Guest Host: Susan Page
Former Senate leaders Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Tom Daschle say the partisan gridlock in Washington has become a national crisis. While they disagree on many issues, they agree that congressional dysfunction has had a crippling effect on democracy. In their new book, “Crisis Point: Why We Must — And How We Can — Overcome Our Broken Politics In Washington And Across America,” they propose a number of reforms, including limiting filibusters, shortening the campaign season and having all state primaries on one day. But more important than reforms, they say is changing Washington’s political culture. Guest host Susan Page talks with the senators about how politicians from both parties can work together.
- Sen. Trent Lott Former Republican Senator and Senate Majority Leader from Mississippi; senior fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center, senior counsel, Squire Patton Boggs; author: "Herding Cats"
- Tom Daschle Former Democratic Senator and Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota; founder and CEO of The Daschle Group; co-founder, Bipartisan Policy Center; chair of the board of directors, Center for American Progress; author: "Like No Other Time," and "Critical"
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from CRISIS POINT: WHY WE MUST — AND HOW WE CAN — OVERCOME OUR BROKEN POLITICS IN WASHINGTON AND ACROSS AMERICA by Trent Lott, Tom Daschle and Jon Sternfeld, published by Bloomsbury Press on Jan. 19, 2016. Copyright © by Trent Lott, Tom Daschle and Jon Sternfeld. Reprinted by permission.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. When Republican Trent Lott and Democrat, Tom Daschle were leaders in the Senate, each kept a phone on his desk that linked directly to the other. They could always reach other quickly and discreetly. That kind of bipartisan relationship rarely exists anymore, they say in a new book they wrote together.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThe title is, "Crisis Point: Why We Must -- And How We Can -- Overcome Our Broken Politics In Washington And Across America." Two former Senate leaders, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle now join me in the studio. Thanks so much for being with us.
SEN. TRENT LOTTGood to be with you, Susan.
SEN. TOM DASCHLEGreat to see you again, Susan.
LOTTThanks for having us.
PAGEOur listeners can see us as well. We've got live video of our conversation on the web at drshow.org. And we're gonna take some questions from our listeners a little later on in the hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Okay, so your title of your new book, it's "Crisis Point," but really, crisis point? Haven't our politics always been pretty rough and tumble?
LOTTWell, we do talk about that in the book, going back to the founding fathers and throughout our history, we've had very difficult times politically. You know, it is the nature of America. You know, it's fine to have a long debate and a good debate, but we've reached a point of dysfunction and gridlock we think is a problem and has gotten us at a crisis point.
PAGESo Sen. Daschle, what do you think?
DASCHLEAbsolutely. I think the crisis point that we're reaching this time is different than past ones in many respects. Times have changed. The airplane has played a big role in the way Washington works. Money plays a big role. Social media plays a big role. The far right and the far left have more influence today in part because of our primary process. So all of those things are different, but that doesn't mean we can't solve these problems. We wouldn't have written that book if we didn't really think that we could fix the problems we're facing. But we are at a crisis point and we've got to recognize it.
PAGEYou said airplanes have played a role. That's because members of Congress can get out of town.
DASCHLEVery few people bring their families to Washington anymore so the amount of socializing, the amount of relationship-building that used to be part of the process no longer exists. There isn't that kind of friendship, the relationship that Trent and I had, that really is conducive. It's almost essential to good governance is building relationships that allow you to communicate first and then trust one another.
PAGEYou had a phone on your desks so you could talk to each other. How often did you talk to each other?
LOTTWe didn't use it a whole lot, but on important occasions, we did. It was for a variety of reasons, convenience, one. We communicated a lot and we developed a chemistry of trust and respect for each other, even though we might disagree philosophically or politically from our parties. But on occasion we did use it -- and I like to talk about the fact it was for a couple of good reasons other than just, you know, expeditious, dealing with issues. It also gave us a way to get around the group of media people hanging out in the halls between his office and mine. Sometimes we wanted to talk...
PAGEThat's cold, Senator, you know.
LOTTThat's cold, I know. But also, sometime our own staffs didn't particularly want us to be talking directly. They wanted to make sure we weren't doing something that would cause problems with other members of Congress. But we didn't use it a whole lot, but, to me, it was a confidence-building thing that we could talk directly quickly.
PAGEDo you think that kind of relationship exists today between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell?
DASCHLEI don't think so, for a lot of different reasons. We don't want to point blame. We don't want to say do it the way we did. But I don't think, for a lot of different reasons, partly the environment that I tried to describe just a moment ago, exists today. And so it's much harder, but Trent and I had a wonderful relationship that allowed us to do a lot of things together that we think are good for the country, driven, in part, by our own crisis. We had impeachment. We had 9/11. We had wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We had the anthrax attack in my office.
DASCHLEWe had all kinds of different things that were crisis points that, in some ways, actually brought us together more than separated us.
LOTTAnd we did have to deal with, you know, President Bill Clinton when we had a Republican Congress and with President George W. Bush when we had to vote on the Iraq resolution.
PAGESo we won't -- you said you don't want to point blame, but let me look a little at pointing blame at what exactly has happened. Trent Lott, Democrats, especially in the White House, would say Republicans are to blame for this, that when Barack Obama was inaugurated, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said his top goal was to deny him a second term. The Affordable Care Act, the stimulus bill both passed without a single Republican vote. Are Republicans -- do they bear a lot of the blame for what's happened?
LOTTOh, yeah. They do bear a lot of blame. But when you're President of the United States, you are the top leader of the country and particularly here in Washington. You can't quit talking to Congress and I'll give you a good example of something that they're looking at right now, a trade bill, the TPP trade bill. You know, there's not a lot of communication yet between the president and the Congress and it's not just about Mitch McConnell. They need to talk to Orin Hatch, Ron Widen, Paul Ryan, who's a free trader, but the communication has been almost nil.
LOTTThe president has got to stay engaged. Look, I didn't agree with President Clinton on a lot of things and, you know, we had our difficulties, but we stayed in touch. The week after the impeachment trial, which I voted for articles of impeachment, he called on Thursday to talk about a legislative issues like nothing had ever happened.
PAGEDid he say...
LOTTAnd we went on with our business.
PAGEDid you say anything, like, hey, sorry about that impeachment vote or?
LOTTNo, no, I didn't.
LOTTHe called. Mr. President, how are you doing? He went right into...
PAGEDid he reference it at all?
PAGEIt's just water under the bridge.
LOTTNever mentioned it from that day till this.
PAGEAmazing. Senator Daschle, you can guess what I'm going to ask you. Does President Obama bear some responsibility for the kind of sad state of bipartisanship in the country now? You heard Senator Lott talk about not reaching out to members of Congress the way previous presidents have done.
DASCHLEOne of the pieces of advice that I so strongly believe in, that I've given presidents for the last 20 years, is to hold regular meetings with the leadership every week to talk about the agenda for that week. Just last week, we came out with a piece in USA Today, actually, that called for a new idea, which is to bring everybody to Camp David for a couple of days and talk about the agenda for that particular session and then use the State of the Union to announce whatever agreement you've made between the two parties regarding that agenda.
DASCHLEIt doesn't have to be a complete list of everything you're gonna do, but the things that the parties can agree on to send the right message about the kind of environment you're trying to create, that kind of thing doesn't happen today and I wish it did.
PAGEWhy do you think that hasn't happened with President Obama? And also, you know, some people say if you had ended up in the president's cabinet, which was the original intention, although it didn't work out, that things would have been different because you would've made just that point from the inside.
LOTTI guarantee, if I can jump in here, the result would've been different and there would've been some Republicans who would've voted for it, I think.
DASCHLEWell, my mother would be very proud to hear those kinds of things, but I don't know if that's true. But I think, you know, it isn't happening today because there's almost, I think, a wall that's been built, in part, because of the hyperbolic rhetoric. I think there's a distrust on both sides. You know, the president is looking at what Mitch McConnell said about defeating him and I think takes it personally. Mitch McConnell -- that there's no chemistry. You've got to work to create that chemistry.
DASCHLEAnd the only way it happens is through what I call inclusiveness. You've got to have that inclusive and regular contact to make the kind of relationships that are so required for good governance today.
LOTTAnd one of the things that Tom and I suggested, and Tom feels particularly strongly about it, is we advocate more joint meetings between the two parties. At several crucial points in history when we were there, in preparing for the impeachment trial and the aftermath of anthrax, we met together. Not as Republicans and Democrats, but as senators that were concerned about how we would deal with an important issue. And the dynamics changed every time. It was so different. And every time, we produced a result.
LOTTI think that's a good idea. I bet -- I don't know the last time that they had a joint Republican and Democrat meeting in the Senate.
PAGEYou know, Americans, I think, look at politics in Washington and throw up their hands. They're so distressed, I think most Americans, about how things don't seem to get done, everything seems so partisan. You guys must keep in touch with your past colleagues in the Senate and in the House. Are they unhappy with how things are now?
DASCHLEThey really are. Both Trent and I had the good fortune to host a luncheon, he for his Republican caucus and me for the Democratic caucus, and that was the dominant topic of conversation. It's amazing, Susan. There's just almost a universal feeling that -- a sadness and a concern about the dysfunction and the lack of trust and the inability for us to govern like we know we have to if we're going to meet the challenges that our country faces today. So it's amazing how universal that feeling is.
LOTTYeah. They're very frustrated on both sides, but the question is what are you going to do about it? And it begins with the leadership. They need to communicate more, quite honestly. It is important that you have a relationship that is based on respect and trust. You do need to have the courage to take up difficult issues. And by the way, from a Republican standpoint, you have to come to terms with the fact you're gonna have to compromise some. You don’t get everything you want, the way you want it, when you're 1 of 100 senators and have to deal with the House and with the presidency.
LOTTSo there's plenty of blame to go around, but I do think that they need to try to find a way to move forward on issues. There is a couple of glimmers of hope. Last year, they did come to an agreement on a big budget deal. John Boehner, to his credit, as he went out the door, worked with Nancy Pelosi and everybody and they got two years of budget numbers. They did do a transportation bill. They did do a cybersecurity bill. Not a big one, but they made some progress. And another glimmer is, I think, Paul Ryan.
LOTTHe's got an optimistic Jack Kemp-type of attitude. I think maybe the president sees him as somebody he can, at least, talk to and a lot of the issues they need to deal with, he's an expert. Budget, tax and trade.
PAGEWe're gonna take short break. When we come back, we're gonna talk about some of the specific proposals that Senator Lott and Senator Daschle make in their new book, "Crisis Point." And we'll take your calls and questions. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email. Watch the live video of our conversation. It's on the web at drshow.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about a new book. It's titled, "Crisis Point: Why We Must and How We Can Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America." And the two authors are with me in the studio. Trent Lott, former Republican senator from Mississippi and the former Republican senate leader, and Tom Daschle, former Democratic senator from South Dakota and the former Democratic senate leader. We're so pleased to have you both in the studio.
DASCHLEThanks again for having us.
LOTTThank you, Susan.
PAGEWe're going to take calls and questions in just a moment. But first I want to tick through some of the things -- specific things you've outlined in your book that could help fix things. Because, you know, some people might think, this is -- there's -- hopeless, there's nothing we can do to rebuild some comedy in Washington. You outline a couple specific things that could. Tell us about them.
DASCHLEWell, you know, there's really three categories that I like to look at. I think we both feel strongly about congressional reform. There are things to make the Senate work better. Going back to regular order. Doing a five-day workweek, three weeks on and three weeks off. You know, just putting more emphasis on legislating and less on fundraising. That's -- the electoral forum has to do with the primary system especially and the amount of money we put into politics. The need for more transparency.
DASCHLEAnd then we have a call to service. We think that it would be a great idea for every young person to have to serve one year in some capacity, to gain a better appreciation of what we owe our country for all of the extraordinary opportunities that the country offers us. But those are the kinds of things we've been talking about.
PAGEYou know, that year of service, what impact do you think that would have, Senator Lott?
LOTTI think it'd have a huge impact. First of all, I think a lot of young people, including myself as I look back, would have that year to mature and learn more about their government and get that sense of civic responsibility. Everywhere I go, when I mention that, people say, yes, that's a good idea. You know, the opportunity -- it could be in the military, be with the Peace Corps or maybe just fight fires out West. But one of the things that worries us -- and we talk about it in the book -- is the decline in civic participation, the decline in vote. The people are not voting. The numbers are just really scary. And, in the end, that is the answer to, you know, who's going to be elected to Congress, how they conduct themselves and who's going to be president.
LOTTThe American people, we need their involvement, we need their civic responsibility and understanding, which we've lost. So that's an important part of what I think we need to do.
PAGEYou know, one of the things you write about in your book is having a shorter campaign season. And I do feel like I've been covering the 2016 presidential campaign since the last campaign was settled. What do you have in mind?
DASCHLEWell, we'd like to find a way to either incent or to actually, through statute, limit the amount of time spent on campaigns. Right now, there's really a campaign in each one of the 50 states. And it takes you all the way through. But it's not just the amount of campaigning in the states, it's all of the fundraising that goes into ensuring that you can be competitive. I don't know what the final figure is going to be. But we're going to spend billions and billions of dollars this year just on the presidential races. And so we feel it's so critical that we look for ways to end the money race and to begin to address the real problems that come with all this money in politics.
DASCHLEIt's the amount of time you spend fundraising, it's the amount of influence that donors have, it's the whole panoply of concern that comes with the real loss of democracy through this process of politicizing to the degree we are today.
LOTTLet me tell you what the problems are and then I'll talk about what I think the solutions are. First of all, the laws are, you know, done pretty much state by state. So you'd have to, you know, deal with this in some, you know, federal or statute way. The other thing is, some of the things that people would like to do would require a constitutional change. And we've got a Supreme Court that has ruled that money is speech. You know, are we going to change the Constitution to deal with that?
LOTTNow, what are the solutions? The money race, or chase, has gone on and on and on. It gets more and more because a length of campaign is not just for presidency, which goes on for what, a year and a half or -- and, you know, forever. But also in the, you know, races, like in the primaries. Right now, we've got all these primaries. The process goes and -- why don't we have a single primary day where the Democrats vote for their nominee, we vote for our nominee. Or we could go with the former Senator Slade Gordon approach, at least four or five regional primaries. That would reduce the time. It would reduce the numbers that you have to go through.
LOTTAnd then the final thing is, you know, I think we need to really just think about how can we shorten it? For instance, in Britain, they have like a 60-day campaign. And maybe you could say, you can't spend money -- although you can spend money because you couldn't borrow it constitutionally -- but like 90 days before the presidential election. That would help reduce the time, the negativity and the focus of the people. People would be greater in looking at what's going on.
DASCHLEIt's not just presidential either. I mean, a typical senator has to raise about $15,000 every single day he or she is in office, in order to meet the amount of money required to run for reelection.
PAGENow, let's think about that, $15,000 a day. And what are the -- what size contributions can a senator get?
DASCHLEWell, now, the -- there's, I think, if I recall, it's around $2,700 now.
PAGESo it's not like -- you can't call one person a day...
DASCHLERight. No, no.
PAGE...and get $15,000. You've got to call -- get...
DASCHLEYou sit in these little cubicles, Susan, and you dial for -- they call it dialing for dollars. And you sit there and a staff person tells you who you're talking to and what their kids' names are. And you go through that hour after hour. You grind it out. It's really a painful process. Nobody likes to do it. But that's how many, many senators are spending the bulk of their time if they're in cycle today.
PAGENow, you just said the bulk of their time. You mean the number one amount of time, the biggest single thing they spend their time on is raising money for the next election.
DASCHLEI had a congressman just recently tell us that he spends 30 hours a week fundraising.
LOTTAnd all -- and so how could they have the time to spend in subcommittee, full committee, markups and votes on the floor? And that's one other problem. I think some senators and House members are on too many committees. They can't even cover all their subcommittee and committee hearings. I'd like to see that limited. But the money chase has just gotten outrageous.
PAGEYou know, not only does the money chase take a lot of their time...
LOTTOh, and by the way, too...
LOTT...I want to inject, there is this thing called the super-committees too, which are involved in campaigns both for the Senate or House as well as president. Who are these people? How much...
LOTTAnd by the way, a lot of times -- and I know this is really true -- the candidate doesn't like what the superPAC is doing for them. So it's an uncontrolled device.
PAGEYou talked about the amount of time it takes public officials to raise money for their next campaign. What's the effect of that on what they do? Does it give people who are willing to make contributions influence that they really shouldn't have?
DASCHLEWell, I think that this process has allowed the extremes on both sides -- the ones with the money especially, but also those with organizational capacity -- to draw the candidates out, farther and farther out on the political spectrum, so the center goes unrepresented. I mean the people who can really benefit the most, the people who are the vast majority of the people in this country aren't represented like they used to be in part because the extremes are so overrepresented, in part because of access to money.
PAGEDo you two feel that you could be elected in today's climate in your respective parties?
LOTTWell, now, you know we'd say yes. But it would be more difficult. You know, I would probably be criticized for being a compromiser or somebody that was pragmatic, that tried to get things done.
PAGEPragmatic being a bad word.
LOTTYeah. But, you know, I didn't think I came to Washington to make a statement. I came to try to make a difference. And it would be very hard to do. You know, a lot of these issues aren't political or partisan. Cybersecurity -- shouldn't we make sure that we're dealing with cybersecurity in America? You know, infrastructure -- don't we want safe bridges and safe drinking water? That's not Republican or Democrat I wouldn't think. But, yeah, you're right. I would be -- sure, I'd be criticized and attacked. We had a very tough Senate race in Mississippi just a year ago, where Thad Cochran, a fine man with a lot of seniority, barely got reelected.
DASCHLEPart of the problem is, today, there's -- people have so bashed Washington that you almost have to apologize for experience. You have to apologize for being someone who supports the institutions of our democratic republic. I had a first-grade teacher, Sister Morris Crowley (sp?), who just impressed upon us that public service was a high calling. And it really made a difference to me. I still remember her admonition about remembering how much we have to give back to our country and that public service is one way to do it. And it is a high calling.
DASCHLEYou don't hear that from the Donald Trumps and the Ted Cruzes. All you hear is this Washington bashing that has so denigrated this institutional environment that it's almost impossible to do the kinds of things you have to do to run the country well.
PAGEThat's a kind of shout out to teachers. I know they'll be glad to hear...
PAGE...that you still remember the admonition of your first-grade teacher.
DASCHLEAbsolutely, very clearly.
PAGEThat's great to hear. Let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Mike. He's calling us from Fort Wayne, Ind. Mike, thanks for holding on.
MIKEYes, thank you. It's an honor to be part of the discussion. The two senators touched on this. But I'm in the state of Indiana and I'd like to hear more about what I would call the Richard Lugar effect, where, you know, he lost in the primary because he was a compromiser. So, you know, it's one thing to talk about the structural changes that can be made in the electoral process. But how do you get at the fact that we are -- we're sending these people there? And somehow we've gotten the notion that compromise is a bad word and we intentionally vote for folks who are on the extreme. So how do we start to get at that?
PAGEAnd, Mike, were you a Lugar voter yourself?
MIKEI am not a registered Republican. And I'll leave it at that. But, you know, you sort of watch this and, as Senator Lott said, this is how things get done. But, you know, we have these echo chambers that sort of spin things for us and say, you know, here's why this is a partisan issue, when in fact a lot of these things shouldn't be. So we've got to take some responsibility for that, that we've got these sort of tangential bodies out there sort of driving the wedge deeper. So we kind of get what we deserve.
PAGEThanks so much for your call, Mike.
LOTTHe raised so many important issues. Senator Lugar was a distinguished and thoughtful leader, particularly knowledgeable in foreign policy. I used to go to one of the weekly luncheons just to hear Lugar do an around-the-world report. But one of his difficulties was he didn't keep a home back in Indiana and that worked against him. And in my own case, if I had left my house in Pascagoula, Miss., they would have said, oh, look, Tent Lott's going to Washington. He's left us.
LOTTBut the other side of that is, I do think they need to bring their families here and spend more time here. And then go back that week when they are off to be with their constituents. But the job is here in Washington. And I think that there's a real problem now. They don't bring their families. They don't know each other. Congressmen sleep in their offices.
PAGEIncluding the speaker.
LOTTWhich I think...
PAGEPaul Ryan, it says he continues to sleep in his office.
LOTT...I think it should not be allowed, quite frankly. But also, there's been a tremendous turnover in the House and the Senate. In the old days, you had what they called old bulls. You had distinguished leaders, like my predecessor in the Senate, John Stennis. When John Stennis talked about defense, everybody listened. Who are the old bulls and the great respected senators and congressmen that we used to have? The turnover in the Senate, I think, in the last eight years, 54 or so are new senators.
DASCHLEWell, Dick Lugar, it really is one of the statesmen that we've both enjoyed having the opportunity to work with. But his name has become a verb. People are concerned about getting Lugared. And by that, they mean...
PAGEAnd what would that mean?
DASCHLEThat means they worry about getting a primary that creates the kind of dilemma that the caller so eloquently talked about. You have to apologize in some cases if you're going to compromise, if you're going to find common ground. And Dick was so good at doing that. But he was penalized in part because his supporters, the general -- the vast majority of the people don't go to the polls to vote and express themselves. And so the extremists are the ones who go to the polls. The extremists are the ones who fund these elections and ultimately put pressure on these who believe in compromise and common ground. And that's exactly what happened to Dick.
DASCHLEHe's still contributing and he's doing a fantastic job of staying in the debate. But we miss him in the Senate. He ought to be there.
PAGEDo you think that's the case in both parties -- both the right in the Republican Party and the left in the Democratic Party?
DASCHLEI do. I don't think it's, you know, it's represented in both. I think, you know, depending on which part of the country you're talking about, some may be more Democratic or Republican. But it's a problem on both sides.
LOTTWell, Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas had a very serious primary contest to a more liberal challenger and it weakened her and then she lost the general election. She was a very thoughtful member of the Senate.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls. Let's go back to the phones. We'll go to Jacksonville, Fla., and talk to Karen. Karen, hi, you're on the air.
KARENHi. Thank you for having me. My question is -- I know this issue of partisanship has gone back and forth in its levels over many years. But how much, in the last seven years, has been the actual delegitimizing of the president? It seems that that's never been at a level of the way it's been now. People have disliked the president, but have never said he has no right to be the president.
PAGENow, what kind of things are you talking about, Karen?
KARENWell, it's starting with Joe Wilson screaming, you lie, on the State of Union.
KARENThat was not the kind of thing that ever got done before.
PAGEYeah, Karen. Thanks so much for your call.
DASCHLEWell, Karen, I think you raise a good point. I would say, though, that if you look -- this president has not been impeached. Bill Clinton had to go through impeachment. You talk about controversy and conflict and relationship challenges, that had to have been one of the greatest we faced.
DASCHLEAnd Trent and I were the two leaders at the time when all that happened. So it occurs. But I think there's plenty of blame. If we want to find blame, boy, we can point fingers at everybody. And I don't think there's any value in it. The real question is, how do we get out of it? And that's what this book is about is laying out some prescriptions. You know, first and foremost, just the need for good leadership. But some blueprints on how we might get through real electoral reform, real congressional reform and a call to service.
LOTTYou know, other presidents have had difficulties. Richard Nixon also was impeached and Andrew Jackson -- or Johnson, I believe it was. And even back at the beginning, George Washington almost resigned over the Jay Treaty. So there is a history there. And in the book, we talk about the history, how it affects us today. Then we talk about difficulties we had and yet how we got things done. But the book is not about, oh, look at us, how we did it. The book is about, we learned some lessons and here are some ideas and suggestions that we think would be helpful.
LOTTWe need a president that is respected, that works with the Congress. And we need a Congress that works with him, too. It goes both ways. I mean, I didn't just wait for Bill Clinton to call me when he was president, or George W. Bush. I had the temerity to call them. And sometimes, tell them things -- particularly George W. -- that maybe his dad didn't want me to say to him. But I felt like it was important as a leader of the Senate that I talk honestly with the president.
PAGEDo you think that happens today?
DASCHLEI don't think it does. There's not nearly enough communication. And that's part of the problem. There has to be ongoing communication, even when it's difficult, and maybe especially when it's difficult.
DASCHLEYou know, it's -- when things are going great, you don't probably have to talk as much. But when they're not, that's all the more reason why you've just got to suck it up and figure out ways to keep those lines of communication open.
LOTTAfter 9/11, every Tuesday morning at 7:00 a.m. -- I remember the time because I didn't like it at all -- but President Bush and sometimes the head of the CIA or others would meet with Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Denny Hastert and me, and we would talk about the status of what was going on in the war and with the terrorism that we were dealing with.
PAGEWe're talking with Trent Lott, the former Republican senator from Mississippi, and Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota. They've written a new book called, "Crisis Point: Why We Must and How We Can Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America." You can not only listen to our conversation, you can see the live video on the Web at drshow.org. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we're going to talk about how these tensions may be reflected in this 2016 presidential race. And we'll take some more of your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're here with two former Senate leaders, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, talking about their new book called "Crisis Point," which talks about kind of the deterioration of the ability to govern here in Washington. And I wonder, here we've got a tweet from Jonathan, who writes in Washington, D.C. He writes, isn't Trump and Sanders' popularity in this 2016 presidential election a direct response to partisanship politics? Do you see, the two of you, these -- the public's unhappiness with politics as usual in the rise of these two outsider candidates? Maybe you could each talk about your own party.
PAGETrent Lott, do you see it in the rise of Trump?
LOTTYes, I think it has contributed to Trump and to Bernie Sanders, too. You know, I never was in the middle. I was always a conservative. Now I would be considered, I guess, an establishment moderate, which I don't think I am. But, you know, so the debate has gotten a lot more course. There is no center. Both parties, the Republican Party has moved through our primaries more and more to the right, and then you've got, you know, a socialist in the Democratic Party. There is no center to hold, and I think that is part of our problem.
PAGENow have you endorsed a candidate for 2016?
LOTTI've endorsed John Kasich because I think he's the most qualified. He's got the right kind of experience, and so I've advocated for him.
PAGEAnd Trump gets nominated, will you vote for him?
LOTTYes, probably. You know, I...
PAGEI've got to say you sound a little hesitant about that.
LOTTWell, you know, it would depend to a degree on who the nominee on the other side, on the Democratic side.
PAGEWell, say Hillary Clinton is on the other side.
LOTTNo, I couldn't vote for Hillary. So, you know, I...
PAGEHow about Bernie Sanders? You'd be a Bernie Sanders guy?
LOTTNo. You know, look, I am a Republican, and I'm a conservative Republican. But more importantly, I'm an American. And I want to make sure we do what's right for my country, and...
PAGESo Tom Daschle, let me put you on the spot here. Do you see this -- do you see a reflection of some of the tensions and polarization that you write about in your new book, in the rise of Bernie Sanders?
DASCHLEI do. I think that on both sides, you see people who are expressing the anger, the frustration, the anxiety that you feel, and they're playing to those fears. And, you know, Trent and both feel strongly that you can make progress without having to play on those fears. You can -- you know, most leaders of stature historically have done things to inspire, Franklin Roosevelt, and, you know, more recently with Ronald Reagan, I mean, you just had people that really talked about the better angels in all of us and found ways with which to cause us to want to do more and do better.
DASCHLEI don't see that rhetorically among some of the prominent candidates right now, and that's very troubling. It's easy to play to people's fears. But I think it's important to leadership in this country that you play to their hopes and aspirations far more than their fears.
PAGENow have you endorsed in the 2016 race?
DASCHLEBoth my wife and I are supporters of Hillary Clinton, have been. She's been a good friend, a former colleague, somebody I worked with very closely for 25 years.
PAGEBernie Sanders gets nominated, will you vote for him?
DASCHLEI would, yeah.
PAGELet's go to the phones. We'll talk to Julia. She's calling us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Julia, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JULIAHi, thank you for having me. Gentlemen, I just wanted to say thank you first and foremost for writing a book that actually addresses pragmatic solutions that -- that we could take so much of what we hear is rhetoric, and we very often don't hear any possible solutions to some of the problems that I think both Democrats and Republicans equally recognize.
JULIAOne of the solutions that you proposed that I'm most interested in and that I really firmly believe in is protracting the campaign season, and that's for a couple of reasons, primarily because one of the things that has really concerned me in this current election cycle is that the prolonged campaign season put the media in a position of filling a vast number of hours of jockeying and analyzing politics but through the lens of sport.
JULIAAnd what we don't hear are substantive issues. We hear primarily from commentators who are largely either Democrat or Republican and proudly so. And what we're not getting from the media, mostly as Americans now, is tonally neutral discussion of policy issues that are put forth by individual candidates.
PAGEJulia, thank you so much for your call. What do you think of that point?
DASCHLEI think she's absolutely right. I think it's really true. You know, I think in the old days, it used to be the election would come and go, and then you'd start legislating. The day after the election, you'd put the election behind you, and you'd start looking for ways with which to move the legislative process, taking into account what happened in the last election.
DASCHLENow the day after the election is the beginning of the next election, and people start, whether it's for president or for Congress, start campaigning almost the day after the next election. That's ridiculous. I think it's really harmful to this country.
LOTTI do think the media is part of the problem, not just the traditional media but now the breadth of the media. Social media can destroy you even more than the more traditional media. But just like in the debates, I think the moderators have a tough job and generally do a very good job. I thought they did a good job in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.
LOTTBut did you notice that when you have that little tete-a-tete between a couple of the candidates, whether -- usually Trump and Cruz now or, you know, O'Malley, was he on the stage in the Democratic debate, they allowed and focus on the attacks and the criticisms, whereas a more thoughtful candidate that has something positive to say doesn't want to attack the other candidates, stand there and get maybe six minutes out of two hours. So that is a part of it, and I see it, you know, on television. The more radical or ridiculous things you say, the more likely you're going to get on TV.
DASCHLEWell, and Susan, I have to say, and I hope you take this in the right way, you're part of an endangered species. The endangered species are the journalists who used to serve as the referees. They were the ones who called the shots by really trying to sort out fact from fiction. But more and more journalists are becoming the participants, not the referees, on both sides, and it's almost impossible now to discern the difference between objectivity and subjectivity on the part of most journalists.
DASCHLEYou and people like you are still trying to keep that journalistic independence and integrity, which I think unfortunately we're losing in this country.
PAGEAnd, you know, I like to think that "The Diane Rehm Show" has had that kind of tradition.
PAGEWhere you have a civil -- sometimes a tough conversation but one where you can -- you don't feel like it's coming from a slant.
PAGEYeah. Here's kind of a related tweet. This person posts, does the ability to say things online anonymously, respond immediately without thought, make polarization the new norm? Do you think that things like Twitter have had an effect?
LOTTYou know, I don't do the Twitter and the Facebook stuff, but my wife shows me. Some of the stuff is the most vicious, mean-spirited and vulgar. It -- you know, and there's no way you can control that, but it tells you something about the coarsening of our political system.
PAGEWhen you -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
DASCHLEI was just going to say, if you don't have to be accountable, you can say and do anything you want. Accountability matters, and there's less and less accountability as a result of the social media.
PAGEThis loss of the center in American politics, this tendency for many people to go to the left or right extremes and certainly for the loudest voices to go there, have you seen that in your own families?
LOTTWell, you know, in my own family, I think we support four different candidates for the Republican nomination. The smartest one of the bunch may be Trent Lott III. He's not supporting the same candidate I am. And we have, you know, real debates. But of course sometimes it gets a little ugly, as we've talked about, as Thanksgiving dinner, I'm admonished by my wife, do not get in an argument with your brother-in-law on politics.
DASCHLEOur immediately family is pretty unified, but our extended family is exactly, I think, a replica of what we see in the country. The farther we send out with cousins and uncles and aunts, the more diverse we become and far more politicized.
LOTTLet me tell you why the center matters. When I was majority leader, like on a tax bill, I wanted the most tax cuts we could possibly get. But when we would go maybe too far, then I had to deal with the moderates, like Olympia Snowe in the Republican Party and John Breaux in the Democratic Party, and what the result would be is we would still get the tax cuts but not quite as much and probably smarter. The center had an impact that while I would have liked more, it made a positive result.
PAGEHere's a tweet from Joseph, who asked, can the senators talk about how the Senate as an institution itself is part of the problem, things like filibusters? Now in your book "Crisis Point," you do talk about some changes in the way filibusters work. How would you like to see them changed?
DASCHLESusan, just to put that in perspective, when Lyndon Johnson was president, we had one filibuster in six years. That was in the '50s. In the last six years, we've had 422. So that -- just those two numbers say everything you need to know about how filibusters are being abused. We did two things over the years that have really changed. One is we dual-track, which means once there's a filibuster, you set it aside and take up another bill. So there's no pain any longer in that regard.
DASCHLEThe second thing is you don't have to hold the floor anymore. It used to be -- Strom Thurmond stood on the floor for 24 or 26 hours, I don't recall what the -- I think it was 24 hours, 24-plus, and for that entire time. Well, if people are called upon physically to do what you had to do in the old days, there wouldn't be as many filibusters. But we made filibusters totally painless now, and as a result, we see hundreds more than we used to.
LOTTAnd, you know, in 2013, I don't think the Senate Republicans maybe had seven amendments all year, and there was a limited number on both sides. So, you know, the filibuster has led to the leadership cutting off amendments, and it's just gone from bad to worse. I've always felt like why do you filibuster the motion to even go to a bill? Does that mean you don't want to even debate it? You can still...
PAGESo why do -- but that happens all the time now. Why does that happen?
LOTTWell, in my opinion it needs -- that's one of the forms they should take up, and to McConnell's credit, he has appointed a task force, headed by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of the most thoughtful senators, to have a group to make some recommendations and again, McConnell's credit, he's saying, but we're not going to ram this through with a nuclear option. It's going to be the traditional 67 votes, which is very difficult to do. They're going to have to get a lot of Democrats. But at least it's a step in the right direction.
LOTTAlso, while we tried to reduce it a little bit, the individual senator's ability to hold a bill or block a bill, even going to conference, you at least ought to have to -- and they do, according -- but we worked on this -- make it public. We need some ability to get around just one senator blocking the desire and the will of 99 others.
DASCHLEWe also have to deal with nominations. That's a deplorable mess right now, in large measure because there are holds on just about every nominee not because they don't like the nominee but because they have an agenda of some kind. We ought to reduce the number of people required to have a vote for confirmation. That's gotten way out of hand and I think one of the simple things we could do to move the process along.
PAGESome of the things you propose would require constitutional amendments. Some of them are things the Senate or the House could do on their own, by changing the rules.
PAGEWhat do you think the prospects are for some of these steps actually being adopted in the foreseeable future?
DASCHLEIt depends -- go ahead.
LOTTWell, I think there is a possibility of that, at least they're talking about it. You know, every senator and congressman knows that -- what is their popularity. Is it barely in double digits? They know the American people are frustrated and mad about the gridlock, even though some people might say, oh, well, I don't want government to do anything.
LOTTWell, even if you want to reduce the power and size of government, that takes affirmative action. I mean, if you're conservative, and you think the government's too big and spending too much, you ought to, you know, go with a process that allows it to be voted on.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're going to take another caller. Let's go to the center of the political universe these days, Dublin, New Hampshire. Actually, I'm just referring to New Hampshire. I'm sure Dublin's a very nice place, but we're certainly paying a lot of attention to New Hampshire. Russell is joining us. Russell, thanks for calling.
RUSSELLOh good morning. It's a great conversation. I just wanted to mention another Senate majority leader, Robert Caro's great biography of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was a really outsized character. He certainly got a lot of people mad. But he knew how to get things done. And I'm not convinced that any or most of the candidates running today have any idea that art -- that politics are an art and that it's a separate form of study and education. It's not something that's transferrable from the business world or from the nonprofit world.
RUSSELLIt's an art all of its own, and there's a movie being made currently called "All the Way," as in all the way with LBJ, which I think is going to be fantastic because the actor who plays LBJ really does a job, and he -- on Broadway he earned standing ovations.
PAGEYou know, Russell, I saw that show on Broadway. It was really remarkable. Did the -- either of you? Yes.
DASCHLEI did. I saw it, too, and I couldn't agree more. He really captured LBJ, and, you know, I think the caller makes a very good point, Susan, that we make in the book. Experience matters. Governance is complicated. And it really does take the finesse that the caller addressed, talking about Lyndon Johnson. We need that finesse. We need people who -- you know, and he was inclusive. He used to bring people into his office, they'd have a glass of whiskey and play cards sometimes, and they would tell stories.
DASCHLEWe don't see that anymore, and that's one of Lyndon Johnson's strengths. He did those things, and he got a lot done, in part because he was so inclusive and because he brought experience into the room.
LOTTWell, Lyndon Johnson certainly was a classic, and one of the favorite stories, I think maybe we had this in our book, is how he called Everett Dirksen, the leader of the Republicans, one time to lobby him on an issue and wanted to get together with him, and Dirksen said, well, I'll come down. He said, no, I'm coming there. And within 30 minutes, he was in Dirksen's office in the Capitol. When was the last time you think that has happened in the current situation?
LOTTNow Johnson, you know, he was very aggressive, and when I became leader, I studied his style, I read "Master of the Senate," but I also looked at Mansfield and Howard Baker and Bob Dole and George Mitchell, and the techniques I liked the best were the Mansfield techniques. He let the Senate be the Senate. He didn't try to whip them into line. And by that kind of approach, he actually got a great deal done. So -- but Lyndon Johnson was a classic, no question about that.
PAGEHere's a tweet from Jean. She writes, how can millennials, tired of gridlock and without gobs of money, student loan payments and starting a new life, get involved to make a change? Any advice for millennials?
DASCHLEAbsolutely. I think the most important thing is get committed. Be a volunteer. Take a cause, take a candidate, do something that allows you to magnify your ability to have the voice. You know, you can't just complain and not do anything and expect anything to change. It's only going to change if you get involved and committed. You asked the question earlier when will all this happen. It's when the voters demand it. And if voters really got engaged, if those millennials actually got -- got into participation, I think you'd begin to see changes in this country.
PAGESenator Lott, any advice for millennials?
LOTTI have students that ask me that and millennials that ask me how they can get involved, and I tell them my own story. When I got out of law school, went back to my hometown, I had a candidate for governor that I wanted to support. I wound up putting up signs on telephone poles and bumper stickers on cars. I wound up being the student chairman in my home county for this candidate for governor. I wound up introducing him at the park, the beach park, in my hometown, where I met the local congressman. Three months later, he called and asked me to come to Washington to work for him, and the rest is history.
LOTTAnd by the way, he was a Democrat. But the point is, I got involved just doing the grungy details of somebody I believed in, a congressman named John Bell Williams. And that led to my life in politics.
PAGESenator Lott, Senator Daschle, thank you so much for joining us, for talking about your new book, "Crisis Point: Why We Must, How We Can, Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America." Thanks so much for being with us.
LOTTThank you, Susan.
DASCHLEThanks for having us. It's been fun.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.