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Lawmakers rush to pass lobbying reform

Jan. 18:  Since Abramoff has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy, lawmakers are trying to pass lobbying reform as quickly as possible. Chris Matthews interviews Rep. David Dreier, Chairman of the House Rules committee.
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Congressman David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee is the Republicans' point man in rewriting the rules on lobbying.  In the wake of the Arbamoff scandal, lawmakers know that ethical problems regarding lobbying need to be fixed on Capital Hill.

Dreier joined Chris Matthews on ‘Hardball’ to explain what needs to be changed and what needs to stay in the effort to reform lobbying.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, ‘HARDBALL’:  When we were just talking about that, I can't get past the Hillary comment about the plantation.  She said your leadership is running down there, over here in Washington.  Your response? 

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, you know, I heard Charlie talk about the fact that things are done now under Republicans exactly the way they were done under the Democrats.  And frankly, you know, the Republican Party stood for reform when we, in 1993, were working on major institutional reforms. 

We implemented them when we came to majority 1994, and we did some things that guaranteed we would not be running the House of Representatives the way the Democrats did.  For example, Chris, we were often, when we were in the minority, denied even one bite of the apple.  And you know from having worked up there for Tip, the motion to recommit is something that the minority Republicans were up to in the 90s.  We guaranteed that right. 

And I will tell you, also, that while we constantly hear we're not giving a chance for Democrats to have their ideas considered on the floor, guess what, Chris?  Contrary to what many people believeand in fact, for you, the guy right on the camera right here was saying to me that he doesn't think our message is getting out.  We have actually made more amendments the Democrats have proposed in order on the House floor than we have Republican amendments. 

And so it is just a specious claim to argue that we somehow are just doing exactly what the Democrats did or worse, which some are claiming.  I mean, we've been more open.  We've been more deliberative and we're continuing to pursue that vigorously. 

MATTHEWS:  So, just to make it clear to everybody who doesn't know the rules about the rule to recommit, you're basically opening the Democrats, every time you have a major vote for their opportunity to form an alternative. 

DREIER:  Exactly.  You've got it, Chris.  Gosh, I can't believe you remembered after all those years. 

MATTHEWS:  My Jefferson's manual. 

DREIER:  I need to get you an updated one, too, I think.  But on the issue of reform which, you know, the speaker and I talked about yesterday, and we'll tell you, I take my hat off to Speaker Hastert for having vigorously pursued this. 

You know, you remember very well that the Democrats were very slow to respond in dealing with these kinds of challenges.  And this has been an issue that has impacted both political parties.  And I know an attempt is being made to paint it as one party.  But without getting into names, we know it affects both parties in Washington. 

And I think that stepping up and being very bold here.  This week we marked Martin Luther King's birthday.  And in one of his letters from Birmingham Jail, he talked about the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”  And it seems to me that the opportunity for us to be bold is upon us. 

And that's why we're going to be proposing things like a ban on privately funded travel, making sure there's greater accountability and deliberation.  As we look at this, transparency is key, empowering the American people, Chris, with as much information is a very important reform and we're dedicated to pursuing it. 

And we're also dedicated to working in a bipartisan way.  Joe Lieberman said to me that this is a once in a generation opportunity.  And I think that working with Democrats, we can come up with a package that will really enhance the place. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, can you make lemonade out of a lemon?  I mean, can you turn this Abramoff catastrophe into something that's going to improve the workings of the House? 

DREIER:  Absolutely.  I joked that I made the mistake of wishing the speaker a happy new year on I think, the third of January.  And as I do at the end of every call, I said hey, Mr. Speaker.  I said, what can I do for you?  And he said well, why don't you take this thing on, David? 

And I kind of swallowed hard and for a few days, I thought this wouldn't be that great a task.  Now, I'm buoyed, enthused and optimistic about doing something in a bipartisan way to address institutional reform, to make us more accountable, more deliberative, to allow sunshine to come in, and to decrease this tremendous influence that lobbyists have had in a wide range of areas. 

And I'll tell, you know, I've been listening to people.  I've been listening to my Republican colleagues.  The speaker and I had an hour and a half conference call yesterday listening to the input of a lot of members.  And I've been listening to people outside Congress and from across the country as well. 

And I think that we're on the right path hear.  And I just want Democrats to join with us.  I know they're trying to stir this thing up, had some event today that I heard about.  I was on a plane flying back out here to Los Angeles, but, you know, I welcome them.  We welcome them.  The speaker welcomes them.  We want to make sure we're on the same page, because I think we can walk ahead and do this reform thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just checked the records here.  I was looking at a Congressional research document—Research Service document the last time we talked.  And it said that you wouldn't include refreshments with the price of a meal, only the food itself. 

And now I'm looking at a more recent example of the House document which comes from the House itself.  And it says that you do include food and refreshments as part of the $50 limit.  So some reform has been going on long before we spoke. 

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.