tv Evolution of U.S. Senate CSPAN February 5, 2018 10:01am-11:37am EST
let me try to call this full house to order, if i may. welcome to brookings. my name is bill galston, senior fellow in governance studies. thanks so much for coming and welcome also to the people who are watching this event live on cspan. today's topic is the past, the present, and possible future of the u.s. senate. the occasion of this discussion
is the publication of ira shapiro's second book on the senate, this is titled kwoek broken, can the senate save itself and the country. those of you that read his first book on the senate will know how passionately he reveres the senate as an institution and will not be surprised to learn how distressed he is by what he describes as its precipitous decline. this topic could not be more timely. we are just days from the expiration of another short term continuing budget resolution, and perhaps even more pertinently from a promised open senate debate on u.s. immigration policy. will the promise be kept? and if it is, will today's senate be up to the job of an
open deliberation on the most burning domestic question, more than domestic in implications facing the country. when it comes to the study of american political institutions, there are two kinds of scholars. type one, people who have been trained in academia, wonderfully trained in academia in many cases, and who study american political institutions, using the tools, the concepts, the categories, the empirical techniques of political science, and we here at brookings are committed to the proposition there's much to be learned about american political institutions through the practice of that trade. but there's a second way of
studying american political institutions, the scholar practitioner or the practitioner scholar. and ira shapiro is the latter. he began his government career, i'll let the number out of the bag, just a little shy of 50 years ago as an intern to the late, great republican senator jac jacob javits, among other steps in his distinguished career, he served as legislative legal counsel to the great environmentalist senator gaylord nelson. he served as counsel to the master of the senate rule book, robert byrd, as chief of staff to senator jay rockefeller, and
in addition to his senate service he has occupied senior positions in the office of the trade representative during the clinton administration, and if memory serves, attained ambassadorial rank in one of those positions. his first book on the senate was published in 2012. an updated version with new preface appeared recently, and for fans of popular culture, his first book on the senate appeared on frank underwood's desk during season 2 of ""house of cards" -- "house of cards."" let me tell you what's going to transpire in the next hour and 25 minutes. for about 25 of those minutes, ira will present the main themes of his book.
we'll then hear about ten minutes of commentary from brookings congressional expert molly reynolds, a fellow in our governance studies program. she's the author of the brookings book, "exceptions to the rule" the politics of filibuster in the u.s. senate, which will indicate why she's the perfect commentator. after she delivers that, we will convene on the stage about 15 or 20 minutes of moderated conversation, after which for the last half hour it will be your turn, questions from the floor and responses from these two wonderful scholars. as always, please quiet your cell phones. that doesn't mean turning them off necessarily, and certainly doesn't mean that you can't use them. for those interested in tweeting about this event, it is
introduction but for organizing this event, for moderating this event. i don't have enough time to go into bill's various credentials, so i won't, except to say that no one else is a political theorist, policy analyst, teacher and scholar, has served at the highest levels of government. so we all get a great deal of wisdom from bill always. and particularly i have never missed his weekly "the wall street journal" column. i am glad to be here with molly reynolds, i don't know molly that well, but her important book is very well timed, as you will hear from her comments. and given me loose mastery of senate rules, i decided to defer to molly on the whole rules question. bill did make one point that's a little sensitive.
for a couple of years, i have been planning to advertise my book, the new edition of my old book, by using the reference to "house of cards." somehow that doesn't look as good as it used to. i wasn't sure this panel would draw such a good audience. and it is wonderful to see a spattering of old friends and wonderful to see a lot of people who i don't know. donald trump's extraordinary and dangerous presidency so dominates our landscape that it is sometimes hard to focus on anything else. and that's particularly true now with the crisis at hand as the trump white house and house judiciary committee are on one side, and the fbi, justice department, important institutions, are under attack. we wait to see whether the president may force resignation
or fire people. special counsel mueller, fbi director christopher ray, rod rosenstein. so i thank you for taking time to come to a panel that doesn't have trump's name in it. as bill said, i've had a long senate career, deep attachment to it. it was a place that sparked my original commitment to public service and has been an important part of my life almost a half century. there are people that served longer than i did, i was there 12 years working when i went back, and people have served longer and have done more, but i had an unusual tenure because i spent five years in the democratic senate of the late '70s, and six years in the republican senate, and one more year when it flipped back.
so i have seen the majority, seen the minority, i dealt with a lot of different issues. so i think i have sopossibly something to offer on this subject at least. so the first book i wrote, i started writing in 2008. i was depressed about the long decline of the senate. i started writing the book at a time when the exciting presidential campaign involving barack obama, john mccain, hillary clinton, sarah palin, one of the great exciting campaigns of all time, and i was writing the book hoping that while i wrote it, i would call attention to what the senate had been and what it potentially could be. and i wanted to try to write the book hoping i could help somehow
reverse the decline. but at the same time, i was counting on the presidential election. we would have a new president at a time of possible hope and change. so i thought maybe the election would help. by the time i completed the book, obviously the reverse was the case. the senate was deeply mired in partisan gridlock, the narrative of my book ended in 1980, but i wrote an epilogue to explain what happened after 1980. and that epilogue, the first book kind of became the launch pad of this book. and i want to say one thing that i think is important. i undertook to write this book in the fall of 2016 when i was absolutely sure hillary clinton would be elected president and couldn't govern unless the senate changed.
this book wasn't a response to donald trump. this was about the fact that the senate had failed for so long and it destabilized our political system in my opinion. so let me give you the gist of my argument. then we'll try to unpack it. sort of my elevator speech. we all know the prices in american democracy didn't start when donald trump became president or when he came down the escalator. trump tower. our political system has been like the proverbial frog in boiling water, slowly dying as the temperature rises. the senate is ground zero for that failure. the political institution that's failed us the longest and the worst, going back 25 years at least. at its best, the senate served
in walter mondale's great phrase as our nation's mediator. it was a place where competing interests of two parties and all of the diverse interests of our country came together to be reconciled through negotiation and legislation and principled compromise. it was the place where it happened. when the senate could no longer perform that role, when it succumbed to partisanship rather than overcoming it, the american people lost confidence and ultimately turned to an outsider. donald trump would not have become president if he wasn't a unique celebrity. but he also became president because of the justifiable feeling in the country that washington was failing.
now obviously i am painting with a broad brush. in a longer discussion, we would talk about the issues that attracted donald trump's voters, globalization in technology, certainly immigration, but today we're talking about the performance of the government. and when we're talking about that, the trump presidency is the result of the polarization gridlock and dysfunction. but the failure of the senate is the cause. moreover, the senate reached a new low at precisely the moment that we needed to be at its best because we have an inexperienced and potentially authoritarian president. so that's why my talk is entitled the other threat to our democracy. and the failure of the senate,
for failure of the senate one man bears disproportionate responsibility. it is no accident the senate's accelerating downward spiral coincides absolutely with mitch mcconnell's time as leader. i recognize that's a harsh statement. it may not be intuitively obvious. historians always debate the question how much of this is the individual actions as opposed to greater forces that are at work. and certainly many factors have contributed to the deterioration of our senate, of our country and politics of our country. the ideological chasm between the parties has grown. the role of money in politics, particularly since citizens united. the impact of the 24/7 cable tv.
gerrymandered districts, people picking their own news sources, in fact their own facts. in america over the last 30 years our politics have been uniquely undermined by the combination of the permanent campaign where there's never time for governing, only preparing for the next election, and the politics of personal destruction, with some superb political mienlnds devoting tim and talent to what message and votes destroy their opponents and designing campaign ads to do so. so there's a lot wrong with our politics. senator mcconnell's defenders would say he's just a very skilled politician who has adapted to the reality and reflects the reality of today's politics. in fact, one of his best friends, late senator bob
bennett of utah praised him in 2010 for understanding exactly what happened to the senate from dole to mcconnell. think about that for a moment. he understood exactly what happened from dole to mcconnell. in other words, it is a partisan time. we need a partisan leader. there's no time for a statesman like bob dole. the argument doesn't wash for me. many people, even senators, get away with the claim that they were victims of their times or merely following orders but senator mcconnell has earned a substantial place in american political history. six terms in the senate, almost 12 years as minority and majority leader. mitch mcconnell doesn't reflect america's political climate, he has shaped it. my view of the senate obviously
is that senate leaders really matter. they really matter. looking back over the history of the modern senate, we find occasions when leaders put their indelible mark, not only on the senate but on the politics and government of the time. of course, the most famous example is lbj, master of the senate, lyndon johnson. and lbj did an extraordinary job of dragging the senate into the 20th century. it was a reactionary institution before lbj. he made incredible difference, with his force of nature, incredible energy. he used all the power he could to overcome what the senate had been before because before lbj the senate was dominated by
southern committee elite chairmen, and described as the only place where the south did not lose the civil war. the south's unending revenge upon the north forg gettysburg. so johnson did everything he could in caro's book, describes it, how he got the first civil rights act through. a modest measure but it was the first. johnson wore out his welcome in the senate quickly actually. people got tired of his overbearing nature. they were tired of him. when he accepted the vice presidency from president john kennedy, people were surprised. johnson thought it was the only way to ever become president for a southerner, but also knew his days in the senate had passed. louis gould wrote for the senate lyndon johnson was a noisy summer storm that rattled the windows of the upper chamber and then moved on, leaving few
traces of his passing. he seemed a towering figure at the time, but his essential vision of the senate limit his impact, which is an interesting thought. to understand the senate, what it was, what it is capable of, what we've lost, you have to go back to the last great, what i call the last great senate of the '60s and '70s. and i now call it by a better name. mansfield senate. mike mansfield, professor of ancient history, was perhaps the most unlikely senate majority leader. although widely respected for his intelligence, honesty, intellect and knowledge of the world, mansfield had no desire to be majority leader. when john kennedy became president, the president-elect asked mansfield to be the majority leader and mansfield
didn't want the job but acceded to kennedy's request. but mansfield made it clear, he would be a different leader, he had a different personality. he believed in a democratic small d senate where all the senators were adults and were all equal. he believed in the golden rule and acted accordingly. and under his leadership, all of the senators had responsibility. dirksen and others didn't think it could work. can't work without a strong senate leader after johnson. and pretty quickly, the senate bogged down. mansfield was under so much criticism, he prepared a speech announcing, explaining his concept of the senate leadership, and he announced he was going to give it, he made the announcement on november 22nd, 1963. he never gave it. it was put in the congressional record.
but mansfield then demonstrated his leadership by helping to get the civil rights act of '64 through. lyndon johnson who knew something about the senate called mansfield downtown and said basically you got to break the southern filibuster by wearing them out because richard russell's old and allen ellen der has cancer and mansfield said i'm not going to do it that way. he told them how he was going to do it, they had a two month debate, and he never did anything like that. and mansfield, they went on from that. they passed the '64 act and then went on from that to the greatest period of productivity. mansfield created a senate based on trust and mutual respect. bipartisanship was second nature. we all knew that that's the way the senate worked. the senate could battle,
senators would battle over important issues and then strike their compromises and go out to dinner together. mansfield's senate was extended by robert byrd and howard baker another 8 years. the air is filled with talk about watergate. understandably. if you look back, the great senators, they were there for watergate. mansfield launched the watergate committee with the unanimous vote of the senate two months after richard nixon got 49 states. robert bird and howard baker played similar roles in watergate, but these people were great senators during watergate because they were great senators all the time. they didn't change from year to year. it didn't matter who the president was, whether they were in the majority or minority. so let's look at the senate's
decline for one minute. and my framework is this. it was a long decline of the senate that started probably 25 years ago, somewhere late '80s, early '90s you can see it, and there's a long decline. then all of a sudden there's a second stage of decline. and this decline goes like this and then like that. and that coincides with the arrival of harry reid on the democratic side and mitch mcconnell on the republican side. they inherited a senate that was in gradual but unmistakable decline. they had the experience, they had the obligation, they had the opportunity to address that decline and rebuild the senate. instead, they became in the words of journalist steven colinson, the terrible twins of dysfunction.
both using arcane procedures to slow and throttle the promise of others' rule. their supporters would argue about which one was worse, never which one was better. under their leadership the long decline accelerated precipitously. their joint legacy would be a broken senate. but the responsibility was by no means equal. obviously not since reid retired, but not while he was there either. so let me turn to senator mcconnell for a moment. i believe there's a tendency to misunderstand him even after all this time. he has been there so long, he has to be an institutionialist. the madness that infected the republican party since newt gingrich. i see him differently than that. i regard him as the premier
political strategist and tactician of our era, perhaps the toughest negotiator. unfortunately he's used that power and his political skills solely as a partisan, never as the leader of the senate which requires collaboration with the other leaders in the party. we'll get into the discussion, but let me give you two quick examples. in 2008 the metastasizing subprime mortgage crisis brought down lehman brothers and triggered a financial crisis. timothy geithner went to the hill to meet with leaders. if we don't act now, bernanke told them, we won't have an economy by monday. mcconnell plays a strong role. he steps up immediately. he understands the urgency of
it. he helps the senate get the legislation prepared. when the house rejects the legislation, mcconnell goes to the senate floor and guarantees the senate will come through. and they do come through. then the house reverses themselves and we get the legislation sorely needed. he takes pride in it as he should. three months later nothing, january 2009, nothing has changed except there's a new president, barack obama. the crisis spread from wall street to main street. and only government action can makeup for an economy that's lost three-quarters of a million jobs. mcconnell is against anything. new president. he is more worried about the president's approval ratings than he is about the jobs of the people that are losing.
he opposes it. tries to defeat it. thanks to collins, snow and ar lon specter, the senate gets it done, and the recovery goes ahead. i cannot conceive of another senate leader that would behave that way. last example for the moment. six years of adamant obstruction to obama. then he finally becomes majority leader. january, 2015. the senate changes overnight. the legislation starts moving forward. most productive year in a long time. what happened? nothing except the principle obstructionist became a constructive force for one year. it lasted one year and one month. one year and one month. and then in february, 2016
justice scalia dies. senator mcconnell says we're not considering any nominee of barack obama and all of a sudden we plunge back into bitterness. in 2017 with a republican president, senator mcconnell has violated every pledge that he ever made to the senate about how it would work. there is no precedent for the way the health care legislation was handled. so you recall no process, no hearings, no committee action. when he pulled it down the first time, said he would go onto tax reform, we were done with health care, comes back with it another two weeks later. does it a third time. his word in those issues was just not accurate.
reporting on senator mcconnell's notable speech in 2014, when he describes the way that he was going to run the senate if he ever gets to lead it, jonathan wiseman of "new york times" wrote mcconnell portrayed reid's senate as a post apocalyptic wasteland, rules by a dictatorial autocrat, despised by allies and foes alike. a great turn of phrase. he must have been looking into a crystal ball because he perfectly captured the senate four years later. mcconnell's senate. now, i will say in conclusion i recognize i've offered a bleak picture. a second threat to democracy? wasn't trump enough? yet perhaps ironically i find
myself still relatively optimistic, that is relative to everyone else. and the reason i say it is many senators on both sides of the aisle know what the senate is supposed to be, hate the institution they're serving in now. they will at some point rise to change it. they will if confronted with the constitutional crisis we may face. i think we'll see the familiar faces step up and some unexpected heroes. so in our country the shared and disbursed power in our political system and diverse nature of our country guarantees legislating would always be difficult, but
should not be impossible. the lubricant in the system is good faith engagement. commitment to work hard to explore the possibilities of common ground. that's good faith engagement every year, not one year out of ten years, not when the leader feels like engaging. we need people that don't make everything a partisan political calculation, and i am putting my faith in the future and people that actually will be putting country first. i'll stop. i used my time. i used two minutes more of my time. we'll have the discussion. thank you. [ applause ] >> good morning, everyone.
first of all, i want to thank bill and ira for inviting me to be here today and to provide some thoughts on ira's book. as someone who recently wrote a book on the senate of my own, i know how both rewarding and frustrating it can be to spend as much tiecme as ira has, mullg over the institution. i am glad i had the chance to read the book and to speak a little about it today. for those of you who haven't had a chance to read ira's book, i recommend it as a rich, detail oriented book of many of the challenges the senate faced in efforts to legislate, to confirm nominees, and conduct oversite over the past 40 odd years, and how its members have risen or more often not risen to those challenges. it is rare that you find a piece of writing that discusses everything from the om negative us trade and competitiveness
alkt of 1988 to hillary clinton impeachment. ira manages to pull that off and more in this book. so in bill's opening remarks, he said there are two kinds of people who study the senate. he said ira is of one model, i am of the other. i think that's going to come across in my remarks today. what i would like to do is spend some time reflecting on a few pieces of ira's argument, use them as jumping off point for additional thoughts of my own about what i see as the primary drivers of the contemporary senate's dysfunction, and then towards the end, i'm turn to some key areas i think we need to focus on if the senate is going to go in a different direction going forward. so for ira, as you heard, much of the blame for what's happened in the senate rests at the feet of senate leadership. there's a point he says the senate's inability to overcome
partisanship is first and foremost profound failure of senate leaders. there are certain choices leaders make about how to run the senate and use senate rules and procedure that contributed significantly to the environment in which we find ourselves. but what i want to do is think about the environment that those leaders have found themselves in. so first of all, over the period on which ira focuses, there have been major changes in the electoral landscape of american politics. ira spends a little time discussing the degree to which we have seen disappearance of moderate republicans and of conservative democrats, which has made bipartisan compromise much harder to achieve. just one data point to illustrate this, if we turn to political scientist workhorse measure of measuring members of congress' ideology, the difference between the most conservative democrat in the senate and most liberal republican in the senate basically doubled since 1980.
so to the extent that major legislation does ever still get done in the senate, it continues to be on a bipartisan basis, but it is much harder to build the coalitions in times of polarized parties, so senate leaders are heading into a legislative environment where the ideological positions mean it is much more difficult to work collaboratively, regardless of tactics they use. electoral experience of inexperienced senators has become more attached to national political forces, decreasing individual incentives to work with members of the opposite party. one illustrative data point on this, 2016 was the first time since the add ventvent of popul election of senators that in every state there was a senate election, the party that won the senate seat also won that state's electoral votes in the presidential race. voters, in other words, are not splitting tickets at the same rate they once were, which means
that senators have less incentive to formulate independent brand that would involve working across party lines. for me, perhaps the biggest electoral difference is the increase in partisan competition for control of the chambers in congress since 1980. there's a wonderful book by political scientist francis lee that documents this. she talks about how the period between the early 1950s and early 1980s was dominated in congress by the democrats. the party controlled both chambers and republicans did not have a reasonable expectation that they would take control after the next election. since about 1980, however, majority chrome of senate has been more or less has been up for grabs each election cycle. because of this hieeightened competition, both parties have incentive to more messaging activity, those help them win elections. especially true for minority
parties who have little incentive to make majority party poenlts lo opponents look like capable legislators. the messaging and shifts in party control also means there can be more value in putting bills on the floor that are intended to fail. so especially under divided government, majority party might think it is worthwhile to write a piece of legislation it knows won't become law in order to signal to its voters and interest group allies what it would do if it had more power after the next election. a great example of this is the bill that repealed, that would have repealed large parts of the affordable care act that president obama veeote ohhed. republicans knew it would be vetoed, but wanted that issue active as campaign topic during the 2016 election. beyond the changing electoral circumstances, we've seen growing incentives from outside
the chamber for senators inside the chamber to exploit their individual procedural rights to try to achieve political goals. my brookings colleague, sarah binder and steve smith made this point about the filibuster from the late '90s. they suggest once interest group allies and other external audiences began rewarding senators for using obstructive tactics in the chamber, senators responded to that incentive. here we may think about ted cruz's decision to engineer shutdown after the the affordable care act. that helped build his national reputation. when senators believe there's political value in using all their procedural tools, they're more likely to do so at the expense of bipartisan legislative work. ira in his book discusses the problem presented to senate leaders by jessie helms, that he was willing to pursue an
individual agenda. that's the sort of behavior that's incentivized for lots of senators. the broader political circumstances made it more difficult for senators of both parties to unite as counter balance to executive power. in the early 1970s, we saw several high profile pieces of legislation, things like republican budget act and senate intelligence committee to oversee executive branch activities. we saw this pass with large bipartisan majorities because senators of both parties saw reason to work together to increase the legislative branch's power at the expense of executive branch. as the president has become an increasingly polarizing figure, not just the current president, but the president of the institution, it can be more difficult to build support for an issue on institutional grounds. even matters that might be right
for cross partisan coalitions can be harder to get done if the president is too closely identified with them. so my favorite example of this comes from the house. but i'm still going to talk about it today. in 2015 when president obama was lobbying congress on trade promotion authority, it was reported someone on the staff of representative paul ryan who was then the chair of the house ways and means committee called the white house to ask that obama stop asking congress to give him trade promotion authority. ryan didn't want republicans to think they were granting obama anything special. merely identifying the issue with the president was making it harder to build a legislative coalition. so given all of that context, i want to turn now to a few thoughts on what it would take to fix the senate. here i think the most fundamental question to ask is do individual senators really
want to regain more power over the process, and if they got that power, would they actually use it to do the hard work of legislating. there are all sorts of things individual senators could do to try to signal their objection to how the institution is working. especially in the majority party in a narrowly divided senate like the one we have today. the most extreme version of this would be something like what we saw senator john mccain do on republicans' health care bill last summer which is to vote against a major piece of legislation for reasons that at least publicly he claimed were about the process. senators can object to unanimous consent requests, work together in committee to stall, though not prevent nominations coming to the floor, et cetera. the point is, if senators wanted to try to send a signal to leaders that they don't like the chamber is working, they have tools to do that. the issue for me is by and large
i think senators don't necessarily care as much about changing the way the senate works as they do about getting policy done that's close to their own preferences they can get. take here the experience from last year involving the tax bill and health care bill. both pieces of legislation moved the senate on a quick party line process with little deliberation. if senators truly objected to that leadership driven process, they could have threatened to withhold votes until they golt what they wanted. assume for a second that they would genuinely prefer a chamber that operates in an open, deliberative way. what would that look like? one major challenge in a more deliberative senate is getting senators to believe any initial efforts to generate more opportunities for collaboration won't just disappear at the first sign of trouble. so take, for example, and ira talked before about the senate in 2015. and this is an example from early in that year.
majority leader mcconnell allowed an open amendment process on the keystone pipeline bill, first major piece of legislation considered in the senate after republicans had taken control of the chamber in the 2014 elections. senators filed nearly 300 amendments to that bill. perhaps in part because they weren't sure how long the chance to offer amendments freely was going to last. so in short, the senate needs to find a way to convince its members that any particular change in practice is going to stick, and that's harder said than done. i hate to leave things on a pessimistic note, i will note there are still bright spots of potential cross party collaborations. for me, the major challenge is whether senators are willing to use the tools available to them to force leaders to respect their work. so i'll stop there. i'll invite bill and ira to come back to the stage and we'll have some discussion and return it to all of you.
[ applau [ applause ] >> thanks to ira and molly for two clear, forceful presentations. and i have a very long list of questions. not going to be able to get to all of them. but i think in fairness, i should give ira a minute or two to respond to what i take to be molly's principle thesis. and that is as between the impact of leadership on one hand and on the other changes in the
environment that effect both the relationship between the two parties in the senate and incentives of individual senators to behave in a certain manner, she's more impressed by the impact of the latter two than you are, and less impressed by the impact of the first. and i wondered how you responded to that. >> well, first i should say i don't think you could have a better responder or commenter than molly. i think her book that has come out too recently for me to have read it fully is going to be important about what people think about the senate. i certainly agree with some of the points that molly is making. i think every point she makes is
actually correct. nonetheless, there are still leaders who bring people together and try to solve certain problems. and there are leaders that don't who decide the senate should work a different way. i have said in my book in the last chapter, i point out that the senate rules have not been looked at in a comprehensive way since 1979. when senators reid and mcconnell came in as leaders, they might have said place isn't working too well, what can we do to think about it. do we really believe that these filibusters should not be real, they should simply be people indicating that they won't give unanimous consent. do we really think holds should not be temporary courtesies but
permanent? there are a lot of things that could have been addressed and indeed should have been addressed, and they should have been addressed when somebody said we're not going to change the rules this week to benefit us. what would it look like if we had new rules two or four years from now? i think the connection that molly makes important points. i think that real leaders could actually address some of those points and incentives. but the other thing i will say having been in the senate during changes from democratic control to republican control to democratic control, i saw the senate go on functioning. i saw the senate go on functioning because the democrats had good leaders. the republicans had good leaders and they all worked together. that's how the two things relate in my mind.
one thing i will say in response is that when we think about this question of rule change or procedure change, first of all, i applaud you for thinking about the degree to which we need to look further down the process, if you will, and think about will the procedure change benefit us now versus in the future. i think one of the major challenges for me to think about is how do you get -- how do you build a coalition of individual senators to move from the current procedural situation to a different procedural situation? and when you have senators who have come to use the procedures that are available now to enhance the reputations, how do you convince them that it is in their interest to change to a new set of procedures in the
future? >> i will respond just briefly which is to say one reason i believe you can do it is that i think most of the senators, 75 or 80 of them hate the institution they are in now. they can't stop talking about how much they hate the institution they're in. they know that the senate should work differently. they have in their mind what the senate is supposed to be. so i do think there is a positive constituency for that change. i think i took some solace in the emergence of the common sense coalition led by collins and joe mansion which was responding to the government shutdown but may have lasting value. >> let me now invite the two of you to take an even broader
historical view if such a thing is imaginable. you and i are both baby boomers. and i think it is becoming clearer and clearer to us that we were privileged to live in extraordinary times, extraordinary political times, extraordinary times for the world. the question i ask myself all the time and will address to you is are we taking the exception for the rule? are we taking as a baseline an extraordinary period in the country that created an environment within which the kind of desirable senate
behavior that you describe was more possible than it was before or since. i note the fact that you yourself described the senate before lyndon johnson grabbed it by the throat as a reactionary institution. that doesn't sound like a great institution to me. there was a before as well as an after. to what extent is it perhaps an analytical mistake to assume it remains possible now? >> it's a great question and i have thought about it. i said in my first book that the senate i was describing from 1963 to 1980 was a senate that was different than any that had come before or any that had come
since so i agree with that. but you have to at least have in your mind a model or a vision of how the senate could work. and then you look at certain aspects of it and see whether they can still apply. so you have to make sort of -- we can't replicate those times. i completely agree with that. the men -- they were all men at that time. the men who served there were unusual men. it was an unusual period of time for the united states. having said that you have to decide would you rather a more bipartisan basis. do you want a senate where leaders work together or where they don't work together? is it going to be more like the house? there are all kinds of
questions. i take the point that it is completely different and you still have to model off something. >> so i think the political scientists often refer to the period as the textbook congress. we come to ask whether that is the right way to think about it. i am somewhat of a different generation i am inclined to think that that period was an aberration. certainly since the 1980s the rise in political competition for particularly control of the senate i think has come to profoundly effect the environment in which the senate works. part of what made it possible for there to be bipartisan and collaborative legislating was the persistence of both southern
democrats and northern republicans. we have seen both of those groups largely disappear. and i think that part of what led to the demise of the southern democrats are social changes to which we would not object. so just kind of thinking about what has changed more broadly in the united states and what that has meant for the way the senate works. >> i'm now going to share with you the single piece of the book that i found most shocking. and it's not going to be anything that you've talked about up to now. and this is -- i'm going to take all of us back to the fall of 2002 when it was very, very clear that the country and the
senate faced the most momentous decision that a country can face. do we go to war or not? on page 79 of your book you talk about the national intelligence estimate, a lengthy analysis that was used to support the proposition that saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction, certainly chemical and biological and was pressing hard to reconstitute his nuclear arsenal. it was a long, important document and you report that out of the 100 senators precisely six availed themselves of the opportunity to read that
document. i was shocked because that had nothing to do with partisanship, polarization, leadership. it had to do with the sense of individual responsibility on behalf of the senators who knew they were going to have to vote on that. i wondered what was your reaction to that episode? and what did you take away from it? >> i was appalled by it. and it's an important -- thanks for reminding me, bill, because it is important to not focus on only one thing. i would say there has been sort of a secular decline of the senate over time and people and committees not quite doing the job the way they should. so i was appalled by that. the other points i made in that
section were to cite the very powerful arguments that were made by senators kennedy, levin and byrd against the rush to war as opposed to the people who seem to want and sadly i would blame the democrats, for the sentiment that we got to get this behind us and move on to talking about the economy or health care. i found it to be a terrible abduction. that's why i spent some time illustrating what some of the others said. >> i will -- i think it's an interesting counter point to the other arguments because it does
suggest to me -- let me back up for a second. i find it difficult to believe that in earlier sense with such an issue at stake that senators whatever their position would not have availed themselves of the opportunity to become as fully informed as possible about a decision that in my judgment turned out to be the pivotal decision for the united states in the 21st century up to now because it has colored everything foreign and domestic that happened since. it was a decision undertaken with fully half of the democratic senators in support. >> i agree and i think that what it reflects, it reflected the tenor of the times.
after 9/11 there was a tendency to sort of support the president even when the president and the vice president and the team changed the mission and broadened the war to try to go to iraq. it was a tenor of the time. and it is an unfortunate reflection of what had happened. the senators we call the great senators, jackson and fullbright disagreed on everything but they would have read the intelligence report. >> they did their homework. >> i will do it from here.
there is a half an hour as i promised for questions from the floor and responses from our panelists. i'll just do it from here. and i have just a couple of requests. that's an understated noun for what i actually have in mind. first of all, do identify yourself by name as you're recognized. if there is an institutional affiliation that you think is relevant please state that and then state a question. there are many opportunities for giving speeches, this is not one of them. yes, there is a roving microphone. i see a woman with her hand up right there. >> thank you. it's paula stern. congratulations on your book and thank you for your
presentations, both of you. my question is about the aberrant issue that was raised. was the period in whichira and i worked together with bill on the hill in the '70s an aberration? the vietnam war, civil rights, the protests. this was a period of the greatest activity and congressional assertiveness vis-a-vis the white house and yet we also had nixon being called the imperial president. so my question really to you is to go back to this discussion. you think it is maybe the baby boomers that explain the aberration. i'm wondering if there is something more systematic so that we can go back to that period of congressional
assertiveness and responsibility taking. >> so i will say one of the things that i mention in my opening remarks is that i think that period involved a willingness by congress to try for institutional reasons to reassert power for itself vis-a-vis the executive branch. and i don't think it's unconnected, actually, from the expectation that democrats would just be in the majority for a long time. i think that given that expectation it was a little bit safer for some republicans to work with democrats on these questions of i do a lot of work on the congressional budget process so thinking about the budget act and the willingness of the parties to work together to stand up to what they had seen as an overreach by the
executive branch. >> i guess my perspective on it would be that the congressional reassertion of authority was a reaction to the imperial presidency and the imperial presidency as manifested by the vietnam war but not just the vietnam war. since president johnson overreached and made a mistake in vietnam and the senate wanted to make up for that as did the house and president nixon was overreaching in other ways including the budget so congress reasserted itself. now, from my standpoint, it would be a nice time for congress if it had the independence and any bipartisanship to be reasserting itself given the fact that we
have the trump presidency. yet it hasn't worked out that way as yet. so the question will be what happens when the crisis really hits? >> next question, please. i see a hand all the way in the back on the row there. >> thank you very much. it's an interesting conversation. larry checko. i like to your point,ira, leadership and environment, what happens when defacto leaders like flake, corker, mccain end up leaving the senate, and hatch, as well? i think that they're a check on this current president. what happens when they leave? do you have any visions for the future for the senate? >> i mean, what i would say is
that when we think about -- one of the things that i asked us to do in my opening remarks was to think about the role of individual senators, not just leaders in trying to rebuild the senate. so for me it is troubling to see senators who are willing to try to assert some power for themselves and the institution to retire but it is equally troubling for me to see them only be more willing to do that after they have announced that they are leaving the chamber. so i think the fact that you just listed for us three republican senators, flake, mccain and corker two of which announced they are not running for reelection including bob corker in a seat that i don't
think anyone thought would be in trouble for him. the flake situation is a little different because he is facing a primary challenge from the right and a strong democratic challenge in the general. i think it is concerning to think about the degree to which reasserting authority within the chamber and using the chamber to reassert authority vis-a-vis the executive branch is something at this moment we are associating with the members of the republican party who are not seeking reelection. >> i thought about that a lot. and i guess i would say the following. the individual senators that we think about as showing some degree of independence, mccain, corker, flake, i would add susan collins and i would add lamar
alexander. there are different models. collins thinks for a long time about whether to run for governor of maine. she decides to stay. alexander leaves the senate leadership in 2012 because although mcconnell is his friend he doesn't like the way the senate is functioning. he goes off and tries to legislate day after day with patty murray of washington. it actually can be done. flake, if anyone hasn't read senator flake's book you really should. it's one of the great books ever written in terms of what people should think about politics. corker, i don't know bob corker from a hole in the wall. i guarantee you that anyone who talks to bob corker who knows him would say he is leaving because he hates the way the senate works. he has resented the leadership of the senate since he got to
the senate. they have stifled everything he has tried to do. and look, i need to add one thing to put my comments in context because my comments are a harsh criticism of the current leader, mitch mcconnell. i didn't come to that with any great enthusiasm. i came to that by studying the situation. i don't believe in singling out individuals for blame. i think that he has played an extraordinary destructive role. and the thing i wanted to basically say about it is because we have the trump presidency, almost everything else looks like some modification or some version of politics as normal, usual politics. and i'm suggesting that mitch mcconnell's leadership of the senate is not, that it crossed
way across the line. it's not politics as usual. it's not the senate the way it is supposed to work. it is destructive to the institution. >> okay. i now see a sea of hands in unch response to that. i see this gentleman here and other hands in the back. i'll try to get to all of you. >> thank you. i wonder if the senate can be changed for the better in the current media environment. the good old days that you have talked about in the '70s which maybe weren't such good old days deals could be struck by senators without fear that they would be immediately attacked on fox or msnbc, the twitter feeds would not fill up with invective, they wouldn't be
countless blogs in which they were criticized and attacked in this sort of highly democratized media environment. deals were made quietly behind closed doors and people moved ahead. what do you think is the implication of the current democratized media environment in which all voices count the same for making the senate a more well functioning operation? >> sure. so something i think about a lot in response to calls to reinvigorate the committee process in either chamber, frankly. and i ask myself what would it look like for committees to have long deliberative markups that are covered minute by minute on twitter. and i don't have the answer to that question.
and i don't know quite where i come down but i do think that's a serious question that we have to think about when -- it fits in with the broader idea of do individual senators want the power back? do they want to have to deal with those kinds of consequences in the modern media environment for doing the open deliberative work that many of them say they would like to see. and i don't know the answer, but i don't necessarily think it is a for sure yes that they would love the idea of doing this open deliberative work in a way that has so much attention drawn to it. >> i think i always try to say that it's much, much more difficult to be a senator now than it was 40 years ago or 20 years ago for all the reasons particularly that you are citing. there is no doubt about it.
and yet there are always some of them that seem to manage to do it. i said patty murray and lamar alexander. we can think of other examples. the senate broke down entirely in 2016 over the garland thing. and there is alexander and murray grinding away producing a major education bill, producing a major health care bill. it can still be done. none of us can change the overall environment. what we can have is people who function like senators and function like senate leaders are supposed to function. and there is no excuse for the way they are functioning now. so i take those examples and i'd say collins now, i say carl levin who recently retired. there is any number of them. and my sense to the extent i
have any relative optimism it's that some of them, many of them actually want to function differently although certainly everything molly says about the change in incentives is absolutely true. >> i'm going to take one more question from the front here and then i'm going to move back again. >> excellent presentations. i'm ralph nase former director of the leadership conference on civil rights and a great friend and colleague of ira and bill. i love the first book. i haven't read the second one. the one disagreement we have in the first book is i thought that the 1981-1993 was an era of bipartisan cooperation whether the social security act or tax reform act or strengthening all
major civil rights laws. now i hear what you're saying about how to reform the senate and get back to the senators of the '60s, 70s and 80s. how can we do that without changing the structural system of our electoral politics? how do we have people not afraid of being primaried on the right or left? does either book get into how we get senators, republicans and democrats who want to engage and provide incentives to have them engage in timely partisan compromises? >> briefly, ralph in defense of my first book the book cuts off in 1980. the epilogue points out that the senate came back together and functioned through the '80s. so i, like mostly everyone else,
identify a point in time that we usually identify with newt gingrich as part of the problem anyway. i think that i can't change the whole system. i support a lot of the reforms that people are working on particularly with respect to gerrymandered districts and changing that. the reason i focus on the senate besides the fact that is where i spent my life as you know is that they don't have that same excuse, number one. number two, there is a big cause and effect question here. bill has thought about it probably more than anybody has. of course, we're a partisan and polarized country. so the leaders have to respond to that. and i would argue that we're a polarized country in part
because of the leaders, basically, because the people have not seen anyone come together to try to solve any problems. if in 2009 the republicans had joined obama in a bipartisan economic stimulus package the economy would have recovered quicker and the public would have had more confidence. if in 2009 the republicans had said that health care proposal of his looks a lot like the republican idea we had at the heritage foundation and that governor rominney used in massachusetts and they could have come together on a health care bill and people would have felt better about it. there is a cause and effect thing that is quite profound. >> yes, a woman in the middle on
the aisle. >> hi. laurie sherman and former colleague of ira who i adore. >> and now for a tough, hard hitting question. >> i'm in total despair, actually. i have come back from an event in new orleans with a lot of people interested in fixing democracy in the united states which gives me some hope. my question you just mentioned gerrymandering. to me the fundamental issue is citizens united and campaign finance. i would be interested in you addressing if there was some way to get the dark money out of politics would things change? >> so i do think that one of the reasons that, say, folks like senator flake who we were just discussing has to fear a primary challenge from the right in his
case is because of the ability of big money, the interests to mount those kinds of campaigns. i think it is worth noting that we have also seen to varying degrees of success more establishment republican interests to try to counter that in the republican party. so i don't think it's helped matters at all. i'm not terribly at this point optimistic on a major change to campaign finance law in the near term. so i think as with most things that we have put on the table today the question is how do we work within the existing set of incentives to change people's behavior? >> yes. >> let me just say two things. first of all, on the -- going back to ralph's question about
being primaried, it is obviously on people's minds. i would suggest that one way to respond to it is the way lisa murcow ski responded to it when she lost her primary by running as an independent or a third party candidate. they both won. jeff flake who i think will have an extraordinary career in whatever he does, he could have run as an independent in arizona. that would have been one way to respond to it. on the money question, look, i'm given to overstatement and simplification. citizens united decision was the worst decision of the supreme court since dred scott. it's a very terrible decision. not withstanding that, both sides raised a lot of money and sometimes the candidates with
less money win. and bernie sanders deserves enormous recognition for showing you can raise $27 million $27 at a time. the energy that is out there in the country is going to make up for some of the money problem, but i do believe the constitutional crisis that may be coming if the president decides to fire mueller or try to force the resignation of him through some other way will put the republican senators to the test. do you care more about the country or your republican donor base led by the coch brothers? i think at that point many people will come forward and stand up for the country. >> let me just add a brief
comment here apropo of nothing in particular. that is that yesterday's reforms often turned into today's problems. we are now living with the legacy of progressive era political reforms of which the primary system is won. and i would just put on the table as i'm defrocked mainly college professor, for further credit i assign the class the task of thinking through the compatibility of the progressive era primary system with today's highly polarized politics. do the two of them fit together? i'm not so sure. there is a gentleman back there who has had his hand up very patiently for 20 minutes. >> my name is dave hoppy. let me offer a slightly
different hypothesis and ask a question of the two of you because you both touched on it as a possible solution. one can look at the leadership of the senate from the after the 2006 elections when senator reed became majority leader and see a real decline in participation in the senate. people did not have the right to offer amendments such that a democratic incumbent elected in 2008 lost his election in 2014 because he never got to offer an amendment in six years in the senate. i would argue that there is something to look at there. to get to the question of whether this is potential solution, both of you touched on the idea of how easy it is to use a filibuster in today's senate. you get a day and a half off. i will filibuster this and come back a day after tomorrow and do our closure vote. if you change that and force
people to work through at some point the peer pressure of some of these people having to spend the night there because they don't know when the next forum call is coming will put pressure on their colleague to say we aren't doing this anymore. if you want to do it for a significant real purpts,ose, ok i understand it will make staff uncomfortable. i know how uncomfortable it can be. do you think that has a possibility if you go back to a real filibuster and requirement that you play it out that way of starting to get us back to a regular order which you both talked about? >> i favor a return to the real filibuster. i favor getting rid of holds,
not just sort of saying who has the hold, but i favor getting rid of holds. but i mostly favor a process of consideration by which you would produce a result that 75 senators would say those are worth while changes and we agree to them. i don't favor lurching from crisis to crisis the way reed and mitch mcconnell did and then some rescue comes out that lasts for a month or two and you avoid the nuclear option. by the way, it was never from reed and mitch mcconnell. it was always from schumer and alexander and levin and mccain. combination of a leader-driven senate with two leaders who hated each other was never a good combination. i think there are changes that can be made but you have to enlist a lot of people in it and get broad support for it.
>> so i think generally one thing that the senate's current operations don't do terribly well is provide ways for people to reveal the intensity of their preferences rather than just the direction of their preferences. so this is one example that because, you know, because cloture has become a routine part of how the senate works it's not the case that it works as a way to signal how intensely a senator feels about something. i think more -- i'm not sure that i think making people talk all the way through a filibuster is the best way to do this but i think more opportunities for individuals to be able to signal the intensity of their preference as opposed to the direction of their preference would be healthy for the current
senate. >> let me just add one thing since i focus -- tend to focus on leaders. i'm not so hot on the followers, either. i don't think the senators should have stood by year after year giving up authority of the committees, move towards this leader-driven senate without pushing back hard. that's the reason that the common sense coalition or others, those things i think matter. the senators -- i wrote an article in 2012 saying senators take back the senate. it's sort of up to you in the first instance and it is up to the public in the second instance. >> well, we have only one minute left. so let me pronounce the
benedicti benediction. as i'm sure you know, the founders of this country in designing our political institutions did not want a party system, did not anticipate a party system, but within six years after the establishment of the constitution we got a party system and we have had a party system ever since, almost always a two-party system. and so we have been wrestling really since the mid 1790s with the question of how the institutions which were designed to -- which were thought through without regard to political party, how are these institutions going to function in the context of two political parties? if you go back to james madison the assumption is that the different fly wheels of the system will check and balance
one another when individual ambition is attached to what madison called the place. that is a location within an institutional order. the assumption was that loyalty to the senate or the house or whatever institution you were in would tug against loyalty to the president and the president's program. that's the classic conception. then woodrow wilson came along with his palpable envy for the british parliamentary system and put on the table the idea of a more parliamentary constitutional system in the united states. and political scientists in the united states have taken up this cry from time to time. there was a famous committee of the american political science association which produced a report called responsible two
party system. what they meant by responsible was ideologically clear and indistinguishable. we now have in effect two homogenous parliamentary parties fighting for dominance throughout our institutions and the senate perhaps has been the major casualty of the movement away from deliberation and towards party unity and responsiveness to the institutional leader and the president if the president is of your own party. these are deep problems a century old. we have madison to blame for not anticipating the rise of political parties and woodrow wilson to blame for making too much of them in his envy of the brits. now we have to sort these things out for ourselves in the 21st century. please join me in thanking ira and molly.
nchl if you missed any of that discussion you can find it on our website. coming up in a few minutes we will hear from treasury secretary steve mnuchin. first a look at what we are covering today. the house returns at noon to consider bills dealing with military sales to jordan. early in the week votes are expected on a temporary spending measure to keep the government funded past the thursday
deadline. at 3:00 p.m. the senate returns to consider the nomination of andre yonko for director of u.s. patent and trademark office. vote will follow. we will have live gavel to gavel coverage on the house on c-span. the house administration committee meets to work on legislation that would require every office in the house of representatives to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. live coverage starts at 5:15 p.m. next treasury secretary steven mnuchin outlines the financial stability oversight council's annual report. this is about two hours and 15 minutes. >
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