tv Representative Jim Mc Dermott Discusses His Congressional Career CSPAN December 24, 2016 7:00pm-7:26pm EST
him about his career and future plans. greta: congressman jim mcdermott, democrat of washington state, representing the seventh congressional district for 28 years. why did you decide to retire? rep. mcdermott: well, i have seen a lot of my friends die, and i have seen a lot of my friends in the congress lose, and i just decided that there was a time in your life, if there was anything else you wanted to do, i would go do it. in three weeks i will be 80. and i said to myself, if i live to 97, my father is 93, but i don't think i will live that long. there are other things i want to do. i'm not retiring, i'm just going to do other things. greta: what are you going to do? rep. mcdermott: i hope to teach. i have an engagement with the university of washington, the jackson school of international affairs.
i paint. painting. i am in the process of writing a book. i'm an editor, and i have been working away on which direction i'm going to go on a book. and there is some places i haven't been. i have been 101 countries in my life, but i have never been to portugal. i have only been to barcelona in spain and i have only been to paris in france, so there is a whole lot of things that i want to do. ski. various parts of france and portugal. maybe some french cooking. i mean, this is the first time in my life i can do what i absolutely want to do. greta: you seem excited about that. rep. mcdermott: yeah. i mean i have been working since , i was 12 years old, always someone telling me what i had to do, i had to go here, i had to do that. for the last 28 years i have had
700,000-some odd people telling me what they think i ought to do. now i am going to tell myself what i think i ought to do. greta: what did you do when you were 12? rep. mcdermott: i was a peter boy. that was where i started. and then i worked in grocery stores, stocking shelves. and you know, i worked through college. there have always been demands on my life to perform at this level or that level or do this or do that. the concept of having the freedom to say no, i'm not going to do that -- judge miller told me before he left, he said, jim say no to everybody, because , otherwise you will get right up -- you will be as busy as you were when you were in congress. so he said, just say no, and you can gradually let things in as a goes on. i will find things to do. i have got people out there already telling me things i need to do. i have a long list of stuff. but i get to choose. i don't have to do any of them. greta: why did you start in
politics? rep. mcdermott: well, it was accidental, really. i got, i was on my way to being an academic in medicine, and was very excited about medicine. but the vietnam war came along, and i got involved with that and i dealt with casualties from 1968 to 1970. and i felt like i ought to do something about my country, i ought to try and stop the war, so i got into the legislature, i got involved in the state legislature. then i discovered all the things you could do in government. i could see patients one at a time. and you say thank you, thank you doctor, thank you. but i can affect 300 million people, if i think carefully about what i am doing, whether it is the environment or it is health care or it is education or it is the aids epidemic. i have enormous reach here.
i got taken in by the power of it, and i came back to congress -- i mean, i had left politics in 1987, and i went with the state department. i had a wonderful job in africa. i came back and my brother came and said we are going to do , national health insurance, come back. that is your passion. so i came back to do that. greta: you are a child psychologist by training. did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish here in washington? rep. mcdermott: well you know, i used as a quote when i left the congress the one from get off -- from gandalf in lord of the rings, where the children ask him what should we do. he said it is not ours to know what the tides of the world are. our job is to clean the rocks in the fields we know, so we leave for those who follow us cleaner the till.
what they shall have, we will not know. i did everything i could in the time that i was here to make a national health plan that i thought would work for the american people. is it perfect no, no. ? and there is work to be done, and they will be doing it, and this all this repeal and replace, really, all kinds of things happening in health care after me. i can stay here until i was 95, and it wouldn't be done. isause social policy never perfect. you are always adjusting. things are happening. you have to move things around, and something you didn't think about happens, then you think, i have to do this. i think you have to work for when you are there as hard as you can on what you care about. and at that point, you say i will leave it to someone else to fix it. greta: you were on the ways and means committee for many years, chairman and ranking, top ranking, of the house
subcommittee. what would you say the highlights of your legislative career were? rep. mcdermott: well, before i was on the health subcommittee, i was on the income security and family support committee, which dealt with the foster kids in the country. so i was the godfather for 500,000 foster kids in this country, and i i rewrote the language of the foster care legislation. it is called the foster and connections act. i rearranged fostering, foster care for the modern day. this stuff was written 30 years ago, and it hadn't been changed. i came in and changed it. i did the same thing with unemployment insurance, i changed that. in the old days only men worked and women stayed at home. now you have two people working , and you have all kinds of changes. so the law needed to be revised, so i did that. i worked on the health care bill. not perfect bill, not exactly what i would have written, but
we got something done, and it is in place and is functioning, and a lot more people have insurance than they did. the first bill i did in congress was 1987. i got several hundred million dollars for housing for people living with aids. for a freshman to get that much money in a program that is still going on today, 28 years later -- we spent billions of on dollars housing for people living with aids. so there is a whole lot of things that i have done that i am proud of. none of them were perfect. we had to change some of them. but i think you have to think of government and the legislation as being like evolution. it changes every day is going someplace, and you have to react to it. it never stays the same. that is why conservatives in the end always lose. because the tide moves on and changes things, and you have to
respond to that change. greta: you have worked with several presidents during your tenure here. what stories, or do you have a story, of working with the president, stands out to you? rep. mcdermott: well, one thing i would say about george bush -- i never said good things about him. i thought getting into iraq was a terrible mess, but he didn't -- he did start that far. he started the program to create availability for all of the world, and we are moving today towards the aids free generation, if we keep pursuing it. and i have always respected him for that. bill clinton and i had a good relationship, and mrs. clinton -- because i was here when they first got here in 1993, when they were first trying to put the health care bill through. i got to know them very well. they are wonderful people. mrs. clinton is smart and tough
and quick and funny and listens to you and then tries to -- she's a good lawyer. she tries to jerk you around to where she wants you to. my experience with both of those presidents was good. greta: any regrets with decisions you made during your time here? rep. mcdermott: no, no. i -- this is -- politics is the equivalent of war without guns. so it's a tough business. and you get beat up, and you make mistakes, and you get wounded, and you got to get up the next day, put on your hat and coat and go out and do it again. not every day has been perfect, but i like the opportunity to be involved in trying to make society better for most people. i don't worry much about rich people, but i worry a lot about ordinary folks, because i came from ordinary folks.
and i understand. my father was unemployed. i know enough about what it's like to be at the bottom. i had to work my way through medical school and everything else. so i don't i don't have any , illusions that i got there without somebody else helping me. people helped me all along the way, and i really wanted to be in politics to be able to help people reach their maximum potential. greta: you mentioned the amount of trips that you took as a member of congress. any one of them stand out to you, or a couple of them? rep. mcdermott: well, i've had a number of trips that have been -- when i first got to congress, bankingls, the committee, the berlin wall has just fallen, and we went to see whether the eastern european banking system was going to be like. we went to budapest and warsaw
and prod and hungary and east berlin. that trip had lots of impact on me. greta: in what way? rep. mcdermott: in terms of seeing what these people had lived with and how quickly they were ready to come back into the system. mazel fromear later, czechoslovakia sent the youngest member in the parliament to contact me and said, teaches how -- teach us how to run a congress. that guy came over, his name was martin burson, and i had the opportunity to help shape the beginning of the parliament in the czech republic. i mean, there is so many things that have happened that were related to trips that i took. trips to africa. i went to india in 1991, and i
went there 30 times afterward because i fell in love with india. it is the most complex country on the face of the earth with six major religions and 18 official languages, and north and south and muslim -- it's a society you never totally understand, and i help to deal -- deal -- i helped deal with their aids epidemic. the last time i was in india, they gave me a lifetime achievement award from the aids foundation of india, and i am very proud of that. the prouder of that than rising sun and star from the japanese government. i have been to japan about 40 times. i know the japanese. i have known them at every level of government. so those kinds of connections, i am very proud of them pleased to have the opportunity to have that kind of connection. greta: what will you miss about congress?
rep. mcdermott: every day when i get up, i open the newspaper, and somebody has done something somewhere, and that means the day here is going to be different. afteren i sit at home now this, i am going to open the newspaper, and somebody is going to have done something somewhere, and i am not going to have any part in changing it. that's a real -- i mean, i look at that, and i think, how do you make yourself feel relevant? how do you how do you find -- i , gave it up deliberately, but i -- there is a bitter sweetness to it. on the one hand i loved what i did. i loved being in congress. i had nothing bad to say about it. it was tough. i had hard days, real tough things. but in the end, i loved it. but there comes a time when you have to say, time for somebody else to do it. greta: what were the low points of your career?
rep. mcdermott: probably the lawsuit and the whole business with john boehner. when i got into that, i didn't quite understand everything that i was going to learn in. in 11 years of a lawsuit, you learn a lot of things. i'm still here, and both gingrich and boehner are gone. you have to ask yourself who won. it gets down to who won and who loses. i was defending the first amendment right of the press to publish things, and they were saying that i invaded their privacy. well, the courts came down however they did, but the new york times can still put on the front page anything that comes in. greta: john boehner did sue you for a tape that was illegally obtained.
you released it to the media. the courts decided against you. what impact did that have on you? rep. mcdermott: i am still here. greta: zero impact? rep. mcdermott: with my constituency, they thought it was good that i took on boehner and that i took on gingrich. and the fact that tape -- i that didn't do anything illegal to get that tape, i didn't do anything at all. this couple just came out in the hallway and handed it to me and said listen to this. ,and i listened to it several times. -- and i handed it to "the new york times." it's a long story about why it came down the way it did. john boehner tried to drive me out of congress, and he didn't do it. i told him when he -- i went to him and tried to negotiate, and he wanted me to go out on the floor and admit that i broke the law. i said, i didn't break the law. i am not going to do that. he said, then we are not going to settle this. i said, ok. greta: did you ever talk, the
two of you? rep. mcdermott: not about it again. we talked about -- i tried to negotiate again, as many ways as i could to figure out what he wanted, but he wanted to go out and admit i broke the law, and i never did break the law. greta: what will you not miss about congress? i will miss the plane flights. [laughter] greta: long way back to washington state. rep. mcdermott: i have 3.8 million miles -- because i went back 35 times a year back and forth. i believe that going home to your district is the key to keeping yourself in congress. and i was home, and i was at weddings and funerals and all kinds of meetings, and they always saw me. they knew i was there trying to find out what was going on. but traveling back and forth -- i mean, i never complained about flights, because as i say, i
knew were the capital was when i asked for the job move the , and they didn't move the capitol, and i could quit any day i wanted, so i just shut up about it. but believe me, i won't miss going out to the airport and going through tsa. greta: where will you travel with all of those frequent-flier miles? rep. mcdermott: i will pick and choose. i will pick and choose. i will still travel. i love to travel. i have been in 101 countries. so you know, i have been traveling since i went to ghana in 1961, so way before i ever got to congress. i was traveling. greta: what was it like to pack up your office and go through all those 28 years here in washington? rep. mcdermott: very exhausting. walking down memory lane, taking down 28 years of paper that you have collected, and trying to decide what you put in boxes to send to the archives at the university of washington, is very difficult.
because in part, my staff didn't know what those issues were about. some of them, they weren't even born when i was working on these things in the congress. they would bring me an issue and say, should we save this? is this important? and then my mind would start into all of the aspects of what that issue was all about. and so it was a real exhausting walk down 28 years of experience. and of course, it changed. at one point we stopped having paper, and it's all on hard drives. so we had all the issues of what , do you want to save for future historians to go and look at? if you want to look at the aids epidemic and what jim mcdermott did in it you have to organize , it so people can find it. greta: you mentioned the archives -- what will be -- rep. mcdermott: the historical archives. they have a public official's archive there. warren magnuson, others, brock
adams. there are a number of washington state politicians that you can get at the university of washington. greta: who would you say would be someone you might miss from congress? any relationships that you had over the years that were special? rep. mcdermott: will actually three of us are going out at the , same time who are good friends. lois capps from california, sam farr from california, and me. we were good friends. and had a very warm relationship. the other person i'm leaving behind who is also a good friend is mazie hirono. she was in the house. when she came to congress, we became good friends. miller, there are probably two handfuls of people that i would spend some time
with after i leave here. greta: what advice would you give to younger members of congress about the key to having a successful congressional career, and if they want to stay around for many terms like you did? rep. mcdermott: well, i think the advice i would give to anybody, given the situation we have today, you have to get back to listening to one another. even if i disagree with you intensely, i got to listen to what you think. because you might have an idea that i should incorporate in my, what i am doing, and i think the lack of people getting together and knowing each other is really the biggest problem we have. partly, we used to travel together we used to go places , together, we would bring our families here together to
washington dc. nobody brings their families here anymore. members just come in, here for three days, sleep in their office, they are gone, and they don't get to know anybody. and if i know you, and i know about your kids and your husband and your grandmother and your father, i then have to think -- i have to listen a little more carefully to what you say to me. if i don't know you as a human being, i can say she's a crazy , you know, this or that and put you in a slot somewhere. and i think that that's the best advice i can give to people. listen to the other members. get to know who they are. walk around, talk to them. talk about something besides politics. i learned a lot of stuff in the gym. i learned, you know, i mean, i got a guy from alabama down there, and washington and alabama have been paired in the peach bowl. and you know, national championships. he and i had a big discussion today -- turned out he played on the team.
and so, i mean he was a walk-on, , a guy named palmer from alabama was a walk-on, and i never knew that before. well, so now i think of them -- him differently. his politics are are way to the right, and mine are somewhat to the left. i will reach across the middle. but i now know more about gary then i did, and that makes it possible for us to talk about issues. greta: if you could change something about how you have to run for congress, what would it be? rep. mcdermott: i have always been for public financing. i think, if you are running against me, i ought to have a certain amount of money, and you want to have a certain amount of money, and we are to have some -- we ought to have some free tv time so people can look at us. do i like him or do i like her?
and listen to us, answer questions from probing people. but right now, if you are running -- when i was in congress, i won by 80% again and again. if you tried to run against me, you couldn't raise any money. so i had all the money to put my face on tv, and you have nothing, and so it means nothing. what you need is to balance the field so that people can see real choices. greta: what impact would that have on this institution? rep. mcdermott: well, i think a lot of people wouldn't come back, because if they were up there and had to face an opponent who had an equal chance, then it would be a totally different thing. i mean, i could just ignore people who ran against me because i didn't have to. they couldn't raise any money, and i was going to have the television ads, so why worry about them that's not good for ?
-- why worry about them? that's not good for the system. it's good for me, great for jim mcdermott getting reelected, but it's not good for the system. the system would be much better with a public financing, such as they have in england and other places where the campaign is a month long and people stand up, , say what they are trying to do or whatever, and the people then make a choice. that to me would make the system better. greta: well congressman , mcdermott, thank you for your time. rep. mcdermott: my pleasure. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer 1: this week, senate majority leader mitch mcconnell was featured on kennedy -- kentucky television where he talked about the 2016 election, the incoming trump administration, and what to expect when the new congress meets in january. this was senator mcconnell's 14th appearance on the public affairs program one-to-one with bill goodman. the conversation is half an
hour. ♪ mr. goodman: welcome to "one-to-one." on this spinal and special edition of "one-to-one" for i 2016, will sit down with a man who has had a pretty good year . senate majority leader mitch mcconnell is in control of the senate. republicans rule the house and the oval office, and the kentucky senate, and for the first time in 91 years flipped , the state house of representatives to a republican majority. happy holidays, senator mcconnell. he is next on "one to one." ♪ mr. goodman: senator, welcome to your 14th appearance on "one to one." undoubtedly a