David Dreier’s bipartisanship message to the GOP

David Dreier, the longtime California Republican congressman and chairman of the influential Rules Committee, retired in January.
(Charles Dharapak / Associated Press )

If you hadn’t read anything about David Dreier since he retired from Congress last January -- well, that was then, this is now.

Out of office, the 16-term Republican congressman whose San Gabriel Valley district got redrawn out from under him (he says that didn’t affect his decision not to run again) is freer to be more like the kind of Republicans who populated Congress when he arrived there in 1981.

When I interviewed him for my “Patt Morrison Asks” column in October 2012, he brushed aside criticisms of the deep partisanship in Congress, saying it reflects a “divided America,” and he remembers being called a “Reagan robot” when he first got elected.

If he chose to, Dreier would be well positioned to help nudge other emeritus GOP members of Congress to a renewed Republican Party, playing offense against tea party obstructionism.

In a special congressional election in Alabama last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and House Republican leaders put in major money to help a former state legislator beat a tea party candidate who, among other things, believes President Obama was born in Kenya.


It was a big test in a deep-crimson state of a GOP pushback tactic against rump forces in its own party, and in that instance, the forces who had watched some House Republicans play chicken with the world economy wrenched back the steering wheel. And it may have provided something of a playbook for Republicans for 2014 primaries.

Dreier now chairs the Annenberg-Dreier Commission at Sunnylands, a trade-promoting group on the onetime Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage. The names on the commission roster include another too-moderate-for-prime-time Republican, Jon Huntsman (a former senator, ambassador and presidential candidate), and Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, the former Clinton White House chief of staff.

In that role, Dreier just got back from Indonesia, where he represented Secretary of State John F. Kerry at a democracy forum.

Dreier is the highest-ranking member of Congress’ GOP leadership to take on such a role. Of that task, he said, “it is an honor to represent Secretary Kerry at this important gathering of leaders devoted to advancing democracy in the greater Pacific,” a goal that “unites American across our political spectrum.”

What a pity that American leaders have to do their political uniting and democracy promoting on the other side of the Pacific.

Dreier told KNBC’s “Press Conference” that “we are Americans before we are partisans” and that “no political party has a corner” on building democratic institutions.

He also called on his former colleagues to enact comprehensive immigration reform, including a “pathway to citizenship.”

Even if Dreier chooses to stay out of electoral politics, his cautious bipartisanship in these over-the-water matters, along with his modest path-to-citizenship observations, could nudge the conversation -- and the potential GOP candidates waiting to take part in it -- out of the wings and into their party’s center ring, so sparsely populated for so long.


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