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For the last few years, Congress’s approval ratings have been dismal. A Gallup poll last month showed only 15 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job. Seventy-nine percent disapprove. Olympia Snowe is fed up with Congress, too. After 18 years in the U.S. Senate, the Maine Republican called it quits. When she announced she would not seek re-election in 2012, she cited increasingly partisan politics as a major factor. In her new political memoir, she tells how she went from being an orphan at age 9 to a GOP lawmaker known for reaching across the aisle. Her take on what’s wrong with Congress and how to fix it.
Excerpt from “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress” by Olympia Snowe. Copyright 2013 by Olympia Snowe. Reprinted with the permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Olympia Snowe is a former Republican senator from Maine. She won her first election at age 26 and devoted the next 40 years to public service. As a U.S. congresswoman and then a senator, she was known for her willingness to work with Democrats to get things done. But the partisanship that has gridlocked Congress in recent years led her to decide not to seek re-election.
MS. DIANE REHMNow in a new book, she describes what led her to enter politics and what finally drove her away. The book is titled "Fighting for Common Ground."
MS. DIANE REHMOlympia Snowe joins me in the studio. We'll welcome your questions and comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And you should know we are video-streaming this hour of "The Diane Rehm Show" so you can also watch the action in the studio. And welcome to you, Senator Snowe.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWEWell, thank you, Diane, it's a pleasure to be here today. I've been looking forward to it and to welcome all your listeners as well.
REHMThank you. You know, you've written a great deal about politics, but I'd like to, if you would, begin this conversation by talking about your childhood. You were born into a Greek Orthodox family. Your mother died when you were eight years old. She died of breast cancer. Did you know up until the very end that she was sick?
SNOWEYes, you know, I did know that and I have memories of different moments when I realized she was seriously ill because, as I say in the book, that I asked her at one point, and I think she must have returned home from the hospital is all I can think of, but I remember asking her, are you going to die?
SNOWEAnd she said no. And so I must have been truly aware of the fact that she, you know, had been very ill and then, of course, on the day in which she died, leading up to it, I was supposed to visit her in the hospital and that's my strong memory.
SNOWEMy brother and I were supposed to both go and visit her and I was so excited about it and I was looking forward to it. But then, at the last minute, a decision was made that said that we could not go and visit her. You know, I don't know what they told us. I can't remember, but, you know, I worried about it.
SNOWEBut then I was asked to go to the beach with our neighbors who were always taking care of us and were so good to me during that period of time. And so I went to the beach because it was July 2 and when I returned home, my father was visiting with the landlady upstairs who also happened to be Greek and my brother was up there, too.
SNOWEAnd all I can remember is that the, you know, the television was on and they were sitting there and I knew something was terribly wrong so my father told me she had died so. And I went across to tell our neighbors who obviously were so close to us to let them know, but, you know, it was...
SNOWEYeah, it was.
SNOWEIt was etched in my mind and my brother was just, you know, sitting there, staring and the TV was on. And I sort of recall, I think it was like "The Ed Sullivan Show," for some reason, and, you know, I was just sort of, you know, in a paralyzed state because it's the worst fear as a child...
SNOWE...to lose your parent...
SNOWE...and your mother and there it was so I wanted to, you know, also to tell our neighbors and they helped us through it and so did the church and the neighborhood.
REHMHow old was she when she died?
SNOWEShe was 39 so -- and as I understand and it seems that way to me as well in looking back that she was ill for, you know, a better part of two years and she probably had it even before that.
SNOWEI do recall going to a doctor with her at one moment. It's interesting that I even remember it, but all I can recall is being in a reception room in a doctor's office and the doctor comes out and he says to her, Georgia, what are you doing here? And she says, I still don't feel well.
SNOWEAnd I just always remembered that. It was etched in my mind and it's probably the fear again, you know, that something was wrong, but I didn't know quite what.
REHMAnd your father is left with two young children. He's operating a restaurant so the decision is made to send you to a boarding school.
REHMHow did you feel about that?
SNOWEWell, I didn't know what to think actually because the moment that I recall about it is that I came home from school for lunch. And you know, in those days, in this case, it happened to be that the school was in my backyard, which was always great so I could skip home for lunch when they allowed you to do that.
SNOWEAnd I walked into the house and I don't even know if my father was there and he may not have been. Frankly, he could have been working at the restaurant. And because there was nobody else at home when I did walk in and I saw all these clothes laid out because you had a specific list of clothing and linen that you had to buy.
SNOWEAnd I looked in the small living room we had and I saw everything laid out and I said, oh my gosh, it's really true because he did prepare me that he might make this decision. And so I ran out of the house and went and got all my friends and I brought them back to the house to look at everything.
SNOWEAnd I said, it's really true. I'm leaving. You know, so I didn't know. I don't remember how I felt at the time. I guess I was a little surprised and shocked and didn't know what to feel, but I do recall the day in which I departed because I was sitting in the back seat of a car with a couple who my father had hired to drive me to Garrison, N.Y.
SNOWEAnd my brother and my father were standing in the driveway and I got in the back seat of the car and, you know, I was really, you know, shocked that I was leaving. But I didn't want to cry because I knew he was terribly upset so I restrained myself and so we just said goodbye and I could see the two of them standing in the driveway as we drove off with a couple I didn't know.
SNOWEThey were very nice. I don't know that I said anything sitting in the back seat. I was probably still, you know, shocked and probably fearful because I didn't know what to anticipate or to expect.
REHMYour father decided that you needed to go to boarding school, but your brother would stay at home?
SNOWERight, yes, he did. And I don't know the -- well, first of all, the school I went to was run by the Greek Church and they were only taking girls at that time, little girls. At one point, they did have some boys, but it was later, a few years later.
SNOWEAnd my father had learned about the school through a member of a Greek Church in Lewiston who shared with him the information about St. Basil's Academy. So he must have thought it was all too much and, you know, in reading some of my mother's letters that somebody gave me, not to, you know, some years ago, I could see that, you know, my mother was worrying about him and the impact it would be on him as well as on us.
SNOWEAnd so I think he must have made a decision knowing that he wasn't feeling well...
REHMYou did not know that he was not feeling well?
SNOWENo, I did. I knew at one point he wasn't. You know, one day he was ailing, but I wouldn't have known it was serious, you know. And I was close to my father so I was, you know, always fretting and I think children are very intuitive anyways, right?
REHMOf course, of course.
SNOWEThey're always watching and observing and wondering about their parents and their mom and dad so that was the case for me and so especially with our circumstances and everything.
REHMAnd finally you get to this school. Are you enjoying the school?
SNOWEYes, you know, the night we arrived, as you can imagine, my heart was in my throat at that point because now they're on the main road trying to find...
SNOWE...locate the school.
REHMThey got lost?
SNOWEThey got lost and they stopped at this gas station and I was holding my breath hoping that the gas station wouldn't know where it was. Well, of course, they did.
REHMAnd go back home?
SNOWERight, exactly, yeah I wanted them to turn the car around...
SNOWE...because you just don't know what to expect. And it was early evening. It was dusk. And so we drove into this school through these black, wrought-iron gates and winding road. It was a long winding road in.
SNOWEAnd all of a sudden, you come on to this huge building. It was a Tudor mansion. It used to be Jacob Ruppert's estate, Knickerbocker Beer and the New York Yankees. It was his summer home. He was trying to make it, you know, sort of a palatial estate on the Hudson.
SNOWEAnd, you know, my eyes certainly were wide open and watching all of this and I saw some of the young girls playing softball and soccer out on this huge lawn and it overlooked the Hudson and straight across was West Point. So I didn't know what to think. And they drove up and we went up to the dormitory and I met the supervisor who happened to be a nun.
SNOWEAnd so the couple said goodbye and I was determined not to cry, you know. And so I tried to be as strong as I could and so I said goodbye to them and didn't know what to think. And so they showed me to my room and I unpacked my clothes and I went to bed. I went to bed right away because I was, you know, living in fear of what this was going to be all about.
REHMFormer Senator Olympia Snowe, her new book is titled "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress." When we come back, we'll continue with her story, take your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Olympia Snowe is with me. She is a Republican from Maine. She served in the U.S. Congress for 34 years. She served as a U.S. Senator from 1995 to 2013 when she announced she would not run again. I want to go back to your personal story because it does lead you directly into the congress. You were at this brand new school for what, how many months?
SNOWEIt was there for -- well, I was there for six years total.
REHMBut before your entire experience, you were there at nine years old.
REHMAnd a call came.
SNOWEYes. I was there for several months. I came home for the summer, saw my father, went back to school in September. And it was in November that I -- the school received a call that my father had died. And so the supervisor called me down to her office. And I knew, you know, by the look on her face that it was bad news. And so she told me my father had died. So, you know, it was the worse...
REHMYou didn't want to believe her.
SNOWENo, I didn't want to believe it so I...
REHMSo you ran...
SNOWE...I ran all the way down to that main building, that big building, the first building I ever saw when we first entered the school. And there was a telephone booth there that sometimes we could use to make calls. So I decided that I sort of had to here for myself -- I don't know if it was, you know, attaching to reality that I was in New York and this was happening in Maine. And I didn't want to believe it obviously.
SNOWESo I made a direct collect call to the restaurant where my father worked. And so when the operator said to the man who answered the phone, you know, would somebody take a, you know, collect call from Olympia Bouchles and...
SNOWE...this man who answers the phone at the restaurant. And I could overhear that because in those days you could hear that, generally the conversation to see if they'd be willing to accept the call because it was collect. And the man said to the operator, "Operator, I don't want to tell her that her father is dead." And, you know, I mean, it felt like I had just been hit over the head. I mean, you know, it was the harsh reality of the truth.
SNOWEAnd so I took the phone and threw it against the wall, ran out of the phone booth and up the hill. And, you know, obviously crying all the way. And so they put me to put for a few days and then I started writing, you know, my family and friends and the neighbor next door. She was a wonderful lady who was always helping me out and taking care of me. I wrote to her and I said, you know, is it true? And I just could not believe it.
SNOWEAnd to a credit and much courage frankly, I think she decided that I had to sort of see it for myself. So she sent me his obituary, which I thought was, you know, a tough gesture on her part.
REHMI should say.
SNOWEBut in many ways it was the reality and it helped interestingly enough, which is the only one I actually have, was the one that she sent. But it helped me to process it because now I had to deal with that reality.
REHMNow you, I gather, went to live with your aunt and uncle...
REHM...after that. You continued going to that school.
SNOWEYes, I did.
REHMBut you would spend your time off with your aunt and uncle.
REHMAnd what about your brother, where was he?
SNOWEHe went to live with our half brother. Our father had been married previously and had five children. And we weren't aware of it. At least I wasn't. I don't know if my brother was. But in any event, because my aunt and uncle had already had five children, tight living quarters, and I wasn't there year-round -- they could take me on vacation at that point -- he went to live fulltime with our half brother and his wife. They had no children.
SNOWESo, you know, that was, you know, obviously difficult because he was now moving in with people, you know, he obviously didn't know. So -- and he's four years older than I am.
SNOWESo, you know, he had to wrestle with that. And I well remember coming home from Saint Basil's the first time after my father died, which was for the Christmas Holiday. He died before Thanksgiving. And so I came home for the first time at Christmas. And so it was at that point my brother had to leave -- he was staying with my aunt and uncle but had to move to this new family's house.
SNOWESo that was wrenching in and of itself.
REHMYou went not to college. You went on to graduate school?
SNOWENo, I didn't finish there, undergraduate. Thinking at that point that actually I was going to be moving to Washington because I wanted to work in Washington.
REHMYou wanted to work in Washington.
REHMI'd like to know how you met your husband Peter Snowe.
SNOWEUm-hum, yes. He was a good friend of my cousin's and had been, you know, always over at the family house. And then decided, you know -- and then so actually I didn't really, you know, started dating him until my first year in college. I mean, he was always a family friend and so on but became more than that. Then we went out for a while and then it ended. And it wasn't until finally later into my senior year that we started going out. And ended up we got married the end of -- after I graduated from college.
REHMAnd he decided to run for Congress.
SNOWEYes. You know, yeah, he ran for the legislature. And in fact he was serving in the state legislature previously. And then he was the youngest state legislator back in 1966 -- well, he ran in '66 and it ended up being a tie. So he had to run in a special election in '67. Went to the State Supreme Court, which was very unusual, ended up being -- they declared it a tie so they had to have a special election in '67. And he was elected in that special election (word?) .
SNOWEThen he was defeated several times because it was very hard in the City of Auburn because it was becoming more Democratic. And they had this big box where you could vote -- it was a big box so people could vote at the big box. And then automatically vote for all the candidates in that party.
SNOWEBut that reversed itself through a referendum in '70 and so he ran again in '72. And I said, you know, this will be your last time.
REHMRight. I remember your saying that.
SNOWECan you imagine? I know, what irony.
REHMWhat were you doing the whole time he was serving in the state legislature?
SNOWEWell, you know, for the first year -- so, you know, I had difficulties even thinking about getting married at that age, because I was truly committed to going to Washington. And that's immense irony in all of that, isn't it? It's about destiny in some ways.
SNOWEAnd so I was struggling with the whole notion of even getting married. It was just not on my horizon. It was just not on my agenda frankly. And so I was wrestling with that and he obviously knew that. So I waited until really the final moments in December. And he said, okay I think the time is up here. Because he knew, I think, I was stalling because I was really struggling with the whole notion. I was thinking about getting married about 30.
SNOWEBut then I came to the conclusion, right, you know, and said, you're not going to find the person you want to marry at the age of 30. You know, you just don't know. So you have to make those decisions, so we got married. So the first year I didn't work. I think that was probably the only years in my life, other than when I was young, that I never worked. And, you know, I couldn't stand it. I mean, I just knew I was not...
SNOWEYeah, I just wasn't cut out to stay home. You know, and I -- but I tried it out. My friends used to say, what do you do all day? I said, well that's a very good question. So I stopped answering that question and went to work. And I served on the board of voter registration for the City of Auburn, which was a position that was selected by the Republicans for that slot. And the Democrats selected, you know, the other people who served on the board. And I worked there part time, but it became a fulltime job because the voter registration lists were in such a mess at that point.
SNOWEAnd then Bill Cohen, who was running for Congress for the very first time was elected. So I went to work part time for him to set up his district office. And he went on, of course, to be senator and then Secretary of Defense. So he...
REHMAnd then your husband decided to run for Bill Cohen's seat.
SNOWEYeah -- no. He actually -- my second husband was going to run for his seat...
SNOWE...yeah, in 1976 when Bill was thinking about running for the Senate at that point against Ed Muskie, who's the current Senator. And then he decided not to. And so my second husband decided to move to the other part of the state that was in the other congressional district. And I remember talking to him once because he was in the state legislature and he became a lawyer and was serving in -- he was elected the same year my first husband was elected, even the same classes, as a matter of fact.
REHMOh, I see.
REHMWhat's why I got confused.
SNOWEThat's right, yeah, because in 1972 they both were elected as progressive Republicans. And...
REHMBut three years after Peter Snowe was elected...
SNOWEYeah, he was killed in a car accident on the way home from the state legislature. And I was working in Bill Cohen's office at that very day and that very moment and had just talked to him just shortly before all of that. He was telling me he was on his -- he was getting in the car and he was on his way home. And, you know, it was one of those freakish snowstorms in April. And so...
SNOWE...unfortunately he was on the Turnpike and his car flipped over. He was in a -- I think it was a Ford Bronco. And so he flipped over and it was instant.
REHMThe tragedies that you've dealt with have been really enormous.
SNOWEYes. You know, and then went on to lose, you know, my stepson, my second husband's...
SNOWEYeah, and he -- I mean, that -- you know, I thought, well, I had dealt with everything. And then that happened. And...
REHMHe was such a young man...
SNOWE...young man, yes. He came...
REHM...your stepson. How did he die?
SNOWEHe died of sudden death, you know, ventricular fibrillation. And he was...it was in January and he was in the field house at Dartmouth. They were running and working out for baseball practice and he collapsed. And unfortunately in those days, they didn't have defibrillators nearby. I don't know if that would've made a difference. But I ran into a doctor here in Washington coincidentally, who told me that he was at Dartmouth and they had set up a whole program after that.
SNOWEAnd he didn't realize I was connected to Peter, my stepson. And -- but, you know, I mean, you think you've dealt with everything, losing parents, losing your husband, and then losing a child. It was just beyond anything I could've ever comprehended.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm sure many people want to talk with you about the U.S. Congress, what's happened to it. And I wonder if you could give us a single example of how you experienced the stalemate in congress.
SNOWEYes. I think that it really became abundantly clear -- I know when I describe in my book, for example, the whole issue of trying to bring up regulatory reform on the floor, you know, of the United States Senate at the time, which we weren't debating a whole lot of anything at that point. It was in 2011. And even having the opportunity as a ranking member of the small business community to offer an amendment on the floor on regulatory reform, and it was part of the list of amendments that were going to be accepted by both sides to be offered for vote.
SNOWEAnd as one who was managing the bill it was extremely surprising that my amendment would've been taken off the list to be voted on at the last minute when it had been agreed to by both sides. But the majority leader said he was because I think there were people on his side -- on the Democratic side who didn't, at that point, want to vote on it.
SNOWEAnd it just, I think, was more indicative of the times and how much had changed where generally if you're a manager of the bill and you've been participating drafting the bill, you ordinarily have, you know, accommodation for those who are directly involved in the legislation to have votes on the issues that you feel are warranted. And people can vote whichever way they wanted.
SNOWEBut that was just sort of a strong indication to me that things were moving the direction -- especially for somebody who had been building, you know, bipartisan bridges my entire career.
REHMCan you pinpoint when things began to change?
SNOWEYou know, it's interesting because I've had that question asked of me. It just -- it was evolving. It just got systematically and progressively worse, which culminated -- and that's why I describe 2011 and 2012, two very bad years because it just seemed to be the personification of the entire political breakdown, you know, of congress, and its ability to address, you know, big issues in the way in which, you know, we had in the past and the way in which we'd been accustomed.
SNOWEYou know, you have your fights. I mean, that's what it's all about. You argue and debate ideas. And you have your political differences, but you never expect that you're never going to reach a resolution. So maybe in some cases, but not necessarily to the exclusion of doing anything that is of great importance to the country. And especially at the time in which we are in and were in at that time.
REHMExactly. How much does leadership from the White House affect what happens to the ability of the congress to work together?
SNOWEI think it's significant because the president can set the tone and he, you know, certainly can give indications to his own party leadership, in this case, where the democrats were controlling, at that point, both the House and the Senate, as a matter of fact. So up until 2011 when Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts in the special election -- but nevertheless generally the president would want to move his agenda along.
SNOWESo he has to work in concert with congress. And certainly he's part of leadership. But in this case -- and they will be that the president was allowing congress to move on its own in parallel universes. And that's a problem unto itself as well because at some point those worlds have to intersect in order to get anything done. It does require a cooperative relationship between both branches of government if anything is going to work, if you can succeed.
REHMSo unlike say, Lyndon B. Johnson who had hands-on all the way, you've seen a president with mostly hands-off. Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. She has just retired from the Senate. Her new book titled "Fighting for Common Ground."
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Los Angeles, Calif. Jay, you're on the air.
JAYHi, Diane. Hi, Senator.
SNOWEHow are you?
JAYI'm good thank you. Senator, as an admittedly died-in-the-wool liberal from Los Angeles, I have to admit that I was very sad to see you leave the Senate because my sense was always that you brought a very much needed moderating voice to the Senate. And unlike my perception of some of the folks in your party, you always appeared willing, at the very least, to consider some of the policies that were being put forth from folks in my party. And I very much appreciate your book and your comments.
JAYAnd I wonder how much you think -- especially coming on the heels of Diane's earlier conversation with Jane Mayer about money and politics -- how much you think the Citizens United decision may act to exacerbate some of the problems that you've seen over the last couple of years with the hyper-partisanship and the deadlock, particularly in the Senate, where money can really push the outer edges of both parties candidates?
SNOWEWell, first of all, you know, thank you for your comments. And I always consider it a compliment when I have others from the other side of the aisle and the other party supporting me because I think that's what it's all about, is building broader support for the issues, you know, when I was serving in public office. Secondly, I think it matters profoundly, the decision that was issued by the Supreme Court on Citizens United. And as a matter of fact, it was my provision in the campaign finance law that was challenged in Citizens United.
SNOWEIt was based on issue advocacy ads that Senator Jeffords and I had drafted to try to combat the influence of these ads by outside organizations right before an election. I said they were designed to influence the outcome. You know, if you're identifying members of Congress or Senators by name shortly before the election, in this case it was 60 days. So we thought we drew a very bright line. In fact, it was upheld in the first challenge before the Supreme Court. There were three hours of arguments on my provision. It was sustained because at that point, of course, we had Sandra Day O'Connor on the Court.
SNOWEBut, regrettably, it wasn't in this case. And then they unraveled, you know, another 100 years of case law and precedent. So I think it matters because it's just more money where they can, you know, flood the airways with invectives and demonize individuals and positions and viewpoints, even during the course of the legislative session, not just in matter of the campaign, so it becomes perpetual. And 71 percent of the ads that are run are attack ads. So that has a spillover effect into the legislative process. It's undeniable, in many ways.
SNOWESo, yes, it does. And the question is now, you know, how can you restore some sensibilities to this campaign system that could withstand constitutional scrutiny, because that's the mighty challenge.
REHMIndeed. One of your prescriptions for fixing Congress is to restore a five-day work week. How have we gotten to this two days a week?
SNOWERight. I know. It doesn't make sense, does it, Diane.
REHMIt doesn’t make sense.
SNOWEI know. And that's captured a lot of people's attention for good reason.
SNOWEBecause I think, understandably, there's no way you can wrestle with the major issues of our day, given what we're talking about, whether it's on tax reform, entitlement reform and, you know, all the other issues that have been of great consequence to this country, you know, in a two and a half day work week. And I always say, you know, we came back on Monday nights for a bed check vote. So the machinery government doesn't get up and running in Congress until the next morning. They have hearings and by Thursday they're smelling jet fumes and they're out of town.
SNOWEAnd there's no way to be able to concentrate in a deliberative fashion on these issues and having everybody there. And if you don't have votes, then everybody obviously disperses and, you know, go back to their states or wherever they're going.
REHMIs there any indication that there might be a move back toward that five-day week?
SNOWEYou know, they're discussing it. They have discussed it, maybe, you know, doing something like having a strong three weeks on, you know, strong five-day work week. In fact, when I came to the U.S. House of Representatives that's exactly what we had. You know, we'd start on Monday mornings and ended Friday afternoons. And then have a week in their states or in their districts if it's the House of Representatives. And you've got to really decide how best to construct the legislative schedule because right now they're obviously not devoting the time necessary or essential to considering these critical and substantial questions.
REHMExactly. To Tilton, N.H. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning. And, Diane, I just wanted to mention, I actually live in New York. I'm in my hometown right now, but I live in New York City where you're not on live. So nobody from New York could comment on the last one.
REHMWell, I know and you know it's on WNYC at 10:00 p.m., but you can always stream the show live.
ELIZABETHThank you so much for having Olympia Snowe. I actually was born in Lewiston and my parents are from Lisbon Falls. And I wanted to ask the Senator, how do you feel, coming from Maine and being a Main-iac (unintelligible) because I always call it the best state. I love Maine so much. And Republicans from Maine are a unique breed.
SNOWEYes, they are. And because we've had great people to follow and left a legacy, you know, starting with Margaret Chase Smith. First of all, it's great to talk to a Main-iac from Lewiston. That's where I spent my first years, as I was talking about, going to school and so on. And my brother taught at Lewiston High School and vice principal of guidance for more than 30 years, which is the second largest high school in Maine.
SNOWESo it's great to hear someone from back home. Secondly, Margaret Chase Smith was legendary and when she delivered her Declaration of Conscious Speech on the floor of the Senate, still a freshman Senator, you know, in her second year in the United States Senate, the only woman in the Chamber. Can you imagine in those days? And delivers her Declaration of Conscious speech, you know, denouncing and repudiating the tactics of Joe McCarthy and his demagoguery. I mean, talk...
SNOWEWow, yeah, that is still a wow...
SNOWE...today, you know, to have that courage.
REHMIt certainly is.
SNOWEYou know what drove her to be the one to do it and a Republican, a fellow Republican. No one, of her 94 male colleagues, I might add...
REHMWould take him on?
SNOWENo. Not even the Democrats on the opposing party. And so she had to muster the courage and the will to denounce him, which...
REHMHow did people react?
SNOWEIt was very positive. I mean it's still legendary in Maine. She's a legend. And that independence resonated and it's still felt today. And so anybody who assumes high office in Maine, cannot ignore that history. If they do, they're doing so at their peril.
REHMThanks for calling, Elizabeth. I want to ask you about women lawmakers. How or are they different from their male counterparts?
SNOWEIt's been my experience that in working with women colleagues in both the House and Senate and I co-chaired a Congressional caucus on women’s issues for a little more than 10 years in the House of Representatives with then Democratic Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. And of course in the Senate where we get together on a monthly basis and have our dinners, just informal, but what we say there, stays there. And but it's just great. We can trust one another. And they're much more, you know, result oriented and practical and figuring out ways to solve the problem.
SNOWEHere, we have a problem. What can we do to solve it?
REHMRepublicans and Democrats?
SNOWEAnd Democrats, exactly. Even though we'll have, you know, disparate views and disparate positions on various issues, but there's a much more result oriented perspective towards the issues. And being able to, you know, speak the same language on how to achieve results. And so it's fascinating in many ways.
REHMIs there any difference you perceive in the work level of men and women?
SNOWEYeah, you know, it's always hard to stereotype, but I think that women bring not only a different perspective frame of reference, but they are hard workers, you know, less showcasing and more, you know, doing the nitty gritty. And you can create a bond with women because even if you haven't had shared experiences you sort of have a sort of common understanding about where you come from and, you know, what you bring to the table. And it's so healthy for our country to have governing institutions reflective of the broader society.
REHMLet's go to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Laura.
LAURAHi, Senator Snowe.
SNOWEHow are you?
LAURAI'm good. How are you?
LAURAI'm a college student in Maine and I'm political moderate and I'm pretty fiscally conservative. The biggest issues I really care about are debt and deficit reduction and I've really found that neither party on my college campus or just in general has campaigned or even made a lot legislation on these issues recently. I'd like to be more politically active, but I feel very limited by party organizations. And I was wondering if you had any advice for me.
SNOWEYes. You know, stick to your positions on the questions of debt and deficits because it does affect your generation of young people, given what's looming on the horizon and the number of Americans who will be retiring over the next 20 years, a major shift in demographics. There'll be more than 77 million Americans retiring over the next 20 years, so it'll have profound impact on the programs. And I would encourage you to, you know, insure your, you know, elected officials are focusing on these issues and also, you know, asking the political parties to come forward with their propositions on this question and the Congress. I mean, immediately, it should be done this year, in achieving a grand bargain, without a doubt.
SNOWEBecause if these questions aren't addressed this year, then we're certainly not going to be addressing them in an election year, right.
SNOWECertainly not in this environment. And so we've postponed and deferred these questions for another Congress. We've already deferred them for far too long in the last four years, just in thinking about what's at stake. And so even the Congressional Budget Office has said in 2017 there are going to be some tough choices to be made. And it'll be much harder to put solutions in place because there'll be more wrenching and more punitive. Both for those who depend on the programs, as well as for those who'll be coming into them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show.” President Obama made a statement this morning about the tornadoes in Oklahoma. The whole past few weeks have been filled with so-called scandals, Benghazi, the IRS, the seizure of journalists' phone records. Where do you come out on all of this?
SNOWEWell, you know, first of all, I think it's getting to -- first of all, let me just say about Oklahoma. I think our all our hearts and prayers are with those people.
REHMI should say.
SNOWEI mean it's just so devastating, it's hard to imagine, frankly.
REHMThank goodness they have lowered the death tally.
SNOWEIsn't that the truth.
REHM...from 20 children down to 7. The rest we don't know about.
SNOWENo. It's just heartbreaking. And so obviously, the federal government will be doing everything, as the president said, to bring all the resources essential to helping them through this very tough time. Secondly, on the other issues, the ones that you mentioned that have come to light in the last few weeks, have to essentially get to the truth. I mean, it's facts. And it shouldn't, you know, forget the politics, it's just looking at the facts and getting to the truth.
SNOWEI mean it's so important for people to know that they can get their truth from their elected officials and the governing institutions. And it matters in each of these cases in a different way.
REHMBut how can that be done without the politics sort of overshadowing the facts?
SNOWEYes, is the way in which they conduct their fact-finding and the hearings and the integrity that they bring to the table and the manner in which they're asking these questions. And others, obviously, always constantly evaluating everything through the political prism. And that's unfortunate, because you can never get to the heart of the matter. Oftentimes it's about winners and losers, rather than searching for the truth. And I think in these instances, it really does matter about getting to the truth. And so I hope they'll conduct them in a way that lowers all of the decibels on the political side and just, you know, should be about the truth. And it should be a bipartisan pursuit.
REHMDo you have, even as you sit here, regrets about your decision?
SNOWENo, I don't. I regret the reasons for why I made it, frankly, because I didn't expect to make it. I mean, I wasn't thinking about it. And that was the irony because I had been working so hard for two years to run for reelection, organizationally and financially.
REHMBut that's the problem, isn't it? So much time being spent raising money.
SNOWEOh, you're absolutely right, Diane, more and more. That's why it is critical to get to campaign finance reform, see what both sides...
SNOWE...can do to repair the system. We tried to do it through McCain-Feingold, obviously we're now in another realm. And that took a very long time, I know working with it on my provisions that were part of it. But secondly, yes, the time it takes to raise money, the distractions in all. So the levels of money that are now put in place in these campaigns aren't for the good, that's for sure.
REHMWhat will you do now?
SNOWEWell, I just completed the book, as you know. And I released...
SNOWE...it last week.
SNOWEAs somebody said, it's not fun to write a book, it's fun to have written a book. And I wasn't expecting to do that either. But I was asked to share my views and my experiences so to help people to better understand, you know, how the process works...
SNOWE...and how we can get back to it. So that was number one. And to dovetail this time so that we can make sure Congress can get back to work. And now I'm also with the Bipartisan Policy Center and by the way, they've got a website and people should got it because anybody frustrated with the things work in Congress should go to that website, bypartisanpolicy.org.
REHMI congratulate you on all your years of service. I thank you for that.
SNOWEThank you, Diane. It's been a true pleasure to be here today.
REHMSenator Olympia Snowe. Her book is titled, "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix The Stalemate In Congress.” I'll be off for the rest of the week visiting WVXU in Cincinnati and Louisville Public Radio. Back with you next Monday. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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