Center for Effective Lawmaking

Discussing Legislative Effectiveness with Representative French Hill

Discussing Legislative Effectiveness with Representative French Hill

Congressman French Hill (R-AR2) has a unique background. Not only is the Representative a businessman, Vanderbilt alumnus, and graduate from UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, Congressman Hill also has significant experience as a former staffer on Capitol Hill.

Representative Hill served as an aide to Republican Senator John Tower; was a staffer on the Senate Banking then the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; served as executive secretary to President George H. W. Bush’s Economic Policy Council; and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Corporate Finance.

Professors Craig Volden (UVA) and Alan E. Wiseman (Vanderbilt University), Co-Directors of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, ask Representative Hill to share his thoughts on how his unique background has helped him as an effective lawmaker.

Transcript as follows:

Alan Wiseman (00:03):

Good afternoon. My name is Alan Wiseman and I’m the Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. And today we’re very excited to welcome Congressman French Hill to join in a conversation with us about his experiences things in Congress. So those of you who know, Congressmen Hill represents the second congressional district from the state of Arkansas, where he’s represented that district since 2014 when he was first elected to Congress. Prior to serving in the US House of Representatives, Congressman Hill was actively engaged with the business community in Arkansas, where he served as a commercial banker and an investment manager to members of the community. And he also has a wide array of experiences in the public service dating back to President George Herbert Walker Bush’s administration, where he served in the Treasury Departments and moving back even further than that, he’s actually one of the few members of the US House that also has meaningful congressional experiences. Having served previously as a congressional aid to then Senator John Tower in the early 1980s.

Alan Wiseman (01:00):

So Congressman Hill, we’re so excited to have you here. Speaking personally, one of the reasons we’re especially excited to have you is the fact that you’re a proud Vandy alum having graduated from Vanderbilt. University magna laude with a Bachelor’s in Economics, and we’re really excited to hear your perspective on your time in Congress, your experiences, and perhaps some points of information and guidance you could offer to future Vanderbilt alums who are going to be tuning into this interview. So broadly speaking. Myself and my Co-Director Craig Volden at the University of Virginia are going to be asking you a variety of relatively general questions about your experiences, but we’d really welcome any feedback you have drawing on your own personal time in Congress or time before coming to Congress, if they could provide you with guidance as to how you approach your job and what you’ve been doing over the last several years,

Representative Hill (01:48):

You bet. Thanks for having me.

Alan Wiseman (01:49):

Really our pleasure and thanks so much for making the time. So that is a little bit of a windup, I guess, one of the first questions that Craig and I have is really just to ask you thinking back to when you first were elected to Congress in 2014 and joined the House in 2015, when you first arrived as a freshman, what did you find was essentially your biggest challenge or one of your biggest challenges in Congress?

Representative Hill (02:13):

Well, thanks. It’s a good opening question and it’s… I’ll also say for Craig’s benefit, my mother is a graduate of Mary Ball Washington before UVA was co-ed. So I count her as a, she’s deceased now, but she was a very, very proud, Virginian and Mary Ball, Washington graduate, and a wonderful mother. And I know that because of that matronomic connection, that I am a citizen of Virginia in the hearts of all Virginia.

Craig Volden (02:42):

Yeah, great connection.

Representative Hill (02:44):

Yeah. So listen, thanks for having me. So the big issue there, and a lot of this is such an important background about how these legislative bodies come together and begin to work together because people come to Congress from all walks of life. I’d been a congressional staffer, I’d worked in the executive branch. So I brought with me that knowledge bank, but I’d also been the CEO of a private business for 25 years.

Representative Hill (03:16):

And so I have a business person’s mentality about decision-making and ‘let’s get on with it,’ and let’s find a solution to this problem, finish it and move on to the next problem, right. Which is not how Congress works. So one thing I was challenged when I first got on the Hill was shifting into that new decision making mode on how do you measure success? How do you create a strategic plan for your office, truly, and then an operational plan or a tactical plan of how to measure success for each two-year term in the House, for the senators, how would they measure success over a six-year period and bring those, that business point of view into that collaborative legislative environment? So that was really one of the first things I struggled with. And also you’re doing a startup, you’re doing a classic startup. You’ve got up to 18 people can work for you in a House congressional office and you get a fixed amount of money, excluding the member’s salary, around which you can build that platform. You actually can mix that any way you want to. In theory, I guess you could have 18 people working for you in Washington. I don’t know where they would sit, but they could, and you could have no one working for you in the district. Likewise, you could have 17 people working in a district, in a set of district offices, and have one person working with you in Washington. So it’s very flexible for the member to design what that is and reflective of the geography and the demography of their district. So that flexibility is nice. But you’ve got to recruit people and get them all on that mission. And so I’d say that was my biggest challenge coming into Congress was making the transition from a private sector decision making matrix back into government, and then determining how to judge my own work on how I would measure success.

Craig Volden (05:35):

So, and again, thanks for joining us today, in terms of setting up that office and we’re focused mostly on the legislative side of things in DC, when you were thinking of hiring those staff, to what extent was it important that they had already Capitol Hill experience or what else could they bring to the table there? And then to your way to come up with measuring success, how much did they as staffers bring their experience in that discussion? Or how much was this kind of top down, you knew what you wanted to do and they were going to help you achieve those metrics?

Representative Hill (06:14):

Yeah, a good follow-up. So I’m a big believer in experience. And when you do a startup, what would you do? You go find the best people that work in each function of whatever this business mission is. So I hired both a chief of staff and a legislative director that had deep Washington experience and both had even experience with my congressional district. So they were not learning a new set of issues around the district. They had both worked for my predecessor in different capacities, and I promoted them to chief of staff and ultimately legislative director. One is from Arkansas and one is from Northern Virginia. And that’s another thing I’ve worked hard to do is keep that ratio of those employees about 50/50 Arkansans versus non Arkansans to create that constituent connection and understanding as well. So I did hire based on Hill experience. I guess you could argue that because I had prior government and Hill experience, I could have gone to lighter there, but I wanted to jump in and start running fast and the committee process and the legislative process, those network connections are important and my network connections are dated. So it was important to hire people with experience.

Craig Volden (07:48):

Great. And then in terms of setting that agenda and your metrics for success, was that something you already knew about coming in or how did you rely on staff along those lines?

Representative Hill (07:58):

Yeah, so I did rely on staff to come up with a measurement system, both for constituent relations ,so this relates to communications out to constituents, mail, emails, social media, telephone town halls, casework. I know we’re focused on the legislative issues here, but you have all that data metric and it’s much more automated than my day on, in the 1980s where we typed letters using carbon paper and one went alphabetically and one went by topic into the senator’s files so that you could cross reference that way. You can only imagine of the change…So database management in the House is very sophisticated. And on the legislative side, I knew I wanted to be on the House financial services committee. So I hired a personal staffer with great experience in both committee work and the subject area and tax and trade as well.

Representative Hill (09:04):

So I hired a staffer committed to my financial services committee work, and then I have other interests besides just my core committee. And if you’re on an “A” committee in the House, one of the big five committees, you don’t really, you’re not able to be on another committee, unless you seek a waiver from the leader. So I was going to go on House financial services committee, but I have personal interests in conservation policy, veteran’s affairs and foreign policy. So we filled in our personal staff with those talents as well. In terms of measurement, bills introduced, bills marked up through committee, bills that come out of committee and go to the House floor, bills that you have a companion over in the Senate, and then the collaborative process of getting those bills across the finish line and signed into law by our president. And from the educational component of this call, you can imagine to go narrow and targeted is to move more quickly and probably have more success. Why? Because you can get more consensus from Democrats and Republicans. ‘Yeah. That’s a good idea. Let’s pursue it.’ The broader you go, the more comprehensive you go, to try to solve the more complex problem. Obviously you’ve got a more challenging puzzle.

Alan Wiseman (10:38):

Thanks for that. That touches on a lot of themes, very organically related to the things that Craig and I do at the Center for Effective Lawmaking in terms of research and engagement. You raised a couple of points that I want to follow up on. And in particular, I’m really curious to know how your past experiences in government and more specifically your service to then Senator John Tower as Congressional aide informed your perspectives and how Congress works as well as how you want to set your priorities? As you noted, there was about a 30 year gap between when you served on the Hill and then when you were serving in Congress. I guess to what degree do you think things have really changed me outside of these instrumental administrative matters? Or to what degree do you think your experiences back in the eighties really informed how you think Congress can or should work?

Representative Hill (11:26):

Well, it’s amazing, and this won’t shock, Alan, you or Craig, but I mean, it’s amazing how similar the challenges are. We had a more analog world rather than a digital world, but that issue of going to your colleagues on your side of the aisle and on the other side of the aisle and finding people who will share your perspective and passion for a given topic, and then getting it done, which implies a multi-pronged approach at home, building constituent support in your home district, building constituent support in the greater Washington DC swampland environment (meaning who’s for and against your idea institutionally around the city), making sure that the executive branch is brought in on it, if that’s relevant to the topic and then going across the Capitol and engaging senators on it and senators have bigger staffs, but they’re also on three committees and they tend to have even a more sort of fragmented view of policymaking.

Representative Hill (12:37):

That part, honestly, it’s identical. It’s as if I just shut the door to my office, opened it, and it was 30 years later and I’m a little grayer, weigh about 15 pounds more, and just start at it again. So I was mentally prepared for that. I think that’s helped me, no doubt. Is there, are there more challenges to it? Again, on this issue of narrow, I would say no. The parties are more polarized in the sense that the Republicans are more Republican than ever, and the Democrats are more Democratic than ever. That’s, I would say generally true, which means the committees tend to .. whoever’s in charge, drive their agenda at a 10 to one ratio. Nine bills of theirs to one of yours kind of a mentality. And I don’t really recall that from my work in the Senate. Jake Garn of Utah was the chairman and Bill Proxmire was the ranking member. And then Don Riegle from Michigan. And while certain policies were pretty partisan, you know housing policy in this financial sector, the rest of it – you had people on both sides of every issue. And so you could find sponsorships. I haven’t had a big problem with that here, but maybe I work on topics that are more bi-partisan by their nature.

Craig Volden (14:24):

I’m interested in touching back on something you had said about bringing your business experience in, looking kind of maybe linearly, how do we get things done? How do we move to a solution and move on as well as how you were kind of tracking metrics in your office? How broadly even beyond your own experience, do you think, it matters for some members to have that business background compared to others who have different backgrounds? Do you see that consistently being a pattern in how they think about lawmaking?

Representative Hill (14:57):

Well, constitutionally, I do love the idea of the House being elected every two years, no matter how painful that can be in a colonial sense or an antebellum sense. Of course, it’s a lot easier because you were in DC for just a few months, and then you were back at your home doing whatever your career was. So from that point of view, it’s challenging. But that diversity of viewpoints in the House is very, very helpful. And I’m glad there are a lot of entrepreneurs in the House, people who have business experience, we formed an entrepreneurship caucus. So the Democrats and Republicans that have started businesses, signed the front of paychecks, have hired people, solve those problems can be front and center in a lot of this decision-making. But look, it’s important to have people who are veterans and people who have other walk of life experiences, that enriches the legislative process. But compared to lawyers and compared to people who’ve made a career of being in a state legislature as a state legislator, people in business do cut to the chase. ‘What’s the problem identification, how do we find a solution to it, and how do we move on?’ And that sense of urgency, I think helps the process move along because you have those sand grains in the oyster bed, grinding away, trying to move people along who want to talk something to death.

Alan Wiseman (16:39):

No, that’s a really interesting perspective on it. I also want to just follow up with a comment that you raised a little bit earlier about essentially the many aspects of your day-to-day job involving both engaging with the lawmaking process, advocating for constituents, perhaps your casework, or engaging in oversight. We can also think about other things, the members of Congress do that aren’t directly related to moving bills, the legislative process. And I guess the question that Craig and I are always interested in, especially engaging with someone like yourself who has been, for lack of a better phrase, just so effective at advancing your legislative agenda is, essentially are there certain aspects of the job that you’re particularly drawn to over others? Or in the broadest sense, how do you strike what you think is a good balance between lawmaking casework, oversight, the many important aspects of your job as a Representative?

Representative Hill (17:32):

Well, it’s turned into a trite phrase to say that there’s a symbiotic relationship. So I hesitate to do it. But oversight, constituent service and legislating actually all work together pretty seamlessly about generating ideas for legislation and improving legislation or an amendment on a bill, even outside your area of expertise. Most members of Congress are not shy about sharing their views. And so when the legislative process is working, what does that entail? It entails a bill in a committee that is amended in committee and voted to be sent to the House for consideration. That part works pretty well. I mean, does the majority party control that process? Sure. But if the amendments are being offered, negotiated, withdrawn, debated, voted up or down ,who’s going to complain about that? That’s the essence of what we do. But then you’ve read and studied a lot about now once it’s kind of come to the House floor, well, it goes to the Rules committee and rules are not made in order.

Representative Hill (18:51):

And there’s not robust floor debate on topics. I find that real unfortunate. It’s not like we’re pressed for time up here. I mean, there are so few major bills considered, that there’s plenty of time to have a long and more vigorous debate. And that allows a member to come to a defense bill, but who’s learned about a particular aspect of it at their local Air Force base, their local Army facility. They find, gosh, this same problem exists all over the country, I think I’ll offer an amendment, not in committee, but on the House floor. And I find that very positive and it’s a great way for members to learn about issues outside their area of jurisdiction and bring ideas directly from their constituents to the process.

Craig Volden (19:45):

That brings us right to a question that we’ve been wondering about and struggling with at the Center ourselves, in terms of a generalist versus specialists. You were saying some of the benefits of having people with different backgrounds is their general perspective and different angles, at the same time, some degree of expertise and specialization makes sense. You might dedicate, for example, a larger portion of your agenda to financial services. How do you think about balancing that in your own legislative portfolio – that you said there were a few things you wanted to deal with beyond financial services, but how do you make sure that you don’t get pulled in too many different directions and lose out on that specialization and expertise?

Representative Hill (20:29):

Well, each, the committee system there begins to contribute to a more defined ability to have value add. So if I have a natural resources idea about improving a wilderness area in Arkansas, I have a fellow Arkansan, Bruce Westerman, who is on the Natural Resources Committee. He also just got voted to be ranking member in the upcoming Congress on that committee, has a Yale graduate degree in forestry. You work that way, and take advantage of the networking in the committee process to not spread yourself too thin by trying to be an expert, but partnering with somebody who can really help you with your idea. The pandemic…this is another key area of how the pandemic has negatively affected the collaborative nature of a legislative body like the Congress. You may have read, Speaker Pelosi’s not a fan of meeting.

Representative Hill (21:33):

She’s allowed the Democrats to vote by proxy. There’s a lawsuit that will go up to the Supreme Court on that issue. We can talk more about that maybe at another time, but you have members off in their districts. Well, how in the world are they supposed to cross-fertilize these ideas, depend on expertise elsewhere and do that remotely? When a lot of the good ideas in Congress come through serendipitous conversations in the cafeteria. It’s very much like a university campus, very much like an interdisciplinary process. And if you’re going to break down the interdisciplinary process, then you broken down the whole institution’s effectiveness, or at least let’s say this way, at least maybe you’ve made it less effective and less productive. And I think a lot of members on both sides of the aisle after this year, last seven months or so certainly, have felt that frustration and have voiced it among ourselves.

Craig Volden (22:40):

I mean, that’s a frustration that people are feeling really acutely now. I’ve heard it expressed as something that people have been kind of increasingly feeling across decades as people are spending less and less time on Capitol Hill. If we were to return to pre-pandemic days, but most people still coming in Tuesday to Thursday, is that enough for those serendipitous connections? Or do we need even more time?

Representative Hill (23:08):

You know, it can be. When I was a freshmen and I still do it for the most part, even if we were voting on Tuesday, I just came up on Monday. I made Monday a meeting/research day, a staff meeting day catch up on things day, and then that’d be Tuesday, Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday legislative business, and then go home Friday. I think if members devote four days to working here ,that is enough time. It’s not ideal. It’s not like you can go have coffee with spouses on a Saturday morning and go for a walk on the Mall. Some of that, the sacrifice I think is in that social life, not in the business life. So those 435 members are really putting a premium on getting their legislative priorities, regulatory priorities work done while they’re here. And what gets sacrificed is they don’t really go out and shoot the bull with their pals that they’re making.

Representative Hill (24:11):

And so I started a dinner series when I was a freshmen called the Longworth Garner series – named for Nick Longworth, who was a Speaker of the House for the Republicans and “Cactus Jack Garner,” a Speaker of the House for the Democrats who also was FDRs first vice president. These two men were opposites. One from Ohio. One from you Uvalde, Texas. One a self-made lawyer. Also a Vanderbilt graduate, I might add, Jack Garner was,. And Nick Longworth, pretty patrician and multi-generational person from Cincinnati, married to Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest child, so opposite, but they were best friends. They were on the House foreign affairs committee as freshmen, they were on Ways and Means their whole careers, immense respect for each other, had a drink together every afternoon at five o’clock, that Sam Rayburn then carried on. They referred to it as striking a blow for freedom. And they rode back and forth to work together everyday. So this dinner series – I’d invite two Democrats and two Republicans, they’d come to my house. And usually from the House financial services committee, there’s always so much turnover. You’re meeting new people and it’s a way for the freshmen to meet the older members. And we talk about, our families and what our goals and objectives are. And I try to do those once a month, and it is super-challenging to pack that in, because as you say, people were up there between, you know, three and four days a week.

Alan Wiseman (25:51):

That’s really interesting Congressman, I mean, thinking about other organizations in Congress that facilitate interaction from the largest body into smaller groups, you’ve being a member of the Republican study committee, I would expect to obviously help you advance your policy goals, given that you have natural connections with like minded members in the House already. And another area that Craig and I have been focusing on in our own research is the ways in which these different caucuses interact with the broader chamber. And we were wondering, given your experience with the RSC and compared to your earlier experiences in Congress, do you think the caucus membership is especially helpful to you when you’re in the minority party? In the sense you have sort of a critical mass of like minded individuals that you could engage with for research, legislative strategy, things such as that?

Representative Hill (26:41):

It does, it can help stretch a member’s time and staff time, both by, as you say, like-minded people on the Republican side. But I will say that they’re also modest. There need to be more things like Longworth Garner, but there are modest cross party collaborative activities that have immense positives. One is just the committee structure itself, because you’ve got in the case of House financial services, they’re about 50, between 50 and 60 people on that full committee, more than 10% of the House. It’s a good cross-section. And you can really build off that bipartisanship out of that group of people. Then foreign trips are a portion of a real training opportunity. Those are always bipartisan, always roughly equal participants. And obviously when you’re stuck with somebody on the road for three or four days, you get to know them better. And then there are a number of caucuses that are bi-partisan and meet on a regular basis and actually work.

Representative Hill (28:04):

And they’re just not an affinity group, it’s actually a functioning group. You might have somebody that’s the cancer caucus. Well, these are people who put cancer research at a premium, but the group doesn’t meet per se, it collaborates on the letter during the appropriation system, or it might go to an event once a year, but something like the historically black colleges and universities caucus, I’m the vice chairman of, we have 90 members, or we meet four or five times a year on things related to HBC use, and higher ed topics that touch on them. So those are ways to build across the aisle and across the Capitol, because many of these are bicameral. And then finally is the educational opportunities that aren’t travel related but they are bicameral groups by topic. And I’m very active with the council on foreign relations. Those meetings are in the Capitol, any they are bicameral bipartisan. So those are very helpful as well, but there are many, many examples of that and all those things can leverage the staff time and the members time to try to get to the heart and finding a sponsor or an advocate for something you’re trying to do.

Craig Volden (29:29):

Thanks. I’m hearing kind of to an extent, both sides of the coin. You were talking about say in committees, the bipartisan nature of those being helpful for the exchange of ideas, and at the same time, this kind of nine to one ratio of moving majority party legislation compared to minority party legislation. It feels like there’s always a little bit of back and forth. How would you assess both committees and then Congress as a whole in terms of how well is it doing on bipartisanship? How well is it doing on overcoming the polarization that we hear so much about?

Representative Hill (30:03):

Yeah, well, a lot of this can be set by the majority leader and by the committee chairs. For example, in my first four years in Congress, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, he’s an Aggie, so he has nothing in common with you guys. Jeb also was a former Senate staffer when I left the Senate banking committee staff working for Tower he, as a young staffer, came to work for Phil Gramm who was elected Senator from Texas. So Jeb and I had a similar career. Jeb set a goal of certain big issues he didn’t expect to have a lot of bipartisan support on afew things, but he told us if you want to move a bill, you better have a Democratic sponsor. Wow, that’s setting a major, that’s a milestone. So he’s basically telling you, you can have a Republican only bill and I’m going to look at it.

Representative Hill (31:10):

And if I like it, I’ll try to pursue it, but if you really want to legislate, man, you need to have a Democrat on that bill with you. So that was his mindset. And he was one of the most conservative people in the House of Representatives. So that tone can be set at the top- Steny Hoyer and Kevin McCarthy, can set that tone, Nancy Pelosi can set that tone. I have found in this past few years, that tone has been utterly abandoned. And so there really has been no, honestly there really just hasn’t been an effort made by the majority party in this particular Congress, but in the two prior congresses…I’ll give you an example, including… so this is in President Trump’s first two years. Republicans control the House, a great Virginian, I can’t remember if he’s a UVA graduate or not, Bob Goodlatte, chaired the judiciary committee. And Bob Goodlatte, a very distinguished legal scholar had a proposal for immigration report. Now think about that. This is a Republican bill, but he had Democrats on it and he had sort of persuaded President Trump to say, he would sign this bill. (I, you know how that goes. You’ve seen, you’ve watched the show for four years.) So, I say sort of persuaded. So he ended up doing two versions of his bill and Speaker Paul Ryan would meet with both sides, including the different groups inside the two different conferences. There are liberal, liberal, progressive Democrats, and there are centrist Democrats in the House Republicans, you have the Tuesday group, which are more moderate Republicans who represent swing districts in the Northeast. And then you have the freedom caucus, which whatever they do… for freedom, and so these bills had people for all those groups on them.

Representative Hill (33:26):

So Bob Goodlatte had Goodlatte 1 and Goodlatte 2, both immigration reform bills. They had a little nuance, and I voted for both of them and they did not get a majority, the Democrats were told basically, we really don’t want you to support these, that gives Trump a victory on immigration reform. And one of them, I think got a majority of the majority. So people are out there working every day on these topics. And I can – 21st century cures on how to do a medical research, very bipartisan and a major mental health title in it. So there are victories all scattered, John Boehner and Paul Ryan’s speakerships that were bi-partisan. I just can’t say the same for this speakership for Speaker Pelosi. And I’m not throwing her under the bus. She’s been Speaker previously. I wasn’t here. I don’t know how all that went. But, this year, 19 and 20, I felt, it felt very partisan to me from the majority party. Traditionally, if you ask Nick Longworth or Jack Garner from the good old days, what they felt their obligation was, they recognized they were the Speaker of the House, but they did represent their party and this idea that they would promote things that they had a majority of the majority wanted to pursue. And that’s hard to achieve as well, but that’s essentially the back of the envelope theme that a Steny Hoyer or a Kevin McCarthy check on before they start getting out in front of legislation. Do they even have a majority of their own party backing them?

Craig Volden (35:21):

And are you thinking the next two years will look like these past two years or is there a reason for a more hopefulness?

Representative Hill (35:28):

No, I think it could be very different actually. You have a very competitive presidential election in which, you know, I’m not gonna … you’ve got you’re famous UVA commentator on presidential politics, I won’t take his job… I would say President Trump lost the election instead of Biden winning the election, that would be a personal view. Nancy Pelosi may barely have a five-vote majority in the House. That’ll be the smallest House majority probably since the 1920s, certainly since World War II. And then, let’s assume that the Republicans, win one or both of the Georgia Senate seats, you have a narrow Senate majority, you have a almost dysfunctional, narrow, House majority. And you have a democratic president who claims he’s a centrist in terms of his governing style that could produce a very different dynamic, Craig. You’re not going to be able to cram down messaging bills in the House under that circumstance. I mean, she would routinely lose between 5 and 20 members on a lot of these messaging kind of bills. So she doesn’t have that margin this time. I think it will change her. I don’t know what it’ll look like, but I don’t think it’ll look like this past two years.

Alan Wiseman (37:03):

Congressman, I’m really curious. I mean, just listening to your observations both in contemporary times to maybe 10 years ago or 20 or 30 years ago, given your previous experience as a congressional aid, your service and the Bush administration, and now you’re actually sitting as a member of the House, and admittedly this is a bit of a big think question, but what do you think is essentially the role of Congress in terms of its relationship with the presidency and how well do you think Congress is serving what you would view as the ideal role?

Representative Hill (37:36):

Well, Article One is the first branch and it has more than 50% of the words in the Constitution related to Article One. So it’s clearly modestly superior to Article Two, Article Three, but n a classic sense, obviously we have three co-equal branches of government and in the six years I’ve served here, I think Congress takes its oversight responsibility quite seriously. I think you can go down a lot of rabbit holes for partisan political purposes that are not conducting oversight. So, I don’t want to make this call a political call, but pursuing impeachment over President Trump’s call to the Ukraine was hitting a fly with thermonuclear weapons. I mean, you have the ability to do oversight in the DOD committee, the foreign affairs committee, and you could have all these people testify and carry on much of the same investigatory matters to determine if anything was wrong. But instead of that, you deemed it wrong and then declared it impeachable.

Representative Hill (38:48):

And that’s – my point is that you can, Congress will do what it does and the power rests in the majority in the House. But you get my point is that you can conduct vigorous oversight. And Congress, I think does conduct vigorous oversight. This morning I spent an hour and a half in a oversight commission meeting overseeing the treasury and the federal reserve. We had Secretary Mnuchin there for an hour and being grilled on his loans in the national security arena during from the CARES Act. So, I think that’s pretty good. Now, there are instances where you have more, if you don’t do oversight and … what’s the number one oversight tool you have? The power of the purse, which is regularly doing your appropriations bills on time, take them across the House floor, the Senate floor, take amendments and vote them.

Representative Hill (39:53):

And when you’re not doing that, you cede more authority to the executive branch through abdication of your responsibility. That certainly more common today than it was 20 and 30 years ago. And that’s how you get more executive orders and more independent agency behavior that you don’t like. And the Chevron decision by the Supreme Court, which, many who voted for it, not the least of which Justice Scalia, believes that one of it was a huge mistake. Also gives this suggestion of preference to the regulatory agency. You are ceding Article One power when you do that. So there’ve been some institutional challenges on the balance and the checks and balances between the three branches that we need to continue to ask back. And you see my friend Boyden Gray, who I started with him in the White House staff, Boyden is fantastic on the history of Congress ceding its authority to the executive. And he’s a terrific speaker on that topic if you haven’t had him, for students either at the law school level or in the undergraduate political science environment, really good. And the courts ruled recently on that vis-a-vis the CFPB’s director. Is that constitutionally designed or not? But this has been the history of our country for 244 years – to fine tune that constructive tension. So I think it’s there and I would never say it’s been, that Congress has abdicated to the executive with this exception of not regularly doing our number one Article One power, which is the appropriations process.

Craig Volden (42:01):

Thanks. My last question since I guess we’re getting a little short on time, has to do with the idea of mentoring. You’ve mentioned a number of members of Congress who you admire and appreciate their activities. When you arrived were there some that you were looking up to and who served kind of a mentoring role to guide you, and now that your experiences is increasing, are there some promising new members who you look to and say, you know, happy to help you learn the ways of lawmaking in Congress?

Representative Hill (42:37):

Well, you bet when I came into Congress, I learned a lot about how this place works, from Jeb Hensarling, Texas, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who was the deputy whip then, who’s now the ranking member on the House Financial services committee, both are very capable in being realistic about what the likelihood is and how to go about it. And then Tom Cole of Oklahoma is somebody I’ve looked up to for many, many years. He’s a superb appropriations person. And then Steve Womack who’s from the Arkansas delegation was really helpful to me. So, I had good mentorship when I first came in and went to work, took my Tower knowledge and my Bush knowledge and put it to work with their help. And then I’ve certainly tried to be inclusive of newer members. I just celebrated with some this week, we had four of our major bills that we put through my subcommittee, pass as a part of the national defense authorization act in the House yesterday, and really congratulated some of my hard working new members on our subcommittee that put forward some of those ideas. So, trying to lead by example,

Alan Wiseman (44:11):

That’s great to hear. And then I actually, I know we’re pressed for time, so I fortunately get the last question. And as you know, the Center for Effective Lawmaking has housed both the Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia. And that being said, we’re wondering from a personal perspective, if you have any reflections to share with perhaps some of the Vanderbilt students who are going to have a chance to watch this interview and hopefully get a chance to interact with you in the future. Perhaps what aspects of your college career or time right around your college career that set you on your current path or words of advice?

Representative Hill (44:47):

Well, thanks. both campuses of course, are just incredible – faculty, students, the grounds. I mean, there’s nothing quite like looking from Thomas Jefferson’s house, on to the rotunda at UVA. That’s one of America’s most treasured views and most amazing connections in higher education for the whole history of the country. And at Vanderbilt, when I walk across campus today, I’m so pleased that it feels so much like it did and that warmth and of the campus is there, despite the extraordinary growth of Vanderbilt medical center, which was a gleam in the eye when I was there. When I go to campus now it’s a whole ‘nother universe because of the Vandy medical complex and how much it’s grown and what a great contribution it makes to the country every year. But the most important thing about any higher education experience is finding your passion and meeting people that will become your lifelong friends and collaborators, or just someone who shares the worst internet jokes, that they find on a weekly basis.

Representative Hill (46:10):

It’s a wonderful time in life and the students on both of these campuses are great. But I always look forward to being back at the Vandy campus. I have a son at Sewanee, who’s on the golf team at Sewanee, and I have a daughter now who’s in medical school at the University of Arkansas. I did not have a Vandy or a UVA graduate. Liza, I took to Virginia and she was irritated that suddenly they no longer took note of the fact that her grandmother went there. That was insulting to her and she turned her nose up and went to the University of Texas at Austin. And I had to listen to all that for four years. But I married a University of Texas Austin graduate. So I should have known I would get double-teamed when it comes to listening to all the Texas bravada. And so that continues around our house. But I’d love to be on campus either UVA or Vandy. And thanks for having me today, this is a lot of fun.

Alan Wiseman (47:26):

Thanks so much for joining us.

Craig Volden (47:27):

Looking to that soon day when we’re more in person than we are now.

Representative Hill (47:32):

Yeah. You bet anything we can do to help follow up or anything we can help one of your students with, never reach out.

Alan Wiseman (47:38):

Wonderful. You’re always welcome in Nashville at Vandy, Congressman.

Representative Hill (47:41):

We’ll see you all. Thanks. Anchor down.

New Speaker (47:44):

Anchor down.


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