Council on Foreign Relations
NANCY ROMAN: Well, we have a very well-trained audience, I see; everybody’s pausing right on time to begin.
I’m Nancy Roman, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations and director of our Washington program. And I have been looking forward to this meeting for almost a year.
About in November, I think it was, last year, there were a handful of us who in New York—Richard Haass, myself, and a few board members, including Carla—who were talking about the rancor and division in Washington. And we decided that it would be worth council time and energy to try to get at the questions of, you know, are things really more partisan; and if they are, what’s driving it; and what might we recommend, either to government or, frankly, undertake ourselves as an institution to try to make things better.
And we put together an advisory board, a very distinguished group. And you have the list, so I won’t name names, lest I forget anyone, but our panelists certainly participated. And Speaker Tom Foley is here this morning as well. He was an important part of the group. Thank you very much.
And basically we met a handful of times to talk through these issues. And intermittently I interviewed dozens of policymakers, past and present, to really get as many insights as we could.
The result is the report before you, which I’m going to walk through very quickly before we get to what will be most interesting, our discussion with the panelists here.
First, before I introduce them, I’d just like to remind you that unlike many council meetings, this one is on the record. And would you please all turn off your cell phones.
Now, let me just begin by saying—well, actually, I will introduce you first.
Our panelists are people that you know and love already, presumably. Carla Hills—both of them have had extensive careers in and out of government. Carla Hills was secretary of HUD under President Ford. She was the United States trade representative under President Bush Sr. She currently runs her own consulting firm, Hills & Company. Jamie Gorelick served as counsel to the Defense Department and then as deputy attorney general under President Clinton, and she is currently a partner at WilmerHale.
So I’m going to be delighted to get into conversation with them. But first, I just want to sort of walk you through some of the high points of the report, leaving enough holes to leave you wanting to read it.
The report, I will say, does not argue that we will all be kind to one another. Basically, Washington is a rough-and-tumble political town; always has been, always will be. Frankly, I think there’s plenty of room for arm wrestling. I mean, the parties should be coming up with ideas that are very different, and there should be a lot of tension and hammering those out.
As we talked it through, it really became clear that what people mean when they talk about increased partisanship is really a decrease of deliberation and debate and intelligent conversation between the parties.
Okay, why the breakdown? Why is this happening? There are lots of reasons, and probably there are some that are not included in the report. I touch on seven. But I want to focus on only two of them here. And I must say, Carla was important in leading us early to these insights.
But one is the lifestyle. There aren’t as many Democrats and Republicans who know each other anymore in this town. Why is that? Well, part of it’s the lifestyle of Congress. Members blast in on Tuesday morning, they blast out on Thursday night. They live their lives in 15-minute increments while they’re here. The structure doesn’t permit for relationships in the same way as it did when members were here week-round; there were social situations on the weekend; your children might play on the same ball teams; you had a chance to know one another as human beings.
And I think one thing that has very much aggravated this sort of structural problem is the sheer scarcity of time. Busy, important people have always been busy. I contend they’re busier today, if not more important, and that is because, I think, the tyranny of technology has just made it so that we all are in easy striking distance of a blackberry or a cell phone. Air travel is very easy; people use it more frequently. And the result is there an awful lot of contacts, and I think people feel maybe that they’re in better contact. You often see this in the press. But it’s not the kind of contact that forges relationships, and I don’t want to be sentimental about the relationship.
You know, this isn’t yearning for, you know, a nice lifestyle where we were all nicer. If you look historically at the issues, you see that the moments in time when we were able to achieve this bipartisanship was really when there was a preexisting relationship that you could rely on and that you could turn to. You know, when you need to reach across the isle, it’s too late to start building one. You need someone that you trust and that you know already. So this is—I consider this a very practical observation, not a sentimental one.
And the two examples that I cite in the report are the Panama Canal treaties—President Carter’s negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties, and Ronald Reagan’s negotiated funding for the MX missile. And you know, some of you remember these battles; they were anything but placid. But you know, President Carter basically began with the public and the Senate united against him. He wanted to negotiate the treaties to improve relations with Latin America, and it was a lot of heavy lifting. And he was able—working very closely with Howard Baker and other Republicans—to sort of—to build his way to a two-thirds majority to ratify those treaties, and if you listen, you know, to the people who were part of that process, you know, you realize it definitely was the friendships across the isle.
Likewise, one of the examples in the report—and this owes to Ken Duberstein, who chaired these meetings with me and was enormously helpful; he was Reagan’s chief of staff and told grave stories about what it took to continue the funding for the MX missile. Lots of people might disagree about where that debate came out. But President Reagan wanted to continue funding for it. He looked to the Senate. He was short of the votes, and it’s not about lobbying and buying your votes. What happened was Ken and others on the president’s staff were able to reach the Democrats whom they knew and trusted. Al Gore was one of them. Sam Nunn was one. Les Aspin was another. And they—it led to the creation of the bipartisan Scowcroft Commission which made recommendations that had to do with nuclear weapons modernization more broadly, and we know that the MX missile was funded.
I did not choose these examples to make this point, but I’m very happy that they do make this point, that bipartisan, deliberative process doesn’t necessarily produce centrist policy. I often see, and in conversations and interviewing for this I realized that a lot of people, when they hear “bipartisan,” they think sort of bland, homogenized, watered down, compromised. And some Democrats and Republicans run screaming from the word because to them it means giving up what you really want to get something less than you want. I don’t think that needs to be the case. I mean, these examples sort of by accident make that point. It’s not necessarily that you will abandon your preferred policy, but that you will contemplate the potential pitfalls and costs.
So if you don’t necessarily get centrist compromise every time, well, does it really matter? I think this is the most important question and, to be perfectly blunt, it’s the hardest to answer. Naturally, I think that it does matter. It’s very difficult to prove, because a bipartisan deliberative process does not guarantee, you know, sound policy, and you can occasionally stumble onto good policy by accident and fiat acting only on one side of the aisle; but I think it’s pretty clear that it’s better to act with both halves of our foreign policy brain.
For one thing, you can apply the common-sense test that whether you’re a CEO of a company or leading a not-for-profit organization or whatever role you might be in, you begin with your ideas; as you vet them, particularly with people who don’t share your world view, you might stumble onto things you hadn’t thought of. Maybe you just anticipate the criticism and then navigate the waters more carefully. But if through this process you are able to get some buy-in, then I think in terms of a foreign policy perspective, you increase the odds that others outside the country will view it as American policy rather than partisan policy. That, obviously, increases the odds that you’ve got continuity over administrations. It certainly facilitates the legislative process, and we focused a lot on that.
I could go on. I won’t, because you’re here to talk with these women as well. But I would just say there are several recommendations in the report, we’re going to talk through some of those, and hopefully you’ll look at them. But I want to be intellectually honest about the recommendations. It became clear in talking about this and working through it that we’re not really going to fix this with a new law or a rule change. We do make some recommendations for government and policymakers, and we’ve made some decisions about what we will do as an institution to try to help create some space to get to know one another and just make some common-sense changes, but really this is going to come down to leadership from policymakers on both sides of the aisle.
And that’s why one of the first recommendations is that whoever offers themself for office in ’08 be thinking now about how they would engage across the aisle and the best ways to approach that.
With that, I’m going to turn to you all.
Jamie, I wanted to ask you first—of course you served on the 9/11 commission, and we talked some about your experience, both in our meetings and independently. Just tell us about that process and sort of your observations about working across the aisle.
JAMIE GORELICK: Well, the commission afforded us an opportunity to do something really quite different than what normally happens in Washington, which is that we were five Democrats, five Republicans, appointed at a very partisan time in our government by the most partisan people in town. That is by statute, we were meant to be appointed by the president and the House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle. And all of us had some political coloration; we weren’t chosen from academia—let me put it that way.
But we were given a mission, and as part of that, we were supposed to determine the facts. In fact, that was the great burden of what we did. The recommendations flow from the facts, but we spent a tremendous amount of time on the facts. And that meant that we sat in a room together and looked at documents, we interviewed people, and we debated what the import of that was. That process allowed us to build up trust among each other and to find out things about each other that were actually contrary to our prejudices going in.
And I thought—I had been told by everyone on my side of the aisle before I started this, Slade Gorton was this rabid right-winger and utterly untrustworthy, and I should just watch myself, just watch my back. And what I found in working with Slade and the other Republicans on the commission was a real dedication, if you will, to the facts and to the truth, and that came out. So that when we had disagreements, we had built up that trust. So, you know, I don’t know how much of that is transferable. But certainly in my experience, inside the 9/11 commission and outside, if you have the opportunity to really work through a tough issue with someone and take their measure and engage with them on an intellectual basis and with a common goal in mind, that’s the best way to break through some of the images that we have of each other.
ROMAN: Well, just following up on that, you know, the 9/11 commission was rather time-intensive. Is it realistic? Because, you know, part of the frustration for us as the council, too, is every time you want to do something, for it to really succeed, you need time, and time is the thing that’s finite.
Can you recreate that? You said you don’t know if it’s transferable, but—
GORELICK: Well, it’s not completely transferable, but I think even the process that led to this report had some of that. I mean, we didn’t meet that many times and it wasn’t that frequent, but we did discuss some hard issues and got to know each other in the course of that.
I actually think that the council itself—and this is an advertisement, frankly, for what you do—is a great avenue for that. If you can make sure that there is political balance and diversity in all sorts of ways on the groups that you convene, you can do that.
I mean, right after 9/11, Carla and Dick Holbrooke convened a group of people to talk about terrorism and to think a little more profoundly, if you will, and further down the line than the government was able to do as it was really responding in the day to day. And that fostered debate not only between Democrats and Republicans but, frankly, intra-Republican Party really at the table. And it was a safe venue. There were no leaks. No one came out and said, “Well, did you hear that debate between so and so and so and so?” You know, as a Democrat, I was sort of watching this with interest to see this internal party debate. I think that it can happen.
People have to think it’s in their interest. They have to think that they’re going to get to a better policy or they’re going to at least know the downsides of the policy that they’re advocating, or that they might have a better chance of actually implementing what they come up with if they do it. They’re not going to do it just to do it.
ROMAN: Well, I want to ask you about trade, but maybe this is a time to mention the chiefs of staff briefing that grew from our breakfast. As we were talking this through, we were saying, you know, maybe the council can pull together members of Congress. And then we had all this discussion about how members of Congress are so busy; would they come? Would they be able to come? Back and forth. And Ken Duberstein, who, of course, was the chief of staff to President Reagan, said, “You know, we need to think about the chiefs of staff. They’re almost as busy, but if they commit, they’ll commit. It’s a better way.”
So we started moving and acting on some of the things that were born of these discussions, and we’ve now done three briefings for chiefs of staff House side that have drawn 50 chiefs of staff. Well, that led to—someone came to me and said, “Well, Nancy, would you do this on the Senate side?” And last Monday we had an off-the-record discussion among 50 Senate chiefs of staff—literally almost 50-50, I think it was, if not 25-25, pretty close to it—to really just try to bring people to the table so they can get to know one another.
But, Carla, I wanted to ask you about trade. Trade is usually an area that we think of as one of the bastions of bipartisanship. And in our discussions, as you know, we often went back to trade policy as an example where things were working well. But the recent debate over CAFTA was more contentious than usual. And whereas 115 Democrats supported NAFTA, we had only 15, I believe, supporting CAFTA.
What is happening? Is trade policy going partisan on us? And just what are your observations?
CARLA HILLS: I think trade is a very good example of the polarization that is occurring and the lack of conversation that you mentioned, and the lack of information. Actually, the support for trade has been declining since the early ’80s. We have gone to get Trade Promotion Authority—it used to be called fast track—and if you look at the vote trends, it’s gone down.
And in the CAFTA, I went up on the Hill to talk to Republicans and Democrats, and there was a lack of information, there was a mind-closing. Let me just say that the CAFTA involved six nations, six poor nations, $15 billion of trade, which is about the same as our trade with France. What a trade agreement does is give us the opportunity to have joint prosperity; it gives us the opportunity to encourage rule of law, respect for property, and transparency, which is the gruel of which good governance is made of. And believe me, these six governments need a little improvement in their governance, and they’re right on our shore. You’d think we’d want to do that. And a lot of Americans care about alleviating poverty. And, you know, World Bank studies show that trade agreements in fact have a correlation with growth, and growth has a correlation with reducing poverty.
I would talk and give data to these groups I was meeting with, and they would say to me, “Carla, my constituents don’t buy it. If I vote for the CAFTA, I won’t be back here in two years.” And I said where is it where you are going to lead them and not do the poll-reading? And I think if they weren’t so frightened for their jobs, we would have better policy. Well, why are they frightened for their jobs? And in my view, it is because of redistricting. We have—and the report reflects that—I firmly believe that the fact that our districts are more blue and more red makes a huge difference in real debate over public policy.
The—there’s a wonderful example in Nancy’s report, and I compliment you. I just think she’s done a fabulous job. She’s done a fabulous job here in Washington, but she’s done a fabulous job on this report.
Of the—I think North Carolina, the congressman who said, “You know, I love my district. I really love my district. It is so configured that if I drive down Highway 85 with both doors open, I hit everybody in my district.” And that’s what it is, is that we’ll—like a long worm, and that worm is affecting policy. That did not exist when Speaker Foley was up there, to the same extent.
Iowa is the only state that has, in effect, a grid. And Iowa has contentious elections, and Iowa votes its mind, not its red or blue. I think this is a big issue that Americans ought to focus on and try to get some diversity into the districts.
It isn’t, as Nancy says, that we have to have agreement, but one of the great things about a bipartisan debate is that your ideas get better. You learn. I mean, I’ve had senators say to me, “The reason I love my job is, I can go on the Hill, and I can be briefed by the very best in the business.” But of course they run in and out of the hearings. The reason why you can pull people together with something like a Brent Scowcroft report is because there it is, and you can relate to the wisdom of it.
And I just think that redistricting, lack of time, the Tuesday to Thursday lifestyle has changed dramatically Washington from 20 years ago, just dramatically.
ROMAN: Well, one of the recommendations in the report, as you know, is that state legislatures and judicial bodies who are involved in redistricting actually do so without regard to, you know, the party affiliation of the people who live in the area.
But I just want to follow up on that point, because we actually internally, within the council, had a little bit of debate surrounding this, because if you didn’t gerrymander districts to create more liberal liberals and more conservative conservatives to make the districts ever safer, presumably you might have some more moderates.
But we had an interesting discussion, and I’d be interesting on (sic) your thoughts are—are these moderates necessary bridge-builders, or if you have the 9/11 style interaction, can you get it from liberal liberals dialoguing with conservative conservatives?
GORELICK: But there’s a strong disincentive on each side to be talking with the other. I mean, I think it’s considered to be apostasy on the far right to talk to someone on the left. And I don’t know if it’s the case in the opposite direction, but I do think that the conversation that you are positing is much less likely to happen when you have the situation that Carla has described.
I mean, I—when I was at Justice and would appear before the Judiciary Committee, particularly in the House, you know, the wings literally sitting in front of me were impossible for the center to bring together. And the center, every time I went up there, seemed to dwindle. So you actually got very little productive dialogue.
HILLS: Well, I might have just a nuance difference on the center.
First of all, it may be the center is more aware of the positions on both sides. I mentioned CAFTA and the polarization. NAFTA was not an easy sell, and I had to renew fast track in the course of negotiating the NAFTA agreement. But I had very good chairmen. Both houses were Democratic. I met with them on a very regular basis. Lloyd Bentsen was my Finance Committee chair, and Danny Rostenkowski was in the House. And they would beat me up on the public sessions, without a question. But I would ask for an executive session, and they wanted to know—they wanted to know—the data. And I tried to accommodate their interest.
The fact of the matter is, I believe that a trade agreement—when the United States of America stands up and says we’re going to have a free trade agreement, I believe that means the total free trade on all commodities and services, no exemptions. And that has historically been the case until recently. True, when we negotiated with Mexico, they took energy off the table. The United States didn’t take things off the table.
And what we did was give long transitions, so there would be a period of adjustment—15 years for real sensitive issues, 10 years for others, five years for others—and open trade right away.
But I did find the center. And I define the center as someone who has listened and thought and digested the thought, not somebody who’s not got an idea. But if they just know about the subject matter, it doesn’t need to be liberal or conservative; it is in the national interest and in their interest.
I just—I think that the more they get informed—because my experience in the one example, on the CAFTA, which happened in this group to be a hundred percent Democrat that came to this private session—it was sponsored by a not-for-profit in town—about—I said: Look, if any of you need any data, I’ll supply it. Three of the 27 called and I sent them the Institute of International Economics book on trade. It’s not a partisan book, a factual book. And one of them voted for the CAFTA, I noticed that. But they had trouble not because they didn’t understand it, but because they were driven by survival. And that’s the redistricting issue.
GORELICK: And that’s with safe districts. You know, that’s the interesting point. I guess the argument is that since the whole ball of wax, the whole game is your primary, you’re just going to play to the most extreme elements in your district, and it makes irrelevant, frankly, everybody else.
ROMAN: Well, one of the things—I won’t get into this now, but there are lots of recommendations that deal with facilitating relationships between the executive branch and Congress so that, you know, the White House isn’t just going to the Hill in crisis mode, and so on. And it ties into some of this.
Before we turn to you, which we’re going to do in two minutes, I wanted to ask Jamie about holds, the process of putting holds on political appointees and keeping them from taking their appointment. We had examples on our Bipartisan Advisory Board—both sides, bipartisan discrimination of people’s nominations having been held up. One of our recommendations is that Congress do away with this process of the holds.
But I wondered if you would just comment on your thoughts and experiences.
GORELICK: Well, as Nancy is somewhat averting to, almost everybody around the table had been the subject of a hold. (Laughter.) And if you’ve been the subject of a hold, you don’t think holds are too good—(laughter)—particularly since you never know—you often don’t know who is putting the hold on, and you also don’t know why. And so the implication can be that there’s something wrong with you when, as in my case when I was at Defense, the very powerful member of the Senate who put the hold on me just wanted a facility placed in his state by the Defense Department. But I didn’t know that, and so it was anxiety provoking for me, and it was not particularly good for my agency.
This is a controversial view within the Democratic Party right now because holds are about all that Democrats have left. And since no one talks to Democrats about nominees—and that’s a slight overstatement, but not a whole lot—most of the Democratic members of the Senate feel that they have no tool to use but to put a hold on.
I called a leading Democrat in the Senate to try to get—very recently—to try to get him to lift a hold that he has on for a Republican nominee that I thought, A, was deserving—and he didn’t disagree with that at all; and B, was really necessary to the functioning of his department and in a way that was sort of imperiling our national security. And his answer was, “I agree that he should be confirmed. But until somebody answers my totally legitimate request for this document, I have no other vehicle for getting it.” So I would say that holds are bad, but consultation will help a great deal in—and some level of comedy will help a great deal in eliminating them. We need to achieve both.
ROMAN: Okay. I think we’re going to go to you all. If you’ll just wait for a microphone and then identify yourself. I think we’re waiting. From the back, go ahead while we’re waiting. I think we can hear you. Speak loudly.
QUESTIONER: Amy Bondurant. You are talking about solutions with this very good report, and I wanted to raise a problem somewhat akin to the whole problem. I remember 30 years ago when I started working on Capitol Hill how bipartisan everything was. I mean, you were—you didn’t do your work until you talked to the other side of isle. In fact, you went to the other side of the isle first before you tried to talk to your side often. I remember when I had friends, they happened to be on the other side of isle, who started what, I think, was the first negative—looking for negative information about candidates to use in negative campaign advertising, and negative campaign advertising and personal attacks have continued both sides of the isle regular way of doing things. And that occurred with the 9/11 commission, and it occurred not by the commission, but people on the outside trying to lessen the strength of the commission by going after individual members in an individual way. It occurs regularly.
So this is a problem. You’ve listed—you’ve talked about solutions. I just wondered about your comments, about how this might be deterred in today’s climate. What steps could be taken to try and avoid that?
MS. ROMAN (?): Want to try that one?
MS. HILLS (?): It’s—in my view, it’s not a—I would look at it as an effect or an outcome of the problems that we’ve addressed. If you go back to President Ford, I remember one time he said, “You know, I totally disagree with Tip O’Neill. Well, I’m playing golf with him on Saturday.” That (sic) isn’t any golf on Saturday any longer, and there hasn’t been for some time. And I can remember Lud Ashley, a Democrat. A housing bill came up, and I talked to him about it. And he said, “You’re right. It’s a turkey.” He, as a Democrat, came out and criticized the bill. The—he was—he brought a little cadre of Democrats with him. It passed the Democratic House and Senate. The president vetoed it. And within five days a record—we had an emergency housing bill through—because Lott was the leader. And I think that negative advertising comes because people don’t know each other.
It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know. You don’t talk to each other about the issues. So obviously they’re either an idiot, or malicious. I—it’s—the causes of the problem in the report lead to these bad outcomes, and yours is one, in my view.
GORELICK: I would only add one other thing, Amy. I think that until people realize that they’re making bad decisions by operating in this fashion, they’re going to continue to do it. I mean, there has to be a cost, a political cost, to that sort of hegemonous my-way-or-the-highway approach. And I think we are at this point. I mean, I do believe we are at the point where we are clearly and demonstrably making bad decisions, because we do not engage in actual conversation. If we engage in actual conversation, as was the case when I was at Defense, Strom Thurmond and Sam Nunn had staffs that talked to each other all the time. And it operated in a reasonably bipartisan way. And that just doesn’t happen in the same way any more. I think you get better decisions if you operate that way.
QUESTIONER: Steve Clemons. Thank you very much. And I’ve enjoyed reading Nancy’s report. But it occurred to me that if you have this morning Chuck Hagel, John McCain, George Voinovich in a session chaired with Brent Scowcroft, and at the last minute Lindsey Graham walked in the room, even with Lindsey Graham you’d be accused of not having mainstream Republicans on board. And it’s made me sort of think beyond the question of party to something that, you know, where it counts on foreign relations. And really, the issue is internationalism. You’ve got, I think, other ways to cut the—cut both parties. You’ve got internationalists and sort of international apathists in both parties. You have realists and idealists in both parties. You have those people who see America as ascendent today and those people who sort of see major constraints in America’s choices today. And you can line them up, and you can cut into both parties and see that it’s not, in fact, a bipartisan issue or a partisan issue any more; you’ve got factions within both parties that hang together versus other factions. And you can put them in. I’m wondering to what degree that’s—that’s the bigger issue today, that, in fact, it’s not Republican versus Democrat, it’s, you know, to some degree, those people who care about engagement, those who don’t, and cutting in. And maybe the kind of bridge building we need to do is among clusters of people, regardless of their party ID.
ROMAN: Carla wants to say something, so go first.
HILLS: Again, I think this is an outcome. If you are ignorant, if you’re a no-nothing, whether it’s on an international issue or a domestic issue, you’re right, I don’t—I don’t often use labels—liberal, Republican, centrist, international. The fact that those who focus on international issues do talk—the ones you named do understand these issues. But if you’re here from Tuesday to Thursday, you walk in and out of hearings, it’s like a student that has a distraction and goes to one-tenth of the classes. And if you don’t have the time to read, and you’re spending time raising money for your next election, and you have a district that tends to be more like you than you, you play to the middle of your district and you don’t get many questions in the back of the room saying, “Listen, Senator, I lost my job down the road and it went to China.” That’s what you hear, and you don’t have the response. You don’t try to lead them back and say, look, China is not the Soviet Union. We can’t hold it aloft and contain it. This is a real challenge for us; we want to engage it. It’s becoming a real international player. And on energy, we want to bring it in to the global institutions like the International Energy Agency. We need to have it be part of the OECD as a regular member. We want them to be more of a responsible, global player.
But they don’t know what the options are or how to do that.
I’m not sure that your problem isn’t an outcome and not just a different characteristic.
GORELICK: I would just add one quick thing. You ignore the mechanics of committee hearings and markups and the ways that bills move through the House and Senate if you only look at people stylistically or in terms of their inclinations as an internationalist or not.
The fact is that if one party controls both houses, then—and in this case, with the Republicans controlling both houses, the Democrats have no way to actually participate in the conversation in most committees. They don’t have a way to offer legislation, they don’t have a way to offer changes on the floor, they don’t have a way to offer—call hearings or offer witnesses. And all that just diminishes the debate. When you’re in the executive branch, you know, you don’t like the fact that the opposing party can actually send subpoenas and call hearings and call you up. But the fact is that it airs issues in a way that if you are there with just your own party in a protective fashion, you don’t get them there.
ROMAN: Okay. Wow, let’s see. We’ll go right here, move back.
QUESTIONER: Joe Onek from the Open Society Institute. Seems to me that some of the structural changes run agaisnt each other becuase, for example, if you redistrict it differently and you had closer elections then your Tuesday to Friday problem would only get worse because more people would be up for reelection. The need to raise money would even get worse. It seems to me that the structural fix would go low—some of them are interesting—probably aren’t the answer. And that I think the real answer is the education of the electorate.
They have to understand, as Jamie said, the cost of what’s going on and the have to punish those politicians who are regarded as unduly partisan. And I will give as an example, in the Iowa primary caucuses for the Democrats when Dean and Gephart were regarded as being too partisan against each other and too nasty, they both got destroyed. And the people who won, for better or worse, were Kerry and soft-spoken, we all love everybody Edwards. So I do think it is our job probably not to worry so much about these structural fixes.
There are other people here, of course like Speaker Foley who couldn’t worry about that more. But I do think it may be our job to acquaint—and I’ll get to the question—can we be doing more to acquaint the American people with the costs of the current system and to show them that there are areas where there could be more bipartisan with the benefits, and to urge them in certain ways to punish those people who are unduly partisan?
GORELICK: Now, that’s a good plan. I guess I would just say I take your point. It is true. If you have more evenly matched districts, you’d have even closer elections. It’s sort of hard to imagine the money trace getting worse. (Chuckles.) Or members having to spent more time raising it. I still think, on balance you’d have a better system but it is true. And I said here, you know, I do want to be intellectually honest. The structural changes aren’t going to do it alone. You’re right, you do need leadership. The public does need to be educated and the way the public gets educated is you have leaders who are committed to it, and articulate.
HILLS: But mandate, I would argue that contentious elections are a mechanism or educating the voter. And the fact that you have an election that comes out 54 percent for—that you had a debate when you get 65 percent, then the next election the person goes out an plays to the 65 percent. And you get more and more, and the next time is even more. And if you redistrict, then two years later they only take the 65 percent of their district. You don’t get much of a debate.
And it is appalling to me how uninformed both the media—my respect to those that are here—(laughter)—there are very few shows that get into the merits, the true merits and what are the pluses and the minuses. It is show business. And this is very bothersome to someone who is trying to educate the American public.
I think redistricting would have more informed debate, more intellectual debate, a better electorate in that district. And I don’t think it runs against—and some would lose, you’re right. We would have maybe more turnover. Fresh faces are not all that bad. I mean, our elected representatives should show the face of the populations that they represent, but in a balanced way.
QUESTIONER: Sally Horn. I have a somewhat different question. And again, it may actually be a symptom rather than the problem itself. But I wondered if you could speak for a few moments about the issue of the national interest groups, especially those that are more on the extreme, and what role have they had in terms of creating this situation that we’re in today, and how can we address that as an issue?
ROMAN: Well, they have disproportionate power in the circumstance that Carla has been describing. Obviously, if you have gerrymandered districts in which the real—the only issue is who wins the primary, then the wings, if you will, have disproportionate power, and those who raise money for the wings have disproportionate power. I mean, you see it play out every day in our body politic.
And we touch on that in the report. You know, it obviously costs more to win a seat today than it did 10, 20 years ago, and so people spend more time raising money. They get a lot of that money from the 527s, and there often isn’t—that members don’t feel the flexibility to depart from a position embraced by one of the groups that have contributed to them. Certainly that’s a role.
There is a question all the way on the back row, and then I’ll come to you next.
QUESTIONER: Peter Hakim from Inter-American Dialogue. It sounds to me the panel is very pessimistic about anything changing. What I hear is—I’m sorry—I said I thought the panel was very pessimistic. In other words, I keep hearing more and more examples of things pushing Congress and the political system to make it more and more partisan. I haven’t heard very much of what are two or three things you might point to that are pushing it to being more bipartisan. Is there any sort of thing happening that you would say this is good news?
ROMAN: Well, I’m usually accused of being too optimistic, but I will say this; that, you know, the findings are pessimistic. I mean, one of the things we say in the report is that one of the very difficult things in grappling with this is that most of the root causes are pushing the wrong way. The money chase, the 527s, you know, the media, a lot of the trends are rather intractable.
But I would say on the optimistic note it’s not so much that the trends are optimistic—you might find one that is—I haven’t had a trend that’s optimistic, but I am optimistic about, you know, what we’re trying to do here, to be frank. I talked about the briefings for chiefs of staff. which are pulling chiefs of staff together across, you know, both sides of the aisle. We’re actively engaging on Capitol Hill to brief members. One of the things the council will undertake as an institution are salon-style dinners with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the foreign policy issues and to try to create a—we as an institution are committed to playing a role to bring Democrats and Republicans together. I think that is good news, even if the trends are working against us rather than for us.
GORELICK: I have one optimistic note. When the 9/11 commissioners—when the 9/11 commission went out of business, the 9/11 commissioners, we created a little 501(c)(3), a little charitable organization for ourselves to go out and educate the public. And we went out—I’ve personally spoke in 22 states; my fellow commissioners did similarly—and all of us were struck by this. There was much more interest in the bipartisan nature of the process than there was in the conclusions and in the recommendations. Not to say that people weren’t interested in the latter, but they were fascinated to think that actually 10 people from very different political perspectives could come together with a singular voice and a singular set of recommendations and how was that possible.
I felt, personally, that there was a tremendous hunger in the country for that. People don’t actually like what they see. They don’t—while they may like their individual congressman or woman, they don’t like what they see in Washington, and so if there were a way to tap into that writ large, I think whoever did so would be a very attractive candidate for whatever office they sought.
Peter, I think, the report is optimistic. It’s like a doctor coming to you and saying you’ve got a very serious disease. That’s the bad news. The good news is I’ve got a cure for it and read it. The fact is there are steps that this nation, this city and this council can take that will make a difference, and that’s the good news. And I think we ought to do it.
ROMAN: Okay. Right here and then to Julia.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Massimo Calabresi from Time Magazine. My question has to do with the difference between the House and the Senate and whether you found any difference in partisanship in the two bodies. Redistricting has been the center of much of the conversation here. Of course, that only affects the House, and, that being the case, over the same period of time, partisanship should have gotten worse in the House than in the Senate. And I wonder if you found that.
MS. : Yes.
MS. : (Laughs.)
MS. : I interviewed probably—oh, I don’t know—several dozen members of Congress, past and present, and I think there is a perception that things are more contentious in the House, but more contentious in the Senate than they were. So this is a trend in both houses.
QUESTIONER: Julia Sweig with the council. Congratulations to all of you. And I’ll just second what Carla said about Nancy and how wonderful it is to have you here with us in Washington.
We’re having this discussion, and maybe, Carla, I can anticipate that your answer might be that the problem of K Street that we’ve been reading about in the last several weeks especially is a manifestation of these dynamics that the report addresses. I guess I would just ask you—I know you’ve grappled with this, to some extent—how, in your deliberations and in your thoughts, you would say—and the council, I know, is doing some of this—bringing the private sector into these discussions. But how do we as an institution and we as a town address the role not only of money in campaign politics but money in policy politics?
ROMAN: Do you want to say anything on that? Go ahead.
HILLS: Special interests, whether they be on policy or, you know, issue-driven, are tough. The money’s out there. They’re raising the money. In both parties you have core interests that do that disproportionately. And that requires you to galvanize the other parts of the party to be a counterbalance.
Historically, the Democrats have had unions be their activists, and the Republicans have had the social conservatives be their activists. They’re in each instance less than a majority of their party. You could almost say a relatively small percentage. But their effect is much larger because of their activism.
And so the trick is to energize good citizens through information and engagement. And that is a challenge, and it’s what we’re talking—I mean, it is—it’s kind of a outcome. If everybody sits on their hands except the special interests, you got a problem. I mean, I could give examples in trade agreements. If you let a special interest, because it gives a huge amount of money, drive your policy, you’ve got yourself a problem. But if you inform the whole group to have the opportunity to benefit from the policy that you’re espousing, you may have a solution.
ROMAN: Okay. Right here. Congressman Moody.
QUESTIONER: Jim Moody with Merrill Lynch. I think the press should also be included in your recommendations—I didn’t see a reference there—because so often that is the basis of what—the information people get, except for the newsletters from their member in Congress, which is obviously not the source we’re talking about.
Just a small example: In my district in Wisconsin, 85 percent of the people believe we should pay our dues to the U.N. Remember we were in arrears in our U.N. dues? If I voted against it—I voted, of course, for it—if I voted against it, the press wouldn’t even mention it. If I voted against milk price supports, every paper would carry that as a big story. So on international issues we get very thin objective coverage in so many districts.
ROMAN: Mm-hmm. Good point.
Does anyone want to comment on that?
GORELICK: Only that there is something in the report on the increasing narrow casting by the media, and if people only listen to the media that reflects their views, then we’re going to be the worse for it as a body politic.
ROMAN: Okay. Right there.
QUESTIONER: Nelson Cunningham with Kissinger McLarty Associates. So far in the discussion we’ve been focusing on Congress-to-Congress relations and have not been talking about the role of the president and the executive in conducting a bipartisan foreign policy. And I wanted to ask a question relating to that.
It seems to me the last outbreak of bipartisanship that we saw in this country was in the wake of 9/11. I still remember the speech that Tom Daschle gave in response to the president’s speech to Congress, and the expressions by many congressional Democrats of support for the president in the wake of 9/11. And yet, I think looking back on it, many Democrats feel that they were politically taken advantage of afterward; that within a few months of 9/11 a document surfaced indicating that Karl Rove was telling Republicans they should run on the war on terror in the mid-term elections and it would be a political advantage.
Have you seen a difference in the way that foreign policy is conducted from the presidency, which contributes to the breakdown of bipartisanship that you identify in your report?
ROMAN: Well, this is clearly a question where Jamie should weigh in. But I want to say a couple of things.
One, we worked very hard to make this report not be about Bush or about, you know, some particular Democrat in the limelight for the moment because—what we say very clearly, this is not aimed at one party or another, it is aimed at all leaders in both parties with a clear understanding that both parties have contributed, you know, to the negative atmosphere.
Having said that, it’s very clear that the executive branch matters. And we didn’t discuss it much here, but we discussed it an awful lot in our meetings and it’s certainly reflected in the report that we feel like a big part of where bipartisanship can happen, regardless of who’s in control, whether you have one party controlling both Congress and the White House, as you do now, or when it’s split, is in the discussions, deliberations, conversations between the White House and the Hill. We urge the State Department, USTR and others to build deep benches of people who are reaching to Congress. And Ambassador Pickering was actually very helpful in working through some of those aspects of the report.
But Jamie, you should weigh in more specifically. And they’re allowed to be partisan.
GORELICK: Well, I’ve always tried and have had very easy relationships across the aisle. And I would just make two comments.
When I read Karl Rove’s speech about how Democrats want to psychoanalyze terrorists, and Republicans want to adopt a more aggressive approach, I actually wrote Nancy an e-mail saying, “I’m quitting this. I’m not spending my time on this”—because for just the reason you identified. It is GALLING, it is absolutely GALLING to yourself reach across the aisle and then have that be taken advantage of. So I feel passionately on this subject. And I know a lot of Democrats, including those who absolutely said, “Mr President, whatever you need, we’ll be there,” feel totally burned by the politicization of this issue. That, in my personal view, was just wrong. It was morally wrong, it was politically wrong, and it has done a tremendous disservice to the notion of a bipartisan foreign policy.
There are things very concretely that the administration could do. It could actually populate any number of advisory commissions that exist all over the government with people with different points of view. I mean, Steve Friedman, who was the national economic adviser for President Bush and served on the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory board, served on President Clinton’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. It used to be that those panels—the National Security Advisory Panel at the CIA, the Defense Science Board, the Defense Policy Board, the PFIAB—they were all populated by a group who considered themselves to be—and maybe wrongly so—but part of the bipartisan foreign policy and national security establishment. That’s gone! That is absolutely gone. And to my mind, if you’re looking for venues for people to get to know each other, to work in a trusting way with each other, they exist. They don’t have to be invented.
And so, I do feel that this administration has made it more difficult to have a bipartisan approach to foreign policy, and it has taken, frankly, someone like Nancy saying, “Please don’t quit“ for people like me to hang in.
ROMAN: And I’m very grateful she didn’t quit. And I would say there is a recommendation in the report based on—largely on her views and leadership in the discussions that we—that presidents, whoever is occupying the White House, do take advantage of these advisory boards and make sure that they are populated with ideologically diverse populations.
Okay. I think we have time for about one more question. Mitzi.
QUESTIONER: Mitzi Wertheim of the Center for Naval Analysis. I agree with everything you’ve said. I guess the thing that discourages me is the way our campaigns are financed. My own feeling is until we find a better way to do it, so that our politicians don’t spend most of their time raising money as opposed to learning about the issues and making smarter choices, I find it very hard to see how we dig ourselves out of this hole.
ROMAN: Hmm. Well, I will say, as engaged in this whole debate as we are, the council probably will not undertake campaign finance reform. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—the issue.
ROMAN: But I would like to say that, you know, maybe this is a good note to end on.
We, the council, see this very much as a beginning, not an end. I mean, the roll-out of this report is an effort to sort of grab everyone by the collar, shake them, get their attention, and begin bringing Democrats and Republicans together. I am very much in receive mode, open to your ideas. Any that you have, please reach to me.
I thank you, Carla and Jamie, very much, both for being here today and for your incredible work on the advisory board, as well as Speaker Tom Foley. And thank you for being here. (Applause.) Good job!
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