tv A Conversation with Freshman Representative Don Beyer D-VA CSPAN July 4, 2015 7:27pm-7:56pm EDT
>> thank you for your time. representative ashford: thank you very much. it was delightful. >> now pressure and profile of representative don brier -- don buyer. he pays they served as u.s. ambassador to switzerland in the obama administration. he won the seat vacated by jim moran. this is about 25 minutes. >> congressman when and why did you begin a career in politics? >> i was interested forever. three of my four grandparents came here to work for franklin roosevelt. you read the washington post every day and are sucked into
the political life. i can remember the convention in 1960. all of the grandparents and parents were listening to the convention night after night. i remember john kennedy's race in 1962. it was the biggest thing in the family life. the fantasy all my life was that , grow up and find a career and fight away to get into public service. >> your dad started a full vote dealership. mr. beyer: by the end of the summer i had fallen in love with the business and gotten cold feet about med school and i asked if i could stand at the weeks and it turned into 41 years. interviewer: where did you go to college?
mr. beyer: a small liberal arts college that dates from 1793. and at dartmouth, majoring in economics which was formative for me because i had one graduate program in development economics. how do you raise poor countries out of pollard -- poverty and that has been relevant for the u.s. and relevant for leadership. interviewer: what makes a successful car dealership? mr. beyer: there is integrity. just decide what the right thing to do is and do that. the strategy is to try to stay close to the customers. a good listeners, try to be attentive all the time. over the years, many crowded rooms -- who can remember the salesman who sold you your last
car? our idea is take care of them. month in and month out. make sure it is a good experience. and the sale does not end when they drive away the first time. we have massive repeat business. we surveyed the customers. the repeats are sent in by friends. we spend all this money on advertisement for that 10% of our customers. interviewer: how did that experience help you in politics?
mr. beyer: a lot of people have asked how i made the transition. i have said it is a short step. a lot of the skills are the same. you try to find a way to be friendly and connect on something you have in common. a lot of it is sales. it is mostly about meeting people's needs. we have sold 65,000 cars over the years. i do not remember pressuring a customer into buying a car. that's the worst way to do it. the idea is what are your needs, what are your priorities, what works for your family, how can we meet that need? politics is much the same thing. one of the crises in your life one of the things that do not function in our society, how do we move forward and try to listen carefully.
and we're doing a telephone townhall at 6 p.m. so we are trying to find out what the big concerns are. we can draw back and say what -- let's do something meaningful to make this different. interviewer: what has your dad taught you about business and politics? he's what? 91? mr. beyer: a terrific guy. still in great health. we worked side by side for 13 or 14 years. six days a week. we have a wonderful relationship. neither has ever raised our voice to the other. he would tease me all the time. i would come to work at 7:30 a.m. and he would say, good afternoon, young man. he is a far better mechanic than i am. i read all the magazines on what was happening.
what was special were the values. i never saw him do anything slightly unethical. i mentioned integrity earlier. i never saw him do anything slightly dishonest or unethical. never lied to a customer or an employee. he is a great role model in that sense. he is very optimistic. he never saw problem he did not think he could solve. i think he was really good to the people that work for us and the customers. i remember i was working so hard and all the employees loved him and treated him like he was god. i realized it is the wonderful wisdom of a true leader is the
projection of character. i think that is what i want to be as a political leader also. we want to get legislation done and cast the right votes but it is important that we -- let your life be your argument. i am living a life that draws people to the idea of public service. and the sounds too highfalutin but wanting to be a role model rather than the political leader that people look at with disappointment and despair. interviewer: one of six children? mr. beyer: oldest of six. four girls and my little brother. i lost a sister last summer to breast cancer which was a tragedy but also her funeral was a great celebration. my little brother joined the business in 1980. i remember resenting him thinking this is dad and me, get out of here.
i did not say that. i felt that. it has been a great blessing. we have been partners all these years and mike's presence gave me the latitude to run for congress, to do the public service things i wanted to do. he has led the company through thick and thin. interviewer: let's talk about that. you served as the lieutenant governor of virginia. you ran for governor and lost area do what did you learn from defeat? mr. beyer: that it is survivable. i loved that governor race. i spent 9 years getting ready for it. we drove through every jurisdiction more times than once. had friends everywhere and felt -- the line that used to come to me is you can wake me up at any time and i would know where i was.
a great sense of place. the worst day was the last day. all the rest of it was important and fun and you get to talk about the things that you think will make a difference. and you lose but there is an old piece of wisdom that you cannot serve if you do not run. the next day the sun came up. all the things i have tried to accomplish in eight years did not go away because i lost. while i regretted not having a chance to be governor, it is our obligation to brush ourselves off and go back to work. interviewer: still interested in being governor? mr. beyer: not really. i love this job. one thing i discovered as lieutenant governor, i was president of the senate. i got to vote if there was a tie. i did not get to participate in the debates. a lot of legislation was carried by members of the general
assembly and i tried to fill that with as much leadership is -- as i could. it is a very wonderful job. you do not make much policy there. now i am in the greatest change agent role i have ever gotten. so, no, i do not have an ambition to be governor. if i can do this well, and build relationships with democrats and republicans, this will be the great, last big chapter of my public life. interviewer: so many people talk about congress, the broken branch, dysfunctional, nothing gets done, no one works together. what has it been like for you? mr. beyer: not like any of those things. i sensed no hostility or animosity at all. it is easy to be pals with most
of the democrats. so they have been welcoming and i have a lot of great new friends. i found that the other freshmen republicans that we met, we did the three days at harvard and in williamsburg. we have had time to be together. i serve on three different committees with these republicans. i am getting to know and be friends with a number of them. if i have a major goal, it is to make as many good friendships across the aisle as i can. and by the way, no one has been rude or evil or close minded. we tend to vote along partisan lines but we can overcome that as we communicate better. when i look now, we got the so-called doc fix on sgr done. for 17 years, congress kicked in this one bill down the road and
nancy pelosi and speaker boehner got together, bipartisan and got us a fix. there were all these memos about trade for the president. i think we will get that done. that is something where we have to cross party lines. i think there a lot more that we can get done. i got my first bill passed. it is stimulating people to solve science problems we do not have answers for yet. we asked every member of the science committee to cosponsor the bill. to try to do this together. we are in the middle of the trade promotion authority for the president. i think we are going to get that done. that will again be something where we had to cross party lines. i think there is a lot more that we can get done. we are stimulating people to solve science problems we don't have answers for yet. with the republican cosponsor, we ask every member of the
science committee to cosponsor the bill. there are a lot of people on both sides who want to get past this bipartisan divide. interviewer: you mentioned your role as ambassadors to lichtenstein and switzerland. what was that like? mr. beyer: we were there almost two years. we took two teenage daughters with us. it was a great experience. among the many things that i loved, all of a sudden, you are moving from the home and country you are comfortable with two new food, new environment, new landscape, new language, a lot of new friends, but i think what i liked best was the public service, public policy challenges were very different every day. we started off trying to resettle guantanamo detainees that this administration decided could be released, but no other country would take them. we were dealing with secrecy every day. it was really americans who had hidden their assets and switzerland. trying to get the swiss to obey the sanctions against iran so iran would come to the negotiating table.
nancy pelosi was trying to get someone extradited back to california. every day was challenging, different, interesting. it was a very enriching experience. interviewer: switzerland plays such a unique role in world history and in europe because of its location, its mountains, its culture, its government. how did that pose challenges for you? its independence. mr. beyer: they consider themselves the most american of european countries. they adopted our constitution in 1848. we took the idea of 13 states from their 13 cantons back at the time of the constitutional convention. they have the world's oldest democracy, going back to the 1291.
they don't have a majoritarian system, democrats versus republicans. they do everything by consensus. they are the only nation in the world that doesn't have a head of state. they do everything by parties. it's very different than ours. with 50,000 votes, they can take any law passed by congress and -- by parliament and put it up for a vote by the people. in switzerland, the people say no. it was very meaningful.
interviewer: for years in switzerland, i assume you traveled a fair amount? mr. beyer: we did. once the younger one went off to school, we would go on weekends. everyplace was an hour from zurich. i got to hike a lot and ski a lot. i love the mountains as a little kid. it was a perfect place to be. interviewer: you were appointed by the president. you are not a civil service career diplomat. explain the difference. mr. beyer: about 70% of ambassadors around the world are career, they have been in the foreign service all their lives. only a few countries have that system. our first ambassador was ben franklin. the second was thomas jefferson, then john adams. we have had political ambassadors for a long time. i like the system. if it were just political appointees, it would be problematic. there is a lot of diplomacy i didn't know.
and i had a wonderful number two, the deputy chief of admission in finland, who was a career foreign service officer and we worked as a team. she knew how to work the bureaucracy of the state department, for example, which reports needed to be done when. i had two generations worth of leadership experience, projecting goals, organizing cultures. i have long thought that the most important job of the leader is to get the culture right. where people are working together. so the teamwork worked out well. i saw it that way in much of the rest of europe. it tends to be not one to one, but the more important countries end up with political ambassadors who can afford it and have a lot of leadership
experience to come in. one of the things federal government typically doesn't do well overall is train leaders. this is not a cut on federal employees. i love them. i have more in my district than any district in the country, but navigating a bureaucracy often means minimizing risk. you don't want to break things. you need a mix of inside and outside, i think. interviewer: with the people you came across, european leaders, the people of europe in general, how do they view america and this president? mr. beyer: i think it has probably changed over the six and a half years. we got there at the fever pitch
of euphoria about the obama presidency. after the george w. bush presidency, there was a lot of dismay in europe. because of the two wars, guantanamo, abu ghraib, our environmental policies, the death penalty. a lot of them saw the election as america had changed. after all the years of racism, we hit actually elected an african-american president. in a couple of conversations with the president would point out that he was much more popular in switzerland then he was in the united states. he had a 90% approval rating there. we spent a lot of our time trying to re-brand, pointing out that we were bringing health care to tens of millions more people, that we had ended the wars, that no nation in the developed world had cut carbon emissions as much as we had after the obama election.
it was a period of recovery in terms of the european understanding and imagination. we have had setbacks. all the confusion in syria and the rise of isis continues to confuse it. and now you have europe threatened by russia and crimea and eastern ukraine. once again, things that looked like great ideas in 2009, we are trying to readjust on now. the russian reset is over. interviewer: what have the first couple of years in congress been like for you? mr. beyer: i have really enjoyed it. it's easy to get up in the morning. the work is entertaining. you can turn on c-span and feel connected to everything they are talking about. i really enjoy it. the key for me is little by little to develop relationships and an understanding to have some impact on how decisions come out.
in the recent trade debate, i have been one of 28 house democrats voting for trade promotion authority to give the president the tools he needs. in a way, it's a little lonely than the democratic caucus. but i also feel like hey, i am glad i am here, and this is going to have a different outcome because i won and i am showing up every day. interviewer: on that issue and many other issues, you disagree with nancy pelosi. what is your relationship like with the leader? mr. beyer: it's very good with nancy pelosi, steny hoyer, and others. that is the other thing, i am not seeing any of these desertions on policy become personal. i have not felt any impersonal problem. even coming out of committee meetings, the science committee or the natural resources committee, i may have voted
against a republican friend's bill, and you come out into the hall together and realize these are classes in philosophy, but it's not personal. interviewer: when you ran for the house, you had a pretty contentious primary. how did you win? mr. beyer: there were 13 of us. campaigns are message and message delivery. the message that works the best for me was 40 years in business, lieutenant governor of the state, overseas ambassador. no one else had the resume and the experience to hit the ground running. we needed a congressman who would not be a newbie but someone who could be a factor right away, and that message worked. i also spent every waking minute
running. i didn't read any books or watch any television or do anything else for those months, and it worked. interviewer: you can cross the potomac and not drive too far. you live near the district. mr. beyer: i am very spoiled. interviewer: what is your daily routine like? mr. beyer: i get up at 5:00 a.m. to get some exercise. i get to work about 8:00. there is a constant flow of constituents in the office every 15 minutes, on different issues, which is wonderful. and they do not just meet with me. i have a great staff doing meetings all day long. and then pretty much every night we will be out of here and back into the district to do something, a nonprofit, a town hall meeting, civic association, lots of things.
my friends in the house from california, texas, and montana say the good news is you're close to home. the bad news is, you are always on. i think it's good news. i'm not far away from the people i represent. interviewer: any interest in moving up to the leadership? mr. beyer: i am at a point in my life i do not need to have a title, but i very much want to be a part of helping to lead the house, lead the democratic caucus, but i don't have to win an election to do that. i think a lot of it is just showing up.
when i get invited to this meeting or that, if it is possible for me to go to a meeting, i go. if it is possible to make that call or make that ask, i do. it is a way to offer leadership without having to have the ego stroked. as a freshman, it would take me a long time to compete against people who have been here for 20 years or 30 years, which is fine. if i can help them, that's enough. interviewer: what does your wife think of your career in politics? mr. beyer: i think she likes it. she is the one who encouraged me to do it when -- was thinking of retiring. we have been together in politics since the very beginning.
interviewer: your two daughters, how old are they now? mr. beyer: i have three daughters, 24, 23, and 20. they have all been in politics in one way or another. the youngest one is the one who pays the most attention to the policy issues day in and day out. so, we will see. i want them -- the conversations are all about what's in the newspaper, what is public policy. and it's not boring. interviewer: what does your dad think of all of this? mr. beyer: i think he is very proud of me. he doesn't understand why i do this. but i think he is proud of me anyway. back when i was lieutenant governor, i would call him every night before we checked into the motel in virginia. out of respect for his being 91,
i don't call him every night now. but i update him regularly because he wants to hear what the activities are. interviewer: congressman don beyer, thank you very much. announcer bank lucy hayes was the first first lady to earn a degree. she influenced her husband rutherford b. hayes to switch from the whig party to anti-slavery republican party. she hosted the first annual white house easter egg roll. lucy hayes this sunday night on c-span's original series first ladies: image and influence. their influence on the presidency from martha washington to michelle obama sundays at 8:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span 3. >> on independence day president obama and test republican representative will hurd taken opportunity to wish
you a happy fourth of july and their weekly addresses. -- in their weekly addresses. president obama: happy fourth of july, everybody. like many of you, michelle sasha, malia, and i are going to spend the day outdoors, grilling burgers and hotdogs, and watching the fireworks with our family and friends. it's also malia's birthday which always makes the fourth extra fun for us. as always, we've invited some very special guests to our backyard barbecue -- several hundred members of our military and their families. on this most american of holidays, we remember that all who serve here at home and overseas, represent what today is all about. and we remember that their families serve, too. we are so grateful for their service and for their sacrifice. we remember as well that this is the day when, 239 years ago, our founding patriots declared our independence, proclaiming that