tv Conversations with Retiring Members - Rep. John Duncan CSPAN December 30, 2018 12:17am-12:52am EST
relationship driven institution. steve: we thank you for your time. rep. roskam: thank you. >> outgoing u.s. representative john duncan of tennessee recently sat down with c-span for an interview to reflect on his career and time in congress. this is 35 minutes. steve: do you remember the very first time you came to washington as a member of congress? rep. duncan: yes, i do, i remember the very first time i came to washington, hearing -- washington, period. i came here at the end of my sixth grade year on a trip. that was 1959. if anybody told me i would ever end up in washington, i would have thought they lost their mind. but i have so many memories. i remember the first time i came to washington -- i succeeded my
father in congress, and a remember the first time we driven into washington for his swearing-in. it was pouring snow and we got here at about 11:00 at night. we saw the capitol dome. we stayed at the congressional hotel. it was one of the most beautiful sights i had ever seen. my first day, frank palone and i were sworn in the day after the election, because his predecessor and my father passed away, before i was elected. we were sworn in the day after the election in 1988. steve: what was your dad like? rep. duncan: i grew up in a very poor family. my grandparents and scott county tennessee had 10 kids and an outhouse, and not much more. my dad hitchhiked to knoxville with five dollars in his pocket to go to the university of tennessee. 20 years later, he was elected
mayor, and six years later elected to congress. i described my dad one time as the kindest, sweetest, toughest, hardest working man i ever knew. i got the nicest letter from a -- from peyton manning about that. he said he could tell from that article that i had the same kind of relationship with my dad that he had with his dad. i am appreciative of that letter. steve: why did he seek elective office? rep. duncan: i am not really sure. they told me that my grandfather, poppa duncan, was such a staunch republican, he said you could make it to heaven if you were not a presbyterian
or republican, but you had a leg up if you were. my grandmother worked in the campaigns of congressman harry baker senior. my dad was from a very rural county. scott county, tennessee. a very republican county. in fact, when tennessee voted to secede from the union in the civil war, the scott county court met and seceded from the state and declared itself as a free and independent state. when world war i rolled around , the scott county court thought the united states was a little slow in declaring war, so they declared war on germany six weeks before the united states did. they wrote a column about that in the late 1970's, and said, as far as anybody knew, scott county never officially came back into the union or declared peace with germany. my dad got a letter from
somebody over there and they wondered if scott county qualified for any foreign aid. scott county was one of the 10 poorest counties in the u.s. when they started the war on poverty. it was pure appalachia when i was growing up. my grandparents had no money, they never had a car, never went on a vacation. my grandfather was a farmer but he never missed a church on sunday after he came back from the spanish-american war. my grandparents were both staunch republicans. my mother came from iowa. she came from a staunchly republican family in iowa. i got it from both sides. steve: did your dad talk to you
about serving in congress? how did this come about? rep. duncan: when i was in school, high school and college, ashful, and ib don't think i ever would have ended up in politics. but i drove my dad around all over the district, i admired him so much. slowly, the politics got into my blood. i ended up -- when i got elected to congress it was like a dream come true. i saw it through my father that you could help thousands of people in a lot of different ways. i think since i have been here, which is 30 years now, it boggles my mind to say that. it has passed so fast. but i think the best thing about it is you get to make close friends with people from all over the country.
one thing i am pleased about, i feel like i have been able to get along with almost everybody, democrats and republicans. steve: you came in the final months of the reagan presidency and then worked with president george h w bush, bill clinton, george w. bush, barack obama, and now donald trump. if you have a particularly close relationship with any of the presidents? rep. duncan: all of them were very nice to me. president reagan did an ad for me when i was first running. we did it at the white house. i don't think they would even do that now. i went to -- i got to go because i was sworn in on november 9, i got to go to presdient reagan's final reception for the congress. i remember walking away with congressman don sundquist, and
he asked me how it was going, and i said it was great i am up to 75% of the vote now. i got to fly on air force one several times. i have, i guess, a lot of stories about that. i remember one time flying with george w. bush. i told him that when i was in law school, they said the a students made the professors, b students made the judges, and c students made the money. when i said c students made the money, he laughed and said or they became president. another time, i was flying with him and he just thrown out the first pitch at the nationals game. i told him the daughter of one of my first cousins from indiana had married the catcher for the nationals.
i said, i told george bush about that connection, the family connection, and he said he is a nice young man. he told me he was a real nervous about catching my pitch. i told him, what to think about me? if i throw him a dirt ball i have to watch replays of it all season. they were all very nice to me. even president clinton and president obama, both of whom i never supported. i remember one time, i had two firefighters from knoxville visiting me. one of them was the democratic chairman for knox county. he was a friend of mine. i told my son, i am supposed to go have lunch with president clinton at noon. with the prime minister of ireland.
i might be able to -- if you meet me down here i might be able to introduce you to the president. we went up there a little before noon and we were standing outside the door. here came all the photographers and reporters with the president. the president, the speaker of the house, the prime minister of ireland, and i are standing there and i introduce these two firefighters to president clinton. president clinton put his arm around the shoulders and said y'all take care of this guy now. and they said, we do, we wish -- we think he's the greatest. i wish i had recorded it, they were all real nice to me. steve: what will you miss the most? rep. duncan: i had a reporter for one of the capitol hill tell me -- one of the capitol hill papers tell me that i bet i'm glad to be leaving. some of the members say i can't wait to get out of here so i can go out and make some real money.
i said i will really miss it. i loved every job i ever had at the time i had it. i have loved this, and i have always had great interest in national and international issues. i will miss being involved in at least, in a small way, the major issues. i think one of the best things about this job as you get to be really close friends with people from all over the country. that is probably the part that i will miss the most. i remember congressman jim walsh from syracuse was one of my best friends in congress. we were sitting on the floor one night and another congressman was up speaking. dyed hiso jim, kurt
hair, and jim looks at me and says kurt's dad is here? he could not understand me because of my east tennessee accent. my best friends in the congress for years, i started going out to eat years ago when i first started with hal rogers from kentucky and sonny callahan from alabama. we added on bob stump from arizona and terry edwards from alabama. slowly, other members started coming. now we have a once a month southern republican dinner at the restaurant we always went to for a long time. they have that dinner and it is usually about 30-35 people. steve: why are you retiring? rep. duncan: i am retiring primarily because i have nine grandchildren at home in knoxville. i have had a 46 year career when
you add in my 16 years as a lawyer and a judge, and i started noticing 3-4 years ago that on the planes each week i was the oldest or one of the oldest members on the plane. when you are in politics, you look at the obituaries every day. i noticed half the men were dying younger than me. i decided it was time. i told my chief of staff a few months before the 2016 election, if we have another good election, and we did, and i'm able to serve those two years, that will be 30 years. that seemed to be a good even number to stop at. i am very much comfortable with it. there's things i'm going to miss. miss.
but there is things i miss every day that happen at home with my grandchildren and things like that. my grandchildren and things like that. i told my wife when i first came up. that i want our kids to be raised in tennessee. i have always considered knoxville and east tennessee to be home. steve: over the years based on your records you had a lot of pressure within your own party, not always voting the way your party wanted you to vote. how would you describe your politics, ideology, and how do you respond when you get pressure from lincoln leadership to vote one way and you vote the other? rep. duncan: the biggest thing was they found out that i was leaning against the war in iraq. they called me to the white house and the in a secure room with condoleezza rice and the head of the cia. asked the president economics
adviser, a harvard professor, he said a day or two before that a war would cost us $200 billion or more. i asked about that and condoleezza rice said if anything it would be $50 billion or $60 billion and we would get some of that back. that had to be the worst estimate in the history of the world. i told them if you get past the traditional conservative positions against foreign aid and we are spending going to war to enforce human resolutions. if you get past those traditional conservative positions, do you have any evidence of an imminent threat? they did not. i had been very outspoken
against all of our unnecessary wars in the middle east. i have been very fiscally conservative. --emember i got in trouble in my first six years i did not get in any trouble. when we took over i started getting in a little trouble because i would not vote for all of the appropriations bills. he came to me one night on the floor and told me these are republican bills. i said yes tom, but you are spending more than the democrats. one of the papers down-home home wrote a big article one time calling the independent man. of contrary sort establish east tennessee street gimmick i guess. iraq doith regards to
you think history has revealed you were right? the tv stations in knoxville ran a poll, i will never forget these numbers, it said the 74% were for it, and 9% were against it. i wondered if i was ending my political career when i cast that vote. three or four years it was the most unpopular vote i cast. i was supposed to talk to a church a year after and the hisster called me and said biggest financial supporter said he would pull out of the church if i came. i told him i understand. it just gave me a free sunday that i was not planning to have. slowly, it became one of the more popular votes which really
was a surprise to me that it took several years for it to happen. consider theu ever house leadership or were you content being a committee chair? what were your goals? was duncan: i knew that i not going to get one of the big titles because as soon as newt systemh had change the the way they picked the chairman requiring you raise a lot of money for the party and with theys vote fo leadership. i did not really seek any big positions. not want to give my voting card to anybody in the leadership or anyplace else. i may be the only person up there -- unless one of the super wealthy member said that i never
made one fundraising call in my 30 years. and whatut invitations have fundraising luncheons and breakfast's, i had people told i could've raise four times as much if i made phone calls. i did not like asking people for money. i just went about my business. i feel very good about the service. i found out early on i could do just as much for my constituents without having some big title. anve: if you could write article on the political career of congressman duncan, what would be the first paragraph? probably the incident i told you about with the war vote. the things -- i wish you
would emphasize, that would be one thing. emphasize myld fiscal conservatism. we would not have a national debt anywhere close to what we have if everyone voted like i had. i feel really good about the people we help. in smallands of people ways. i really enjoyed doing the constituent service part of it. steve: let's talk about the debt. it is approaching 22 trillion dollars. it doubled under barack obama and is likely to double under donald j. trump. how do you bring it down? rep. duncan: i think that is terrible. think about $3 trillion when i first came. that is a big disappointment to me. who wasmike mullen
chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said in testimony before several congressional committees that our national debt was the greatest threat to our national security. the easiest thing in the world is to spend other people's money. --ody gets into politics people in politics have a than the average person. you want to say yes to everybody. that is why we have gotten in this hole. thing in thetle "washington post" when president clinton was in there. it said members of his staff frequently had to call people he met with to tell them the president really did not agree with you. i guess he acted like he did when he met with them.
we are going to have to elect more fiscally conservative people to congress. people who will be tougher on spending. i think we are going to have to -- my big thing, to think we have spent trillions on these wars and that the war in 18hanistan is now going on years. i think it is just ridiculous. these wars and our foreign policy has caused us to have more enemies than we would have had. they have done more harm than good. sed taxthe recent pas cut will add to the debt? rep. duncan: i will tell you, the most efficient way you can spend money is to have it in the private sector. it will do more to create jobs and bring down prices. the most wasteful way you can
spend money is to turn it over to the federal government. the two biggest examples of that -- it shocked students at the university of tennessee. it was $90 a quarter when i i heard stanley say one time that the university of maryland was $89 a semester. ut nobody got out of school with debt. when i came to law school at george washington, even though was much more expensive, i think it was $800 a semester. had been working jobs and was able to pay my way through law school. one 5 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt. we have turned a lot of students into student loan slaves almost. i asked how much
did you charge back then? he said i charge $60 for nine months of care and the delivery. people younger than me can't remember when medical care was cheap and affordable until the federal government basically cost explodednd so much that only multi billionaires can afford it. it is sad with the federal government has done to the lower income and middle-class people. steve: you said something earlier i want to follow up on with the appropriations. withwas he like to work and who were the more difficult people for you personally in the leadership to work with? i don't think i ever had any difficulty working with any of them.
say i hadu could problems with tom delay because i would not go along with some of the leadership on things. i remember when newt gingrich , i had becomer chairman of the aviation subcommittee. vote and i was walking i think me and 13 others had posed something newt gingrich wanted. one of the congressman from wisconsin saying he had accidentally pushed the wrong button. this congressman i was walking said they are threatening to take away the chairmanships. what you think about that? .e said i won't worry about it
he sort of made a joke out of it. i remember one time some of the freshman had opposed newt gingrich on a procedural vote. and wasto our congress very upset. he said i want to acknowledge the people who cast his vote to come up and explain why they did that. from oklahoma came up and said the whole process is designed to intimidate us and i cannot be intimidated. i was the strike in the nfl in front of 300 pound lineman. the next person said i can be intimidated and im. the whole place broke into laughter.
we havehe one question been asking retiring members is the state of politics in washington dc is what? differentn: it is from the way it is out in the country as a whole. there seems to be more hatred and anger in politics today than ever before. oft is certainly not true the relationship that most members have up here with each other, face-to-face. friends on the democratic side. i remember several years ago nancy pelosi had what she called eight night at the state of the night at state of the union. i had two democrats who asked me to be their date. between both of them and
that was the only time i sat on the democratic side at the state of the union. we have a lot of friends among each other. fromessman phil roe tennessee told me one time he cannot believe the hateful things people put on these computers. i think maybe technology has dehumanized us in a way. thead said the problems of countries grew worse when they stop putting front porches on the houses. ybor were not visiting with each other. mostly they were spending their lives staring at screens rather than interacting with other people. steve: the sum of this tone come from the top, the president? .ep. duncan: part of it may be some of it started pretty early. some astounded when i saw
republican members had to get police escorts to get out of town hall meetings. i could not believe that. that just never happened the whole time i was here. you also have the conservative speakers being shouted down and not allowed to speak on college campuses. that is certainly not good. journalism andin i was actually a newspaper reporter back many years ago. i certainly believe in freedom of the press. i will tell you, every most ofan knows that the national media is against us. every republican, including me, has tried to court the media in at least hopes of neutralizing them. now it is sort of the first time
in history that you have a major leader who is not only not courting the media but he is attacking the media in every possible way. i think most of the media is in a shock. there is this battle going on between the president and the national media and everybody else is caught in the middle. steve: what do you think of the president? how is he doing? i like most of the big things he has done. to somesappointed me extent on his foreign-policy. i think his instincts are good. , heas said a lot of things criticized the war in iraq. he said things about bringing the troops home. he basically ended up following the same foreign-policy that was there. the president is a really if you deal with him
one-on-one. he is very likable but he is sort of a new york street fighter i guess. he comes backhim, harder than anybody i have ever seen. i really thought it was a bad thing when he attacked all the members who lost elections. i have been pretty positive about the president and i still am. not that, i think it is terrible when you try to knock somebody when they are down. when you walk out the stores for the final time, what will go through your mind? sad duncan: i will be very that it has come to an end.
when i first came here, one of the capitol hill publications came and would ask these off-the-wall questions and i would try to avoid them. during my first term they said if there was a statue of you in the capital, where would be and what would it say? it would probably be in the basement and it would say lucky to be here. that is while he said lucky to be here. steve: what is next? i want to write a book that few people will read because i am not nationally famous. i had one of the funniest, strangest, law practices that anybody could have. steve: how so? case was a: my first first-degree murder case. whonding a black woman
murdered her husband. that case ended in a funny way. i came back early from my honeymoon to represent the family that went through a sex change operation who went to court to get his name change. they found a woman who wanted to give them a son and i did the adoption. i went into my office and i see that isnd i remembered the person who went through the sex change. i called her and gave her the phone number. she said i have a 10-year-old grandson from that boy you help me adopt all those years ago. i once represented a fortuneteller. it was a story almost every day. there were a lot fewer lawyers
in my day. almost every lawyer in knoxville had a general practice. somewhere or another i happened to get into some really strange, unusual, sometimes high profile type cases. cases. a lot of case and up on the national news a few years ago -- a number of years ago. i will write about some of that. i have always written through the years. i have a in another article that the american conservative magazine is getting ready to publish. i have written columns for various newspapers. i hope to continue writing and speaking out on some of the issues. steve: congressman, we thank you for your time. rep. duncan: thank you steve, it
has been an honor. i am a c-span junkie. the 7:00 show just about every morning. my wife says don't you get enough of that? i say yes but when you know these people it is even more about hisg. career and time in congress. this is about 40 minutes. teve: congressman coffman, for those retiring yours is not voluntary, what happened the election? in 2012 they dramatically changed my district to essentially get rid of me at that time.