When President Obama takes the mic tonight for a jobs speech before a joint session of Congress, Rep. Joe Walsh will not be in attendance. Instead, he’ll be flying home to host a “small business job forum” in Schaumburg, part of his suburban Chicago 8th District.
The tempers were still raw last week over the scheduling of Obama’s speech when the freshman firebrand Walsh announced he’d skip the event, saying that he would not be a “prop” for the president. Since Walsh’s brash pledge, another of his Republican colleagues, Paul Broun of Georgia, has followed suit. And South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint says he may skip the speech, too.
In a telephone interview from his Washington office late Thursday, Walsh explained the reason behind his quick trip home: “I want to get their [small businessmen and women] response to what the president is proposing. We want to come up with our own recommendations for job creation. I would like to deliver those [Friday morning] in a letter to the president”—the same man whom Walsh has called a “liar” and “idiotic.”
Walsh, 49, reared in North Barrington and a graduate of Barrington High School, is not your father’s congressman. While perfectly polite in conversation, he has shown no interest in living by the old-fashioned rules of congressional comity.
Here’s part one of the edited transcript of our conversation, in which he discusses why he's against Obama's policies, whom he might support for the Republican nomination for president, and why he called John McCain a "troll." Look for part two, which focuses more on the lawmaker’s personal side, tomorrow.
CF: Your critics say you’re skipping the speech to draw attention to yourself.
JW: I just objected to the very notion of him calling a joint session of Congress. He wants to make a campaign speech. This is a guy who has had three years to try to do something about job creation. He’s made things noticeably worse. He and his team tend … to live on speeches, and so I think this is a way for him to give another speech and try to show the American people that he’s leading on something. So, to me, it’s just purely a political exercise.
CF: You’ve made some really strong, controversial remarks. You called President Obama “idiotic” and a “liar.” Any regrets?
JW: I apologized all week for that one [the “idiotic” remark] because that’s the one I really stepped over the line. I think this president’s policies are destroying what makes this country great. I always try to focus on the policies. When Joe Biden calls Tea Party people “terrorists,” it makes me smile because that’s just silly and it makes them look stupid. This is a tough business, but the minute you start getting personal like that, people aren’t going to listen to you—and they shouldn’t listen to you.
CF: What about the YouTube video you released in which you call the president a liar?
JW: In that video I accuse the president of lying, because in that instance when he said that he didn’t know if he could guarantee social security checks were going to come out on August 3, I know he knew better and I believe he was lying then. Now do I think the president’s a liar? Again, no, I don’t know him so I don’t know if he’s a liar. All I was referring to was, in that instance, I did not think he was being truthful with the American people.
CF: You’ve been caustic to Republicans as well. Any response from Sen. McCain to comments you made about him, calling him a “troll” and “old” and “silly”?
JW: That one I don’t take back. I was irate at McCain. He called Tea Party people “hobbits.” I mean he totally insulted Tea Party folks. I said, “If I’m a hobbit, Sen. McCain, you’re a troll.”
CF: The congressional district remap drawn up by Democrats [and the subject of two pending law suits] must be giving you heartburn. You now represent the 8th District, but the remap has turned everything on its head. Where will you run in 2012, and will you be forced to run in the 14th District against fellow conservative Randy Hultgren?
JW: According to the new Democratic map, I live in what would be the new 14th, and the new 14th is about half of my current district and about half of Congressman Hultgren’s. It’s a district we both have a real claim to, and it’s a darn shame that they’ve put us together. I’m devoting all of my energies to hopefully try to overturn this map and see if we can have a more fair map option.
CF: But in other states, such as Texas, where Republicans control the legislature and governorship, they draw up maps that serve Republican interests. It’s politics.
JW: You’re right. Look, this is a lousy way to do it, and Republicans do it in the states that they control and we’ve got to come up with a better way. I’m optimistic [about the lawsuit we’ve filed] because it sure looks like the Democrats have overreached, so I think there really is a real chance to overturn it.
CF: There are a couple of Democrats, including Tammy Duckworth, already gearing up to run in the 8th. Is it possible you’ll run again in that district?
JW: Well, it’s certainly not the current 8th District that’s for sure. Obviously they picked up my district and moved it so it’s a much more Democratic district. I don’t know where I’m going to run, but I know that wherever [it is], I’m just gonna work my butt off, and if there are enough folks that support this message then we’ll be successful wherever we run.
CF: Whom are you supporting for the Republican nomination for president?
JW: At this point, I don’t know. Here’s all I know: We have got to remove this president from the White House. The country is depending on it. Whoever can do that, I’m going to support.
CF: Can you imagine yourself supporting Mitt Romney?
JW: Oh, gosh, yes. If Mitt Romney’s my nominee, I’m gonna work my tail off for him.
CF: So you don’t think he’s really a liberal in disguise?
JW: I think whichever Republican gets through this process, every piece of our party, from conservative to establishment, has got to work our tails off for our nominee—no matter who it is. We have to beat this president.
CF: What prompted you to take another stab at winning a U.S. House seat in 2010?
JW: I literally felt like I was losing this great country I lived in. I could not stand the direction this president was taking us in. We were bankrupting future generations. Both parties had done this to us, and it needed to stop.
CF: Every time you use that phrase “bankrupting our country” it brings to the fore your first wife suing you for nonpayment of $117,000 in back child support payments?
JW: I will be able to tell my story one day. I can’t yet. I am going to fight these charges, these allegations that were in the Sun-Times, with everything I’ve got. I’m going to fight ’em legally, I’m gonna fight ’em privately and I’m gonna clear my name. We’re trying our best to settle this thing. I don’t want anything about my kids out there in public, and that’s what breaks my heart.
CF: You never mention the president’s name without describing him in alarming terms, especially when it comes to the economy. If you were advising him, what would you tell him?
JW: Two of the biggest problems this president has are his relationships with Congress are terrible—I think Rahm Emanuel [when he was Obama’s Chief of Staff] did a lot to engender that—and the second thing about the president is he surrounded himself with academics. He has not surrounded himself with businessmen and women, people who know how the economy works because they work in the economy. My biggest beef against this president is he’s destroying business, small and large, out there. And I would say he’s just surrounded by too many academics who don’t know how the world works.
Photograph: U.S. House of Representatives