Congress, Presidents, and American Politics: 50 Years of Writings and Reflections with Lee Hamilton

>>Good evening to you all. I’m Jim Gardner,
executive for Legislative Archives Presidential Library and Museum Services
here at the National Archives. And on behalf of David Ferriero, Archivist of the
United States, welcome to those who joined us on YouTube. Tonight as we look ahead to more primaries, the party conventions, the fall
campaign, and another election, we’ll find out what it’s like to get through that and be a member of Congress. Since Congress and the
presidency are two of the areas I’m responsible for at the archives I’m particularly
looking forward to tonight’s program bringing together two former members of the
House with a half century of combined service in the lower chamber. They are former democratic House member from Indiana Lee Hamilton and House former Republican member from Illinois Ray LaHood. They will be discussing their book, Congress, Presidents, and American Politics: 50 Years
of Writings and Reflections and LaHood’s Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in Politics.
We are presenting this program in partnership with U.S. Association Former Members of Congress and we thank them and their CEO, Pete Weichlein for their support. Before we move on to tonight’s program, I want to tell you about two other programs coming
up here — coming up soon here in the McGowan theater. On Monday May 9th, 7:00 p.m. a new documentary film, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, filmmaker Ken Kebow and Ronald C. White, Jr. will discuss the film following the screening.
And then on Thursday, May 19 at 7:00 p.m. we’ll present a program on the new book Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, authors Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf provide new insights on Jefferson’s views on Christianity, slavery, rights and philosophy. A book signing will follow that program as well. If you want to
learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our
monthly calendar of events. Copies are in the lobby along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll
also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities. Becoming a
member of the National Archives Foundation is another way to get more involved in the
National Archives. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its
education and outreach programs. You can pick up an application for membership in the
lobby. Now, on with our program. I’ll turn things
over to James Walsh, vice president of the U.S. Association of Former
Members of Congress. He served in the House of
New York state from 1989 to 2009 and from 1994 to 2006 was a deputy Republican whip.
During much of his 20 years in Congress he served on the House Appropriations Committee
where he chaired several of its subcommittees. Please welcome James Walsh.
[Applause]>>James Walsh. Thank you, Jim. Good evening,
everyone. I would like to thank the Archives for hosting this this evening, and I’m here as Jim mentioned, representing the U.S. Former Members of Congress who are co-hosting. Our partnership spans many years and a great number of extremely informative and thought-provoking panels connecting the public with our bipartisan teams of former members of Congress. It is the mission of our organization to showcase reasons and reasonable discourse where ideas and values from both sides of the political aisle can be examined and discussed. We have a great number of events here in Washington and other parts of the country, but coming together here at the National Archives always is a highlight for us and we thank you for the opportunity to do so again tonight.
Before I ask our panels to join me on the stage, let me just spend a short
time telling you about the former members of Congress association. I have been an
active member since my retirement from the House in 2009, where I served 20 years. What
I appreciate about the FMC is I know this is true for many of my colleagues, the
association focuses on reconnecting citizens with their representative democracy and
encouraging the next generation of American leaders to consider public service. I don’t
have to tell you how difficult it is today to tell a positive story about Congress and
serving in Congress, but as someone who has been there, let me tell you that in my ten
terms, they were among the most satisfying and impactful professional years of my
career. Congress, when it functions, and sometimes
even when it seems completely dysfunctional, can make a tremendous difference
and bring out extremely positive change for good.
Absolutely there is good lock and reason for frustration, but Congress impact
in promoting civil rights and voting rights, helping elderly Americans have access to
healthcare, insuring our nation’s safety and security, winning World War I and World War
II, as well as the Cold War, increasing access to education, sending veterans to college
via the GI Bill, and reducing crime in our nation’s cities, to name a few.
The current Congress under the leadership of speakers John Boehner and Paul
Ryan has strengthened home hand security, improved Medicare and impactful work on trade
as well as protecting American workers. And most accomplished is members from both
sides working together more productively. So while there are certain — there certainly
remains much that needs to be done and also continues to be reason for frustration
with gridlock, and the petty party politics and sometimes snail’s pace that governs
the hill, I believe we’ll see a greater commitment of working together for the American
people than we’ve seen in recent past. Former members certainly can play an active
role in bridging the political gap and I cannot think of two former members who
have more credibility and experience than my two colleagues tonight. Ray LaHood, a Republican
from Illinois came to Congress in 1977 as a district administrative assistant
for representative Thomas Railsback of Illinois. He went on to serve as chief of
staff to the house minority leader Bob Michael and upon retirement held a seat from
1995 to 2009. He was one of two Republicans serving in President Obama’s cabinet
as secretary of transportation from 2009 until 2013. He is now with the law firm
DLA Piper and last year released a book titled “Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in
Politics.” Lee Hamilton represented Indiana’s 9th district
from 1975 to 1999. His chairmanship included House Foreign Affairs
Committee as well as the House Intelligence Committee. Following his distinguished service
in Congress, Lee became president at the Woodrow Wilson center and served on a number
of study commissions and groups, most notably as vice-chair of the 9/11 Commission.
He received a great number of honors and recognition, most recently and perhaps most
significantly the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which President Obama awarded to
Lee Hamilton last November. He has written a
number of books and a publication which came out just this month, Congress, President,
and American Politics will be our conversation tonight. We needed a skill that
experienced moderator to run the show. We filled that position well with Tom Edsall,
who writes a weekly upon column for “The New York Times” and covered politics nationally
for The Washington Post for over 25 years. As you can imagine, Tom is a prolific writer
and has several books to his credit, all of them about politics and the trends that
impact our political system. Please join me now in welcoming this outstanding panel to
the stage. Thank you. [Applause]
>>Good to see all of you. I am truly honored to be able to deal with two
members of Congress, as a reporter, one rule of thumb I had was never say anything nice.
In this case, these are two honorable, thoughtful men from both parties and,
unfortunately, I do have to say nice things about them, because they are very decent
people. What we’re going to talk about tonight in
particular is how well Congress is able to function, when did things start to
go wrong, why is there gridlock. One thing I
thought we could start with and maybe the senior member here is Lee Hamilton — he told
me not to ask any tough questions. But anyway…
What do you think were the crucial turning points in Congress that led to this
division where it’s so difficult to get things done?
>>Lee Hamilton: The way I look at it, the problems that Congress has today
have developed over a period of decades. I don’t know that I point to single events.
The Congress disappoints us in many ways today. It defers way too much to executive
authority. It’s too deferential. It panders to special interest groups and big
contributors. It spends way too much time — members spend way too much time raising
money. Some of them spend as much as 50% of their time or more, and even members who
have safe seats spend a lot of time raising money because they want to build up a big
campaign fund to stop many opponents. They don’t compromise. They don’t make deals.
And they don’t solve problems. So the Congress has some really deep-seated
problems today. Now, what worries me is most of all is the way — it’s timidity. It
just defers again and again and again to the president. Or not necessarily to the president
always. The lower powers, for example, Congress shall have the power to
declare war is a nullity really. This Congress doesn’t like the president but they
give him total authority to run a war. They defer a lot of economic power to the
fed. When I first ran for Congress, I suspect not one American in 1,000 could
name the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Today you can hardly pick up the business
sections of the paper without reading about Janet Yellen.
So the Congress has given up on fiscal policy and turned over government
power, monetary policy in this case, to the Fed.
On social issues, it’s turned over power to the Supreme Court. On regulatory
issues it turned over power to the regulatory agencies. So it’s an amazing phenomenon.
They just don’t want to exercise power. And politicians are supposed to seek power. So
it’s a puzzle. So that’s what they do. And the serious thing, really serious is how
far down this road can you go? The Congress handing power to the president and other
branches of government, and still have representative democracy, that worries me. And I
hope it begins to worry the American people a little more.
Excuse me for taking so much time.>>Tom Edsall: Mr. LaHood, what do you think?
>>Ray LaHood: First of all, I’m delighted to be here. Thank you to all of
you for your interest in this subject, and I encourage you to buy Lee’s book. I did it.
I bought it online. I paid full price for it.
[ Laughter ] It’s worth every penny, because it’s a great
chronology of a wonderful, wonderful career of, I think, all of you in
this room understand that Lee is one of the most outstanding Americans to have served
in Congress and served the people of Indiana, and I’m proud to be on this stage with him.
And I think that, unlike what Lee said, I think the last few years of a Congress that
really is the lowest in popularity that anybody can remember, is really caused by
people who are elected to the Congress who don’t really believe in the institution of
governing.>>That’s a good point.
>>Ray LaHood: And my point in saying this is, if you look at the 40 to 50
Tea Party members in the House, primarily Republicans — and I’m a Republican — who
came to Washington to vote “no” on everything, to stop whatever they could, many who
don’t believe in government. This is the crowd that was able to eliminate Boehner from
the speakership. This is the crowd in the senate, one of whom now is running for
president, that shut down the government. Didn’t think much about doing that. And when
I look at my 17 and a half years as a staffer and 14 years as a member, I look at those
years as a time when almost all the people that I served with either as a staffer or
as a member came to these jobs with the idea
of moving the country forward, solving problems, getting things done on behalf of
the American people. And there’s an element now that exists in the Congress that has the
ability to stop important legislation, to prohibit the Congress from doing important
work, and it’s not good for the country.>>Let me add on your first point, both Mr.
LaHood and Mr. Hamilton will be signing their books, and you can buy them
— I don’t know if it’s a discount price or not — Congress, Presidents, and American
Politics: 50 Years of Writings and Reflections by Mr. Hamilton, and Seeking Bipartisanship:
My Life in Politics by Mr. LaHood.
There have been a lot of — well, there have been some books and some blame
for the crisis in Congress, if you want to call it that on the Republican Party more
than the democratic party. Do you think that’s fair? There are some that contend the
hostility began with Jim Wright, as early as that, when he began applying tough
exclusionary rules on bills. What would you say, Mr. Hamilton?
>>Lee Hamilton: Everybody has a different starting point as to when the
difficulties began, and I don’t think it helps all that much to try to identify them. I
think the election of Newt Gingrich was a turning point. He brought a confrontational
attitude to the floor of the House, and Bob Michael for who Ray worked for so long was
just exactly the opposite. I can remember sitting in on meetings between Bob Michael
and Tip O’Neill and Carl Albert and Tip would want to bring something to the floor and
he would ask, how many votes will the Republicans give us? They sat down and discussed
it as if they were talking about brain surgery or something of that sort. And then they
would go out on to the floor and Tip would give a speech for the bill, and Bob a ringing
speech against, but they knew all the time how the votes were going to clear. But they
had a total cooperation. Then along came Gingrich and he really changed the complexion
of the Congress in many ways. A lot of Republicans will tell you that Indiana started
it all because McCluskey’s win, you know, Frank came out of the election with one or
two vote margin, literally one or two votes in
that congressional district, reappointed a three-man committee, two Democrats and one
Republican to recount the votes. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that committee
was going to come out. And sure enough they came out with Frank winning by two or
four votes, whatever it was. Well, the Republicans felt cheated. They may have been
— when an election gets that close you can’t count it — it’s just a flip of the
coin. So there are all kinds of events. And it doesn’t
really matter. We are where we are, and the question now is: How do you
begin to turn it around? Ray mentioned a very important thing, and
that is members at the period when we served wanted to solve the problem. They
were pragmatic. Less important were the labels. Republican. Democratic. Progressive.
Liberal. Conservative. They wanted to make progress. What is politics
all about? Fundamentally, a lot of noise to it. It’s
a very messy business. But underneath it all is a search for a remedy
to a problem. And what you need, and what Ray and I would emphasize — I think Ray would
— is a pragmatic approach to solving the problem in front of you. When I would sit
down in that conference committee, I was not all that concerned whether the people across
from me were Republican or Democrat or Liberal or Conservative. The question on my
mind was, can I work with this person to solve the problem in front of us? A pragmatic
approach. We’ve gotten away from that and there are too many ideological speeches
and not enough pragmatism, if you will, to try to solve — to search for a remedy to
the problem in front of us. So that’s what I’m looking for.
>>Tom Edsall: Well, let me ask you, both of you, the group that the Freedom
Caucus is really a source of a lot of this hostility to government, but they were all
Democratically elected under the rules of the election of the various states. How do
you remedy this situation when that seems to be what comes out of the political process
at this point? I mean, can you institute reforms that would change this kind of
behavior, when these –>>Ray LaHood: When I was elected in 1994,
I was elected in a class that took over the — the Republicans took over the
Congress after being out of the majority for 40 years. And it was really done with the
idea that Gingrich had, to nationalize the elections under the umbrella of the contract
with America. Ten items that Gingrich said if we become the majority, we’ll pass all
of these within the first 100 days, which we
did. Democrats didn’t like it. Some Democrats voted for some and some didn’t. But we
had an agenda. And the idea was, going back to my earlier point, these leaders,
Gingrich as Speaker, Dick Gephardt as Democratic leader, and the newly elected Congress
that was elected in ’94, came to Washington to vote on important issues to have a
debate. We had that debate. During my time with Gingrich as Speaker and Bill Clinton
as president, we did a lot of stuff. We did a lot of legislation. We passed a lot of
bills. Welfare reform that President Clinton vetoed twice with strongly held views by
Gingrich and strongly held views by Clinton and strongly held views by the members. But
the idea of ducking the issue, bottling it up in a committee or conference report…
no way, let’s move forward, let’s get it done.
We passed three balanced budgets. Now, that was easy back in the day when Lee came
to the Congress because you had members that were serious about that. We got serious about
it. Again, Gingrich, strongly held views, Clinton,
strongly held views. We passed three balanced budgets. We passed tax reform.
We passed the transportation bill. We did some important legislation with two people
from opposite parties. Why? They knew why they were there. To move the country forward,
to solve problems, and that’s what the members wanted, and it happened.
And I go back to my earlier point. There are members of Congress elected by
the people to come to Washington to stop legislation, to vote “no,” to make sure the
wheels of government don’t work, and most people can’t remember when a major piece of
legislation was passed. And…>>Tom Edsall: Or certainly a budget.
>>Ray LaHood: I mean, Paul Ryan started out the year as the new Speaker
saying we’re going to pass a budget. Here we are, almost on May 1st, why can’t they
pass a budget? Because the key party, Freedom Caucus, said we don’t want that budget.
We’re not going to pass it. We’re not going to put our votes up.
>>Tom Edsall: What do you do?>>Lee Hamilton: I think there are some structural
changes that would help. The big problem in politics, the big question
is, what has happened to the center? The extremes have taken hold. The liberals and
the Democratic party, the conservatives and the Republican Party. So you want to strengthen
the center. How do you do that? The best way to do it expand the voting list.
That’s an important effort but we know it’s hard to do. There are other things that can
be done. You can — the jerrymandering of congressional districts are an outrage. You can go to commissions
to establish — instead of the representative choosing the voters, which
is what happens today, you want the voters to
choose the member of Congress, so you can change the way in which congressional
districts are drawn. I think that would be helpful.
You can pass rules to make it easier to vote. You have to be concerned about
fraud and the rest of it, but generally you can expand the electorate. I think those
things would be helpful. So there are a number of steps. The major thing is the
developing a mindset among members to try to solve the problem and not approach
everything so idea logically, in other words, an attitudinal change, which is hard to
come by. The voter has to make clear to the members
of Congress that they do not think the Congress of the United States is functioning
well today. Members of Congress fool you. They run for Congress, almost every one
of them, run for Congress by running against Congress. I can go before any group
in America, any group, and make myself look good and the Congress look bad. It’s an easy
thing to do. You can do it in your sleep and I probably have.
[ Laughter ] But members of Congress are responsible for
the institution they serve in. Don’t let them separate themselves from the
Congress. They are the Congress. Now, the leaders have a lot more to do with
it than the rank and file members, we understand that. But every member has a
role to play. You know, Ray, one of the things that has
struck me, every institution, every group that you belong to, I would be willing
to bet, tries to spend time thinking about how to do the job of the group you’re in better.
You spend time thinking about that, for whatever your group may be. Every group
in America does it except the United States Congress.
There was a long period of time — and I served on four or five commissions to
reform the Congress. We tried to make changes for the better. Didn’t succeed greatly,
but we tried. Today they’ve abolished those things. They
don’t do it anymore. So here is an institution that is crippled,
is not working, and the members don’t seem to care. They don’t even suggest
they reform the commission. And I’m puzzled by that, too, and disappointed by
it. Members of Congress have to begin to understand that the constitution believes,
I think, that they should be a co-equal branch of government. You cannot possibly
make the argument today that the Congress is
a co-equal institution of government. It’s not even close to being co-equal. Not even
close. And so members have to get serious about being
legislators. [chuckles]
And try to solve some of the problems we’ve got.
>>Tom Edsall: One primary goal of every member of Congress is to get
re-elected, and they’re pretty good at it.>>Yes.
>>Tom Edsall: But one challenge increasingly now is that Republicans are
challenged from the — from their right if they do any compromising, and Democrats will
be challenged from their left. So all the political pressure for re-election tends to be
now pressure to move further apart, and if you’re seeing, Republicans have been
penalized for being seen shaking hands with President Obama. Chris down in Florida lost
because he hugged Obama. I mean, there’s an actual penalty for the
kind of cooperation and compromise that both of you, I think, describe as essential
to an effective government.>>The American people understand, most Americans
— not the ones you’re talking about — most Americans, I believe,
understand that you’ve got to strike deals. Look, when I went to high school, many, many
decades ago, we had 130 million people in this country. I don’t know what we’ve got
now, but it’s 300 and — 20 million or whatever. So in my working lifetime, the Congress
has far more — or the country is far more than doubled in size. But not only that,
it has become enormously diverse, so that in a lot of our major states now, a majority
of the votes are non-white, and that shakes up a lot of people. That makes them nervous.
The country is changing in ways they don’t understand and they don’t like.
But I believe in the system of representative democracy. It has served us
well for 200 years. We’re in a real rough patch, for sure. But what is the
alternative? We have to make this system work. And the
way to make it work is to broaden the base but let the middle, let the moderate
middle come forward and the people that believe, to go back to your question, Tom,
that you got to make deals to make this country work.
>>Tom Edsall: Would both of you bring back ear marks? Ray?
>>Ray LaHood: Well, I served on the appropriations committee. The reason I
went on the committee is so I could get earmarks from my district, and I never had an
embarrassing earmarks. And when we did earmarks, we didn’t sit around our office with
my staff and dream up earmarks. Every earmark that I ever put in a bill came from an
idea from somebody in my district who came to me and said, we need to fund this program.
There’s no money in the federal budget for this. This is a good idea, but we just need
a little extra money. And, you know, this idea that members of Congress were sitting
around dreaming up earmarks for their district didn’t happen. Any member I served with
on the Appropriations Committee came to the committee with ideas from their district for
creative, innovative approaches to solving problems to getting things done in their
district. And the truth is, the bridge to nowhere is
not a bridge to — I made a trip to Alaska. I couldn’t find a bridge to nowhere,
but what I did find is on one side of the river, Alaska, there’s an island on the other
side, and that member of Congress was trying to build a bridge so that people would
not have to take a ferry every day to get over to that part of the state.
And so, you know, it was — it gave earmarks a bad name. Some members of
Congress were elected on reform of earmarks. But if you go back to the districts around
the country that have benefited from them, I think most people would say they were very
helpful in getting things done and solving problems and making things happen and helping
a lot of institutions in the communities.>>Tom Edsall: Were they central for the leadership
in order to –>>Lee Hamilton: An important tool of the
leadership — look, you’re talking peanuts. The amount of money spent on earmarks
is very, very small. It’s a pittance in the infrastructure budget. This issue is not
a big deal in my point of view. I generally agree with Ray. I think the — members
of Congress have as much right to decide where a bridge goes it seems to me.
>>Ray LaHood: In the absence of earmarks what happens is a bureaucrat at DOT, where I was four and half years, we made the decision rather than some member of Congress, or the people that live in that district.
>>Lee Hamilton: And the thing you mention, Tom, it’s a tool of the
leadership, which can be important. Leaders have a tough time in getting majority, and
they have to sit down and figure how to get 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate.
And incidentally that’s a problem too, come to think of it…
[ Laughter ] … every group in America I know works by
majority vote except the United States Senate. They do not believe in majority
voting in the United States Senate. You got to get 60 votes.
Now, the history of the filibuster you know back in the civil rights days when
I was first on legislation, you had several filibusters. Fast forward to today and the
number of filibusters has gone into the thousands in recent weeks and recent years. So
it’s an abused privilege. But that concerns me too.
But leaders do need tools. Lyndon Johnson was the great deal maker, and he
always had one question on his mind. How do I get your vote? That was his question.
Do I have to build a bridge for you? By God, I’ll get the bridge. You want
to go see the Pope? I’ll arrange to go over and shake hands with the Pope. I’ll get
the deal for you if you’ll vote my way. You may rebel at that, but you need dealmakers.
You cannot go through the constitution of the United States almost every
single sentence in the constitution is a result of a deal struck.
So it is not a dirty business. It is an essential business to make a country
as big and diverse as this country were. You’ve got to have deals. You’ve got to have
compromise. And if you do not, the result is gridlock.>>Tom Edsall: So far you guys have identified
filibuster rule, earmarks, furthering the power of leadership, perhaps –>>Lee Hamilton: Timidity in the Congress.>>Tom Edsall: I’m talking about things you
can legislate. Cowardice is a hard thing to make a law about.
>>Lee Hamilton: If I was in the House I would introduce an anti-timidity
bill.>>Tom Edsall: In terms of actual things that
can be accomplished –>>Lee Hamilton: We talked about gerrymandering
and expanding the vote.>>Tom Edsall: Do you think there should be
a national vote or law on gerrymandering?
>>Ray LaHood: I think that what some states are doing –we’re doing in Illinois are trying to get a
referendum on the ballot for districts to be drawn by a more bipartisan group so that
members of Congress are not picking constituents, but that the constituents are — the
lines are drawn in a fair way that doesn’t allow for certain number of Republicans to
hold seats and certain number of Democrats, and I hope that gets on the ballot, and I
think it will pass. That’s the way they do it in California now and Iowa and several
other states and it seems to work pretty well.>>Lee Hamilton: It’s not a panacea. It is
working in states well that have it. I agree with Ray, it would be helpful.
>>Tom Edsall: How much is Congress — becoming more polarized, is it
responding to the electorate, which is also becoming more polarized and divided or is
it generous in the Congress?
>>Lee Hamilton: It’s responding to those who vote. In that sense it’s
responding to the electorate. Republicans understand that in order to get elected in
many, many districts, they’ve got to appeal to the most activists conservatives in the
district. Democrats understand the reverse. They’ve got to appeal to the most liberal
groups in the district. And so you’ve got to try to expand that appeal to the moderate
senate vote where I believe most Americans are. And you’ve got to work towards that,
and things which — the structural changes we’ve talked about are helpful. They nudge
you in the right direction. They’re not a panacea. You obviously have to have a
fundamental change in the attitude of members of Congress and they’ve got to appreciate
their responsibility to make the country work. And voters have to insist upon it.
One of the things that I was struck by in reading Lee’s book is that he really
understood that being a member of Congress is not just believing a philosophy and then
voting. When you come here to Washington, it’s a part of it, people expect you to show
up for voting and to vote your philosophy or a philosophy that you think reflects your
district. But the other thing that Lee did, which I encouraged — when I was in
Congress, I encouraged members to do, part of your responsibility is go back home and
explain to people why you did a certain thing you did, why you voted a certain way, why
there’s always two sides or three or four sides to an issue. Why, if we did compromise,
this is the reason we did it. And he did it through newsletters, which was not really
a tool used by many members of Congress. Most
members now go out and do the town meetings and, you know, maybe do a blast email or use
social media, which is fine. They’re carrying out their responsibility
to explain why they voted the way they did, why this issue is as complicated
as it is, and here is why it’s complicated, why compromise was necessary, and where the
compromise came. And would you do that? Then I think people begin to understand that
these are tough issues and this is the reason that we dealt with it and you may not
agree with me, but you have to agree with the idea that a thoughtful process was used
in solving a big problem. Let>>Lee Hamilton: Let’s not overlook the role
of money. Money is a big-time player in American politics and in the United
States Congress. Follow the money. When you’ve got a bill in committee, notice
how the sophisticated money flows to the members of that committee campaign
contributions. In order to influence votes. Now, they’ll say, we only want access. But
they want more than access. I used to wonder why the CEOs of American
corporations would spend time walking up and down the halls of the Congress
to talk to guys like Ray LaHood and Lee Hamilton. These are very important people.
They make big money. Big money. They hire a lot of people. They create a lot of jobs.
They are very, very important people. Why do they spend time walking up and down
the halls of the Congress to see members of the Congress? Because it pays off.
If they can get a sentence into that bill, or maybe even change the punctuation
of it, they can bring to their enterprise, labor union, corporation, NGO, whatever, millions
of dollars, and sometimes a lot more than that.
It pays off. Members of Congress are far, far too responsive
to big money. Now, this is not an easy problem. I don’t know the solution
to it. But money has, in my view, poisoned our system. And I am fearful of the
future of representative democracy because of the impact of money in the process.
>>Tom Edsall: Why is it worse now than it was?
>>Lee Hamilton: Because there is a lot more money floating around and a lot
more people that have figured out if they want to influence votes in those committees,
they’ve got to make contributions. They’ve become much more sophisticated.
Look, these big money people, they just don’t tell you how they want you to
vote. They hand you the language. They write the bill for you. They have people in
their offices all around this town who are writing legislation and they hand the bill
in draft form to the member of Congress and say,
please introduce this. Now, that’s happening every single day here.
The lobbyists — there’s nothing illegal about this. They’re doing what the
system permits.>>Ray LaHood: Fortunately, Congress isn’t
passing any bills, so… [ Laughter ]
>>Lee Hamilton: It’s not just a matter of bills. It’s regulatory language
too.>>Ray LaHood: Campaigns cost a lot of money.
>>Lee Hamilton: Yep.>>Ray LaHood: I represented a district of
20 counties, five media markets. What I mean by that is five markets where
there were at least one or more television stations.
Our son just ran for Congress in the special election in the same district
that I represented. The LaHood name is pretty good there, but he still had to spend a
million dollars because he had a Tea Party opponent and these outside groups were coming
in and spending money. It costs a lot of money to run. In the old days, my old boss,
Bob Michael, when he first ran in 1956 spent $15,000 in six counties in central
Illinois. His last campaign in 1992 before he retired in ’94, spent over a million
dollars in 20 counties in central Illinois. I ran in ’94. I had opponents in the
primary and I had a general election opponent in ’94, I spent over a million dollars in
20 counties. None of the money went in my pocket. Almost all of it went to television
stations so that people would recognize Ray LaHood’s name. Campaigning is expensive.
The last presidential campaign, you know what it costs. You know what it’s costing this
presidential campaign. There’s a lot of money being spent. Almost all of it is going
to enrich television stations all over the country.
>>Lee Hamilton: There was a time when everybody agreed that we ought to have
full disclosure. It used to be noncontroversial. Today a lot of money flowing in,
people don’t know — the donors do not want to disclose their identity. I would like
full disclosure myself. I personally would support public financing, but I know that’s
unpopular with the American people generally, and I wouldn’t promote it as a panacea,
but I think it might be mildly helping, probably on a matching basis some kind.
>>Tom Edsall: You say you’re for full disclosure. Would, in fact, less
transparency in the committee proceedings help limit the influence of special interest
because they would not see how the committee voted on little amendment X or little
amendment Y that helped company Z?>>Lee Hamilton: Well, you’re not going to
see members of Congress voting for less transparency. That’s a very tough vote
to cast.>>Tom Edsall: What do you think? Would that
be — do you think the transparency actually helps the special interest
more?>>Transparency a fundamental element of American
government I would not — I would favor disclosure, even though as you
suggest, it may create some problems.>>Tom Edsall: I don’t think either one of
you want to blame anyone. What do you think Tom DeLay’s rule was in this process?
>>Ray LaHood: I agree with what Lee said earlier in the program. You know,
everybody has their own starting point. Some people want to start in ’94 when Gingrich
was elected speaker. In my book I talk about the fact that Clinton was in the White
House. He and Gingrich were strong people and had very strong agendas, but we have to
get things done for the country, we got to solve problems. And we did.
And probably, you know —
I’m a little bit the minority probably on this, and
during the time I was in Congress, but I was no fan of some of these people who were
serving in leadership, and, you know, I brag about the fact that I out-survived
Gingrich, Army and DeLay. I was still standing. But they were elected by the members
of the Republican conference. And by their constituents. And we see how things turned
out for them, but we also, you know, see what has happened since then too.
>>Tom Edsall: Do you think Paul Ryan now has a chance to build the kind of
bipartisan –>>Ray LaHood: I think it’s very, very hard
when you look at the fact he comes in with a strong agenda and wants to
pass a budget, starts out passing a budget, wanted to do tax reform, and wanted to tackle
several other items and right out of the box, here we are. They’ve been in session
since January. We’re coming up on May 1st. There’s absolutely no chance of passing a
budget in the House, which means there’s no chance of passing it in the Senate because
you have to, you know, really get the House to pass the budget first and it’s not going
to happen because the Tea Party don’t like the budget, because it’s going off of, you
know — it was revised last year under agreement with President Obama and the Congress
as Boehner was walking out the door and they don’t like it. I think he stalemated
and when you stalemate on that… let me say one other thing that I think is classic, the
thing that infuriates the American people. The day after Justice Scalia passes, the majority
leader of the Senate says, we are not going to consider any nominee — now, this
is early in the session. This is not in August. This is not in September. This is
early on. And people around the country are saying, don’t they have a constitutional responsibility
to do this? Isn’t this their job? And by the way, the Republicans probably
have the votes to vote down anyone they want anyway.
And so I just think people are frustrated — and frankly I think members of
Congress are frustrated, particularly members who came here to get things done, to solve
problems, to make a difference to vote on important issues, none of that — here we
are, end of April. Can anybody in this crowd name
one major piece of legislation or one big problem that has been solved by this Congress?
>>Tom Edsall: Don’t you find in talking to members that many of them will
say to you privately that they have had to vote one way when they know they should have
voted another? If they had voted their conscience, they would have —
>>Lee Hamilton: Sure, that happens all the time. One thing I think we
should insist upon is the Congress vote on all of the major issues of the day. Now,
that sounds very simple, but it is not. We see in the news lately about Dennis Hastert
and none of us take any joy in what is happening there. He had a rule that none of us
agreed with. The rule was I don’t bring a bill to the floor unless I have majority support of the Republican caucus. The Democrats use the same rule.
I always opposed it. I think one of the responsibilities of the Congress is
to vote up or down on the major issues of the day. It is amazing how many times the
leadership of the Congress will work to prevent a bill coming to the floor for a vote,
and I think that’s unfortunate. So I’ll expand this to one other point, Ray, if I may.
You were talking not long ago about nominees. I have always felt that a president is
entitled to a vote on his or her nominee. Not everybody agrees with that, but the
prerogative of a senator today to hold up a nomination has become much abused. So, for
example, we have this woman who is highly qualified to be our ambassador to Mexico,
marvelous diplomat, very able. For two years they have had a hold on her nomination.
Now, the Mexicans are really unhappy with us. Because we don’t even send an ambassador
down there. So I’ve always felt that a president should
be entitled to have a vote up or down after whatever, 60, 90 days, I would
like to see that a law, but it could be done by a rule. I think that would be helpful at
one point.>>Ray LaHood: I think when you get elected
speaker of the house, and I think any of you who read Tip O’Neill’s book or
if you read Lee’s book about his time in the Congress earlier on, the speaker of the house
is the speaker of the whole house. He’s not the speaker of the Republican or Democratic
party.>>Lee Hamilton: That’s a good point.
>>Ray LaHood: Majority leader of the senate is majority leader of the
senate, not the majority leader of the Republican Party. And if they don’t understand
that role, then they short change the opportunity for members on both side of the aisle
to vote the important issues of the day and vote on them up or down. Newt understood
that. He wasn’t quite sure if all the votes were going to be there, particularly with
his contract on America or, you know, the whole impeachment thing. He had no idea how
the votes were going to go. But he knew he was speaker of the whole house. Not the
speaker of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, the Hastert rule, which was used by the Democrats as well, was a very bad rule that insisted that
a bill had to pass with a majority of Republicans to be brought to the
floor. That’s not fair to the issues. Not fair to the American people. Not fair to moving
the country forward.>>Lee Hamilton: One of the areas I saw we
got this right is one of the meetings Tip O’Neill had with Ronald Reagan. I sat in on a lot of those meetings and you had two master politicians working, one a conservative and one a liberal. I don’t
want to suggest the discussions were easy. Sometimes tensions would rise. By and
large the quality of the discussion was pretty impressive. But neither man would let
it get out of hand and they would always interject a note of levity. Ronald Reagan’s
favorite trick was hand you a jar of jelly beans and give you a pop cycle analysis depending
on the color of the bean you drew out of the jar.
[ Laughter ] And it always created a big laugh. Tip O’Neill
would tell another clam bake story. He went to more clam bakes than any
living American and he got a story out of every one he went to. One or the other would
give an Irish story or clam bake story and kept the discussions on track civility was
at the core of that, a basic respect between the two men, who obviously disagreed a lot,
but respected the other has a politician, and that respect translated into civility
and made the system work, I think, as well as
I’ve seen it work.>>Tom Edsall: Should we see if any of these
people have questions, Tom?>>Tom Edsall: We’re going to have Q&A very
soon, almost immediately. If people want to ask a question, could they
come forward to the — there should be microphones, and I have been told that actually
the books are 15% off. So it’s a good deal, and you should —
>>Ray LaHood: I would be happy if any of you took one of mine. I’ll sign it
for you. All the proceeds from my book go to the congressional center because the
fellow who helped me write it is the director there.
>>I have an opposite view… [ Laughter ]
… I don’t care whether you read my book, just buy it.
[ Laughter ]>>Tom Edsall: We’ll have a full opportunity
to fulfill both of your wishes. Why don’t we start with a question here.
>>Mr. Hamilton, in opening remarks you said something tantalizing and
interesting. You said the Congress had abdicated the responsibility on monetary policy
to the Federal Reserve, whereas in 1965 not one American in 1,000 knew who the chairman
of the Federal Reserve was. I wonder in 1965 concretely and specifically
how did the Congress set monetary policy as opposed to letting bureaucrats at
the Federal Reserve do it?>>Lee Hamilton: I may not have made myself
clear. Congress affects economic matters through the operation of fiscal policy. Congress has no power on monetary policy.
Fiscal policy is spending and taxing. And fiscal policy can be an important tool in
impacting the status of the American economy, and has been on a number of occasions. The
most famous being Kennedy’s tax cuts which stimulated the economy. But there are a lot
of illustrations. The Fed has always had responsibility for
monetary policy, and does today, but if fiscal policy is not used as a tool, then
monetary policy becomes the only tool that the federal government has to impact the economy.
If you look at the testimony of the past several Federal Reserve chairmen, they
have all said very politely and very diplomatically that our job would have been
a lot easier if the Congress had done their job on fiscal policy. So that’s the point
I was trying to make. Congress ought not to involve itself in monetary
policy. They are not able to do it because it’s a very technical business,
what should be the money supply in the country, and Congress is woefully inadequate
and that’s why the Fed has that power. So Congress has given up its tool for impacting
the economy, and I think that’s a mistake, because you need both monetary
policy and fiscal policy working together to have the best effect on your economy.
>>Tom Edsall: Let me go over here now.>>Do any of you see anything getting better?
I’ve heard a lot about getting worse. And if everything basically sucks,
why do so many people still run for the office?
>>Lee Hamilton: Well, it pays pretty well. And, look, being a member of Congress is an
ego trip. You go to a meeting and they ask you to give a speech. You walk into
the room and say, oh, there’s congressman or senator so and so. You go back to the districts
in your state, you’re a pretty important person. It’s a big ego trip, and
a lot of people like it. And a lot of people are bored with what they’re doing.
It’s an attractive job. For me, the great attraction of it, apart
from the ego boost, the great attraction was you were a generalist. I practice
law. I got bored stiff practicing law.
Somebody comes in my office and asks me to draft a shopping center lease and I
would say, why bother? I was bored. So I went into politics. And I liked politics
because as a member of Congress I would work on agriculture policy, nuclear policy,
foreign policy, domestic fiscal policy and all the rest. That was interesting stuff to
me. I’m a guy that got into politics because of
my interest in policy. Believe it or not, I’m not much interested in politics.
I’m a bit amazed that guys like Tom Edsall here who write so well about politics, he’s
interested in politics. I’m interested in policy. And I finally figured
out that if I were going to impact policy, I had to get into politics.
How did I get on that speech? I can’t remember. [ Laughter ]
Let me just introduce a couple of people that are former members, Doug
Bereuter from Nebraska.>>Lee Hamilton: Is Doug here? I couldn’t
see over there. Doug, how are you?
>>Ray LaHood: John Tierney from Massachusetts and Manzullo.
Massachusetts for John, the Manzullo is Illinois.>>Lee Hamilton: The lighting didn’t permit
me to see them. They could have made a good discussion.
>>I think the answer to your question is, when you look at our system and you
look at the rich history of our country, we had some very distinguished people serve in
Congress, and almost all the people I served with, 99.9% were there for the right
reasons, and I think what I mean by that and how I would define it, and the reason why
I wanted to be there was to make a difference,
to get some things done, to do a good job for the people of central Illinois that sent
me to Congress, to do a good job for America.
When I was asked by President Obama to serve in his cabinet as a Republican, I
think there were some in my district that wondered about that and wondered if I was
a good Republican. And what I told people is,
I believe in serving America, and I think 99.9% of the people that I served with in
Congress during my 14 years were there for the
right reasons, to make our country the kind of country that can solve problems, to be
a part of history, to make a difference in your
community, you’re a community leader and people look to you as a leader. And I think
that’s why most people serve in any elected job. Because they want to make a difference.
Serving in Congress is a great privilege. No question about it. And if you treat it
that way and treat it in a way that it’s not a lifetime job, you come and serve and make
a difference, and then you move on, I think that’s why most people are here. And I believe
that elections make a difference, and I think in those districts where people don’t
feel their representative is here to get things done, they’ll probably find another
representative eventually. Look, this is the greatest country. It’s not
perfect but it’s pretty darn good and we have a great, great rich history
of solving big problems and making a difference. You don’t see many people trying
to get out of America, but there are thousands of people that are trying to get
in every day. Why? Because it’s a great country.
>>Tom Edsall: Over here.>>Does Mr. Hamilton have any comment on the
recent dust up with the Saudis and their role in the 9/11 attacks?
>>Lee Hamilton: How did that question get in here?
>>It’s in the paper.>>Lee Hamilton: I can only recite to you
what we said in the 9/11 report, and I really can’t go beyond that because
I don’t have the knowledge of it. We said in the 9/11 report that we had no
evidence that senior officials of the Saudi government had played a role in
orchestrating the attacks. Now, as many have pointed out, that language
is restrictive. We do know that a large number of the perpetrators were Saudi
citizens. There’s a lot of discussion at the moment
about the 28 pages, which were not part of the 9/11 Commission but were part
of the Joint Inquiry that preceded the 9/11 Commission. And neither the Joint Inquiry,
which was headed by Senator Graham, nor the 9/11 Commission has the power or had the power
to classify or to de-classify. Only the president has that power. And he, of course,
delegates a lot of it. So the 28 pages are raw, unvetted initial
information of the kind that ordinarily would not be made public like the
early notes of the FBI, for example, in investigating a crime. Those kinds of papers
are not normally made public. In the case of the 28 pages, which I cannot
personally ever recall reading, although I have had content of it explained
to me by staff, we had thousands of documents come to us in the Commission. I
imagine the president or director Clapper here in a few days will decide to make the
reports — the 28 pages public, probably redacted in some ways with regard to names,
I suspect, although I don’t know. So I had no information beyond what the 9/11
Commission said at the time. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this. A lot
of people have followed it much more closely than I have since the report has come
out, and I make no judgment about it. But we ought to understand the nature of the information
that I think will come out eventually on the 28 pages, put it into context
and follow the evidence. Now, this was a horrible, horrible crime.
3,000 Americans lost their lives, the worst attack ever on American soil. And
the perpetrators of it obviously need to be punished to the maximum extent. Whatever that
may be. But since it is such a serious matter, you do not want willy-nilly to put
names out there of people without some context, it seems to me.
>>Ray LaHood: I served on the intelligence committee eight years, I served
on 9/11 and on the intelligence committee and served on the 9/11 committee that
investigated 9/11. I agree with Lee. I believe — look, there are no secrets in our
country. None. And eventually these pages will be released. I agree with Lee on that.
I don’t know if it will be President Obama, but eventually they will be released.
>>Tom Edsall: Over here.>>Thank you. You have had a lot of interesting
talk about the compromises that preceded what is not happening right
now and how that led to getting things done. I think I personally believe that that is
needed right now, that’s not happening, but you see a lot of the conversations taking
place on the right with the Tea Party and the
left with the liberal Bernie Sanders supporters oftentimes, that those compromises are
the same people making decisions for the same reasons and they’re patting each other on
the back kind of compromise and leaving a lot of people out. I think that would be kind
of the other side of that argument. And so I’m interested to hear your thoughts on that
that you have, whether Republican or a Democrat, you’re all part of the same team and
you’re leaving a lot of people behind.>>Tom Edsall: I don’t quite understand the
question myself. Did you?>>I guess it’s the question of — that I
think the Tea Party would say that it’s all government elites that are all talking,
whether you’re Democrat or Republican, you talk to the same people and know the same
people and the Bernie Sanders supporters would say that it’s all the 1% that is leaving
the 99% behind, and that the compromise isn’t necessarily going in the right direction
for the country.>>You mean these are elite decisions that
leave out the body of the public?>>Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put
it.>>Ray LaHood: I think we need to dispel this
idea that compromises a bad method of solving problems. It’s been promoted
by people, but it is the one way that people that serve on school boards, library
boards, church boards, I have no doubt everyone in this room serves on some voluntary
board, and when you go to those meetings you don’t agree with everybody. What happens?
You sit around and talk to one another and eventually you solve the problem that
you’re there to solve and how do you do it? No one person gets their own way. No one of
the 435 ever gets their own way. No one of the 100 senators ever gets their own way.
You look at the 236-year history of our country, you name any big problem, civil rights,
Social Security, Medicare, whatever, how were those solved legislatively? By compromise.
By people coming together, talking to one another, giving here or there. Then
the responsibility of the elected official is to go back home and explain to people why
they voted the way they did on a bill that was compromised in some way or another. That
is what has made our country have the ability to move forward and get things done.
>>Tom Edsall: Let me say, we want to sell some books, so — at 15% off, may
I remind you. So let’s make this the last question, and it better be good.
[ Laughter ]>>First of all, I would like to thank both
of you for the time and effort you have spent serving the country.
[Applause]>>And it has been admitted you’re paid well.
I have a question having to do with the PAC, the political action committee
that came about, I believe in the early ’80s. Would you please give me your opinion
as to whether or not that improved or opposition to improvement in term of having
money flowing in and out of the hands of those who are having to get elected?
>>Ray LaHood: Lee, do you want to –>>Lee Hamilton: Well, look, the Supreme Court
has held that contributions are free speech, and that’s the law of the land.
I don’t quarrel with it. People have a right to donate, and they have a right to
try to impact an election. They have a right to organize a PAC and to pool their money
and give it to the candidate or the policy that they support. All of that is within the
system and I don’t think it’s going to change. I think what we have to try to figure
out is how we can make the system work a little better than it does today. I am for
most suggestions, frankly, that will reduce the impact of money in an election. But in
order to do that, you’re fooling around with a question of free speech. Under the law.
So you got to be careful. PACs are here and they have become very important players
in elections today. Not always decisive, but very important, and now almost any candidate
of consequence has one or more PACs as part of their campaign effort.
I come down on the side of full disclosure. Not everybody agrees to that
today, and I come down on the side of having some public money into the election process
based on quotas or contributions by the amount of money you raise. It’s a valid test of
a candidacy to raise money. That’s one of the tests of the viability of a candidate.
So this is a very tough problem in our system, and I think we have to work
around the edges of it, but you have to work within the law that the Supreme Court has
made clear.>>I think the Supreme Court decision is probably
one of the worst things that has happened to politics.
[Applause] I do think we need to find a way to present
something to the Supreme Court once we have a full court, once we have nine
members of the court to reverse that decision. If you decided to run for Congress
today, you would have to establish your committee and you would have to report every
dollar that you received. And from whom? And what their occupation is. That’s the law
for a member of Congress. The same is not true for these Super PACs.
They have to report very little. If you’re a billionaire, you could give billions
to a Super PAC because you support their candidate or whatever. That is wrong.
That goes against Congress saying report everything.
So we need to figure out a way to present something to the Supreme Court or
present a law that overturns this terrible decision that has just really poisoned the
wall for the political process, and it’s just — right now it’s simply not fair, so
we’ll see. We need to get a ninth justice before we do that. 4-4 won’t work.
>>Lee Hamilton: I want to return the nice words Ray said to me at the
outset. I reciprocate those sentiments. Ray has been a marvelous person to work with
in the Congress, as transportation secretary and since. And he comes out of that school
of thought about the role of a member of Congress schooled by Bob Michael and others,
and he represents the very best of American politics.
>>Ray LaHood: Thank you. [Applause]
>>Ray LaHood: There’s something to be said for these midwestern members of
Congress. [Applause]
>>Tom Edsall: I don’t think anyone would disagree with Lee’s comments. I am
a little worried about Ray’s credentials as a Republican.
>>Ray LaHood: Ha-ha-ha.>>Tom Edsall: At any rate, thank you very
much. And the books are out front and the authors will be here to sign them
for a brief while. [Applause]

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