tv Representative Jim Mc Dermott Discusses His Congressional Career CSPAN December 30, 2016 6:21am-6:48am EST
the american idea that we have to pass along to the next generation is when we get to this new, disruptive world -- fourth world of the digital economy, what will entrepreneurship look like -- what will cultural pluralism and a robust defense of the first amendment look like? what will it need to be able to say the meaning of america is still centered in institutions that look like the rotary club, where people actually live, they know and love their neighbors, and actually want to do good, and not where tribal labels about a distant fight in washington, d.c., that isn't anywhere near up to the task of the moment we face. that is the challenge before us. thank you. [applause] >> that was a nebraska senator. they will return for the congress on january 3. we talked to some of the incoming outgoing members. we will hear from jimmy dermot first.
host: 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 congress lose, and i just decided that there was a time in your life, if there was anything else he wanted to do, i would go do it. in three weeks i will be 80. i said to myself, if i live to 97 -- i do think i will have that long. there are other things i want to do. i'm not retiring, i'm just going to do with the things. host: what are you going to do? rep. mcdermott: i hope to teach. i have an engagement with the university of washington, the school of international affairs.
i paint. 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. there are some places i haven't been. i have been 101 countries in my life that i have never been to portugal. i haven't been to barcelona, spain. paris, france. there are a lot of things i want to do. ski. various parts of france and portugal. maybe some french cooking. for the first time in my life, i can do what i absolutely want to do. host: you seem excited about that. rep. mcdermott: yeah. i have been working since i was 12 years old, always someone telling you what i had to do, i had to go here, do that. for the last 28 years i have had 700,000-some odd people telling you what they think i should do.
now i am going to tell myself what i think i ought to do. host: what it you do when you were 12? rep. mcdermott: i was a peter boy. that was where i started. i worked in grocery stores, stocking shelves. there have always been demands on my life to perform at this level, do this, 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, say no to everybody, because otherwise you will be as busy as you were when you were in congress. he just said, say no, and you can gradually let things in as a goes on. i will find things to do. i have people 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.
host: why did you start in politics? rep. mcdermott: well, it was accidental, really. 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 dealt with that. i dealt with casualties, up until 1970. i felt like i ought to do something about my country, i ought to try and stop the war, and 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. i can affect 300 million people, if i think carefully about what i am doing, whether it's the environment, health care, education, the aids epidemic. i have enormous reach. i got taken in by the power of it, and i came back to congress
-- i had left politics in 1967, and i went with the state department. i had a wonderful job in africa. i came back with my brother said we are going to do health insurance, come back. let's do it. so i came back to do that. host: you are a child psychologist by training. did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish here in washington? rep. mcdermott: well, when i left congress, i used the quote from "lord of the rings," where they are asking him what they should 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 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 all this repeal and replace -- there are all kinds of things happening after me, and i could stay here until i was 95 and it wouldn't be done. social policy is never perfect. you are always adjusting it. you have to move things around, and something you didn't think about happens, and then you 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. host: you were on the ways and means committee for many years, chairman and 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 income security and family support committee, which dealt with foster kids in the country. i was a godfather for 500,000 foster kids, and i rewrote the language of the foster care legislation, the foster and connections act. i rearranged fostering, foster care for the mom and dad. this stuff was written 30 years ago and hadn't been changed. i came in and changed it. i did the same thing with unemployment insurance, i changed to that. in the old days only men worked in women stayed at home. now you have two people working and you have all kinds of changes. the law needed to be revised, so i did that. i worked on the health care bill. not a perfect bill, not exactly what i would have written, but we got something done, and it is
functioning, and a lot more people have insurance than they did. the first bill i did in congress was 1987. i got housing for people living with aids. for a freshman to get that much money in a program still going on today, 28 years later -- that's billions of dollars on housing for people living with aids. there are a lot of things that are done that i am proud of. none of them are perfect. we had to change some of them. but i think you have to think of government and a legislation as being like evolution. it changes every day, going different places, and you have to react to it. it never stays the same. that is why conservatives in the end always lose. the tide moves on and changes.
you have to respond to that change. host: you have worked with several presidents during your tenure here. what stories -- do you have a story of working with the president that stands out to you? rep. mcdermott: well, one thing i would say about george bush -- i thought getting into iraq was a terrible mess, but he did start the program for availability. we are moving today toward an aids free generation, if we keep pursuing it. i have always respected him for that. bill clinton and i had a good relationship, and mrs. clinton -- i was here when they first got here in 1993, when they were first try 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 she's a good lawyer. she tries to jerk you are she wants you. my experience with both of those presidents was good. host: any regrets with decisions you made during your time here? rep. mcdermott: no, no. politics is the equivalent of war without guns. it's a tough business. 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.
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. 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. host: you mentioned the amount of trips you took as a member of congress. anyone of them stand out to you, a couple of them? rep. mcdermott: well, i've had a number of trips -- when i first got to congress, the banking committee, the law had just fallen, and we went to see what the eastern european banking system was going to be like. we went to budapest, warsaw,
prague, east berlin. that trip had a lot of impact on me. host: in what way? rep. mcdermott: in terms of seeing with these people had lived with and how quickly they were ready to come back into the system. a year later, someone from czechoslovakia had the youngest member in the parliament to contact me and said, teaches how to run a congress. that guy came over, he was sent over to my office. he was in my office and i had an opportunity to help shape the beginning of the parliament in the czech republic. there are so many things that happened that were related to trips that i took. i took trips to africa, i went to india in 1991, and i went there are times afterward because i fell in love with india.
it is the most complex country on the face of the earth, six major religions, 18 official languages, north and south and muslim -- it's a society you never totally understand, and i help to deal with their aids epidemic. they gave me a lifetime achievement award from the aids foundation of india, and i am very proud of that. i'm proud of that, and the rising sun and star from the japanese government. i have been to japan about 40 times. i have known them at every level of government. so those kinds of connections, i'm very proud of, pleased to have had the opportunity to have that kind of connection. host: 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 will be different. when i said at home now -- after this, i will open the newspaper, somebody will 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? i gave it up deliberately, but there is a bitter sweetness to it. on the one hand, i love that i did. i loved being in congress. i have nothing bad to say about it. it was tough. i had hard days, real tough days. but in the end, i loved it. but there comes a time when you have to say, time for somebody else to do it. host: 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. an 11 years of a lawsuit you learn a lot. i'm still here, and both gingrich and boehner are gone. you have to ask yourself who won. 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, "the new york times" can still put on the front page anything that comes in. host: john boehner did sue you for a tape that was illegally obtained. you released it. the courts decided against you.
what impacted that have on you? rep. mcdermott: i am still here. host: zero impact? rep. mcdermott: with my constituency, they thought it was good that i took on boehner and gingrich. the fact that the tape -- i didn't do anything illegal to get that tape, i didn't do anything at all. a couple came out to me and handed it to me, and said listen to this. 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 -- i went to him and try to negotiate, and he wanted me to go out on the floor and set a broke the law. i said, i didn't break the law. he said, then we won't settle. host: did you ever talk, the two of you? rep. mcdermott: not about it
again. we talked about -- i tried to negotiate again, in as many ways as i could figure to give him what he wanted, but he wanted to go out and admit i broke the law, and i never did break the law. host: what will you not miss about congress? rep. mcdermott: i won't miss the flights. host: [laughter] a long way back to washington state. rep. mcdermott: 35 times the year back and forth. i believe that going home to your district is the key to keeping yourself in congress. i was at home, weddings and funerals, and they always knew i was there trying to find out what was going on. but traveling back and forth -- i never complained about flights, because as i say, i
knew what it was when i asked for the job, and they didn't move the capitol, and i could quit any data wanted, so just shut up about it. but i won't miss going through tsa. host: what will you travel with all those frequent-flier miles? rep. mcdermott: i will pick and choose. i will still travel. i love to travel. i have been in 101 countries. i have been traveling since i went to ghana in 1961, way before i ever got to congress. host: 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 collected, trying to decide what you put in boxes to send to the archives at the university of washington, is very difficult.
in part, my staff didn't know what those were about. some of them, they weren't even born when i was working on these things in congress. they would bring me an issue and say, should we save this? is this important? and my mind would start into all the aspects of what that issue was all about. it was a real exhausting walk down 28 years of experience. and of course, at one point we stopped having paper, and it's all on hard drives. we had all the issues of -- what do you want to save for future historians talk at? if you want to look at the aids epidemic and what mcdermott did, you have to organize the people can find it. host: you mentioned the archives -- what will be -- rep. mcdermott: the historical archives. they have a public official's
archive, i guess tom foley isn't there. brock adams. there are a number of washington state politicians that you can get at the university of washington. host: who would you say you might miss from congress? and the relationships that you had over the years that were special? rep. mcdermott: 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. we had a very warm relationship. the other person i'm leaving behind who is also a good friend is -- when she came to congress, we became good friends. george miller, probably two handfuls of people i would spend
some time with. host: what advice would you give to younger members of congress, 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 have got to listen to what you think. you might have an idea that i should incorporate in what i am doing, and i think the lack of people getting together and knowing each other is really the biggest problem we have. we used to travel together, we used to go places together, bring our families here. 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. 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 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 this or that and put you in a slot somewhere. and i think that's the best advice i can give to people. listen to the 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. there was a guy from alabama down there, and washington and alabama have been paired in the peach bowl. he and i had a big discussion
today -- turned out he played on the team. he was a walk-on, a guy from alabama was a walk-on, and i never knew that before. now i think of them differently. his politics are way to the right, and i am way to the left, but i now know more about gary then i did, and that makes it possible for us to talk about issues. host: 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. 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 free tv time so people can look at us. do i like him or do i like her? listen to us, answer questions
from people. but when i was in congress, i won by 80% again and again. if you try to run against me, you couldn't raise any money. i had all the money to put my face on tv, and it meant nothing. what you need is to balance the field so that people can see real choices. host: 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 could just ignore people who ran against me because i didn't have to. they couldn't raise any money, so why worry about it? 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 their campaigns are 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. host: commerce and mcdermott, think of for your time. rep. mcdermott: my pleasure. to jimmyo talked panetta. represent california. >> representing california's district, a democrat. you're not new to washington. jimmy panetta: i was born here. visited as i grew up in carmel
valley. >> who was your father? jimmy panetta: he was a congressional member at the time. his name is leon panetta. remember about those days when your dad was a house member? jimmy panetta: i came out here at a formative time of my life. here, i was inut second grade. it was the summer of 1977. back then, parents were different about how they would allow their kids to wander around. i had it free reign of the capital and the whole mall, i could go anywhere i wanted. it was a neat experience. being here now, it evokes a lot of memories i had then. >> what impression did you have back then that led you to want to