Cox: Congressman DeLay, most people know you are the House Majority Leader, but they probably don't know exactly what that job actually involves. Could you briefly fill us in?
Rep. DeLay: Well, my job as Majority Leader is to make the trains run on time. The key part of my job is to bring legislation to the floor, where timing and momentum mean everything. I work with the Republicans in the House, mostly committee chairmen, to make sure our national priorities of security, prosperity, and family are addressed in each piece of legislation we work on. I also work with the Speaker and others in leadership to not only create a comprehensive agenda, but to make sure it gets passed.
Cox: Since an important part of your job is helping set the legislative agenda and schedule, what can you tell NRA members about upcoming issues that would be of particular interest to them?
Rep. DeLay: One thing I know about NRA members is that they're not just worried about the Second Amendment. Any issue of freedom and personal responsibility concerns them, and one of my main goals this year is bringing personal responsibility and accountability back into our lives and our legislation. These issues range from the "Cheeseburger Bill" that protects restaurants from being sued because someone enjoyed their product a little too much, to shielding gunmakers from predatory lawsuits simply because their product wasn't used as it was intended.
One piece of legislation that your members should be concerned about is the "Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act," which will allow current or former law enforcement officers to carry concealed handguns. These officers were in charge of protecting us when they were on duty, and should have the ability to continue making our streets safe. This bill will improve officer safety while improving public safety. The legislation has widespread support, with 290 co-sponsors in the House and 67 in the Senate at last count, and I expect it to pass sometime this year.
Cox: The threat of global terrorism is the overriding concern to many Americans, and many folks are concerned about potential losses of liberty here at home. As one of our country's political leaders, how would you answer the question: "What is the price of freedom?"
Rep. DeLay: In my opinion, there is no way to measure the price of freedom, because some people value it more than others. Ask the men and women in Iraq who are now voting--holding public office even--what they would be willing to do to keep this freedom. Ask the American soldiers who are fighting to make sure all of us who have witnessed terrorism at its worst will not see it again. But if you ask those who live under the boot heel of tyranny, those who have never seen freedom, the price may be different. But for people like us who know no other way of life, freedom is priceless.
--House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX)
Cox: Congressman, you are a native Texan, born in Laredo, and you've represented the people of the 22nd District in the House of Representatives since 1984. When we talk about the Lone Star State, we're talking about a state where hunting is more a way of life than a tradition and also plays an important role in the Texas economy. What do you see as the biggest threat facing hunters today, and what can they and/or Congress do about it?
Rep. DeLay: The greatest threat I see for hunters and their future is not enough of them are organizing and speaking with one voice, which is why the NRA is so important for protecting our hunting tradition and its future. There are hundreds of extreme environmental groups out there that wake up every morning with the goal of taking our guns away. They are at the local, state, and federal levels attacking the Second Amendment with zeal. We must fight back for our constitutional rights and speak with a clear, commanding, unified voice.
Cox: Will the House Leadership get behind the "Open Fields" legislation and help it get through Congress this year? [Editor's note: the "Voluntary Access and Habitat Incentive Program" or "Open Fields" legislation, introduced by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Reps. Tom Osborne (R-NE) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), authorizes funding to support state programs that provide economic incentives to private landowners who voluntarily open their lands to hunting, fishing, and other wildlife related activities.];
Rep. DeLay: Congress needs to find ways to work with private land owners to encourage public hunting and fishing access. Without working together, hunting opportunities and areas will continue to decline. The decline of hunting in this country could turn around if hunters had access to more land, and Congressman Tom Osborne is doing great work getting this bill through the committee process.
Cox: More than a year ago the House of Representatives voted by a margin of more than 2 to 1 to pass the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" to protect the nation's firearm industry from baseless, predatory lawsuits. What was your reaction to the U.S. Senate's refusal to vote out a clean bill as President Bush urged it to do?
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (l.) told NRA-ILA's Chris W. Cox, "We must fight back for our constitutional rights and speak with a clear, commanding, unified voice."
Rep. DeLay: I was not surprised; however, I was disappointed when the Senate started to amend the legislation, effectively inserting poison pills into what was a widely supported bill. Frivolous lawsuits are burdens on our economy and our competitiveness. Now that the dust has settled, I hope the Senate can come up with a plan to move forward so that the president can sign this bill into law.
Cox: During debate on the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," the Senate passed an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to extend Bill Clinton's 1994 gun ban for another 10 years. Back in 1996, you were one of 239 House members who voted to repeal the ban. Why did you believe the law should be repealed then, and has anything during the past 10 years happened to change your opinion?
Rep. DeLay: I am and have been against the gun ban, because I believe it violates the Second Amendment, and nothing in the last 10 years has changed that. The Second Amendment states that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," and I don't see enough support in the House to ensure passage of something that would so blatantly infringe on this individual right.
Cox: Not long ago, Vice President Cheney remarked that in the 2004 presidential race, voters will have the clearest choice in 20 years--since Walter Mondale ran against President Reagan. Do you agree with his assessment?
Rep. DeLay: Instead of assuming the choice is clear for everyone, we need to define these two men and what they stand for to make the choice clear. Much like Mondale, Kerry is running a campaign based on hating the president and raising taxes. If this country has learned anything about its own fiscal security in the last 50 years, it's that raising taxes won't make anyone richer, and any candidate dumb enough to place that on their platform shouldn't be afforded the opportunity to even glance at the Oval Office.
Much like Ronald Reagan, President Bush has proven himself to be a principled, committed leader--the only kind of leader who can be trusted to keep our country secure and win the war on terror. The parallels between the two elections are uncanny, and hopefully they will extend to the election outcome, too.
Cox: There is a lot at stake for gun owners and sportsmen in the 2004 elections. As a Second Amendment supporter, what advice would you offer gun owners in general, and NRA members in particular, to help protect their rights and freedom?
Rep. DeLay: Make your voice heard at all levels of government. Today's county commissioners and state representatives are tomorrow's governors and congressmen. You represent a proud tradition of protecting individual rights in this country--don't take these elections lightly.