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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Interview with Congressman Rahm Emanuel

Through the help of Jesse Lee over at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I was able to line up an interview with DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel -- the subject of much discussion on this site. During the interview, which you can listen to here (a 14.1 megabyte .mp3) or read below, I raised a number of the issues discussed on this site, including his role in the Duckworth-Cegelis primary, his stance towards the Francine Busby campaign, congressional ethics an d his message to the progressive blogosphere.
Jonathan Singer: As recently as October, the NRCC held an $8.5 million advantage over your committee, the DCCC, a lead that has been all but erased. It’s down to about $1.5 million, as of the last filing deadline. Will you be able to keep this pace up through the election?


Rahm Emanuel: I was just on the phone today, this afternoon, doing exactly. And it’s my goal, and it’s the goal of all the members, and most importantly it’s the goal of active Democratic supporters around the country to do that.

So we have an aggressive schedule. And I feel good about that. I can’t say what they’re going to do, but I know on all of the pieces we’ve got to do, Jonathan – direct mail, internet, events, members’ support – I feel very strong not only about the schedule we have but the response we’re getting.

Singer: There was an article in The Hill newspaper no doubt you saw on Wednesday, I believe it was, headline – the big headline in The Hill – “Dems prep for transition.” Things are looking good, generic congressional ballot numbers are good, fundraising numbers are good, recruitment is good. Is it a bit hasty for a headline like that?

Emanuel: Yes. Here’s what I always say. Look, on a macro level, this is turning out to be a big election, just like ’74, ’82, ’86, ’94, ’98 were. You got six months to go. Way too early. A lot can happen. Six months is a long time in politics.

Also, besides that’s macro, on the micro, they have – and I keep reminding people – we have a structural problem. The fix is in. We’re trying to pick the lock. Now is the mood of the country more powerful than the structural disadvantage Democrats face? Anybody that tells you they know the answer six months out doesn’t know politics. Did you know this morning that Porter Goss was resigning? No! Okay.

So a lot can happen in politics in six months. Fortunes can change. At this point, standing before you on this conversation on Friday, I’d rather be us than them. I can’t tell you how long that’s going to hold.

Singer: Let’s talk briefly about the Porter Goss situation and what could or couldn’t be surrounding it. We don’t want to connect too many dots before we know anything, really, in fact. But what we do know is that Dusty Foggo, the number three man at the CIA, has admitted to at least attending “poker parties,” I believe he’s called them, at the Watergate Hotel that were arranged by Brent Wilkes and others who have been implicated with Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The Wall Street Journal has brought up the specter of prostitution, perhaps. With this kind of lurid underpinning, how does that play into the election coming up?

Emanuel: It’s not a positive development – you can say that for sure. It doesn’t add to the environment… Look, when you have 60 plus percent, 64 percent, saying the country’s heading off in the wrong direction. This is only going to reinforce the fact that Washington needs a change, a good house cleaning, and a new set of priorities. That all plays to the advantage of the party out of power. But I’m not going to comment on those individuals till we know more, but let me say this: I know it’s unusual for any person to quit an administration on a Friday at 1:30 with no head’s up warning and without a replacement.

Singer: Fair enough. Let’s get to kind of a different angle. For all of your fundraising successes, your recruitment successes, the biggest complaint out of the progressive blogosphere relating to your tenure as DCCC chair has been your willingness to jump into internal primary battles, most notably supporting Tammy Duckworth over a grassroots’ favorite, Christine Cegelis. How would you respond to this criticism?

Emanuel: I think there are places where primaries are good. Illinois, in the 6th, they had a primary. But my view was, I also have a charge, as you know Jonathan, to make every seat competitive – or as many seats as I can competitive. And I know what my Republican counterpart said when Tammy won, which is this is going to be a very competitive seat now.

And so sometimes with being a leader at the DCCC comes criticism. That’s part of the job. That’s fine.

The voters in the end of the day in the 6th district made a decision. They made a decision to have Tammy be the nominee. In my view, it’s now a discussion about Tammy’s set of ideas about what it takes to move this country forward and the extreme ideas and policies that Senator Roskam has been voting on, like against stem cell research. He’s for banning books and movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” like “Romeo and Juliet” from schools. He opposed the assault weapons ban. This is a debate about Tammy Duckworth versus Peter Roskam. This is not about what happened in the past.

Singer: Maybe just on a larger scale, not just in that race, do you have any concern that… There has been a lot of rhetoric coming out of the progressive blogosphere. Do you have any concern that might turn into, say, progressive voters staying at home on election day?

Emanuel: If the progressive blogs saying… Look, let’s go back. What happened in 2004, John Kerry got 47 percent. Right?

Singer: In that district.

Emanuel: And Cegelis got what? Do you remember?

Singer: 44 percent.

Emanuel: So she ran below John Kerry in that district. Correct?

Singer: That’s correct, I think.

Emanuel: So okay. I’m into a general election against Peter Roskam. And that’s a suburban district. It’s a district that’s going to be won with independents, because there’s not enough Democrats to win it. Okay?

Singer: Okay. Let’s talk about another tough district, or at least a district that’s tougher than Illinois’ 6th, and that is California’s 50th congressional district where Francine Busby in April, last month I guess it was, scored about 44 percent of the vote, which was on par with what John Kerry received. She’s going up in one month’s time against Brian Bilbray, a former Congressman, to fill Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s seat. Is this a seat that can still be won? Did the moment pass on April 11?

Emanuel: No. It can still be won. You forgot to mention there’s a Libertarian and independent candidate.

Singer: That’s true, and the possibility of Eric Roach running, too.

Emanuel: Well, I doubt it happens given he met with the Vice President today. Well we’ll know in short order.

Singer: So what will you and the DCCC be doing between now and the next—

Emanuel: Well we’re spending. The DCCC can go on the air and you can check the buy. The independent expenditure side is up with an aggressive TV buy.

Singer: Are there other institutional supports that you’re giving to that district?

Emanuel: Yeah. Look, we spent already about a half of a million dollars down there. So I’m committed to be competitive and try to win wherever we can win. Okay?

Singer: Okay. Now another question in terms of strategizing. Do the Democrats need a Contract with America this year? Or an equivalent?

Emanuel: Yeah. They gotta tell people… I do think we’re ready to govern. I think we’re ready to hit the ground running, to put a minimum wage vote up, to direct negotiations for prescription drug prices up, to put the 9/11 Commission recommendations up, to reverse the $12.5 billion cuts in college aid up, to remove the $15 billion in subsidies to ExxonMobil and other oil and gas interests to alternative fuels and hybrids. And we are ready to govern and reverse course and return this government to the American people.

Singer: The New York Times this week had a story – a couple of days ago, I believe it was – that the road to retaking the House could come through the Northeast. A lot of competitive seats there. Can you talk about the focus on kind of a bread-and-butter region for the Democrats that perhaps—

Emanuel: Look, the Northeast and the Midwest are going to be central. It’s also where George Bush’s numbers are worse, where the direction for the right track/wrong track for the country is worse for the Republicans.

In New York you have four seats. In Connecticut you have three. In New Jersey you have one. In New Hampshire you have two. In Western Pennsylvania you have three – Eastern Pennsylvania, rather. And Vermont you have one. Right there is about 14 seats.

Then you go four to Ohio, three to Indiana, one in Illinois, one in Iowa, one in Minnesota, one in Wisconsin. That’s worse regions for George Bush, and those are where the concentration of seats are.

Singer: You’re running a couple of former Congressmen – at least a couple – in Indiana, Baron Hill, and also in Kentucky—

Emanuel: Ken Lucas.

Singer: –Ken Lucas. The track record for former Congressmen has been mixed at best. And these are districts. I think John Kerry got in the 30s in both of them. How confident are you that they will be able to reclaim their seats?

Emanuel: Look, right now Ken Lucas is up 48-38, Baron Hill is up 47-37. Two separate independent polls. That’s not true for anybody else, and you couldn’t be competitive in those seats without those guys. It’s that simple.

Singer: Let’s look towards the Southwest…

Emanuel: Let me say this. George Bush went in and did something for Sodrel against Baron Hill. Do you think he’s doing that that because Sodrel’s a lock? N. He’s doing it because we recruited the best candidate we could get. He’s also committed to do one for Geoff Davis against Ken Lucas. Is he doing that because Geoff Davis is a lock? No. It’s because we’ve got someone who can beat him.

Singer: Let’s talk about the Southwest. You’ve also recruited a couple of good candidates in Arizona, in New Mexico also. You have a couple of strong races, perhaps, in Nevada. Do you see a kind of Southwest tinge, as well, not just the Northeast and the Midwest?

Emanuel: Well it depends on how this Hispanic immigration issue – I mean not the Hispanic but the immigration issue plays out. But yes.

We’ve got one in Colorado, two in Nevada, maybe three in Arizona and one in New Mexico. And so this whole immigration debate is going to be a very important play there.

Singer: Let’s talk California while we’re on the Southwest. Out here, the district where I’m sitting right now, House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier really struggled in 2004. There are also a couple of seats that because of ethics issues – I’m talking Pombo and also Doolittle – could also come into play, in addition, of course, to the 50th district that we mentioned earlier. Are you looking at California at all or do you just think it’s too gerrymandered?

Emanuel: Sure. Well it is gerrymandered. You got to look at individual cases, you got to look at the mood of the country. Right now you’ve got Pombo and the Cunningham seat, and all those others are something I’m observing. And if the environment today holds, I’ll be looking at being more active than we are today.

Singer: We saw in – you can correct me if I’m wrong – but in your district 12 years ago a Congressman with severe ethical issues, legal issues, lost in a district that should have stayed Democrat. Do you foresee kind of in these strongly red districts someone with questions about…

Emanuel: You have the potential. Look, two of them have already been knocked out – DeLay and Cunningham. So it all depends, but individual ethics… Bob Ney has got problems, Don Sherwood—

Singer: Would you rather see Bob Ney, Don Sherwood, you were saying, run for reelection or drop out at this point?

Emanuel: Guess what? Nobody really gives a crap what Rahm wants. And so my view is I’m going to run campaigns in those districts to win. I don’t hope for a lot of things. I try to effect the things I can effect.

Singer: There was talk that there weren’t enough retirements this year, perhaps.

Emanuel: That’s a big issue.

Singer: Do you think that’s true?

Emanuel: 1994, do you remember how many retirements there were?

Singer: There were 28, I think, on the Democratic side.

Emanuel: No. in 1994, there were over 50 retirements. There are 19 now.*

Singer: So are there just not enough seats, do you feel?

Emanuel: I don’t know. Again, I prefer to have it more open, no doubt about it. I think we’re getting close to the end of the season of whether people decide to or not to run, so there’s nothing I can do about it. So I got to make do with the hand I’m dealt. Right?

Singer: That’s correct.

Emanuel: You get one more question otherwise I’m going to miss my family time.

Singer: I’ll make it good, then.

Emanuel: Sorry about that.

Singer: No, no worries. Is there any specific message that you’d like to send out to the progressive blogosphere at this point?

Emanuel: Yeah. This election is very simple. It’s about change versus the status quo, new priorities versus the same old policies, and whether you want a rubber-stamp Republican Congress or you want an independent Congress from the President. That’s what this election is about. Okay?

Singer: Terrific. Well thank you so much for your time.

Emanuel: Thanks, buddy. Congratulations on graduation.

Singer: Thank you very much.


* - According to Congressional Quarterly, there were 28 Democratic House retirements in 1994 with more than 50 retirements in both chambers between both parties.

Interview with Senator Russell Feingold

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I was fortunate enough to speak with Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold, a potential presidential candidate in 2008 -- the first of what we hope to be many MyDD interviews with serious potential candidates for the Democratic nomination over the next two years.

Senator Feingold and I touched on a number of issues during our conversation, which you can listen to here (an 11.6 megabyte .mp3) or read below. The topics included the CIA, censure, Iraq, 2006, 2008 and the Senator's message to the progressive blogosphere.

Jonathan Singer: General Michael Hayden, President Bush’s pick to head the CIA, seemed to be unaware of the term “probable cause” in the Fourth Amendment during an appearance at the National Press Club in January. Is he fit to serve as chief of the CIA?

Russell Feingold: Well, he certainly has certain technical experience qualifications. But yes, if it is in fact true that he does not even understand the role of the Fourth Amendment and probable cause, that sort of ties in with my leading concern about his nomination: that he was a participant in and party to this illegal wiretapping program, which anybody – lawyer or not – should have understood was against the law and required specific authorization from the so-called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.

So I wouldn’t base it simply on the basis of the possibility that he didn’t know what probable cause was, but I have got to hear some reasonable explanation why he would go forward with a program that he should have known to be illegal before I could support his nomination.

Singer: Although this is not an issue that should be based upon popular opinion but rather ascertainable facts, polling indicates that between 40 and 46 percent of Americans support your proposal for censure of the President on the grounds of the domestic spying program, his support of that program. So why have so few other Democrats in Congress signed on to your plan?

Feingold: Well it’s a sad day for America and the Democratic Party when our leaders and our top people can’t even stand up to obvious illegality and wrongdoing by this administration.

The administration has done a poor job of running this country and they’ve done, I think, an incompetent job in the fight against terrorism, but they have succeeded in one thing, and they’re very good at one thing, and that is at intimidating many Democrats into not speaking their mind and their beliefs and standing up to this attack on our constitution.

Perhaps the increased revelations of other practices that appear to be coming out will cause people to think again, that censure is a very modest approach and, in fact, if we don’t do something like that, what will anyone, including a Democrat leader, say they did to acknowledge the fact that the President broke the law. At this point, there appears to be no answer other than my modest proposal to censure the President and simply pass a resolution indicating we disapprove of this.

Singer: Moving on to the issue of Iraq, which is also tied into the national security debate, of course, there are a fair deal of Americans who have turned against the war at this point but still are skeptical of pulling out for reasons that if America pulls out people are unsure of what would be left in Iraq in the aftermath. What would you say to assuage, to lessen these concerns given your support of withdrawing American troops from Iraq?

Feingold: Well it’s certainly understandable that people would be edgy about this, especially if they haven’t had a chance to see the situation in Iraq directly as I have on two occasions.

Colin Powell said, “If you break it, you own it.” And I think a lot of Americans understandably feel responsibility to not just leave the Iraqis high and dry, and I agree with that. That’s not what I proposed. What I proposed was to have our military mission redeployed, to not have the 140,000 ground troops there. We could continue helping train the police and army, and we could have special operations forces in the regions, and continue to go after Al Qaeda and Al Zarqawi type operatives.

But the idea of having our ground troops there, I think, has a tendency to inflame the insurgents, put our people at risk, and it allows fanatics to say that the United States is trying to occupy Iraq.

When you’re there, you realize the situation is already almost completely chaotic, both in Baghdad and in many other parts of the country. So the notion that somehow our leaving would lead to a civil war doesn’t recognize the reality on the ground, which is that, in many ways, is what’s going on now, and that, I think, our presence there, do to no fault of our troops, tends to inflame rather than reduce the violence.

Singer: Let me ask you just a couple quick domestic policy questions because we’re a little limited on time this morning. The President and the Republican Party seem to be intent on shifting the debate towards judges right now. Social issues seem to be, at least in their minds, a strong point for them with their base, which they are losing. What do you think of this tactic? Is it good for America? And should the Senate agree to putting on some of the more conservative members on to the courts?

Feingold: It shouldn’t be based on ideology, it should be based on whether people are actually qualified and are people that belong in a lifetime appointment.

But yes, the switch in emphasis is an example of people having gone to the well too many times. They tried that last year and it doesn’t work. Because the American people, of course, care about their judiciary, but what is first on people’s minds is getting the fight on terrorism right and not having us caught in a no-win situation in Iraq. They also want us to spend real time on guaranteeing healthcare for Americans, alternative energy sources and job creation or not losing jobs.

So trying to completely switch the subject away from both the international and domestic issues that people care about most is a sign that they are desperate. And it’s not going to work, because the American people are getting ready to vote in the fall. They want people to lead this country who are not just competent – which they don’t have right now – but people who actually are committed to working on the problems that are of greatest concern to the American people.

So I think change is coming. I think it will be significant – as long as Democrats have the courage to stand up and talk about real solutions and not just try to run out the clock by the end of the year.

Singer: Well today, as you know, there are fewer Democratic Senators than any point since Herbert Hoover was President.

Feingold: I certainly know that.

Singer: Can you talk about some of the steps that you are taking to try to change the makeup of the United States Congress?

Feingold: As you know, I’ve been working extremely hard since I was fortunate enough to be reelected, both in Wisconsin and around the country, to try to elect Democrats – and especially progressive Democrats – so we can have the majority in both Houses and so that we can have a majority that will not make mistakes like the Senate did when it was in Democratic majority of helping to pass the Iraq resolution.

And I’ve done this all over the country. I was just in Austin, Texas for a guy named John Courage. I’ve been to Vail, Colorado on this. I’ve been to suburban Philadelphia, been to Alabama, Tennessee, just recently in Iowa working for several Congressional candidates there who could change the makeup of the House. So I am actively campaigning for people who will act differently, who will be standup Democrats, not just people who will come along and let the White House intimidate them.

Singer: Let’s move on to the topic of 2008. Would you like to see an America with your friend John McCain as President?

Feingold: Well I think America could do a lot worse. Obviously I am a Democrat, hoping a Democrat will be elected in 2008. But I have a very high regard for Senator McCain has been one of the better experiences of my professional life.

Singer: Talking about your potential candidacy, there has been a lot of talk about that. In 2004, at least four of the Democrats running for President had been divorced in the past, yet it was not a topic of discussion. However, during this campaign, people seem to be talking a lot about the fact that you yourself are divorced and that may be a hamper on your potential campaign. Do you think that’s a fair criticism?

Feingold: You know I’m just going to leave that up to people. If they really want to take that into account in who they want to be a President or officeholder, that’s their business. I think it’s completely irrelevant.

I’m certainly proud of my life and my personal life, as well. There have been some setbacks, but I think everybody has had those. And it has not affected doing my job nor do I think it would affect my doing another job. Up to people, though, how they want to treat that. It’s not for me to tell them how to think about something like that.

Singer: Now let’s talk about one of the things that put you on the national stage this year, and obviously that was bringing up the notion of censuring the President. While a great deal of Americans seem to support the measure, it also seems an even larger amount of Americans seem to think it was just a political ploy. Was it? Or do you have deep seated beliefs behind that?

Feingold: Well, obviously it wasn’t a political ploy, and I think most of the people asked in a poll like that don’t know who I am. Anybody who knows who I am knows that this is the kind of thing I have been doing throughout my career when I think something’s wrong, especially with lawbreaking or possible lawbreaking.

I was the only Democrat to vote to hear the evidence in the Clinton impeachment trial. I was one of the first two Democrats to call for an independent counsel when there were concerns about Democrat President Clinton’s campaign finance practices. So I think anybody who really knows me knows that not only was this not political but I would have done this if a Democrat President was making such outrageous assertions about executive power as George Bush is doing.

So I feel very good about where this is moving. Now, with these most recent revelations, I think a number of people are embarrassed that they were so critical of the censure resolution, because it’s obviously a very moderate thing to do. If we don’t at least censure the President, we’re just going to have a big hole on the history page when people say, “All of these members of Congress said the President broke the law with illegal wiretapping but they didn’t even criticize the President for it, they didn’t even pass a resolution about it.” So that’s what I’m trying to do, and I think every day it looks stronger and better to people as an appropriate step to take. So I’m extremely pleased with the way it’s going.

Singer: Final question before I let you go. If there’s one message you’d like to send to the progressive blogosphere, the many readers in the progressive blogosphere, what would that be?

Feingold: That those who are progressives and want the Democrats to stand up strongly for their positions are not only doing the right thing for America but they are also helping to move the Democratic Party in the right direction, politically. So it’s a win-win situation and they should not allow those who are the pundits and consultants in Washington to intimidate them out of their convictions because their convictions are the right convictions.

Singer: Terrific. Well thank you for your time.

Feingold: Thank you. I appreciate all the time.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Interview with former NAACP Chairman Kweisi Mfume

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to speak with Kweisi Mfume, one of two leading candidates for the Democratic Senatorial nomination in the state of Maryland (the other being Congressman Ben Cardin, with whom we spoke in February).

Mfume and I covered a range of topics, including the Iraq War, gas prices, poverty, and why he believes the blogosphere should get involved in the race. You can listen to the interview here (warning: a 26.9 .mp3 file) or read the rush transcript below.

Jonathan Singer: April is shaping up to be the bloodiest month for Americans in Iraq since November and there appears to be no end in sight to the violence. As Senator, what would you do to improve the situation in the country?

Kweisi Mfume: That country?

Singer: Yes, that’s correct.

Mfume: I don’t know if you can improve that situation. I think the slide towards civil war has accelerated at a breakneck pace, that the violence that we’ve seen escalating over the last ten months continues to increase. I just believe it’s an extremely volatile situation that may not have an American solution. The solution may be an Iraqi solution. I just don’t know at this point.

As someone who has been against this war since the first resolution was offered in the House, which kind of gave the President permission to do so or did give him permission to do so, I’ve just been opposed to all of the reasons why we are there. The American public was lied to deliberately, maliciously and unnecessarily about all these reasons that didn’t really exist. And once we got there – as the leaders of our military say, “liberated Baghdad” – and once we were able to apprehend Saddam Hussein, we were all told that in another year the Iraqi forces would be able to take care of themselves. We would provide armament and training, et cetera. Well three years have gone by and today is like it was that first day. There’s just no end in sight.

So I don’t know if the solution there is an American solution. It may be a United Nations solution to what’s going on. That’s why it’s been so regrettable that we have sort of ignored the United Nations in this entire process. That’s why we have the organization and that’s why the organization has credibility. We need international peacekeepers in an international role in Iraq, not just an American role.

Singer: Your former colleague Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania put forward a plan that would set a deadline for the withdrawal of troops. Do you support a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq?

Mfume: Absolutely. The deadline was this year, correct?

Singer: Yeah, I believe it was.

Mfume: The end of this year. I support that. I’ve been calling for that for the last two years.

My position is that if we can set a time for the Iraqis to ratify a constitution, if we can set a time certain for their elections, we ought to be able to set a time certain for this nation to start the process of removing troops from Iraq and doing a better job at really fighting terrorism worldwide by having the resources we need to do that.

Singer: Another one of your former colleagues, Charlie Rangel of New York, put forward a plan that would institute a draft to broaden the base upon which the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – and indeed the military as a whole – upon which it’s based. Would you support a plan like that?

Mfume: I don’t know enough about Charlie’s plan except to say that it was welcomed discussion and dialogue that we were not having over an issue that at its very roots spoke to trying to find a way to share a military burden, to spread it across all population groups.

I grew up in the Vietnam era and I know that it was very difficult no matter who you were to get away from the draft no matter how much money you had, unless you were very politically connected or unless you went to Canada.

In this instance what we’ve seen over the last many years since the end of the draft has been an increase in the efforts to recruit poor White, poor Black, poor Latino kids and even Korean kids into the military, recognizing that in many of those instances a lot of those young people really needed work and they really needed skills. So we have this all volunteer army that in many respects does not have as a part of its membership kids from very affluent homes, no matter what their color. That’s just not been the case.

So Charlie’s effort, as I saw it, was first of all to get the discussion going about the lopsided nature of our fighting forces with respect to their own economic circumstances. I don’t know beyond that how he planned to unroll it out because the hearings never got underway substantially enough to explain that.

So I don’t know. When I tell people that I’m not automatically against it, their response has been, “Well, we don’t need a draft.” And my response is, “Yeah, we don’t need war.” But we do need a discussion on this. And it’s got to be a discussion that brings in every segment of our society.

Singer: On a not entirely unrelated topic, gas prices are above $3 a gallon around the country and Exxon today just announced one of the largest quarterly profits in history. What steps should Congress and the White House take to ease the burden of high gas prices?

Mfume: Just a quick question – do you know what dollar amount they announced today?

Singer: I don’t have it off-hand. I think it was around 8 billion, maybe.

Mfume: Yeah, because the number was 10 at the end of the last quarter, which was the all-time record. So this is the second all-time record, and both of those are held by Exxon and both within a six month period, which is almost criminal in some respects.

There are a few things going here, and some of it is too little, too late, and that has been the White House reaction to all of this. Because we knew – those of us who are not even in government – that when Katrina knocked out oil producing capacity in the Gulf and that we were going into the winter months, everything was in place – kind of like a perfect storm – so that by the time we got to the spring again, gas prices would be out of control. Exxon had closed out that quarter with a $10 billion profit, and most people were clamoring for some sort of government intervention into what was going on with these obscene profits. And there was none. So where we are today to some of us was kind of predicted back in the month of September, and unfortunately it has come to pass.

I believe that, if I might just take a moment to talk about several things that are very important here, including government intervention, which as I said now is too little, too late with what the President and the Congress are talking about – not even what they’re doing, because they haven’t even done anything – but with their talking they’re a little late on some of this to provide relief.

Obviously we need an all-out consumer recognition and a consumer push on the notion of conservation because we’ve got to find a way in our own way, I think, to sort of deny the wholesale profits that are taking place by finding a way to cut back on what we’re doing as those who consume oil and gas.

The other thing I strongly believe is that unless we as a society and a nation get very serious about alternative fuel development, we will be held as prisoners in this whole oil and gas process for the rest of our lives. We talked about it. I’m old enough to remember when the first discussion started in 1974 in earnest when we were going through the first oil embargo and here we are now 32 years later and we still haven’t done anything. So there’s a real need now, if not an absolute mandate to rapidly get started on alternative fuel development and make that a national priority, bar none.

The other thing is that there was a real need in my opinion for the government to exercise its ability to influence OPEC, which has not been taking place. And I’m talking about since we’re providing much of the security for the oil-producing countries, in particular, we ought to be getting some sort of a discount rate per barrel on the oil that’s coming out of there that’s being consumed to a large part by this country. We don’t insist on that – I don’t know – and as a result we don’t get it. But at the very least, as the nation that’s providing a great deal of security for those countries, we ought to be at least trying to get that done.

And then on the domestic side, with respect to these companies, I think to some extent that there might even be collusion going on among companies. It’s not an accusation, it’s a thought. But I can’t help to think it because the way prices seem to be fixed and set and how these astronomical, obscene profits continue to take place quarter after quarter. And I think we need government regulation of oil companies in this country, bar none, so that we can get to the bottom of whether or not there’s something a) illegal taking place, in terms of price setting and price fixing, and b) whether or not there’s some sort of way to rein in the uncontrolled ability of these nations to profit on American consumers.

Singer: A few minutes ago you brought up Hurricane Katrina and the response to it. Around the time of the Hurricane or slightly thereafter, President Bush decried the poverty and said that serious action must be taken, yet we haven’t heard him say anything about it in the intervening months and it seems to have dropped off of his radar. Can you just talk a little bit about the response to Hurricane Katrina and what should be done today to improve some of the systematic issues that were brought to Americans’ minds through the story?

Mfume: The response to the Hurricane was a farce. Not only does the average person on the street know that, the entire world knows that. The comments of the world community were comments borne of disbelief at the lack of response by our government as international cameras and international television took those pictures around the world. People in other countries could not believe it. So you know it was difficult for Americans to accept that this response by this government was anything less than inadequate. It was totally insufficient.

The President’s proclamations and the President’s meanderings that took place formally and informally about why this was such a terrible tragedy and why we have to do something about it and no American should live like that were pontifications of the moment because very little has come out of that. We haven’t even corrected FEMA yet, let alone correct the problems that were contributing to the poverty.

We fought a War on Poverty in this country under President Johnson. Many Americans thought we were winning it. By the beginning of the 1970s, one out of five American children were living in poverty. Today in this country one out of five American children get up and go to bed living in poverty. So we’ve not come very far at all. And it is a situation that is not segmented by race; these are poor White kids, poor Black kids, poor Latinos. They live in every city, town, hamlet and barrio across this nation. They didn’t ask for this situation, but they’re growing up with odds against them in the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth.

They’re oh so many contributing factors that if there’s not just the government awareness but a government intervention to try to deal with those factors, we’ve already put in place a movement to produce a generation of teenagers, which these children will soon become, and then adults that will be at an extreme disadvantage, that will not be significantly a part of the work force, that will not contribute as they should as adults, that will require additional and special needs that are medical in nature and educational in nature, and we will have lost, really and not just rhetorically, an entire generation because of a situation manifest in poverty that we could be doing something about.

So I think it’s an abomination that this President would stand up in that moment when people were so vulnerable and looking for leadership and to talk about how this was such an American tragedy, and here we are six, seven months later and most people look at what has come out of that and cannot measure that because it has been so small.

Public schools in too many of these cities and towns and hamlets around the country remain overcrowded and ill-equipped. In some of those schools drugs are more available than textbooks. Too many of these kids are living in dilapidated housing where lead paint and lead dust, because of the construction of the housing, continue to infect them and ultimately their motor skills and their ability to think… and creates other sorts of biological issues within them.

We see violence taking place, occurring in a subculture, where kids, because of their poverty, find themselves a part of the subculture. And it becomes a need and a requirement just to provide everyday. It’s a subculture of drugs and guns. It affects all of us, either directly or indirectly. We don’t hear about any of that at the White House. We don’t hear any concern about that coming out of the United States Senate.

We reap what we sow. I don’t know how many times we have to live through a generation to understand that, but we will either pay for that now or as a society we will pay for it later.

Singer: Michael Steele has made some rather controversial remarks during the course of the campaign thus far. He seemed not to be concerned by the Governor’s appearance at a Whites-only golf club. He also likened stem-cell research to Nazi science. Is he serious enough to be Senator, let alone Lieutenant Governor?

Mfume: I think his candidacy is serious. I know that there are a couple of factors that exist in this state that don’t necessarily get national attention that could be the difference in whether or not he happens to get elected.

He will obviously get the nomination of his party. His electability hinges on a couple things, some of which have nothing to do with his position on those issues and everything to do with the fact that the Democratic Party in the state of Maryland has been extremely slow in terms of providing opportunities for African-Americans and Latinos in this state to run for and to be a part of statewide office.

In fact, I think Maryland was established going back to 1790 or something, and in that time we’ve never had – never – not just a Black or Latino elected to statewide office, we’ve never had one nominated. And the only woman in that entire period of time was Barbara Mikulski. And that’s a shame and an outrage when you consider that 40 percent of the Democratic Party in Maryland are Black voters and a growing amount are Latino voters. In a progressive state that has a two to one Democratic registration it’s almost unheard of. And so people are getting tired of business as usual, and when I say people, I’m talking specifically about the base here of the Democratic Party.

And that anger poured out four years ago when there was a gubernatorial election and when many people were hoping that for the first time the Democratic Party would nominate a Black or Latino person as Lieutenant Governor – not nominate, when the nominee would pick someone that way and the party would rally behind that person. Not only did that not happen, nobody was ever on that short list from either of those racial or ethnic groups. Nobody was talked to in the community. In fact, Black and Latino leaders across the state had to simply wait until the press conference to find out who that person was who had been chosen. And when they found out, it was a guy named Lawson who had come out of the military who hadn’t lived in the state that long who 30 days prior had been a Republican.

So it was a huge slap on the face, and what happened was on election day there was a lot of crossover voting, Black Democrats voting for this Republican ticket that included a Black Lieutenant Governor nominee – not for the first time; this was the third time Republicans had done this – and a lot of other Black and Latino voters stayed home. So Maryland got for the first time in 40 years its first Republican Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

I’m saying I think that a lot of that has manifesting itself around the state today given the fact that the party never embraced my candidacy – first of all they never encouraged it – but they never embraced it afterwards and have done a lot of things to get me out of the race. When I say the party, I don’t mean the formal party – not the director of the Maryland state party, but these are, in my opinion, the old party bosses that still want to control things.

But more than that, Michael Steele – who shows up in Black churches and at events in the larger Black community, unlike some of his predecessors on the Republican side and has an ability to talk and work with minority business people and others – has an appeal not because of his issues but because to some of those persons he represents hope and a breakthrough that quite frankly ought to belong to the Democratic Party. We’ve given up the high road as a party on this whole issue of inclusion and diversity to Republicans, and it’s in many respects style over substance.

I don’t know. I just know that looking at this and trying to answer your question as directly and bluntly as I can, I can only say his positions on issues not withstanding, we need to take his candidacy extremely serious in this state for all of the reasons I’ve enunciated and for others I might not be able to think of right now. Because if we don’t, as we did four years ago, we could get into a situation where again the Democratic Party suffers a great loss in a state that has a two to one Democratic registration, large Black and Latino population, and considers itself “progressive.”

Singer: Just a couple more questions. As a result of a Washington Post article that ran a year ago tomorrow that detailed some accusations of favoritism at the NAACP. Some may have qualms about your candidacy. Are these concerns well founded? What would you like to say to these people?

Mfume: I don’t think that they’re well founded concerns. There was an accusation of favoritism by a former employee who no longer worked at the association who said she heard that in order to get ahead at the association that you had to have some special kind of relationship with me, that I had to like you. That’s about as far from the truth as you can get because it ignores the fact that more women had been promoted under my leadership at the NAACP than any time in its 90-year history. And those women were promoted because of their brains, not their bodies. They were promoted because they deserved it. In many instances, they’ve gone on not only there but elsewhere to continue to shine and outshine many of their male counterparts because they have the skills and the training in their respective areas and the tenacity to hold on to make a real difference.

The other interesting thing about the article was that there was not one person, past or present at the NAACP or having used to be at the NAACP to step forward and corroborate that at all. It was just this one former employee who, to I assume some extent, was disgruntled that she didn’t make enough money and who didn’t file a formal complaint – never filed a grievance – but after her employment sent a letter to the board with that accusation.

I’m not trying to say that people should not look at that. I think they need to look at everything regarding candidates. But I think it’s unfair to give that any more credence than it deserves. It is what it is and what it was. And because it was never corroborated, because it was the accusation of one former employee, we have to keep that in perspective.

And let me tell you why. This is not a situation where, like with Arnold Schwarzenegger, there were all these separate people coming forward in separate towns making accusations that he groped me and fondled me and embarrassed me. That was not the case at all. But there was a real need to try to take a small story and to make it into a large story and to drag it out for a long time because there was a real need by some people to get me out of the race and to discredit my candidacy any way they could. And I assume that most of them thought that a result of that I would get out. But I’m made of a different kind of substance. I realize that when people are trying to smear you with stuff that in many respects doesn’t stick that they will hope and pray that you break.

What’s happened since then is that a lot of people got angry when they realized this for what it was and I think got angry not at any one specific person, because we don’t know how this whole thing was developed, carried out in the press for such a long time when it was, in the minds of some people, a very small story that people were trying to make into a larger one.

But I think people got angry about the fact that here’s somebody that’s done everything that the party has asked him to do in 25 years and even before there was any story, for 46 days I was the only candidate in the race and the party never once said, “We think we could support this individual.” So I think people were probably more concerned about that aspect of it.

But a race is what it is. A second big thing was that after that let’s find an effort to get all the endorsements for the candidate of our choice and the candidate of choice in this instance was Congressman Cardin, who the Democratic Party just opened up the floodgates here. Every endorsement you could possibly get he got. Whether he tried or not he got them. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve them, I’m just saying it’s interesting how the party rallied to do that.

And then the third thing that happened after that was an effort to now let’s get all of the money we can get. My opponent has gotten and raised, to his credit, a great deal of money. The difference between us is that I don’t take special interest money from pharmaceuticals and from oil and gas companies. I just have a set of principles that says if I’m going to run this race, I’m going to try to do this the right way from a populist position and in a principled manner so I’m not bought and sold and I don’t belong to anybody other than the people of this state who go out and vote.

So there are a lot of differences there and long story short, 14 months later I’m still here and I’m still going around the state every day, seven days a week, reaching out to people of all colors of all communities from all backgrounds and walks of life. And given all of that, I’m neck-and-neck in the polls in every poll we’ve seen produced with my chief opponent.

So I think that people here in the state have said, “We’re going to think for ourselves. We’re going to make our own minds up. We want a campaign, not a coronation. And we want an opportunity to have candidates before us so we can question them and understand not only their principles, but also their ideals, their beliefs and their vision for the future.”

Singer: Last question. Is there anything you’d like to say specifically to members of the liberal/progressive blogosphere to get them more involved in your campaign?

Mfume: I’d like them to understand that I’m an unapologetic progressive. I don’t apologize for my views. I’m very proud the fact that I don’t support the PATRIOT Act, that I’m in support of stem-cell research, that I’m a 100 percent pro-union candidate – have been all my life – that this campaign is a pro-privacy campaign to get the government out of illegal wiretaps and out of our medical records and out of our banking records, that I’m the candidate that stands up over and over again that believes that it’s an abomination and a sin for a half million Americans to lose their pensions because a couple of corporations were playing slick games and getting out of a commitment they made to workers all along, and that I’m the candidate that has been opposed to this war all along, who finds it outrageous that poverty lives among us at the rate it does and that 46 million people have no health insurance, which is the population of 24 states.

And I think that in order for Democrats to win, we really have to stand for something and we have to say to people, “These are our core beliefs.” Because otherwise we’re kind of like Republicans light. If I want a beer, I just get a beer, if I want something light, I get a Bud Light. But if I want something different, it’s because I know that there really is a difference. And Democrats, in order to win, have to be different, have to, I think, stand for something, have to be able to talk in plain English to everyday people, and have to be prepared to fight again for the heart and soul of our nation.

Singer: Well, thank you so much for your time and good luck in your campaign.

Mfume: Thank you, Mr. Singer. I appreciate the opportunity, too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Interview with former Navy Secretary James Webb

This morning, spoke with former Secretary of the Navy James Webb, a candidate for the Democratic senatorial nomination in the commonwealth of Virginia (we of course would also welcome a conversation with the other leading Democrat in the race, Harris Miller).

Webb and I spoke about a number of topics, including the War in Iraq, the use of civilian contractors, why Webb -- who served under Ronald Reagan -- is running as a Democrat, and why he believes the blogosphere should get involved in the race. You can listen to the interview here (warning: a 19.0 megabyte mp3) or read the rush transcript below.

Jonathan Singer: Is President Bush, and perhaps more importantly the Republican Senate, doing enough to protect America’s national security today?

James Webb: Well I think that from 9/11 forward, they’ve made fundamental mistakes that not only have not increased our security but have caused us to be intensely disliked around the world, unnecessarily.

If you go back to after 9/11, when President Bush stood up and said “in the war against international terrorism, you’re either with us or against us,” I think a lot of people agreed with that, but when they started going after Iraq, it was a totally thing. And I think that they squandered an historic opportunity to really galvanize most of the responsible people around the world so that we could focus on the real problems. By going into Iraq, they created hostility, insulted countries that had been our allies for a long time – unnecessarily insulted them – and created a lot more potential dislike and terrorist incidences than if they’d handled it the other way.

Singer: Now let’s move forward to a hypothetical January 2007. You’ve just been sworn is as George Allen’s replacement in the United States Senate. How does this change the Senate’s outlook towards Iraq?

Webb: Not only myself, but I think what we really need in the Congress is people who are willing to lead affirmatively, to come up with solutions, and to stand up to the executive overreach. Since 9/11, particularly, we’ve seen abuses of Presidential authority that are almost historic in their dimensions. We can take one issue or another issue, but when you connect the boxes on them, one of the strongest conclusions you have to reach is that the Congress is not standing up to the administration, to the Presidential overreach.

And it’s not simply one-party rule; it’s the Congress itself having lost its notion of its own prerogatives. I was a committee counsel in the Congress for four years – 1977 to 1981 – when the Democratic Party was in the White House and controlled the Congress, but at that time, the people who were in the Congress had a real sense of history and of their constitutional prerogatives, and they did not defer to the administration simply because they were in the same party. One of the four themes that I’m running on is the notion that Congress has to reassert itself, and you would see me doing that.

Singer: Let me come at kind of come at this from a different angle. President Bush yesterday insinuated that we, America, will be in Iraq at least through the end of his administration and it will be up to a future President to decide whether to stay in or out. Is that the right place to be, or does the Senate need to put pressure on President Bush to begin extricating the troops from Iraq?

Webb: This is something that I warned about well before we went into Iraq. I think I wrote the first article in a major newspaper warning that this was going to happen. In September of 2002, I wrote a piece, an editorial, in The Washington Post basically saying that the issue was not Weapons of Mass Destruction, the issue was that if we became an occupying force there that our people would become terrorist targets, and the people in the administration who were pushing for the War in Iraq deliberately did not have an exit strategy. I think we’re seeing that even more clearly, just in the last couple of weeks when the administration releases this report that indicates that they want to continue a policy of preventive war, rather than preventive attacks – I’m going to get to that in a minute – and also what he said yesterday about future Presidents, I think he said it in the plural, would be responsible for deciding when we leave Iraq.

This administration has never said specifically that we have no long term aspirations for occupying Iraq, and I think that they have to say that clearly, and I will be calling on them to say that clearly during this campaign.

This is not simply an issue of Presidential power, it’s an issue of the nation’s commitment, so Congress is at least an equal player, in terms of deciding how long we should be there.

Singer: Let me ask you one final military/foreign affairs related question before we move on to some domestic and political issues. At the time you were Navy Secretary, correct me if I’m wrong, the United States military relied significantly less on high-paid contractors, private corporations, to meet its infrastructure needs, both during war and during peace. How has this change affected the military, and is it something you’d like to see continued or the trend reversed?

Webb: That’s a really good question. It’s something that people don’t really focus on. I did a lot of manpower work when I was younger, both before I got to the Pentagon, when I was in the Congress, and then in the Pentagon before I became Secretary of the Navy.

When we say we have 135,000 American military people in Iraq right now, if you take a look at how much of the support, combat service support, private security functions are being done by these so-called “civilians” – they’re quasi-military units – you would probably have to say that in reality we have the equivalent of 200,000 American military people in Iraq.

One of the reasons that this is being done is because there are in-strength limitations on the services. In other words, you can’t go over in the Congress and fund more than a certain number of people in the Army, in the Marine Corps, etc. So these functions that are basically military functions and in many cases are being done by former military people, have to come from outside of the in-strength numbers.

This is not healthy, first of all because the country doesn’t understand the enormity of the commitment, second of all because it’s extremely costly. I’ll give you one example. You can take a recon marine, a marine who’s in a reconnaissance battalion, who probably makes at the most $20,000 a year, and they’ve been able to walk out of that and go over and make $180,000 a year in some cases working for these contractors. Well that’s still being paid by the American taxpayer in the end. And then the third reason that it’s not a good policy is that there really are no legal controls on these people. When these people shoot a civilian in Iraq or conduct themselves in a way where they should be subjected to criminal sanctions or disciplinary action, who does it? I’ve asked people involved if civilian contractors have ever been disciplined, and I’m still looking for an example as to when they have. And that has a negative impact in places where they impact on people that they’re around. It’s a very troubling phenomenon and it’s being driven by artificial budget numbers where we’re not being honest about the extent of our commitment.

Singer: Let’s move to some domestic issues. It seems to me that a great number of progressives like what they’re hearing from you on kind of the international issues and the War in Iraq, but looking specifically at domestic issues, until recently you were a registered Republican and you served in a Republican administration. What would you say to these activists who are also concerned that you will become another Zell Miller, in other words a Republican in Democratic clothing?

Webb: Well I’ve never been a registered Republican.

Singer: Sorry about that.

Webb: I’ve certainly worked with Republicans. I think that serving in the Reagan administration with the issues I was working is something I have no regrets. In fact I’m very proud of having worked with the President who basically brought an end to the Cold War and rehabilitated the dignity of the military, and those were the issues I was working on.

I was essentially a Democrat – I wasn’t active, I’ve never run for office at all – but I was essentially a Democrat until 1976. Having come back from Vietnam and been wounded and seeing the way that the Democratic Party was sort of excluding, in many cases, the people who had served there, and the positions that it had taken on the war and on amnesty for draft evaders and that sort of thing, I was like a lot of people who just felt like they did not want people with our background in the Democratic Party and that the party’s positions on national security at that time were pretty weak, and the Republican Party was strong.

But again, like a lot of people, I was never comfortable with the Republican Party’s positions on social issues, particularly. And when you look at what’s happened since 9/11, the Republican Party has lost its moral authority also on national security issues. So they’re wrong on national security, they have always been too extreme on social issues, they have lost the bubble it terms of fiscal issues – it’s kind of amazing that it was the Democratic Party that was opposing extending the debt last week – and they have engaged in abuses of Presidential authority, so there’s just no room over there for a lot of people who went over there on the national security issues.

If people are wondering what I would be like, if they’re wondering am I really a Democrat, whatever that means, I think I’ve been pretty clear on how I feel on issues. And every bit as important to me, in terms of why I’m doing this, is the notion of social unfairness in this country, and that’s economic unfairness – we need to get back to more representation for the people at the bottom, working people at the bottom – and also on issues of social justice. Those are issues that are very important to me.

Singer: My apologies for calling you a registered Republican.


Webb: That’s okay. There’s no registration in Virginia either way.

Singer: A couple of issue questions. Where do you stand on a woman’s right to choose? Or perhaps more importantly, you’re in the Senate starting in January 2007 in this hypothetical, and President Bush nominates someone who overtly or even hints at a pledge to overturn Roe v. Wade, do you vote yay or nay on the Senate floor?

Webb: I don’t believe in answering hypotheticals, because they can get very complicated, but I do support Roe v. Wade.

Singer: Okay. [The] President and the Republican Congress passed the Medicare prescription drug bill, which by almost any means or measures has been a failure of implementation and design. If you’re sent to the United States Senate, would you like to see changes made to it, or do you think it really just needs to be better implemented?

Webb: As someone who spent four years as a committee counsel, it would not be smart for me to take a position on a bill I have not read very carefully, but in general, I think we have to move toward the idea that every American deserves to have medical care. And it’s not simply people on the very bottom who are having a problem here, it’s a lot of working people aren’t able to afford medical insurance and this sort of thing. It’s probably the most complicated… We’ve seen a number of studies that have come back with nothing. It’s so complicated that I can’t sit here and give you a formula, but it’s something that I do care a lot about.

Singer: You brought up the federal deficit, the federal debt more specifically. If the Senate brings up tax measures, would you, let’s say, be in favor of cutting taxes, or would you not want to deal with taxes one way or another, or would you in fact be willing to raise taxes, perhaps on the 1 or 2 percent?

Webb: I think the difficulty we have right now is you can’t spend $400 billion on a war and potentially $2 trillion on a war and say that you’re going to keep stimulating the economy with the tax cuts that are now in place.

Where the tax cuts are benefiting a broad range of people, and one example that immediately comes to my mind is the capital gains tax, which benefits a lot of people, when you’re selling your home, etc., I would be inclined to support that. When they benefit a smaller number of people – you know, for instance, the tax cuts that come up for renewal in ’08 – I would want to take a very hard to look at that.

You can’t… someone, as my friend Mark Shields, I think it was, said, this is the first war we’ve ever fought where you haven’t drafted anyone and you haven’t raised taxes, so who’s really paying here. Somehow we’ve got to confront the American people with the expense of this adventure and what we’re doing.

Singer: One final issues question before we get to politics. Are you content with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy?

Webb: I favor civil unions, but I think, in terms of the military, that that’s a policy that’s working.

Singer: Why you and not Harris Miller for the Democratic nomination for the Senate?

Webb: People are going to have to make up their own minds about that. I know what I’m bringing, I know what I want to do. The reason I’m doing this is because I don’t see leaders. I think that’s one thing I’ve been able to do in my life is think hard and creatively about issues and take stands and fight.

Singer: Is there something you could boil it down to for people who are less familiar with your candidacy and his candidacy?

Webb: I haven’t really paid that much attention to Harris Miller’s candidacy. We’re running two different kinds of campaigns. I’m very specific on four themes we’re running on, and the overarching reason I’m running is we need real leaders. We need positive, affirmative leaders who aren’t afraid to take positions, and I’ve always done that in everything that I’ve done.

Singer: Last question. Is there anything you’d like to say specifically to members of the progressive blogosphere to get them more involved in your campaign?

Webb: I have really been gratified by the encouragement and the support I have gotten from the blogs, from the blogosphere, for the most part. The great worry that I have, if you want to think about this, you’ve probably already heard it, is that Karl Rove has already said that one of the two major strategies that they are going to use this year is to get into the blogs, to work the blogs hard, and the danger on the blogs is that somebody like myself can never defend themselves from false statements. There’s no accountability on the blogs. I think that’s one of the reasons that Karl Rove wants to use them. They can make accusations, charges, etc. that you can’t hold the person accountable and you spend the rest of your life trying to defend yourself.

To this point, I think there’s been – when this has happened – there’s been really good energy from people in the blogs that actually throw the actual facts back out, and I’ll never be able to do that.

The only thing I can say is I’m trying to do this from the bottom up. I’m trying to run a campaign where I will have intellectual independence, to be able to keep intellectual independence if I’m elected. Everybody else has a lobbyist in Washington, how about the average person?

Singer: Terrific. Well good luck in your campaign and thanks for joining me this morning.

Webb: Thank you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Interview with House Speaker Tom Foley

On Tuesday afternoon, I had the honor of speaking with the last Democratic Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Thomas Foley of Washington, who served in the position from 1989 to 1995. Before ascending to the post following the resignation of then-Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, Foley served in the Democratic leadership in the House beginning in 1981 and was first elected to the chamber from the Spokane area in 1964.

Foley and I covered a range of issues during our conversation, including how 2006 compares to 1994, Democratic chances of retaking the House this fall, the lack of bipartisan comity on the Hill and the state of the Democratic Party. You can listen to the interview here (warning: an 20.1 megabyte mp3) or read the rush transcript below.

Jonathan Singer: You served in the leadership of the House during some fairly unprecedented times, including the resignation of the Speaker of the House, the indictment of the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and of course the House banking scandal as well. How does the situation today compare?

Tom Foley: Well, I think, first of all, referring to the House banking scandal, as it’s often called, this was, as a recent commentator said, a scandal without a crime. What happened is that Members of Congress were allowed by the bank officials to overdraw their accounts and their imbalances or negative balances were covered by the positive balances of other Members, so there was nothing more than happens today when anyone opens up a commercial bank account, almost always one of the things that’s offered is coverage for overdrafts.

In the House case, for many years there was a small charge made for that, as there is today when people set up a commercial checking account. And then when there was the case in the 1970s, interest rates went very high, without notifying anyone in the leadership, the Sergeant at Arms, who ran the bank, simply dropped making those charges. And the General Accounting Office – now the General Accountability Office – criticized it, told me about it, I told the Republican leader about it, and we instructed the bank officials to correct it. They didn’t do that, against orders, and six months later the matter became public and became a rather large and celebrated case, which didn’t involve anything in the way of criminal activity and very little else, except a kind of minor perk that Members of Congress received to overdraft their accounts. But in any case, it led to the bank’s closure and the replacement of the Sergeant at Arms.

Singer: When you compare it to, say, the indictment of the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the indictment of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, and Jack Abramoff, etc., how does the situation back then compare to today?

Foley: Well I think, as far as the bank matter is concerned, there is no comparison at all. No one was charged with any offense, there was no government money lost, there was no abuse of any particular Congressional activity, no legislation was effected. So it became a kind of a celebrated political issue, but it wasn’t really a scandal in the sense of criminal activity, abuse of office, loss of government funds, or any kind of special advantage that any outside group received for any support or otherwise.

There has to be a distinction, of course, between the Tom DeLay matter, which is still in process – Congressman DeLay has resigned his Majority Leadership position, but the case is still pending – and the case of Randy “Duke” Cunningham. He has pled guilty to serious offenses involving $2.4 million of bribes and favors received. So that matter has been resolved, in the sense that his guilt has been admitted.

The Abramoff matter involves obviously his pleading guilty to offenses and Michael Scanlon, his associate, doing so, and the possibility that Members of Congress and members of the staff of Congress might be indicted. All of those that have been publicly discussed are Republican Members, but the matter is still pending.

Singer: Political ramification-wise, the latest poll from CBS News puts the American public’s approval of Congress below what it was in early 1994. Do you foresee the possibility that 2006 will yield similar results as 1994, or 1964, ’74 or ’82, for that matter?

Foley: It’s possible. One doesn’t know. I think one of the differences between 1994 and the present is that in the ensuing years, state legislatures have redistricted the Congress, and, for the most part, there has been a heavy tendency towards protecting incumbency districts. In other words, Members of Congress in both parties have had their districts changed in the favor. In a sense, that makes their reelection more likely.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, there are more so-called “red” districts as a result than there are “blue” districts. In addition to being the minority party, the Democrats have structurally fewer seats than the Republicans of these very, very strong incumbent-supporting districts. It is said that fewer than 10 percent – more like 7 or 8 percent – of the House seats every election cycle are in serious question. Open seats, so to speak, where there is a chance of the incumbent being defeated. In almost all other districts, Republican and Democrat, the likelihood of the incumbent being reelected is very strong.

But again, from the standpoint of the Democrats, there are more of the so-called strong Republican seats than strong Democratic seats. And so I think in the opinion of many political observers, it will take a tsunami, political tsunami of a kind to overturn that Republican advantage, in addition to the majority structural Republican advantage.

We’ll see. That tsunami might develop, maybe as a result of a combination of factors, including the unfolding Abramoff matter. It is possible that the low opinion of the public for Congress will affect both parties, but more specifically the majority party, the Republican Party, as the circumstances of 1994 affected the Democrats.

Singer: During the period of Democratic control of Congress and the White House, there was a degree of oversight. You did this when Clinton was President and you were Speaker. The Truman Committee during World War II also stands out as a good example. Do you believe the Republican Congress has been thoroughly enough investigating and conducting oversight during this Bush presidency?

Foley: I think even Republican Members have said that in many cases they think the Republican majority has failed to carry on a very vigorous oversight function. And I think this is one of the key responsibilities of the Congress – both Houses of the Congress – whatever the administration is, whether it’s of the same party as the Congress or the branch of Congress involved or not.

There has been a steady and consistent complaint – not just from Democrats, but from Republicans, as well – that the Congress has been fairly lax in undertaking serious review of administration activities. A recent exception to that has been the investigation of the administration’s response to the Katrina disaster in the Gulf states and in New Orleans, and the undertaking recently of Senator Specter in the Senate to look at the so-called special intelligence program involving the National Security Agency’s review of data involving allegedly telecommunications from outside the United States to Americans that might theoretically involve terrorists.

Singer: Correct me if I’m wrong, but during your tenure as Speaker, relations with House GOP leader Bob Michel were at least somewhat congenial. Today it seems that bipartisan relations on Capitol Hill are almost non-existent. How did things deteriorate to this point, and can the situation be salvaged?

Foley: That’s a very interesting question. I think it’s certainly true that when I was Speaker and Bob Michel was Republican leader, the relations were excellent. We met three or four times a week, Bob and I did, half the time in my office, half the time in his. Our staffs met daily. There was full consultation on the schedule. There was an opportunity for discussion of problems or issues that arose in real time, so that when there were things that were troubling the Republicans or our side, we could frankly discuss them with the leadership on the other side of the aisle.

And I think almost everybody involved at that time – Republicans or Democrats – will attest to the fact that civility has declined, cooperation has diminished, tensions have risen and irritability has grown apace. So that in the opinion of most Members who have served relatively long terms of service and cover both of these periods, there’s not question in the minds of almost all of them that, regardless of what the estimate is of what has brought this condition into existence, that it is the worst time in modern Congressional history.

Singer: Do you think it could go back at all?

Foley: Well, I hope it can improve. A couple of things that have happened recently: two Members of the Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, have organized a group inside the House called Center Aisle, which both Bob Michel and I have endorsed. One of these Members, a Democrat – the other a Republican – found that they could get along when they were in the gymnasium, the House gym, but when they got to the floor, the tensions rose and the bitterness between the two parties was sort of the overriding reality. So they’re trying to get Democrats and Republicans and others to come together in efforts to find ways to restore civility, to restore the ability to disagree and to debate and to dispute issues without making relations personal and the atmosphere poisonous.

I think the other thing that could happen and will be important to watch is if there is a change of leadership, if the Democrats do come back into majority in the House or in the Senate or in both, it will be important for the Democrats, I think, to take a course of establishing respect for rules and regular order that do not simply follow in the pattern of recent years, sort of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth running of the House or the Senate, repeating the offenses that Democrats feel they have suffered under Republican majority back again on Republicans when they become, if they do become a minority.

I think the obligation of whoever is in the majority is not to diminish the right of the majority to rule – that’s part of the system, particularly in the House – but to rule with due respect for the rights of the minority, giving them an opportunity to participate in debate, giving fairer opportunity to examine the legislation when it’s reported from the committee, giving notice of changes that the majority intends to enact by rule or to provide for full participation in conference committees.

There is a kind of urban myth abroad that the Republicans are only doing today, in running the House, what the Democrats did to the minority Republicans in the period of the 40 years that ended in 1994. Well, I wouldn’t say that the Democratic majority had never sinned or never overreached, because I think occasionally we did. I don’t think there’s any comparison, again, between that time and the present time, when, again, by almost any index, the Republican majority has been extremely muscular and aggressive, not only in passing the programs that they undertake to pass, but to do so with a minimum participation and opportunity for the Democratic minority to take part in the deliberations.

Singer: I’d just like to ask you to address a couple specific things that Republicans have done in recent Congresses, one being holding a longer than a three hour vote on the Medicare prescription drug plan. I know that you as Speaker kind of came back from that policy; Speaker Wright had extended some votes, but you tried to do less of that. And also the recent budget reconciliation bill in which the House passed a different version than the Senate knowingly and sent it to the President anyway. I wonder if you could just address those two.

Foley: I think in the first one, there was an instance during the time that Jim Wright was Speaker and I was Majority Leader where one Member of Congress from Texas had promised Jim Wright, as Speaker, that he would vote for a budget bill, and then he left the chamber. Jim Chapman was his name. The Speaker put me in the chair, asked me to take the chair and he went to find Mr. Chapman. And we kept the vote open for I would say 20 minutes beyond what would be the normal time. One should know that there is no, or was not then, any maximum time that a House vote could last. It could not last less than – less than – 15 minutes, but it was typical that it would last maybe 20 or 25 minutes, when straggler Members would come from both parties to vote on the floor. But after all the latecomers had arrived, the vote was announced.

In this case, the case that I am talking about, we kept the vote open for 15 or 20 minutes after the last Member had been coming to the floor, and I think that was a mistake, frankly. It was within the rules, but it was against the regular order. And when Mr. Chapman changed his vote and the bill passed by one vote, the Republican side was enormously angry and upset, and Dick Cheney, the then-Republican Whip, came across the floor and told me this was the worst abuse of power he had ever seen in the House.

Now compared to that, Speaker Hastert kept the vote open on the prescription drug bill for over three hours, while the Secretary of HHS was brought to the floor to help persuade Members to vote for it, and a number of other things took place that finally led to the passage. But compared to 20 minutes, three hours was a vast extension of that, and it’s a bad practice in any event. Even though it can be sometimes argued that it’s within the technical meaning of the rules, particularly if a special rule is passed to accommodate it, it’s still against the traditions of the House, it leads to a feeling of helplessness on the part of the minority, it leads to a feeling of abuse of power by the majority, and commentators from every spectrum of political viewpoint have criticized it.

I think what has happened is that a series of these things has led to a feeling of great anger and frustration on the part of the minority, and it’s one of the things that I think has to change if we’re going to have a restoration of civility and acceptance and harmony in the House.

Singer: How about Speaker Hastert signing off on a bill that he knew was not the same as the Senate bill?

Foley: Well I don’t know the specifics of that, but I think there has generally been a sense that while it’s I think understandable and acceptable for the majority party in the House to work the will of the majority, if you do so at the expense of traditions of regular order, of traditional views of the rules, traditional rules of comity, exercising the muscular or even overpowering force of the majority and diminishing the rights and participation of the minority, it leads to enormous tensions and bad feelings and anger. And I think it’s one of the unfortunate circumstances that exists today.

I don’t criticize former Speaker because I’m a former Speaker and I know the problems that the Speaker has, somewhat like the President, having to be the Speaker of the whole House and at the same time the leader of his own party. But I don’t think there’s any question that people who have watched the House over many, many years would say today that relations between the two parties are at the lowest ebb in their memory.

A new book is about to be published, I think a very good one, which is called The Broken Branch, and it’s a book authored by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, who are the two most celebrated and objective scholars of the Congress. And in that book they examine all of these questions and suggest a way that we might step back from this continuing deterioration of both Congressional relations internally and public esteem for the Congress.

Singer: Could I ask you just one last question?

Foley: Sure.

Singer: Are you content with the direction of the Democratic Party today?

Foley: Well, I think the Democratic Party is obviously is… Will Rogers said famously it’s not all together the most organized party in the world. We’re now a party in opposition in the House and the Senate. But I think the party has opportunities, both in Congressional elections this fall and the coming Presidential elections, to regain principal responsibility for the conduct of the American government. And I think that’s a very exciting opportunity.

Obviously we have choices to make, in terms of 2008, in terms of the ticket. The party came very, very close in the last election. Although the popular vote was substantial for the President, a shift of 100,000 votes in Ohio would have changed the outcome.

So I think we still have two vital parties. I proud to be a Democrat. I believe the Democratic vision for the country is the one that offers the greatest hope for Americans in all conditions and I think the greatest hope for American leadership abroad. But we have an obligation to, I think, try to express more clearly and more effectively to the American people our different views on where the country should go and how the national future should be sod. So I’m going to stay as involved as I can in that effort.

Singer: Well, I just want to sincerely thank you for your time. It really has been a great honor speaking with you today.

Foley: It’s been a pleasure, Jonathan.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Interview with MT-Sen Candidate Jon Tester

On Friday morning, I had the opportunity to converse with Montana Senate President Jon Tester over the telephone about his Senate campaign this year. Tester'a main competition for the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Conrad Burns is state Auditor John Morrison, with whom we are also trying to set up an interview.

Tester and I covered a range of interviews during our conversation, including ethics, energy, agriculture, Iraq, port security, and why the progressive blogosphere should get involved in the campaign. You can listen to the interview here (warning: an 18.3 megabyte mp3) or read the rush transcript below.

Jonathan Singer: National Journal’s annual vote ranking just came out today showing Conrad Burns near the middle of the Republican pack with a conservative score of 73 out of 100. Would you say he’s too conservative for Montana?

Jon Tester: What I would say is he’s lost touch with Montana. I think he, by some of his actions, he’s really kind of fell in love with Washington, DC, and I think that he’s lost touch with Montana values. And I say that because of a number of different things that he has either not done or failed to take a leadership role in.

Singer: It goes without saying that Senator Burns’ ties to Jack Abramoff will play a large role in this year’s election, but to what extent will you make it central in your campaign?

Tester: I think any time you’re dealing with issues of ethics and honesty, that’s a big issue in the state of Montana. It’s an issue that most people just take for granted, that the people they elect to office are honest and ethical and represent everybody’s needs – or at least try to represent everybody’s needs.

So the ethics question is something that is going to play a role in this election because of what’s happened back in Washington, DC, and the pay-to-play and culture of corruption back there. But what I’m going to do with it is talk about me, and talk about honesty, integrity, being an ethical person, being an ethical business person, legislator. And I’ve said from the beginning on this stuff with Abramoff that somebody who’s been bought and paid for by a lobbyist shouldn’t be back there, regardless of party. They should be replaced.

Singer: Do you think this scandal is more about lobbying or actual Republican corruption?

Tester: Well, you know what they say: there wouldn’t any crooked lobbyists if there weren’t crooked Senators and Congressmen taking the money. I think it has to do with the culture of corruption back there in Washington, DC right now. You’ve always heard rumors and whimpers of corruption, but it’s never, ever been this loud. It scares me because that’s not how a Democracy is supposed to work. You’re supposed to listen and make the best decision for everybody, not just for a select few who have enough money to buy influence.

Singer: There have been a lot of complaints about the Medicare prescription drug – the Part D plan – particularly how it was passed, but also the poor implementation so far. You’ve got a lot of seniors up in Montana. How have they been responding to–

Tester: I think they’re very frustrated with the complex nature of the plan. We have encouraged Senator Burns and other folks in our delegation to extend the sign up period. I think Senator Baucus has agreed to push to get that extension done. I don’t think Senator Burns has. I think what the extension does allow for is more time for seniors to make decisions about their healthcare. I think that’s only fair. And I think the decision to extend the sign up deadline should happen right now so that those seniors aren’t stressed out with the program, because it’s very complex.

That being said – and you probably already know this, Jonathan – we passed a bill that will help seniors and disabled folks pay the premiums on that Medicare Part D. But still, in all, that program is in effect. And we’ll take some of the tobacco tax monies that were put on by a vote of the people and we’ll dedicate I think about $10 million to pay the premiums of that Medicare Part D in Montana. But I still think that they need to extend the sign up deadline, because it gives our seniors more time to look at this very complex plan.

Singer: You bring up Senator Baucus. Senator Baucus is towards the middle political spectrum, and to my recollection – if it’s correct – played a role in the passage of the Medicare bill as the ranking member in the committee. Do you share his philosophy of legislating, trying to tend to the middle, or will you stick closer to your progressive roots should you be elected?

Tester: My philosophy is represent what’s best for the people, and if what’s best for the people is in the middle, to the right or to the left, that’s fine. Do what’s best for the people, listen to the people, get the best information you can, make the decision you can make based on the information you get.

Ultimately, when I’m in Washington, DC, I am going to be listening to Montanans. I was born and raised here, my folks made their living here, my grandparents homesteaded here, Montana’s in my blood – literally. I don’t necessarily look at issues from middle, left, right, I look at issues what’s best for the people of the state of Montana, and that’s how I’ll cast my votes.

Singer: You are not only a legislator, you are also a farmer.

Tester: That’s right.

Singer: I know that a significant portion of the federal budget is reserved specifically for farm subsidies. As a Senator, would you be in favor, in an effort to decrease the federal deficit, to cut some of these subsidies?

Tester: You put my in a difficult quandary with that question because I know how the marketplace is being manipulated by multinational corporations. Basically, you’ve got very few companies that control 80 percent or better of the world’s food supply. Much of those farm subsidies are a direct result of lack of competition in the marketplace.

Where I would approach this from first is try to encourage – though enforcement of anti-trust or through facilitation of small business in the agricultural processing area so that there’s more marketplace available – but try to encourage more competition in the marketplace. I think when you do that, then you get closer to cost of production for the farmer, and there’s less need for those farm subsidies.

Singer: Montana has been at the forefront of the effort to increase America’s energy production. What steps would you take in Washington to get us closer, as Americans, to energy independence?

Tester: Well Jonathan, that’s a good question, and it is something that really does provide some opportunity for Montana.

My focus initially would be on renewables. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for wind generation in this state, and that’s been borne out by what we did last session with some wind energy incentives that moved us from 50th to 15th in the nation in wind energy production just since the session adjourned last April. There’s room for more energy development in wind here in this state – and around the country, I might add – but particularly in Montana. We’ve got a lot of wind in the Eastern part.

There’s also a tremendous amount of opportunity for biofuels. Basically taking the oil seed plants, squeezing them, getting that oil, which burns like diesel. In fact, that’s why diesel engines were first built, to run on peanut oil. We raise safflower, sunflower, canola, rape… a number of oil seeds up here in Montana that could be easily pressed for oil. You get the oil, plus you get the benefit of a pretty decent quality cattle feed out of it to fatten cattle. So you really kill two birds with one stone.

Ethanol is another one that I think we have some opportunity in this state with some of our low-grade wheats and barleys that aren’t up to snuff for milling, because we do have pretty high quality wheats in this state, but every once in a while we get sprout problems or low protein problems, and that grain is particularly suited to ethanol.

So I think that would be a great start and a great way to get weaned off of that Middle Eastern bottle, but I also think another thing that needs to be done is we need to dedicate some research dollars for renewables, to make them more efficient, but also to petroleum fuels we are using so we can figure out a way to cut down on the amount of CO2 that’s going into the atmosphere. I think that that issue is a very important issue that we need to address sooner rather than later because of the global warming aspects, and I think science has proven out that this isn’t a myth, it’s for real.

Singer: To what extent do you think coal should play in this energy race? I know that your governor has been talking publicly about turning coal into clean, or at least somewhat clean, gasoline or diesel for cars, and you have a lot of coal in Montana. Would you be pushing that as well, you think?

Tester: I think there’s some opportunity for coal development in the state, but there are some things that have to be addressed along with that: sulfur, lead, mercury and CO2, and that’s why I think we need to do our best. If those things are handled in a way that doesn’t take future generations down, I think we need to move forward.

I’ve listened to the governor a lot. I’ve talked to him about the coal gasification stuff. He may well be on to something here. The CO2 issue is an issue that bothers me, but if there’s a way to sequester that CO2 or reduce the amount of CO2 that’s produced from the coal, I think that may be the way to go, another avenue.

Singer: A couple more issue questions before we go to politics. Port security. I know that Montana is a landlocked state, however it does share a border, an international border, with Canada. To what extent is the President’s plan to sell American ports to the United Arab Emirates, in effect, playing in your state?

Tester: Well we have a lot of those containers that are unloaded at those ports go through Montana over the rail lines, in fact a tremendous amount of them. It’s a continual flow along Highway 2 of containers going East and West, to and from those ports. It’s critically important that we have the kind of security that will help resolve any threat that those containers coming in the country might have. So for that standpoint, it is a big concern, even though we are a landlocked state.

But I think the question here is why aren’t we using American companies to run these ports? We’ve got so many good things that go for this country. Why are we outsourcing this? We don’t need to outsource this. These are jobs for Americans in American cities servicing American ports. It makes no sense to me to outsource this job, whether it’s to the Middle East or anywhere.

Singer: Speaking of the Middle East, America seems to be stuck in Iraq, or something to that effect, for quite some time. Congressman John Murtha put forward a plan. Where do you stand on his plan or other similar plans to help get America out of Iraq?

Tester: I think it’s important to know that I think that President Bush was too quick to declare victory in Iraq. I think that’s rather obvious. But the President does need to develop an exit strategy. An open-ended commitment for occupation of Iraq is really bad. I think it’s bad for our troops, it’s bad for us economically, from a fiscal responsibility standpoint I think it’s bad.

My stand on this issue since the fall has been President Bush needs to develop a plan using the intelligence that he has and get the troops out as quickly as possible. I think that the whole area is less stable now than it was when we went in, and that distresses me. I think that we need to be starting to use diplomacy first instead of force. The war in Afghanistan is a little different story, because I do support that war and the war on terror, but I really think we went into Iraq under false pretences and we need to do our best to get out as quickly as possible.

Singer: Let’s just turn to the campaign, to the primary, specifically, for a moment. Why you? Why not John Morrison, who is also running for the Democratic nomination?

Tester: There’s a lot of primaries around the country – you know that Jonathan – where the public is given a choice to make a decision. Basically, what people have to look at in the primaries is who’s best suited to beat the person in the general and the second thing is what kind of Democrat do they want to send to Washington, DC, once the general is over that that person has supposedly won.

I think that if you look at myself as a farmer from North Central Montana, third generation, my wife’s forth generation, a guy that’s been on the farm with my wife for the last – well, since 1978 – 27 years, been married 28 years, we have a couple kids, they’re both in Montana. I mean we’re tied to the state. You combine that with the fact that I’ve been in the Montana Senate since I was elected in ’98, been in leadership in the ’01 session as Democratic Whip, ’03 session as Democratic floor leader, and ’05 session as Senate President. I think that kind of leadership shows that I can get things done. And I think that profile of the farmer, the small businessperson in Montana is something that gives me an advantage in the election over John Morrison. I think that’s what the people really have to decide on is who’s got the best chance of beating Conrad Burns come November and what kind of Democrat do they want to send to Washington, DC after that general election.

Singer: Just one final question. A lot of people in the blogosphere are watching this race, and I’m sure that they don’t need much more prodding to get involved, but what would you like to say specifically to members of the progressive blogosphere to bring them into your campaign?

Tester: You know a lot of these elections are decided in the primary. And it’s important that the folks out there in the blogosphere know that I need their support.

One of my very strong tendencies is I’m not afraid to stand up and go against the flow, I’m not afraid to stand up and say what’s right, and I’m certainly somebody who’s going to represent the average Joe that’s on the street.

I am – and I don’t classify this as being a knock – I’m an average guy. I’ve got two kids, a wife. My parents helped teach me the business I’m in. And I’m not rich. I don’t have a ton of money. I know what it’s like to balance the checkbook. I know what it’s like to struggle to pay bills at the end of the month. I’ve done all those things, and I continue to do all of those things even right now as we speak. Finances have always been something that we have struggled with, like most American families have, to buy a home, buy a new car or just pay the insurance bill.

So I’m going to take those kind of qualities to Washington, DC, and I think a lot of people in the blogosphere are in the same boat. They’re regular people. They’re not rich. They work for the dollars they get, and they work hard for them. If they want someone back in Washington, DC who’s going to represent everybody, and not fall into this pay-to-play mentality, just represent the upper crust, then I’m their guy.

The thing about these doggone elections are they’re based way too much on money. Conrad Burns has already said in the general he’s going to raise $10 million. So we’ve got to compete with that. And like I said, I wasn’t born into a lot of money, I don’t know a lot of rich people, but we sure have gotten a lot of support from a lot of folks that have given $10, $15, $25, $50, and $100, and I would just encourage the folks out there that don’t like the direction the country’s going to take a look around and determine how they want to spend their money – politically wise, is what I mean – and hopefully they’ll decide to support Jon Tester.

Singer: Terrific. Thanks so much for joining me, particularly in light of your cold right now.

Tester: Yeah, it’s a miserable damn thing, but I guess when I’ll get done with it I’ll have more immunity for the next one.

Singer: Well, feel better and good luck with your campaign.

Tester: Hey, Jonathan, very good visiting with you. Thank you very much, too. I certainly appreciate your time, too.

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