Watch: Batten Hour with Representatives Goodlatte and Skaggs
On April 15, 2019, The Center for Effective Lawmaking hosted a conversation with former Congressmen Bob Goodlatte (R-VA06) and David Skaggs (D-CO02).
During this Batten Hour program, Co-Director Craig Volden moderated questions about bipartisanship, Congressional oversight, the role of the media in politics and more.
Watch the entire event here:
Transcript as follows:
Craig Volden: 00:00 The mission of the center is to advance the generation communication and use of new knowledge about the effectiveness of individual lawmakers, and legislative institutions. As part of that mission, I’m delighted to welcome Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and David Skaggs to The Batten Hour as part of the Congress to Campus program. Congressman Goodlatte served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 until earlier this year as a Republican representative from Virginia’s sixth district. He served as chair of the House Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2007 and chair of the House Judiciary Committee from 2013 until his retirement at the end of the last congress. His legislative successes are broad and they include such issues as telemarketing, fraud, protection, enhanced funding for DNA testing in cases of violent crime and many other areas. Congressman Skaggs served three terms in the Colorado House of Representatives and then six terms in Congress from 1987 to 1999 as a Democratic representative from Colorado’s second district. His committee assignments focused on policy issues of science space, and technology, Transportation, Appropriations and Intelligence. His most noteworthy legislative successes focused on the issues of environmental protection such as the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993. Congressmen Skaggs now serves as chairman of the board of the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
01:34 In choosing who to invite to Grounds as part of the Congress to Campus program, we sought out former members of congress who differed in their partisan leanings and many of their policy positions, but who were quite similar in both being effective as lawmakers. Specifically, the Center for Effective Lawmaking scores, each member of the house and each member of the Senate combining 15 metrics together about the bills they sponsor, how far those bills move through the lawmaking process, and how important the changes they’re advocating are. Based on that metric, then we compare each lawmaker to others with similar levels of seniority and institutional positions. And compared to their benchmarks, both Congressmen Goodlatte and Skaggs rated in our Exceeds Expectation category as highly effective lawmakers on multiple occasions.
02:23 The Congressmen will begin with a few brief introductory remarks. Then I’ll ask some preliminary questions before we open it up to audience Q&A. They’ll also be available after The Batten Hour to answer any followup questions you might have. But before we start, please join me in thanking the Congressmen for their public service and in welcoming them to The Batten School..
Rep. Skaggs: 02:54 Oh, the green light needs to go on. Great. Well, good afternoon. I guess it is by now. Thank you very much for being here and thanks to the University and the, not the Batten center but the Batten School for hosting us. I’m David Skaggs. I’m the Democrat in our couple here. Um, and just a word about this program and, and why the Former Members of Congress support this Congress to Campus operation. We sponsor visits like this at colleges and universities all around the country, always involving a Republican and a Democrat together. In part to demonstrate that that’s possible these days. And that I hope Bob and I will demonstrate that we can talk about some issues, in an agreeable fashion, even if we may disagree about different positions on a particular question. The other reasons for this program are the vain hope anyway, that we will be able to give you a better idea of how Congress really works and or doesn’t. And to advance the idea that each of you, I hope, as interested citizens in the business of the country might consider at some point in your careers, spending some time in public service, doesn’t need to be in elective office. But anyway, whether it’s a community association or running for President, that you realize that the democracy depends upon the engagement and the involvement and the thoughtfulness of all of us. So I hope we will make some contribution to that objective.
Rep. Goodlatte: 04:46 Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here for a couple of reasons. First, my daughter is a double Hoo. She graduated undergraduate with a double major in government and history. And then she’s also a graduate of the law school here at UVA. She now works for one of the committees in the congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee, she’s the chief counsel of the oversight subcommittee there. And it’s great to be here, right on the heels of an incredible, miraculous, dramatic. (and I watched all that I could watch) a victory in the NCAA final championship to come back from the most ignominious defeat in March Madness history to win the championship the next year. It’s just got to make y’all feel really, really good. It’s the most amazing comeback, one of the most amazing in sports history. The other might be my Boston Red Sox when they finally won a world series back in 2004. Um, the other reason I’m glad to hear that
Rep. Skaggs: 05:55 Was that when they beat the Rockies?
Rep. Goodlatte: 05:56 No, that was…they beat the Yankees in the Cardinals in four games sweeps. Um, but in any event, I’m also the new kid on the block here because I was the old hand in Congress serving 26 years. I am brand new as a former member of Congress and glad to be here with my friend David, who I have not gotten to see much of in the last 20 years since he left Congress a long time ago. But we are very interested in promoting, the importance of lawmaking, the importance of representative democracy, and the importance of preserving and promoting the process that has evolved in our country. It can always be improved but it’s important that the basic concepts be preserved. And so, that’s why I’m here to help promote that. So thanks.
Rep. Skaggs: 06:53 Bob. I dropped the ball so to speak. I didn’t establish my limited legitimacy for being here, which was that I spent my first year of law school at the UVA law school and loved it.
Craig Volden: 07:08 To launch on into the first few questions, I’ll start it off with just a broad one. What do you see as the value of Congress as an institution, and how is it performing its constitutional responsibilities today?
Rep. Goodlatte: 07:24 Well, I think the value of Congress as an institution is absolutely critical to the concept of democracy and particularly representative democracy. The other two branches of government are obviously very, very important. You have to have a judiciary to resolve a dispute, to prosecute people who have committed crimes and to resolve differences of opinion about whether or not something that Congress passed is constitutional or about whether the Congress has a power or the executive branch has the power or a state government has the power to enact some public policy initiative. It’s Article One of the United States constitution. So there’s an indication there that people who wrote the constitution felt that it should be of the highest priority. And in this day and age with kind of the polarization of our society and the outside immediate pressures that exist because of the Internet and social media and 24-hour news channels and so on, it’s important that people understand, pay attention to and appreciate and work to improve, but also work to protect this institution. Otherwise you’re going to give all of the power in our country to unelected judges and unelected bureaucrats and to just one (or actually two with the president, vice president) who who are very powerful positions in the executive branch, but they’re not all powerful positions and they’re not supposed to be. But when you have an enormous bureaucracy at your command, they very well can be. So the Congress is a check against the, those other two parts of our institutions and it needs to be strong in order to exercise that check.
Rep. Skaggs: 09:22 No disagreement with Bob’s characterization of the importance of the Congress. It is the institution in our national government that reflects as readily as can be the will of the people and what they want to see the society care about and do something about. As awkward as the legislative process can be and as time consuming and as demanding of patience and “stick-to-it-iveness…” Question whether Congress is performing its responsibilities under the constitution as well as it might. And unfortunately over the last generation or two, I think there’s been a gradual erosion of the sense of institutional self respect and responsibility that the Founders anticipated. Picking up on, on Bob’s reference to checks and balances, and as Madison put it, being the vehicle for ambition to be a check on ambition for one branch of the government to make sure that the others didn’t get out of hand.
Rep. Skaggs: 10:34 I think it’s become far too partisan either in the sense that, one party’s members of Congress see as their job to simply ratify the wishes of a president of that party or to block the initiatives of the president of the other party, as opposed to being the vehicle for an independent evaluation and assessment and respect for the checks and balances and separation of powers. Just an example of that: The Constitution gives the Congress, in my opinion, the exclusive responsibility to decide when to initiate military action abroad under Article One, Section Eight. It’s a very difficult responsibility for members of Congress to fulfill because it means a really tough judgment call that they’re going to be held accountable for. And so, with some exceptions, since World War Two, the Congress has tended to just fall into line with whatever the president decides to do in that regard. That’s unfortunate. And in my view, a real default in their constitutional duty.
Craig Volden: 11:57 Picking up on that concept that came along the way of partisanship, we live in very partisan and polarized times. How does the partisanship that we find in the country as well as in Congress – does it help with lawmaking in some circumstances? Does it hurt with lawmaking in some circumstances? How would you characterize our state of affairs?
Rep. Goodlatte: 12:22 Well, I think it’s really important in a representative democracy, for the representative to be responsive to their constituencies. That is one of what I think are the two most important.the other I think is even more important, but the two most important characteristics that you should expect of your elected representative. The other that I think is even more important is that they use their own conscience. And by that I mean their values, their life experience that they bring to the Congress. I think it was John Stuart Mill or one, one of the great British legislative philosophers who said that a representative but disturbs you if they only listen to the will of their constituents and they don’t bring to the table their judgment and make the tough decisions and then stand in the next election and be voted in or voted out based on whether people trust their value in their decision making. Because if all they are is a rubber stamp, they’re going to base their decisions on a lot of bad information and not dig deeper and try to discern what the important vote they’re casting might be. So I think from that standpoint, it is a very, very important aspect of democracy that you listening to your constituents, but you’re also following your own conscience.
Rep. Goodlatte: 13:45 There are lots of other things that can influence the Congress. Most of them are not nearly as important and they should not be nearly as important, whether it’s party, pressures or outside organization pressures, lobbying groups or financial concerns. I mean, there are lots of things that can, can influence the way a representative makes decisions. But the two… Principle one should be what your constituents are telling you and they’re gonna tell you a lot of different things. If it’s a controversial issue, you’re going to hear everything from everybody
Rep. Skaggs: 14:21 At the risk of drawing some discomfort for my friend Bob, I think he was talking about Edmund Burke. Okay. So we will get that wonderful British political philosopher and member of parliament properly identified because I often cite him as well.
Rep. Goodlatte: 14:43 That’s why we have you here.
Rep. Skaggs: 14:46 I think the partisanship abroad in the land now is terribly destructive and counterproductive and feeds on any number of factors, including some pandering from politicians running for office to the proposition that if, especially if you’re representing a particularly safe district, Republican or Democrat, that you can sort of pretend that we as voters can have it the way we want it and that you don’t need to compromise about that when, in my opinion, I think the Founders structured our national government to require a compromise, that you can’t get anything done without trying to work out differences with the other side.
Rep. Skaggs: 15:34 The source of this hyper partisanship can be identified in several different places, I think, and probably well familiar to many of you, but the way we draw our congressional districts is part of the problem, the disaggregation of the media that tends to prey on a biased set of listeners and viewers and reinforce a point of view that they can have it their way. And if I may an educational system in the country that has neglected to educate in the public schools, primarily educate our people about our own form of government so that they appreciate the essence of compromise that is part of the deal and would respect, rather than denigrate, compromising behavior on the part of their representatives. So, you know, it’s, it’s fun and I think misleading to kind of point fingers at politicians as if they are the source of the partisanship. They are reflecting it, to some degree may cause it, but I think the root causes are much more complicated.
Craig Volden: 16:56 The Batten School focuses on both the leadership and public policy. What sorts of leadership skills are most needed in the country today, both overall and among those who strive to be effective lawmakers?
Rep. Skaggs: 17:12 We’ve had other conversations already today and last night, so I’m going to unexpectedly cite my friend, the deceased, Henry Hyde, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican from Illinois, with whom I differed on lots of policy issues, but we got along personally just fine. And I remember sort of stumbling onto an orientation session for new members in the House chamber years ago in which Hyde was offering his views. And the thing that sticks in my mind is that he said, if there isn’t something that you here, meaning to being a member of the U.S. House, over which you are willing to lose an election, you have no business being here. It’s kind of a proxy for saying the business of this place is negotiating differences and compromises and so forth. But if the only reason that brought you here is to make sure you get reelected, then you’re in the wrong line of work. And I think that’s sort of one way of drawing a line around essential leadership qualities. Which is to say that you’re there to some degree out of matters of principle that you’re willing to stand up for despite whatever the political cost might be.
Rep. Goodlatte: 18:35 Yeah. I’ve had the honor of seeing many, many, many dozens of bills that I introduced in Congress gets passed through the House for the Senate, signed in law by either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Not one of them got through that entire process without having bipartisan support. So David is exactly right about that. It’s really important that we understand that and protect that. It becomes particularly more difficult in the age of the immediacy of communications that we have today. And frankly, the uncontrolled nature of communications like tweets and Facebook posts, which are often very limited in their content, but very broad in their reach and can easily dissuade the public from thinking that that person is, is trying to do something that is thoughtful and it results in it being very polarizing. And it makes it difficult for two members of Congress from different parties to reach an agreement privately and say, ‘you know what? This is how we’re going to proceed with this.’ And then both go out and publicly say, I’ve reached agreement with Congressman Skaggs and we’re going to do this, and then immediately get attacked because one or the other of us has clearly got to of have sold out our principles in order, or maybe both of us, to have come up with any agreement that would involve somebody in the other party. And you simply cannot get things done in a legislative process without that. We are different in this country. Our Constitution makes us different than parliamentary systems where the head of the legislative branch and often just one body that contains most of the power … take the British system, for example. The House of Commons is by far the dominant legislative body and the head of the House of Commons is also the head of the government there. They are the head of all the executions of the policy that the parliament enacts. We don’t have that in this country. We have separation of powers. I think that’s important because it makes us more deliberative in our process. But that deliberative-ness is at risk in the current environment that we operate in. And I would agree with David that most of the partisanship, not all by any means, but most of the partisanship comes from outside of the Congress and people in the Congress react to it and some unfortunately don’t react to it as well as others do and some are more heavily influenced by licking their finger and holding it to the wind than they are to thinking about what’s in the best interest of their constituents or what their conscience tells them is the most important thing for them to do.
Craig Volden: 21:24 As the Congressmen know from our extensive interview this morning, I can ask endless questions, but I’d like to open it up to all of you for our half hour that we have remaining for whatever questions you would like to raise. And I think there’ll be a microphone coming around. Yes.
Rep. Skaggs: 21:40 Craig, I will only ask that we can reserve 30 seconds so that I can ask them a question at the end.
Craig Volden: 21:45 Fantastic.
Rep. Goodlatte: 21:46 Oh, we may ask more than one.
Audience: 21:52 Hi there. Thanks for coming today. It’s always great to hear rhetoric about the importance of bipartisanship and the value therein. How do you move from rhetoric about the importance of bipartisanship to actually seeing increased bipartisanship in Congress?
Rep. Goodlatte: 22:07 Well, as I indicated, there’s, there’s a lot of bipartisanship in the Congress. The real test comes when you have to expose that effort that you’re making to bring people together on a subject to the test of what the public is saying about it. And in the past that would get delayed in terms of how it got to people. So you had a little more time to get your thoughts together about what you’re going to say about what you’re agreeing to do. And it would be filtered through a media that had their own measures of responsibility, so that whether it was a conservative publication like the Wall Street Journal or a more liberal publication like the Washington Post, they had nonetheless a responsibility to their readership and would risk losing business or losing advertisers if they didn’t try to get an accurate and a reasonable, if you will approach without trying to define too closely what that means. Today anybody, anybody in this room and anybody in the country, can be a publisher and can publish anything they want to and they can distribute it to everybody for very little and sensationalism is one of the main driving forces that causes you to reach more people. And we see examples of that all over the place, people in office, but also people who respond to that. That’s, that’s a real problem with for the legislative process because it doesn’t give an opportunity for people to get serious about something before something leaks out. And then somebody starts attacking somebody for trying to come up with a solution that isn’t perfect and pure from one person’s point of view or another.
Rep. Skaggs: 23:50 No disagreement. And it will be surprising to you all how often Bob and I agree on things, even though we are here as Rs and Ds. I wanted to point to an example from my experience, and it may offend folks from the media if there are any here, which is that transparency, often held up as an inviolable value for our political system, can be counterproductive. And the example has to do… I was lucky enough to serve on the House Intelligence Committee for three terms, six years. In those days, there was no such thing as an open hearing by the Intelligence Committee. We suffered some controversy because of that but as a result of it, there was never a partisan debate or controversy really among the Republicans and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee. All of us were there recognizing the very delicate and sensitive business of the intelligence agencies of the country. And we didn’t see a Republican or Democratic point of view about very many of those things. There were differences about where we should be investing in human intelligence or satellites or that sort of thing. All of that got resolved again, without any partisan animosities in large part because we met in private. And there was a rationale for that, given the nature of the work we were doing. But doing everything in public, sad to say, gets in the way of having the conversations about compromise and working things out that are hard enough to do even if you’re not under the glare of the media and are often impossible to do if you are. And I think that’s one area in which we may need to rethink all of the openness of government movement, as understandable as it is.
Audience: 26:07 I’m inspired to hear by how much that you two agree on a lot of different issues. So I’m going to ask you a question about disagreement. So can you talk about how you may agree or disagree regarding your view of Congress as an oversight and investigative body?
Rep. Goodlatte: 26:27 Sure. I think that’s a very important function for the Congress. But you should look at it not from the standpoint of how to get somebody, because that’s the hot issue of the moment, you should look at it from the standpoint of strengthening the issue,the, the organization that you’re investigating. So for example, I think, and I thought in the last congress, it was particularly important for the Congress to look at how the FBI was conducting itself outside of the scrutiny of the public eye. During two of the most important investigations the FBI has conducted in America since … in the history of the FBI, which goes back almost a hundred years now… what happened in the Clinton campaign and Ms Clinton’s actions with regard to her email and so on and what happened in the Trump campaign with regard to whether or not there was collusion with Russia and so on. In my opinion, there was a lot of evidence of partisanship and lack of following standards that the FBI had historically followed in how they conducted those two investigations. So my objective was not to prove whether or not Hilary Clinton was guilty of a crime and should’ve been prosecuted. My objective was to question why the FBI conducted that investigation, why they conducted the Trump investigation the way they did, and how they explained the inconsistencies in the standards that they pursued in those two investigations. I can tell you right now that because of the glare of the public spotlight, everybody assumed that we had an agenda other than that in conducting that, and I’m sure some members of the committee did have an objective like that.
Rep. Goodlatte: 28:23 But the Congress has a deep seated investigative responsibility and oversight responsibility to conduct investigations into a lot of things, but in particular into things that are going on with regard to the executive branch. And to a lesser extent, but still very, very important the judicial branch. I have had the opportunity to actually be the prosecutor, if you will, in two impeachments of federal judges who had committed crimes. And the Congress has a very important role to play in keeping our federal judiciary as honest as it is. It also has an independence that needs to be maintained and respected. But that doesn’t go to, you know, violating the law. So I think we as a result of that have a very honest judiciary. There are lots of differences of opinion amongst judges about how to interpret the law. And some of that I think gets a little too politicized for my taste, but not be that as it may, the Congress’s role there is to strengthen the judiciary by exposing weaknesses and by exposing bad actors and getting them outta there. It has the same responsibility with regard to the executive branch but it’s much larger because it’s a huge entity and no one committee has that responsibility. The Judiciary Committee focuses on the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security where we have our primary jurisdiction. We have some oversight of other departments of the government, but not as much. And then there were other committees that have other roles and doing that. Congress needs to aggressively investigate, but they need to do so with the long view and not the view of ‘how can I score a point today that will somehow weaken this particular administration?’ It’s, you know, people elected a president and a vice president, they’ll get another chance to elect another one, but while they’ve elected them, they need to carry out their responsibilities. And the Congress should be working to get that done. Whether it was Barack Obama and a Republican Congress or Donald Trump and a Democratic Congress, or at least House, there needs to be more collaboration than there is.
Rep. Goodlatte: 30:46 And there’s plenty of credit to go around. If we were to pass immigration reform that got through a Democratic House and Republican Senate and signed by a Republican president, that would be huge. I spent a lot of time in the last several years attempting to find that kind of consensus, got close to being able to pass a bill out of the House. But the issue is very polarizing and people need to do what Henry Hyde advised David Skaggs of a different party a long time ago, and that is you gotta put your decisions on the line at some point. In my experience, from 26 years of serving the congresses, that they’ll give you a lot of credit for being a person of your conviction, even when your convictions aren’t as popular as you might like them to be.
Rep. Skaggs: 31:32 Yeah, if you were thinking you were going to provoke a huge difference between Bob and me with that question, you’ll be disappointed because while we might quibble about the manner in which oversight was conducted in individual cases, I don’t think we disagree at all about that being a fundamental responsibility of the Congress that has been neglected a lot over the last 20 or 30 years because it’s not particularly sexy most of the time. It’s tedious work. It requires a lot of staff groundwork to be laid before there can be a hearing that makes any sense at all. And so it’s not nearly as appealing as some of the other things that you get to do if you’re a member of the House, but, but terribly important for separation of powers and accountability and all the rest. I can’t resist Bob, forgive me with the observation, one, that it was the electoral college that elected the president…
Rep. Goodlatte: 32:35 But people had had a key role play in selecting those electors.
Audience: 32:47 So I want to thank you guys for being here and you talked a lot about bipartisanship, but one of the things I keep thinking of is it almost seems reminiscent to me, like, the era of bipartisanship. I have almost in my lifetime accepted the polarization of the parties as a condition instead of, lik,e a problem that we can actually fix. And, like, I remember one thing Michelle Obama used to say during Obama’s administration is, ‘they go low, we go high.’ And thinking back on it in retrospect it was always good rhetoric, but I never felt like it was practical. And I want to kind of dig at that right now. Thinking about is bipartisanship now even practical anymore because it seems like it’s more about strategy than bipartisanship when you have the Senate that won’t even hold a hearing or a vote to bring in a supreme court nominee. And then you have vice versa when the Republican Party has control where the Democrats will do things like the Kavanaugh investigation or hold all kinds of other holdups on Republican policy, like the border wall. So I feel like the polarization has almost become like a strategic game and people are playing their chess pieces and that working together is almost not even conducive for either side when they’re just trying to hold back each other’s agendas.
Rep. Skaggs: 34:13 Well I think that you’ve actually described circumstances which make an even more compelling case for the need for bipartisanship, especially with divided government.
Audience: 34:23 But is that possible?
Rep. Skaggs: 34:24 Well, and that’s an excellent question. It is entirely within the power of those sitting in Congress to decide to behave differently. And they will take their cues from you, from all of us, from the electorate. If we were to value that kind of behavior in casting our votes…the Congress and politics is, you know, a very much a market driven system. You know, the products respond to the demand. The demand for bipartisanship among the electorate these days, there’s a lot that espoused that, but the way the structure of our, especially House districts and the dominance of small states in the Senate, are structurally an impairment to getting there. But if we in our voting behavior for electing members of the House and Senate let members know that that’s really what we want them to do and not necessarily just to carry out our purest ideological point of view about whatever the issue is, over time anyway you would see different behavior.
Rep. Skaggs: 35:45 I’m tempted to put in a plug for something that my wife and I have going at the moment with what we call the Madison Prizes, which are designed to honor members of the House and Senate that work together to compromise, try to provide a reward for that kind of behavior.
Rep. Goodlatte: 36:06 Sounds like a great idea.
Rep. Goodlatte: 36:06 But, you know, what you’re asking about, what you’re talking about? It tends to go in cycles, but partisanship and, political attacks are not new by any means. I mean, the founder of this university is somebody that I greatly admire for a lot of things that he did, but not everything that he did by any means. I mean, he was a slaveholder, but he also was a real partisan in politics. He hired a guy named James Callender to publish some of the most villainous attacks on his opponents. So he was hands free and he didn’t have his fingerprints all over it, but some terrible things were written about Alexander Hamilton and other people as an instrument of Thomas Jefferson’s grinding political axes. So it’s not new. People need to be called out when they do it. But they need to be called out in a way that says, ‘Hey, get serious about your job, which is promoting, good public policy’ and not calling them out by trying to say something even more bad about them than what they’ve said. So I’m not gonna defend anybody who wants to engage in rhetoric that is not designed to fulfill their function as a sworn officer of the United States government, which members of Congress and presidents and other people are.
Audience: 37:48 So you both have been talking about how, at least your proposed solution for a lot of things is to move towards the center and find bipartisan solutions. But in 2010, at least in my lifetime, in 2010, the Congress was moved, in my opinion, to the right with the Tea Party. And then lately there’s been like a resurgent leftist movement that’s different from liberals. And so I’m just curious how you see, like, these two, broadenings of the parties, perhaps like the more extreme sides of them, how they’ve impacted Congress and what you think those implications are?
Rep. Goodlatte: 38:21 Great question. And I think it has impacted the Congress and there are no, in my opinion, easy answers other than you need to have courageous leaders who are gonna ‘say, you know what? The problems that we have require people together rather than pushing the part.’ I hope we see that, I think it happens all the time in the Congress. Like I said, David got bills passed through Republican Congress. I got bills passed through Democratic Congresses and never have I passed a bill that I originated that didn’t have support from the other party. So that continues on. But the highest profile issues are the issues that are the best bait, if you will, for people … you know, there are plenty of people on the Internet today who don’t even care what the issue is. They’re more interested in the controversy. It’s more like a sporting event to them than it is, a forum for, for solving the problems of society.
Rep. Goodlatte: 39:23 But that’s all the more reason why the average person has to say, I want to have people, whether I agree with them all the time or not who I can trust to be serious about legislating on issues. And I would argue that even today, a majority of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle come to the Congress with that desire. They’ve got to address both halves of that dichotomy I described earlier of their own conscience and responding to their constituents. If they allow themselves always to be beat up and not being outspoken about what they believe in and not letting their constituents hear that what they believe in is what their constituents want them to believe in, they won’t get reelected. But there also has to be moments when they say, you know what, I’m willing to put my name on this even though it’s not something that some of my constituents are gonna like and maybe they’re going to attack me for it. Fortunately, for most members of Congress, we have a very diverse country, a very diverse society. So the district that David would be elected to would be different than a district that I’d be elected to. And so most of the time I’m going to be in agreement with a majority of my constituents and the same for him. And yet we’re going to have very different voting records. We sound very bipartisan here because we’re really here to champion the institution. But if you put our voting records up during the time that we overlapped in the congress in the late 1990s, mid to late 1990s, we would be poles apart.
Rep. Skaggs: 40:53 Yeah. I can’t fathom why you voted the way you did on some of those.
Rep. Skaggs: 40:59 I’m gonna be repetitive. Forgive me. It’s so easy and convenient to sort of point at the Congress and at politicians as the source of all dysfunction in our political life. And there’s plenty of responsibility there. I can see that and we’ve been talking a lot about that. But I just want to turn this question back on the citizens of the country to some degree as well that if they don’t understand that what they observe in Washington is a reflection of the signals that they send to Washington and that they need to send different signals if they want different behavior, then things aren’t going to change very much. So I just want to leave that point along with all the others that we’re trying to make.
Audience: 42:02 Hi. So you guys spoke briefly on the importance of the separation of powers and kind of the declining influence of the Congress relative to the courts and the executive. So what I’m curious is to what extent you guys think that’s a result of an overreach by the executive bureaucrats and the courts and to what extent it’s the result of some abdication on the part of the Congress, especially as it relates to war powers, but also other other areas?
Rep. Skaggs: 42:29 Yes. I mean both. And I think it’s also a reflection on the fact that society is much more complicated than it used to be and the issues that Congress tries to grapple with are much more subtle and difficult to come up with the full prescription for public policy. And so both. Out of some laziness and also some recognition of those realities, the sense is well, we’ll pass a bill that has sort of general policy direction and give agency x rulemaking authority to fill in the details. And so that, by definition, is a ceding of power and responsibility and even sort of article one power to the executive branch. And that’s exacerbated by presidents, especially in the modern era that have been ever more aggressive in level laying claim to authority. For example, the war powers example that I gave earlier, that Congress is all too willing to cede to the article two branch.So it’s you know, mixed answer to your question, but I think a little bit of both.
Rep. Goodlatte: 43:54 It’s very definitely both and it’s very understandable. I mean, people in part get into public service because they want to solve problems, but it’s also because they know that if they have power, they have more power to solve the problem in the way they want it solved. And this is particularly true of presidents and it’s particularly true of presidents of both parties who often exceed their authority. So the solution to the question, in my opinion, rests mainly with the Congress and with the courts. The Congress has to take back its powers and it has the ability to do that if it has good dynamic leadership. But it also has to be backed up by the courts to say, ‘yes, the executive branch has more power than it should’ve been given them.’ And the courts have done that on a few occasions.
Rep. Goodlatte: 44:44 For example, I can remember when I thought a very good idea was to give a president of the United States what’s called the line item veto. The state of Virginia, the governor of Virginia, has a line item veto. Most state governors have it where you can go in and say, ‘I like this bill, but I don’t like this line. So I’m striking that line out of the bill.’ And then the Congress has to go and override that in order to do that. Well, that has merit. But the United States Supreme Court said, ‘you know what, the Congress doesn’t have the right under the United States constitution to give that power to the president of the United States. So we’re overruling that.’ And that law that actually passeda Republican Congress was, was taken back. But it has to start with leadership in the Congress.
Rep. Skaggs: 45:29 And that was a lawsuit that I started with a bunch of members of the House that reflected that principle of being jealous of our powers.
Audience: 45:49 So what is an example of a time where you had to disagree with your constituents for a vote on what you wanted? How did you go about explaining why you were voting for your principles against what they wanted and how did that go over?
Rep. Goodlatte: 46:03 I need time to think.
Rep. Skaggs: 46:11 I’ll hazard an example. I’m not sure it’s exactly accurate, but it comes close anyway. So you may remember, but you weren’t old enough probably to have been there at the time that there was a flurry of activity, legislation, constitutional amendment proposed, to ban flag burning or the desecration of the flag. Who could be against that? I’m not sure where my district was on that question. I think it was, depending on how you phrase the issue, it got high positive marks and most polling. To me that was just a straight-out violation of what this country ought to be about, which is not suppressing dissent. And the fact that it was offensive to me personally to have the flag desecrated, but it was political speech, as I think the court had found in then prompting the legislation and the constitutional amendment effort. And so I went home and explained why I voted against that. I had a little bit of credibility help in doing that because I had been, I volunteered in the Marine Corps to go to Vietnam and had a military credential and a little bit of of extra help because I could trot that part of my resume out for those purposes. I hope legitimately, but that’s an example.
Rep. Goodlatte: 47:52 Well, that’s a very good example. I’ll give you another one that’s more recent. You know, there’s more than one constituency that a member of Congress deals with in their so-called constituency because they have the broader constituency, all the people that they represent, which is everyone who lives in their congressional district, but they also have the constituency who elected them, which can be quite different sometimes than the broader constituency. So, for example, a few years ago, the Republicans had the majority in the Congress andwe had a Speaker of the House named John Boehener, who was not particularly popular with the general public, but he was particularly unpopular amongst a lot of Republicans. No one decided to challenge him within the Republican conference to be nominated by our party to offer his name on the floor of the House of Representatives. But we had our meeting and he was nominated in the Republican conference. And then later on January 3rd, the first day you’re in session, anybody else can have their name put up too, but the Republicans would put up a name. This Congress, it was Kevin McCarthy and the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi. There was a lot of concern about whether Nancy Pelosi would get the 200, the, the majority of the members, president voting (that’s the rule to vote for her) because there were a lot of new Democrats who wanted to see change and didn’t see Nancy Pelosi as representing that change. But we had a similar problem when the Republicans were a majority, but no one challenged John Boehnerr, just like no one challenged Nancy Pelosi. So in the meantime, after we’d had the vote to nominate John Boehner, my Republican Party in my district in Virginia, it’s called the sixth district Republican Committee. They sort of write the rules of the process of how the party operates in the nomination process, sometimes, Virginia law also plays a role in that. They unanimously, every one of them, whether they thought I was the greatest congressman ever, or whether they thought I was terrible, they all unanimously voted to tell me to vote against John Boehner for speaker of the house. Well, that was kind of a dilemma because we’d already nominated him andit was either him or Nancy Pelosi or to vote for somebody who hadn’t been nominated by the party, which is what they expected me to do and what a number of members did do. And a number of Democrats did do this time, instead of voting for Nancy Pelosi. Well, as it turned out, Boehner got enough votes to get elected, just like Pelosi got enough votes to get elected this time. But I had to go through a process of explaining to my best supporters why I had ignored their wish and voted for John Boehner because he’d already been the nominee of our party and I wasn’t going to say that we should reopen that process and vote for some other random person who had no chance of being elected speaker. The race was back then Boehner or Pelosi, my choice was pretty clear.
Craig Volden: 51:09 Congressman Skaggs, you asked for the last question of the audience.
Rep. Skaggs: 51:13 We’ve now filtered out those that really didn’t want to be here to begin with and were here for the free lunch. Right. So the question for you is, and maybe the way to do this is to have everybody close their eyes so that we’re not outing anybody that doesn’t really want to own up to what I’m about to put to you. But I’m just wondering how many of you, somewhere in the back of your minds are saying, you know, ‘someday maybe I’ll run for office.’ I see one hand about to go up and I hope that there are a bunch because even given the current coverage of politics as distasteful as the business may appear, if all of you all who are goodhearted, well-intentioned, honorable people, avoid it because you don’t want to get dirty, then it will stay the way it is. I think most of our colleagues actually are honorable people and try to do a serious job, but we need to make sure that there is a constant source of good new talent willing to serve in public office. And I hope you don’t avoid it.
Rep. Goodlatte: 52:26 And I would only add what David said at the beginning. I hope you do run. I think it can be a traumatic experience. It’s definitely the experience. It’s definitely the experience of a lifetime. I did it 26 times if you count the nomination and then the general election. I was fortunate that in many of those instances no one ran against me. But you never know until you get to that point whether someone’s going to run against you and you never know what they’re going to say about you when they do run. So it’s a very daunting experience. But I still commended to you because goodhearted people who have intelligent thoughts about solving the problems in our country are badly needed. And if you can’t bring yourself to that step, at least go to the next step. And that is to work with those people, work for them.
Rep. Goodlatte: 53:11 Maybe you’ll get a job in the Congress working for a member of Congress. Olivia Chrisley right here is my former assistant in my congressional district office in Roanoke. She helped people who had problems dealing with this massive bureaucracy. She did that. Other people work on campaigns. Other people work in Washington. Other people work for the executive branch or the courts. But people need to think about public service and what their role in it will be, whether it’s full time or whether it’s part time, or whether it’s something more than just voting but something that contributes to the preservation of representative democracy.
Rep. Skaggs: 53:50 You know, I lost my student council election in high school. I thought it was all over at that point.
Rep. Goodlatte: 53:55 I did too.
Craig Volden: 53:58 The Congressmen will have a few minutes afterward if you’d like to come up and ask additional questions, but for right now, please join me in thanking them for their service.