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Brat takes gloves off: Moderates side with Pelosi

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Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., accused Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., of siding with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and blasted him for saying that conservatives should be punished for not toeing leadership's line. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The divide between the GOP establishment and House conservatives could not have been starker on "Meet the Press" Sunday as House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., and moderate Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., took the gloves off.

Brat accused Dent of siding with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and blasted him for saying that conservatives should be punished for not toeing leadership's line.

Dent hit back, accusing Brat of lying and the House Freedom Caucus of having unrealistic expectations, and not wanting to govern.

The fiery exchange got started when Dent said that if potential House speaker candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was in charge and collaborated with Democrats to pass an omnibus spending bill, a transportation bill and other bills "he will have his legs taken out by his own [Republican] members."

"We all know that," said Dent, explaining that Ryan may not want to run because of the pushback he will get from conservatives. "If he chooses to go with the status quo, then the House will continue to be mired with this paralysis, and the institution would be weaker."

Responding to the charge that the Freedom Caucus was trying to set the national agenda from the House of Representatives, and ruining chances for a potential Republican presidency, Brat said that Dent wants "to kick us out of our conference, for voting our conscience."

"I don't want to do that," Dent said.

"You're on record last week saying that," Brat shot back.

The two each said the other was not telling the truth, with Dent saying Brat's accusation was "an outrageous thing to say."

"You said we 'need to be punished,'" said Brat.

"No, I said we should marginalize people that don't know how to govern, who don't want to govern," said Dent, referencing a Thursday interview with CNN where he said "anything is possible" when asked if moderate Republicans would work with Democrats in electing the speaker.

Dent then asserted that GOP leadership has to work with the Democrats to "pass any meaningful legislation" because conservatives "don't want to govern."

"There you go again," said Brat. "So you want Nancy Pelosi to help determine our speaker for the Republican conference."

"No, I want Republicans to, but you won't support Paul Ryan," said Dent.

Brat responded that he never said he wouldn't support Ryan.

"You're missing it, Charlie," said Brat. "You want Nancy Pelosi to be in … and you want to kick out conservatives out of our own conference. It's unbelievable."

They each accused the other of siding with Pelosi on various bills, with Brat charging that Dent is working "with 40 Republicans to go with Nancy Pelosi to get the Export-Import Bank back into play this week, going against the whole committee structure of the Republican Congress."

"Some of us, the governing wing, want to use the process to advance good legislation," said Dent. "Others want to use the process to obstruct legislation."

"Crony capitalism," Brat interjected.

"We're going the save a lot of jobs in Pennsylvania," said Dent. "We sent locomotives to developing countries that don't have foreign capital market."

The heated exchange concluded a segment that ran overtime and highlighted the divisions within the Republican party. At the beginning of the segment, "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd asked Brat what the "rebels" in the House Freedom Caucus want.

Republican politicians make promises when they run, but then go to D.C. and "are called unrealistic by the Washington establishment and the bubble up here" when they try to enact them, replied Brat.

"What we want is what the American people want — we have $19 trillion in debt, $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities; all Federal revenues will be spent in 11 years on just entitlement programs and interest on the debt. There will be not one dollar left for the military, education, transportation, and all of running government," said Brat, who added that Americans also want to see action on EPA overreach, the "bad Iran deal," and unconstitutional amnesty.

"Our leadership said 'we're going to fight tooth and nail' on that," said Brat. "The people say, 'Hey, step up and make the case for us;' and so that's what we want to do.'"

Todd said he thought moderates would probably reply that they have done the best job they could, given that they don't have the presidency, before turning to Dent and asking for his response.

"We have to prove to the American people we can govern," said Dent. "And that means we have to make sure the government is funded, we must make sure we do not default on our obligations, we have to take care of transportation issues ... etc. To the extent that we are dysfunctional, we cannot address these major policy issues."

Dent added that the GOP has to "expand the governance wing of the Republican party, those who have the capacity to say 'yes.'"

"The governing up in this place seems to always mean increased spending," said Brat. "That's what it means up here in D.C., that's not what it means to the American people. Governing means get the ship going in the right direction."

Brat said Congress has "budget chaos" every year "right before Christmas," a December spending bill deadline crisis he said was "orchestrated on purpose."

Referencing the upcoming continuing resolution deadline, Brat said "it's going to be utter chaos; the left's going to throw in all the toys they want into this thing, the right's going to throw it in ... we finished work on this in April. The next step in the budget process, it goes to Appropriations. ... the Senate is a major problem, but we shouldn't be waving in a white flag ahead of time ... the compromise comes later when we get [bills] to the White House."

"At the end of the day, the conservative movement's not a majority," said Todd. "You don't necessarily even have a governing majority inside the House. So if you don't have that ... when do you say 'Okay, I'm getting 50 percent of what I want, and it's the best I can do now; now I'm going to go to the campaign trail so I can go elect a Republican president?"

"Totally disagree with the premise," responded Brat. "We do have a majority. Last week on a [continuing resolution] we had 153 Republicans vote against leadership's budget."

Brat said the press are the "only people who talk" about "40 guys" in the House Freedom Caucus causing "chaos" in the House.

"The only chaos up here is on K Street," he said. "And the Democrats are freaking out because [what] if we actually have to balance a budget."

Brat, an economics professor, cited liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, saying even he knew that surpluses were needed in good years in order to pay for deficits in bad years. "We've got 7 years in a row of $500 billion deficits," said Brat. "It's terrible."

Todd then asked Dent to respond to the complaint that "over half of the Republican conference has been elected in the last six years," and rank and file Republicans "don't have the opportunity to vote" on the issues they would like to. Instead leadership decides what bills are voted on.

"I think the leadership has been, frankly, very accommodating to those members ... who don't vote for the bills at the end of the process," said Dent. "This happens routinely, and I think a number of us have had enough of it."

"I can tell you that over half the Republican caucus strongly supported the continuing resolution; only 91 voted for it," he said, adding that it is a bill "that just level-funded the government for two and a half months. That's all it did."

Brat ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a 2014 primary and Dent represents a Pennsylvania swing district.