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tv   After Words with Senator Mitch Mc Connell  CSPAN  June 5, 2016 9:00pm-10:01pm EDT

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so, whether you're in favor or disinclined to support greater border security, there's no question that any security will only increase the value of those drugs and, therefore, increase the murder rate here in our own country. so it's an important issue for everybody. >> terry goldsteen of simon and schuster, and book tv did a tour of assume mon and schuster a you're or two back. to watch that go to booktv.org, nine simon & schuster in our search function and watch the whole tour. >> c-span, created by america's cable television companies and brought to you as a public service by your cable or satellite provider. >> after words is next on booktv. with senator mitch mcconnell, who talks about his life in politics with senator lamar alexander. >> this is a book about a shy
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boy who grew up in alabama, overokay. polio, -- overcame polio, inspired by henry clay to become a senator, did, and then set out to become the majority leader of the united states senate, and did. mitch, i have a confession to make. when i was asked to do this, here's what i thought. how can anyone get mitch mcconnell to talk for an hour? in your own book you point out that you only speak to the press when it's to your advantage. you talk about a time when bill gates came in to see you and you just sat there and people were uncomfortable waiting for one of you to speak, and someone also told president george w. bush you were excited over a certain vote, and he said, really? how can you tell? why so few words? >> well, i'm not afraid of talking but i found i learn a lot more by listening, and so frequently i start out listening, and i think about
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what i want to say before i do it. i think it's fair to say that i'm in the era of trump, probably very different in my approach to commenting on public affairs. >> you're not the first one, i are remember bob novak used to say the hardest interview on "meet the press" was with a senator mike mansfield because he would ask him a question and he would say, yep, and the easiest one was hubert humphrey. one question he would talk for an hour. >> you don't get in trouble with what you don't say and there's nothing wrong with being cautious about your comments. i certainly don't mind talking but i usually like to know what i'm talking about. before i venture down that path. >> well, you're not so cautious in your book. there's a lot of unexpected material in there. there's the polio, we'll talk
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about that. your fistfight -- your vote for loin don johnson in 1964 over civil rights, and then when it gets to professor obama, and senator harry reid, your democratic counterpart and the senate conservative fund you don't hold back there, and i think most people would be surprised to learn that you're an all-american tailgater at the university of louisville and we'll talk about that. let's start with polio. 1944. you're two years old, living with your mom in five points, alabama. and the doctor -- your dad's overseas in the war, and the doctor says, mitch has polio. it's hard today to imagine how terrifying those words must have been for a parent to hear. >> absolutely. i subsequently learned that there was a serious epidemic in 1944 all over the country. and the disease is very, very
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unpredictable, of course you would have the flu, you would think you had the flu, and a couple of weeks later in people would be completely normal. a couple weeks later in people would be in an iron lung or dead. in my case, it affected my left quadricep, the muscle between your knee and your thigh, and in one of the great good fortunes of my life, this little crossroads, five points, alabama north, even a stooplight there, where my mother, as you indicate, was living with her sister while my dad was overseas fighting the germans, happened to be of miles from warm springs, and roosevelt, having gone there himself in the '20s, trying to -- >> host: because he had polio. >> guest: he did. he got it at age 39. completely paralyzed below the
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waist. >> host: your mother had no way of knowing if you might be like the president, completely perillized. >> guest: not completely. what they predicted. the worst case for me would have been a brace on my left leg. and so i didn't have a severe a case as president roosevelt had. but the key for -- imagine i'm two years old. two years old, kids are like. my mother took me over to warm springs. they taught her physical therapy regimen and told her to administer is four times a day, and to keep me off my feet. so she literally watched me like a hawk for two years. every waking moment. and tried to convey to me the subtle message they didn't want me to think i couldn't walk but i shouldn't walk, a very subtle message. >> host: that's what two-year-old does. >> guest: she watched me every minute and prevented me from prematurely walking.
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that obviously she told me that years later. my first memory in life was the last visit to warm springs where they told my mother i was going to be okay. that i'd be able to walk without a limp, and we stopped in a shoe store in la grange, georgia, hon the way back to alabama to get a bare of low top shoes which were kind of a symbol i was going to have a normal childhood, and i did. >> how old were you. >> four at that point. this went on for two years. >> host: you have a chapter in your book called "resilience. boy "i guess that comes from that. >> guest: if impressions being made on us at a really early age or as significant as some people think -- sure had one on me which was you stick to something, you keep working at and it giving it your best the chance are you may actually overcome whatever problem you're
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currently -- >> could you have any impediment today? >> guest: some. the quadricep is more important going downstairs than up so i'm not great at going down stairs but i have had a perfectly normal life. when i was a kid i wasn't good at running long distances but could play baseball, sport that doesn't have the kind of back and forth like basketball does. >> host: let's move on the dicky in you. your father encouraged you to have a fistfight -- >> guest: he didn't encourage me. i had to choice. this was a situation -- i was seven, we lived in athens, alabama, and i had a friend across the street named dickey mcgrew who was a year older than i was and considerably bigger and also a bully and kept pushing me around. and my dad was out working in the yard one day and he saw that, again, he had seen it before. he called me over and he said, son, i've been watching the way
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he has been pushing you around. want you to go over there and beat him up. said, dads, he's older than i am and bigger. and my dad said i'm older than he is and bigger than he is. so given what some would say hobsons are choice i chose dickey. went across the street and started swinging and i beat him up and bent his glasses. an incredible lesson to standing up to bullies and i thought about that throughout my life at critical moments when people are trying to push you around. >> host: let's jump ahead to kentucky, the university of louisville. people working at c-span might wonder what do the senators talk about when they're on the floor. they're watching you, the odd are you're talking bet the university of louisville sports program. before i get to that, your honors thesis was henry clay, senator henry clay, and that inspired you to want to be a
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united states senator? >> guest: i had gotten interested in politics in school. rant for president of the student body in high school and was a big high school, probably contentious race -- >> host: you said you war hooked. >> guest: i won, and so i began to follow politics. i remember at age 14, when the conventions were really -- the coverage of conventions was really dull. they'd focus on the podium and listen to all the speeches on tv. >> host: or there was a big radio and we would listen to the whole thing on the zenith radio. >> guest: pretty boring itch thought i was the only 14-year-old -- >> host: might have been two. >> guest: only 14-year-old in america. thought maybe you were watching, too. watching those thing from gavel to gavel. so i began to try to practice this craft to see if i could get
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good at it, and i was -- ran for president of the student council in college, too, and law school, and clay was the most famous politician in kentucky. like andrew jackson -- >> host: what about clay inspired you most? >> guest: the fact that he, in a not terribly significant state, some would argue, had become a major statesman, was -- in kentucky people focused on clay, so i wanted to learn more about him. so -- >> host: but he was known for crafting compromises, which is a dirty word today with some people. >> guest: it is, but absolutely essential. the constitution is full of compromises and you and i in our daily live does it every day in order to make the senate function. so i did my senior thesis on henry clay and the comprimise of
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1850, and continued to follow him as a lot of aspiring kentucky politicians do. >> host: there was another aspect of the university of louisville, and that is this athletic programs. describe your tailgating schedule. >> guest: well, football is an important part of life. >> host: but you take it seriously. >> guest: i do. we have -- i buy 12 season tickets every year. have regulars, one goes to canaling and we go to every home game and an occasional away game. we make a day of it. go out early, one of my friends has an rv in the parking lot, and talk about what will happen in the game, and then we go to game, and then we talk about what did happen in the game, and it's a complete lengthy exercise of one of the great joys of life. >> host: let's jump ahead a little bit. we're talking about the early 1960s when you were at the
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university of louisville. you and i both drove to washington, we just each realized in a green mustang toward the end of the 1960s, and i can -- you worked for senator cook from kentucky, i worked for senator howard baker and i can remember in 1969 senator baker saying to me you node to meet that smoother young legislative aide for cook, mitch mcconnell. let's go back to louisville in louisville you met part of a march on the capital about civil rights. you were in washington as i was, to hear martin luther king's speech in august of 1963. the "i have a dream" speech you. had goldwater come speak to the university of louisville because you're president of the college republicans but you voted for lyndon johnson in 1964. what happened? >> guest: well in our generation the civil rights mom wants the defining issue of our generation, and in '62 i had
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been fortunate enough when i was a college republican president, goldwater accepted an invitation to come to u of l and it was terrific in the summer of '63 people like you and myself got to see the "i have a dream" speech, and then in '64 i was an intern in senator cooper's office. two important things happened in '64. both the filibuster of the civil rights bill and senator cooper broke the filibuster and we nominated barry goldwater. was mad as hell about it. and i was so irritated about goldwater voting against the civil rights bill and kind of defining the republican party in a way that it thought would be unfortunate, that i voted for lyndon johnson, which in retrospect was a human mistake -- huge mistake but it was a protest vote --
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>> host: that feeling carried over into your senate days. you voted at one point -- president reagan vetoed the sanctions on south africa for apartheid, you voted not to override his veto do? i voted to override -- >> host: which most republicans did not do. >> guest: right. i just felt like reagan, who is admired by people like you and me, was simply wrong whether or not south african sanctions could work. i know there are people who think that sanctions never work. occasionally they do. they worked in south africa, and worked in burma, a number of years later, and i thought reagan was wrong and i did vote to override his veto. >> host: munged burma. how did you good interest in ndamukong -- i remember you making speeches
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on the senate floor and wonders what you were doing. >> guest: i started following her after she won the nobel peat prize in '91, and she -- for his enenners who are not familiar with her, he father we founder of modern burma but got assassinated. she went off to europe, went to school, lived in the united states for a while, married a guy from britain, had two sons from england-lad gone back to bur peninsula in 1988 to care for heir sick mother, when this movement started. and she was thrust into the leadership, the military junta, which has run the country, decided to have a free and fair election and got creamed. and their reaction to getting creamed in the free and fair election was to arrest all the people who gotten elected and put her under house arrest in
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her own house where she remained most of the time for 21 years. so we would slip notes to each other over the years and i authored along with some other, burma sanctions bills, that actually ultimately made a difference, and -- >> you visited her? >> guest: after -- amazingly enough, the regime began to crumble, and in 2011, and so then we were able to talk on the phone, and i actually went to burma in january of 2012, and got to see her in person, invited her to come to the university of louisville to the mcconnell center later that year, and she did come in september of 2012, and now she is the de facto elected leader of the country, even though the constitution prohibits anyone from -- who is married to a foreigner, who has been married
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to a foreigner to be president. put in the constitution exactly to keep her from being president. she is the de facto president. she put in a president who is an ally. >> host: you mentioned the mcconnell center at the university of louisville. what is that? >> guest: it's a scholarship program for the best and brightest kids that i started 25 years ago. you have to be from kentucky and there are ten each year, ten freshmen, ten sophomores, ten juniors and ten seniors. and so it's designed to try to compete with ivy league schools, and to get sharper kids to stay in kentucky for education, believing that if they stay there they're more likely to stay there after school. 70% of the graduates have chose top stay in kentucky, where most of the sharp kids who go off to the east to school, never come back. but what i do is bring in speakers and we have had some
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great ones of the years. hillary clinton was there while she was secretary of state, joe biden was there as vice president, and chief justice roberts was there, and it's a treat for the 40 who get to meet private live with whoever the speaker and is then they address a larger public audience. >> host: let's switch to politics a subject you like to discuss. you're undefeated. you have won six races in kentucky. 12, really-counting primaries of let's talk about the first one, the bloodhound commercial. you were -- well, i think all of news the united states senate are political accidents. not all of us will admit it but we are and you surely were. 30 points behind in -- >> guest: july of the election year. >> host: so the bloodhound ad? >> guest: a desperate wage. roger ailes -- >> host: how did you find him?
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>> guest: he was doing political consulting. >> host: and willing to take on somebody in a democratic state who was behind. >> guest: he had a couple of compliants he thought were going to win, and me, and i appreciated the fact he was willing to take me on, but this is a tough competitor. you seek how he started seeing for nbc and start fox with rupert murdoch. here's the situation. it was july of the election. i was down -- >> host: 1984. >> guest: i was down 34 points weapon had a meeting in louisville, and i said, rom roger, is this race over in she said i've never known anybody come from this far behind this wait to win but i don't think it's over. a very competitive guy if was run can against a smart democratic incumbent who didn't have obvious vulnerabilities. we were looking for some kind of
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issue in, a need until a haystack, and turned out -- this is back in the -- i didn't have any problem with people making speeches for money but he had been making speech bz fob money while he was missing votes on the senate floor. so ailes turned that in to a couple of ads, featuring a kentucky hunter type person with bloodhoundses out looking for him to get back to work and it electrified the campaign, got people interested it in, got people talking about it. and then there was a sequel later in which we had a guy who looked like huddleson, an actor, who was being chased by the dogs and ended up, up in a tree, and the key line there was, we got you now, huddleson, they had treed him at the end. not a landslide. one vote a precinct, but there was a way of looking at it.
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enthough reagan carried 49 out of 50 state wes lost two seats in the senate and he was the on democratic senator to lose. >> host: your democratic opponents probably defined your method of campaign including is to smash them in the mouth before they get started. probably -- just guessing -- your toughest campaign was the last one, 2014, because you had the senate conservatives coming at you from the right. -- harry reid from the left but you start evidence out by an ad that was called your republican opponent, now the governor of kentucky, bailout doug. >> guest: well, you and i witnessed the result in 2010 and 2012 -- >> host: i was glad all the attention was on you. >> guest: the senate conservatives fund and its allies had basically cost us five races. in 2010 and 2012.
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by nominating people who couldn't win. and so at the beginning of 2014 i said not only am n my own race but other races, we're not going to allow that to happen anymore, and so what we did -- not only in my race but in other races around the country, we got the most electable people nominated. basically took them on. because if you're dealing with a group of people who have been compromised who want to make a point but don't want to make a difference, you beat them. so we won every primary and my opponent was later elect governor of kentucky. >> host: you say take them on.
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an aide said the senate conservative fund is destroying the republican party like a drunk who tears up every bar they walk in. the difference is a stroll into mitch mcconnell's bar. he's not going to throw you out. he's going to lock the door. those are fighting words. >> guest: i think that needed to be done, and as a result, if you look at 2014, lamar, as a result of that approach, not only my race but in several others, we took the senate back. we had the most electable candidates on the november ballot everywhere. >> let's cross the aisle and talk about the senate democratic leader, harry reid. we were at senator bob bennett's funeral and you and for reid spoke and he said what i have heard both of you say, people think mitch mcconnell and i don't like each other but we're good friends. and you say in your book, you're friends with harry reid. but then you say he's got a jekyll and hyde personality.
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when reid hears that he says you're classless and you like donald trump think women are dogs and pigs. you say, not in your book but i think you said other places he may be the worst majority leader. so, the senate is a place of relationships. what about this relationship between the democratic and republican leader? are you friends or not friends? >> guest: well, look, i have been very, very public about a couple of things about harry. number one, i didn't like the way he shut the senate down, and prevented people from voting, and i didn't like the way he ran the senate, and i think his public rhetoric is frequently very inappropriate. so i don't think that -- >> host: like what. >> well, the example you just mentioned just a few weeks before we are attaching this he took all of donald trump's most
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outrageous comment cozy attributed them to me. i don't do that to him. so i don't think this is an equivalent here but memphis people think we're feuding all the time. we aren't. we have to talk daily. i do vehemently object to the way he ran the senate and my goal in this current majority is to be as different in every way from harry and the way he ran the previous majority. understand i'm trying to do everything totally different. do object to the way he ran the senate. and i do object to this inflammatory rhetoric, like calling alan greenspan a political hack. alan greenspan may be many things but a political hack he certainly isn't. calling george w. bush a loser, or saying the iraq war is lost, right in the middle of a major military exercise there. so, i can't fail to express my
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objection to that kind of rhetoric, which is frequently flat out wrong. >> host: let's take one other person you talk about the senate conservative fund. you write about senator reid. you have a chapter entitled professor obama. why did you choose those words? >> guest: the president is a very smart guy. i think he knows a lot about a lot of things. i think he would do a better job of dealing with others if he would spend less time trying to acquaint whoever he is talking to at the moment with his brilliance, and more time listening. sharp contrast between the president and the vice president. i've been in a number of major deals with vice president that were important and worth doing for the country. he doesn't spend any time trying to convince me of things he know is don't believe and i don't spend time trying to convince
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him of things that he doesn't believe. we don't waste any time on all of that. we get down to trying to figure out what we can do together because he knows how far i can go and i know how far he can go. i think president would be better of -- he's a brilliant guy, rising quickly to the top in american politics, but i don't think his incessant lectures are very helpful in getting an outcome if you're in some kind of negotiation. >> host: let's talk about divided government for a minute. i've heard you talk about that a lot and say -- suppress your disappoint. you and the president haven't been able to accomplish more together because of, i've heard you say, divided government is the time when you do hard things because you spread the responsibility around. now, the democrats say about you that you said early on that you're main goal is to make
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president obama a one-term president. i've hard you say you made a speech early on, it's time to go to work on entitlements and offer a hand to do that. you never heard back from anybody. so, whose fault is it we haven't taken advantage of this seven years of divided government. >> obviously i have a point of view on that. on the obama one-term president-do admire bob woodward, the only major reported who reported the rest of what i said. right after that. >> host: which was? >> guest: which was that in the meantime we had plenty of work to do and we had to look for ways we could work together. that was conveniently snipped off by almost everyone. but i think divided government is probably the only time you can do big transformative things. give you an example. reagan and tip o'neill, raised
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the age for social security. reagan and tip o'neill did the last comprehensive tax reform. bill clinton and a republican congress did did welfare reform and actually balanced the budget three years in a row. big stuff. arguably none of that could have been done in unified government. give you an example of when unified government couldn't produce a big outcome. george w. bush has just been re-elect fled 2004 and asked to us tackle social security. was number two in our conference and i spend a year trying to get any democrat, any democrat, even joe lieberman, the most reasonable democrat, to join with us and their attitude was, you have the white house, you have the house. you have the senate. you want to do something on social security in you do it. what that means is we'll see you in the next election. so my big disappoint immigrant with o obama, two things have to be down to save america. from the path we're headed.
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entitlement eligibility changes how have to change eligible for pled -- medicare and social security to fit the demographics of america tomorrow. not america in the 30s, not america in the 60s. social security in the 30s, medicare in the 60s. the president knows that. he is a very smart guy. he doesn't want to do it. comprehensive tax reform. it's been 30 years. we need do it again. it's not for the purpose of getting more revenue for the government. it's for the purpose of making america more competitive. but the president won't do comprehensive tax reform in any other way other than to try to get additional revenue for the government. so these two big transformative issues we have been unable to address because the nation's ceo simply doesn't wasn't to do it. >> host: i suppose maybe the best example of when we did do that was in civil rightness the 60s and we both saw that.
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remember when i first came up here working for senator baker. and for days around a big table senators came in and out as democrats and republicans worked together to see if they could get enough votes to get 67, which is what it then took to end debate or cloture, and they did that and johnson and dirksen did that together because of their special relationship. you have in your book a story. senator john sherman cooper took you, as a youngster to the sign offering streeting rights act in 1965 and you had a conversation with president johnson's daughter, lucy. >> host: yes. ...
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>> guest: and the reason -- and she said, well, why would you have a republican there? and she said prime minister johnson -- president johnson said to her not only did most of the republicans vote for it, but the nation will be more likely to accept it if they think we have done this together. lucy johnson, in 2008, explaining why she was there in 1965. >> host: and, of course, they had -- to do that, they had a relationship. senator baker used to tell me about the time he heard his father-in-law, dirksen, take a
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phone call in his office, and he heard dirksen say, no, mr. president, i can't come down and have a drink with you tonight. i did that last night, and louella's mad at me. and about 30 minutes later, there was a rustle outside, and lyndon johnson said, everett, if you won't have a drink with me, i'm here to have a drink with you. and they disappeared into the same office where the civil rights bill of 1968 was written. so that relationship precedes, probably, divided government. let's talk about the senate as an institution a little bit. you alluded to it earlier. you said your main goal is to restore the senate as an institution. you're something of a historian. you thought about getting your ph.d. in history at one time. and you went onto the floor before you were majority leader and said you wanted to run the senate the way senator mike mansfield ran it, who was the majority leader 16 years at the time you and i both came here.
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what did you mean by that? >> guest: what i meant by that, and we were talking about this earlier, my critique of harry reid's period as majority leader. first of all, you have to open the senate up. the last year of the previous majority there were only 15 roll call votes on amendments the entire year. the first year of the new majority in 2015, we had over 200. so you open the senate up. let people vote. number two, when we talk about regular order which most people don't know what that means -- >> host: that glazes the eyes right there. >> guest: yeah. it means a bill's actually worked on together, comes out to the floor with bipartisan support is and has a better chance of success. the best example i can think of that happens to be your bill to completely rewrite the so-called no child left behind bill passed in the early bush 43 years which proved to be unworkable and
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unpopular. and by the time you brought it out of committee, you had the democrats and the republicans lined up, you took it to the floor, it was relatively open for amendments. not that absolutely everybody got everything they wanted. and in the end, it passed with a very large majority. we have done that time after time after time under this new majority. whether it was trade promotion authority or a five-year highway bill which most people would think would be easy. we hadn't done that in 20 years. comprehensive energy bill, cybersecurity, permanent internet tax moratorium, a major opioid and heroin addiction bill. we're hoping to achieve something really important, again, coming out of your committee related to some of the incredible cures that seem to be just around the corner for our country. now, what does all this have in common? in a time of divided government, we're focusing on the things
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that we can agree on and do those. because when people elect divided government, i think what they're saying is we know you have big differences, but why don't you look for the things you agree on and do those. and that's how this majority is totally different from the previous one. >> host: yeah. and it's important to say, and i've heard you say it, but you have to do -- as johnson did to dirksen -- give the other side credit. in my case, with fixing no child left behind, that never would have happened if senator patty murray of washington, leading democrat, hadn't had been as interested as i was on a bill on biomedical research. it's not a bad thing to give somebody else credit. >> guest: yeah. >> host: usually it helps you get where you want to go. you came here 50 years ago working for -- a little more than that, working for senator cooper. what's the most different about this senate today, and what's something that's the same. >> guest: well, i think what's
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different is the two party ladies and gentlemens really sort of mean -- labels really mean something today. when you and i first came there were conservative republicans and liberal democrats. i think the two party labels today are more descriptive of america's two-party system. the republicans are mostly right of center, and the democrats are mostly all left of center. so i think the labels mean more today than they did then. that's different. what i think isn't different is that there isn't as much animosity or unwillingness to work together as is portrayed in the media. with the internet and 24-hour cable television going on, people get hammered with what they teach them in journalism school that only bad news and conflict is news, so people are way more upset about the process
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than they ought to be. they are legitimately upset about where they are in their lives, and it's a fact that the average american is $3 or $4,000 a year worse off today than they were, for example, when president obama came to office. so that's a he create mate complaint -- legitimate complaint. but the senate is not dysfunctional. it used to be, but it's not anymore. and one of my great frustrations is not many people know that. [laughter] >> host: that we've talked about. i remember when i came to the senate as a senator having worked in it before, i thought i knew what i was getting into, but i didn't realize what it was like to work in a body that operates by unanimous consent. [laughter] i mean, most people don't realize. you're the majority leader. if they'll listen carefully on c-span, you'll stand up at the end of the day and say i ask consent that the senate open tomorrow at 9:30 and that we
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have a prayer and that we go to this bill. and if one senator objects, one senator objects, you have to start, you have to start over. how would you -- if you had to suggest to someone a book to read about understanding the senate, do one or two come to mind? >> guest: oh, my goodness. it'd probably put people the sleep because the senate is, ironically, working out pretty much the way george washington predicted. according to legend, he was asked when he presided over the constitutional convention what do you think the senate will be like. he said he thought it would be like the saucer under the teacup, and the tea would slosh down to the saucer and cool off. why did he say that? senators, until a hundred years ago, were not popularly elected. they were elected by the state legislatures. and only a third of the senate was up every two years. so i think on purpose the founders wanted the senate to be a place where the brakes could be applied pretty easily.
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and then over the years as you suggest, the notion of unlimited debate empowered every single senator to have an impact. if the house is like a triangle with the speaker at the top, the senate's more like a level playing field with the majority leader having the right of first recognition, but after that it's pretty much a jump ball. so stepping back from all the minutiae, what should people take away about the senate? the senate is a place where things slow down, are thought over and rarely done on a strictly partisan basis unless you have a huge number of your party. >> host: i think the first chapter of robert caro's book about lyndon johnson, i think it's "master of deceit" -- >> guest: master of the senate.
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>> host: that struck me when after the election the engineers come in, and if the democrats have won more than the republicans, they unbolt the republican desks and move enough over to the other side to even it out. that's, to me, a wonderful way to begin to think about the way the place works. let me switch gears completely. you were married, had three daughters, divorced while you were mayor of jefferson county which is louisville. you were a bachelor for 13 years. and then at the suggestion of a friend, you had your assistant telephone the assistant for the -- [laughter] chairman of the federal maritime commission, and that was how you met elaine chao who you've now married.ñr that wasn't aç very romantic beginning, doesn't sound to me like. [laughter] >> i don't know, you know, i had befriended a couple of people when i was a staffer in the senate and kept up with them over the years. i went home to try to have my
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own career, and i had, as you indicated, been single for quite a while, i was single when i came to the senate. and i wanted to meet somebody new. so i called up julia chang block who was this friend from a long time ago and said do you know anybody new? and she said i've got the woman you ought to the meet, and that was elaine chao whose family is a classic example of why we never want to totally curtail immigration in this country. >> host: well, tell something about her family story. i mean, it is a remarkable story. >> guest: it is. her mom and dad, born in mainland china. when they were young, they were dodging the japanese invasion of china. then when they got to be a little bit older, there was the communist revolution. they separately managed to get out of mainland china and go to taiwan. and they had met briefly on the mainland, and my father-in-law had taken a liking to her, so he searched in taiwan for two years
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to find her. they got married, had three daughters over there. my wife, elaine, is the oldest. but he was an ambitious young man. he wanted to do better. so he came to america for three years by himself, worked multiple jobs trying to get a start in the shipping business. he had been a ship's captain in taiwan. he wanted to be more than that. and so he, for three years, worked multiple jobs to get his start. he called for my late mother-in-law and the three daughters to come over, and they didn't have enough money for an airline ticket. they came over on a freighter. they were the only people other than the crew and the bulk commodity on a big freighter. finally ended up in a small apartment in queens. and he kept working and kept having kids. they ended up with six daughters, four of whom have gone to harvard business school,
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one of them is a slack ard who's only a lawyer. [laughter] and he built a very successful shipping business. and, you know, that is the kind of story that you see all across america which is another reason why even in moments when we're frustrated about our attitudes about illegal immigration to remember that we were all, virtually all of us unless we were african-americans who were brought here against our will, the sons and daughters of risk takers. and so this constant renewal process that we have through the people who come here legally with ambition and want to accomplish, you know, tend to be the best americans. and so i think elaine and her family are a classic example of that. >> host: i want to ask you about some senators, one living, the rest of them deceased. so -- but the living one is john mccain. you and he had a big brawl over the first amendment. [laughter] i think most people may not know that your first amendment view
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had to do with, basically, no limits on campaign finance disclosure, and you voted against the constitutional amendment that would have banned desecration of the american flag. so you're pretty far out there on the first amendment. but john mccain disagreed with you. mccain feingold was the law that passed. you fought it in the supreme court, you lost. that was pretty acrimonious battle. what's your relationship with john mccain today? >> guest: very close. i mean, that's a good example of being able to have, you know, a knockdown, drag-out fight over issues. it went on for about ten years. it was really pretty stressful between us at various points. but, you know, i called him up the day after he won in the supreme court. actually, one of the worst days of my life. i actually was watching a republican house, a republican senate, a republican president pass a bill that i was opposed to, ask deeply opposed to.
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i was the plaintiff in the supreme court, called him up the day after and said, congratulations, john, you won, i lost. and we found that there were a lot of other things we could work on together, and we've become fast friends and allies on a whole variety of different things. and that's the way the senate ought to work and frequently does. i'm not sure many of the people in the public know that. >> host: do you consider john mccain an american hero? >> guest: absolutely. >> host: now, here's some -- i'd like to ask you to give me just one or two sentences about each of the following united states senators. all of them deceased. the first thing that comes to your mind about them. henry clay. >> guest: a great compromiser. >> host: lyndon baines johnson. >> guest: as a senator? >> guest: yeah. >> guest: overrated. >> host: well, mike mansfield. >> guest: master of the senate. >> host: everett dirksen.
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>> guest: indispensable player who knew when to oppose and when to join up and an unsung hero in the civil rights movement. >> host: senator john sherman cooper of kentucky. >> guest: my role model as a young man. great conviction, very smart. >> host: ted kennedy. >> guest: he was the lion of the senate, as one of the many books about him have been written. and he roared. and you and i both knew when he was passionate, which he was about almost everything. but in many ways i think the most accomplished kennedy. he never got to be president, he never was attorney general, but i think in almost every way the most accomplished kennedy. >> host: certainly the most accomplished senator as a kennedy and maybe the most
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accomplished. you know, we used to laugh with him about going to lincoln day dinners, and all you had to do was mention ted kennedy's name to fire up the crowd. [laughter] yet when i made my first speech on the senate floor about american history, he came over unsolicited, took my bill, went out and got 20 democratic co-sponsors within a day. so he knew exactly how to make the senate work. senator robert byrd. >> guest: could well have been senate historian. >> host: during the presidential campaign this year, governor christie got all over senator rubio for peating himself during -- repeating himself during a debate. now, in your book you say when i start boring myself to tears, i know i am beginning to drive the message home. in other words, you think redundancy's a good thing.
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>> guest: yeah, i think -- i'm probably one of the few people in america that thought rubio was doing the right thing in that debate. [laughter] i think, you know, good politics is repetition. and if you're trying to drive a message, you have to repeat it a lot. to make the point. i try to do that in meetings that we have with our colleagues. >> host: yeah, i've noticed. >> guest: well, one time is not enough, you know? you can always count on about three-fourths not paying any attention the first time. so if you're really trying to make a point, repetition is a good thing. >> host: i want to ask you about a period of time and your emotions. after three times you were finally elected whip, the number two position in the senate. that was november 13, 2002. then a month later trent lott went to strom thurmond's birthday party and said something about thurmond, and suddenly he had to resign from -- as leader, a position you'd always wanted. you would seem to be the logical person to move up, but senator
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bill frist took the position. and then at the end of january, you had triple-bypass surgery, so what was your range of emotions during that two and a half months about all those events? >> guest: yeah. i think my feeling was that i probably never was going to have an opportunity to be the leader of my party in the senate, because i was ten years older than bill frist. fortunately, the health problem i had worked out fine. but i had doubts during that period. i had just been bypassed by somebody who was ten years younger than i am and had a significant health problem. so i, you know, i wondered if i would ever have an opportunity to have the job that i had clearly been hoping to have for quite a while. so it was a challenging period. but like other challenges i and others have -- i don't want to make my story seem all that
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unique -- if you just don't quit and just keep plugging, the chances are, you know, you'll get where you're headed. i mean, i always tell students that i spend a lot of time with the only way to fail in america is to quit or die, you know? and we all have speed bumps, we all have setbacks. are we defeated by them, or do we just shake it off and keep on going? so i got my second chance. bill decided to leave the senate, and i got to be leader of the party like i wanted to be, but then there was another disappointment. it wasn't the majority leader. it was the minority leader. >> host: and you gave the blame for some of that to republican-on-republican violence. you talk in your book quite a bit about that, about the politics of futile gesture. >> guest: yeah. >> host: what do you mean by that? >> guest: well, it'd be something like why don't we shut
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down the government to defund obamacare. that's a futile gesture. obama's in the white house. obviously, obama's not going to, not going to sign such a bill. the politics of futile gesture is a way of describing tactical maneuvers that have no chance of success that only divide the party. and that has been a challenge. i think it's been a bigger challenge in the house of representatives than it has been in the senate. there are only a couple of people in the senate who have that kind of approach. but it's been a challenge. and on the outside, you saw it with the actions of the senate conservatives fund. now, the way we've dealt with that on the outside is to beat them. you simply defeat them in the primaries, and then you don't have a nominee who comes into the senate, first of all, who wins and, second, who comes into the senate with that kind of mentality thinking that our job is only to throw stones every day and to never achieve anything. >> host: well, of course, one of the disadvantages of it is that
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the message that you'd like to deliver, which is that the republican majority is accomplishing a lot, gets diluted because you have some republicans going around and say it's not. and even presidential candidates saying it's not which makes it harder to elect a republican president and keep a republican majority. >> guest: and it's not just about messaging. i mean, we all, we all want to do things for our country. no matter what our backgrounds are, i think virtually every -- not everybody, but virtually everybody comes here wanting to actually accomplish thing for our country. and you have to deal with the government you have. you know, barack obama -- whether i like it or not -- got elected. he's been there for eight years. and to suggest that we ought to spend 100% of our time simply fighting with him rather than trying to look for some of the things that we can agree on that would make progress for the country always struck me as absurd.
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>> host: why did you decide to write the book now? >> guest: well, i think it was becoming majority leader after all these years, you know? i called it the long game. it didn't happen overnight. i was certainly not an overnight sensation. [laughter] and i thought it was a time in which the senate needed to be operated differently, that it was a pivot point for the senate, and i think that's the reason why i chose this particular time. >> host: if there were one law -- if you were the king and there were one law that you could pass, what would it be? >> guest: i think i would fix the entitlement eligibility problem. i think the one issue that can sink country is the unsustainable current -- the way medicare and social security are currently crafted is unsustainable. it's the one thing that could completely tank our country. >> host: senators have a weekly prayer breakfast on wednesday,
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and we don't talk about that much, but tom daschle, who had your job before, the former majority leader, said something that stuck in my mind. he reminded us, he said he often thinks that he wishes he had prized even more than he did the power he had when he had it. in other words, he was saying take advantage of this incredible accidental power that you have. do you ever think about that? >> guest: yeah, i do. and, you know, all majorities are fleeting. depending upon what the american people decide this november, i could be the minority leader next year. and the majority leader position does present a real opportunity even in a body like the senate which is very difficult to make function. there are advantages to setting the agenda and what we call the right of first recognition to move the country in the
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direction you'd like to go. so you just don't know how long that's going to last, and you don't want to miss any opportunity to try to make the country better. and you have to deal with the government that you have. i wish obama was not president, but he is. [laughter] >> host: we have about three or four minutes left. i want to give you a chance to answer a question i get asked. that speech i made that senator kennedy got the 20 co-sponsors for was about encouraging the teaching of american history in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an american. and i take those teachers when they come on the senate floor early in the day when a senator can do that, and they go to the various desks, they try to find webster's desk, and invariably one with will ask me the question i want to ask you. senator, what message would you like for us to take back to our students about the united states senate and the future of our country? >> guest: well, i think the
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senate has been the indispensable legislative body, because that's the place where things are sorted out, the place where only rarely does the majority get things exactly their own way, the place where stability can occur. and most people, obviously, don't think that. and in an era in which everybody wants instant gratification, if you're looking for instant gratification or perfection, the senate would not be a good place for you. >> host: and at a time when many americans are not optimistic about our country's future, what would you want those teachers to tell their students about their future in this country? >> guest: well, look, i think because of our woeful ignorance of american history, we always
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think the current period we're in is tougher than others. we've had nothing like the civil war period. we haven't had a single incidence where a congressman from south carolina came over and almost beat to death a senator from massachusetts. america's had plenty of tough challenges. world wars, depressions. this is a great country. we're going to deal with whatever our current problems are and move on to another level. and i'm just as optimistic as i ever was that this generation is going to leave behind a better america than our parents left behind for us. >> host: well, that's an optimistic message from a kid who had polio, overcame it, set his sights to be in the united states senate, made it and became the majority leader after about 50 years of keeping his eye on the ball. chet atkins, the nashville guitarist, used to say in this life you have to be mighty
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careful where you aim because you're likely to get there, and senator mitch mcconnell did. thank you very much for talking with me. >> guest: thank you, lamar. >> c-span, created by america's cable television companies and brought to you as a public service by your cable or satellite provider. >> here's a look at some books that are being published this week:
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