Democrats will keep control of the House, Bustos answered: “I’m a realist, but as Speaker of the House, that’s her job to express that,” adding: “She was right last time. Let’s hope she’s right this time as well.”

And when asked why so many Democratic members of Congress have chosen not to seek reelection this year, Bustos said the Capitol insurrection was partly to blame. “January 6th, I think, played into some people’s decision,” she said. “It certainly was part of my family’s decision.”

“I remember my husband saying ‘things are not going to get better and let’s take a look at what you’re going to do in near future,’” she added.

Excerpts are below.

Rep. Cheri Bustos Highlights

On the impact of January 6

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

You’re retiring. In fact, 31 Democrats in Congress are retiring. I’m a cynic. I see those numbers. And I think to myself, well, they’re retiring because they in large part don’t want to be in the minority. What do you think is the reason for this large number of Democrats not seeking reelection?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

It’s different from member to member

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

It was just a very personal decision that, hey, you know what? I’m going to go on and do something else. But [for] some members, health was the reason that they want to move on. Some might have said that this job is not what it used to be. January 6th, I think, played into some people’s decision. It certainly was part of my family’s decision. That day I was on the House floor and I was in regular communication with my family through text. And I think it was tougher on them than it was on me. And they were scared for me. They were scared for my colleagues. And it was at that moment, I remember my husband saying “things are not going to get better and let’s take a look at what you’re going to do in near future.”

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Do you think those hearings are making a difference as it relates to the midterms? Is this resonating with voters? Will it impact the way they vote in the midterm elections?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I think it has awakened some people to the severity of what happened on January 6th and really the collusion of what happened on January 6th. This wasn’t just some random group of people who decided to come to the nation’s capital and protest. It was much more coordinated than that. And people at the highest levels of our government had an involvement in that. We just learned today that Clarence Thomas’s wife is going to testify in front of the special committee. And I think that will be very interesting because the stories that have been out there sure leave me scratching my head as to why a Supreme Court Justice’s wife was so involved in something that was so horrible in our nation’s history.

On the Trump factor

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Former President Donald Trump is essentially the de facto leader of the Republican party. And it’s pretty apparent in pretty much every race all across the country. How do you think his impact will in any way affect the midterm elections? Will it be a good motivating factor for getting out Republican voters? Does it motivate Democrats ahead of the midterm?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I think both sides. Look, if you like Donald Trump right now, I don’t know what’s going to take your mind off of liking Donald Trump. I mean, there’s a lot to be seen there and we’ve lived through his presidency and now his post-presidency. We’ve seen what happened on January 6th. We’ve got the special committee looking at January 6th, going on right now, where a lot has been uncovered, keeping in mind that most of the people testifying worked in his administration were chosen by him to work in his administration. And then on the other side of it, if you’re a Democrat or I’m going to say a reasonable Republican or an Independent who just needs to make up their mind on what to do, I think it’s also motivating and not in Donald Trump’s favor.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

The people that are running for Congress in the Senate that believe there was massive fraud—falsely-that in the 2020 election are often called election deniers. And there’s a significant percentage of those people running for Congress. Does that concern you?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything more important as Americans than to make sure that our democracy is in a good place. And I think it’s very dangerous to deny the fair election that was in November of 2020. The facts do not bear out this notion that the election was stolen. There have been investigations, many of which have been led by Republicans. And so the facts do not support the claims that the election was stolen.

On immigration

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Do you think that that is an important issue for voters or just some voters depending upon what part of the country they’re in?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Well, certainly if you live in a border community, it’s top of mind because they’re looking at it in the face every single day. If you care about the safety of our nation and also that we treat people seeking asylum in a humane way, I think it’s top of mind from that perspective. But look, I think it’s got to be a combination of a few things. First of all, we need to make sure that our borders are strong and that-

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Well, do you believe they’re strong?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I think we’ve got work to do.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Two million arrests … We’re not even at the end of the fiscal year yet. And we’ve already passed that two million threshold. That is not a good record, I would think, for Democrats to run on. What’s your view?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Well, I don’t think we can run on that we’ve gotten this right, but we’ve also had attempts at bipartisanship on immigration reform. We need immigration reform. I come from an area, I come from a long line of family farmers, first of all, but we have close to 10,000 family farms where I live. And if you go to an egg farm or you go to a dairy and you talk with the folks running those operations, they need workers. So I think we can take a look at, we’ve got an opportunity actually to fill the slots that you’re not going to be able to hire your neighbor to work at that egg farm or you’re not going to be able to hire your neighbor to work at that dairy. We need workers and we need them in manufacturing. We need them in agricultural work.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I also want to make sure that we are humane to people who are seeking asylum. This idea of shipping people who are coming into our country seeking asylum, which is very different than just-

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Three governors have done that … Three Republican governors.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

But let’s sit down and talk about how that might look. Who’s to say that there are states or cities that don’t want people seeking asylum to come to their communities, but let’s do it in a coordinated way where we’re not tricking people and saying, hey, we’re going to take you to this place. And then they go there and there’s really no resources in place to manage that.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Did you view those actions by those Republican governors, the governors of Arizona, Texas, and Florida as political ploys in some way?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I think that they were not doing it with the intent of helping and they can do it in a way that helps their own states. Look, if you’re a governor of a state, your top priority should be looking out for the citizens of your state. And that means the border communities. It means public safety, all of that, but just to dump people in a place, outside of the vice president’s residents, I mean, let’s sit down and have a conversation and figure out how this can look and how it can treat people seeking asylum in a good way, and be good to the states that have to deal with this and to the destination state as well.

On abortion

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

The conventional wisdom is that the party in power loses seats during a midterm election…Do you share that conventional wisdom?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Well, the numbers back up that conventional wisdom, right? You can go back many, many election cycles. And if you’ve got a Democrat in the White House, Democrats don’t typically do so well, same thing if there’s a Republican in the White House.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

However, I think what has changed and you can feel it on the ground is the Dobbs decision overturning Roe versus Wade, which was for close to 50 years, that was the law of the land. When the new Supreme Court justices were confirmed, they had said that that was the law of the land. And however, what they decided was something different. That really has changed the vibe and the feel on the ground. I am a Democrat in a Trump district. There’s not too many of us. In fact, there’s three in the entire U.S. House of Representatives who won in ‘16 and ‘18 and in ‘20 who are in a Trump district. So I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for those swing voters. And that changed the feeling on the ground.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

You think that particular decision, maybe even Lindsay Graham introducing legislation, which would federalize the issue of abortion, prohibiting it after 15 weeks has energized Democratic voters ahead of the midterms?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Look what happened in Kansas. And I think that’s a really good indication. Kansas is not an overly Democratic state. Typically if you’re a Republican, you’re going to do better than if you’re a Democrat there. And so I think that’s an indication where there was a ballot initiative about abortion and it motivated more than 100,000 plus people to go to the polls and make sure that their voices were heard. So I think that’s just an indication of things to come.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Anger is a really, really good motivator. And Lindsey Graham, who I’ve worked with on legislation, and we’ve been on the same page on some key legislation, but on this I think he’s stirred up some emotions and it’s mostly anger from people saying, “Hey, you know what? I do not want that to be the federal law of the land.” Right now, it’s happening state by state on abortion rights, on women’s reproductive rights. So no, I think that will change things.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

To your original question, is that going to be enough? So Democrats can hang onto the majority in the House. We’ll see. As we’ve got, Democrats have a three-vote majority. So it is very, very tight. And so to be able to just hang onto that, I think it’s going to be tough.

On the economy

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

The top issue, most polls that I see always is for elections, jobs and the economy this year, high inflation record levels of inflation. Don’t you think that that is also the primary factor that’s energizing most voters across the country?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Oh, it’s a major factor. And the way I look at this, we’ve seen gas prices go down 99 straight days. The average nationwide is around $3 and 60 cents now. So that helps that that’s gone down. I think let’s take a look at what gas prices are on November 8th.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

But I don’t think Joe Biden’s getting the credit that he deserves for some great legislation that is making a difference right now in people’s lives. So let’s look at not just what you’re paying for a slab of bacon, but let’s take a look at Medicare patients. Right now, their insulin is capped at $35 a month.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I mean, we had patients who are getting gouged on insulin. They’re out-of-pocket costs now are capped at $2,000 a year. Those kind of things make a massive difference. The fact that for the first time in the history of Medicare, we are now negotiating the prices of prescription drugs. That had never happened before. So there are some real and meaningful changes that are happening through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

The old rule is that nothing’s going to sink in with anybody, unless we talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. And we’ve got to keep doing that.

On how she is helping Dem candidates

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

So what are you doing for candidates? Are you fundraising? Are you campaigning? Are you campaigning for the person who hopes to succeed you, Eric Sorenson?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Any and all of the above.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I am raising money. I am giving away money to candidates. I mostly focus on Midwestern candidates because that’s my passion, is to help Democrats who are running in very tough districts, help them succeed. And I’m on a board called Elect Democratic Women where we’ll raise close to $11 million. And we are supporting Democratic women who are currently in office, both on the Senate side and the House side, and then women who are running all over the country, who we think have a good shot at winning.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Are you focused mainly on the House of Representatives? Do you pay attention to what’s happening in the Senate? Because it’s 50/50 in the Senate. Every race seems to count there. And there are certainly a lot of competitive races on the Senate side.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I pay attention to both. Obviously, as a member of the House, I pay most attention to my colleagues who are running in tough races and candidates who are running in some of these open seats and who we hope to elect. But yeah, I pay attention. My good friend, Tim Ryan, who’s a colleague of mine running in the state of Ohio. Watch that race. It’s a very interesting race. And he’s running a unique campaign that is specific to what you need to do as a Democrat running statewide in Ohio if you want to be successful.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Why do you think that race is as close as it is? According to most polls I’ve seen, Donald Trump won the state by eight points in 2020. And yet Tim Ryan is within the margin of error, at least according to most polls against JD Vance.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

Tim Ryan’s the right guy. He’s a moderate Democrat. He fights like heck for working men and women. He understands how hard people work to support their families. He gets that and he’s traveling all over the state.

He’s doing everything ... I will point to Tim Ryan who’s like doing everything right as a Democrat, running in a Republican state. He’s going to every corner. He is not writing off the rural parts of Ohio. And if I have a message to Democrats all over this country, it’s don’t write off rural America.

If you get 30 or 40% of the rural vote as a Democrat, those are the margins you need to in the end win. That’s what Tim Ryan’s doing. He’s showing up. He’s listening. He has an understanding of hardworking people.

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

That would be a pickup opportunity in Ohio if indeed Tim Ryan wins that race. Democrats see some other pickup opportunities, but also let’s talk about some Republican pickup opportunities. One is in Nevada. As you know, Catherine Cortez Masto is running against Adam Laxalt there. You are probably following that race.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I am. Catherine’s a friend of mine. She chaired the Democratic senatorial campaign committee when I was chairing the House campaign committee. Hard worker, good person. And here’s the thing about Catherine Cortez Masto. She’s not a show off. She’s a workhorse. And I have a deep appreciation for members of the House or Senate who just want to get the job done. And I know she’s doing everything she can to be successful honorably. And I hope in the end, she is. It’s tough.

On Speaker Pelosi

Jon Decker, Gray TV White House Correspondent

Speaker Pelosi, your leader, she has expressed supreme confidence in terms of Democrats holding on to the House of Representatives. Is that just bravado? Do you share that level of confidence?

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois)

I’m a realist, but as Speaker of the House, that’s her job to express that. And she’s an optimist by nature. There’s nobody who works harder on the behalf of Democrats than Nancy Pelosi. She travels all over this country. Last cycle, when I chaired the House campaign arm for Democrats, I traveled with her all over the country until COVID hit. And together, we raised about a third of a billion dollars to make sure that we could hold onto that fragile House majority. In the end, tough cycle, but we held onto the majority. She predicted that all along. So hey, she was right last time. Let’s hope she’s right this time as well.

Please check local listings for air times.

About Jon Decker:

Jon Decker is Gray Television’s White House correspondent and senior national editor. Decker is a former member of the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Decker serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and the UCLA School of Law where he is an adjunct professor. He is also a media fellow at the McCain Institute.

About Gray Television:

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