BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Terence Samuel, when did you first think that the public would buy a book about the United States Senate?
TERENCE SAMUEL, AUTHOR: I didn’t think about the public buying a book about the United States Senate but I did think about writing a book about the United States Senate and I guess there’s a problem in that process.
But somewhere in 2000, I got fascinated by the idea that this great arcaying (ph) historic institution came out of that 2000 election 50/50. And we were completely trying to figure out how to go forward with this relatively unprecedented as it happened before. But not in modern times that the Senate was split 50/50 between democrats and republicans.
And I sought Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, the leaders of the parties at the time trying to figure out what to do about making it happen. And I realized that the institution came down to the personalities of these two men. And I thought, wow, our government is so personality driven that I thought there’s a story here. And that was the beginnings of the book.
LAMB: But you honed in on the 2006 election. And I wanted there were how many people newly elected in 2006?
SAMUEL: There were 10 new senators in 2006, 9 of them Democrats and one Republican Bob Corker. And it was as you remember the midterm election that brought the democrats back into power after 12 years of the of Republican rule after the 1994 Republican Revolution.
LAMB: We have those names that we’re going to put on the screen. The nine democrats
and the 10 and the one Republican. And what I want you to do it starts with Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Jon Tester of Montana, Jim Webb of Virginia, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Bob Menendez is the fellow who is appointed and then re-elected for the first time actually totals it at 11 there and Bob Corker the only Republican for Tennessee.
I want you to go pick any one of those and tell us a story about somebody that you followed in the 2000 election.
SAMUEL: Well, that’s an easy one. The Montana Senate Election was kind of wrapped up in everything that was happening then, this was the end of kind of the Bush Presidency. And the big question was, you know, Conrad Burns who had been the Republican incumbent had gotten wrapped up in this Jack Abramoff story.
And suddenly he was being challenged by the guy who least looked like a United States Senator. He was a farmer from Big Sandy, Montana. He’s actually not from Big Sandy he’s from the out skirts of Big Sandy, 12 miles North of Big Sandy on a dirt road.
And he had lost three fingers in an in an accident when he was a child on his farm and suddenly it became a question of whether democrats could take this seat. And so I paid a lot of attention to that race and eventually went out to Montana with Tester after he became a senator.
And one of the stories one of the great stories in the book is and Tester likes to say is that, ”He saved my life” and I actually acknowledged that in the in the book. Because I left his farm on a snowy day and tried to get back to my hotel, went the wrong way down the road and got stuck in the snow and suddenly I was looking around with nothing but snow piling up.
And eventually the way I got out was because Jon Tester in his tractor came and pulled my car out and sent me on my way.
LAMB: Did you spend time in his home?
SAMUEL: I did.
LAMB: Why did he let you follow him that closely?
SAMUEL: One of the shocking questions I don’t know. He’s a nice guy for the most part. And I’m shocked at what people will do when you ask. I asked if I could do this book about this freshman class and how they adjust to the Senate and for the most part people said, ”Yes.”
LAMB: So why did Jon Tester beat Conrad Burns?
SAMUEL: Two things. I think this was an election where people even having just re-elected George Bush were frustrated with mostly I think the Iraq War. There’s some question particularly among senators about how big a role that played.
But I think between the disaffection for the President on the war and the and Conrad Burns having gotten trapped in this corruption question around Jack Abramoff I like to describe the 2006 election as kind of a recall election of George Bush. Not being able to actual recall the President that they were so unhappy with they decided to toss his party out of the Congress and I think in large part that was what ended up costing Burns his seat.
LAMB: There were six if I count them right, members of the Senate and the Republican Party who lost Lincoln Chafee, Rick Santorum, Jim Talent, George Allen, Mike DeWine, we mentioned Conrad Burns. What did you find with Amy Klobuchar and did she let you come into the inner circle?
SAMUEL: I spent I spent time I’ve been to her house. I’ve spent time with her aid (ph) in Minnesota though not mostly at the Minnesota State Fair. The inner circle I wouldn’t say I was in Klobuchar’s inner circle but I did talk to a lot of people.
She is an amazingly energetic politician with a reputation of being a tough taskmaster, though I never actually saw any evidence of this. This is a common trait among politicians to be able to, you know, put on as exactly the face they’d like you to see.
She is extremely funny and I like to describe her as the funny senator from Minnesota given the fact that Al Franken is the other one. But she is one of the things I find interesting about Klobuchar in the book is that she actually likes to raise money.
It’s one of the things that a lot of politicians hate. And Amy Klobuchar would get on the phone anytime, anywhere and call people up and ask them to donate which is part of the reason she won.
LAMB: How did she win?
SAMUEL: She ran against an opponent or congressman who again, just couldn’t put together enough in Minnesota which is a swing state she just couldn’t put together, you know, Mark Kennedy who couldn’t put together a campaign to overcome I think the drag on George Bush.
And Klobuchar who knows the state very well was the prosecutor in Minneapolis Hennepin County. And so was on television all the time and well known. And she ran an energetic campaign that beat him by 15 points.
LAMB: How close did you get to Virginia’s Jim Webb who used to be a republican is now a democrat and a senator?
SAMUEL: I got to know him I think, but not in the same. I didn’t go to Jim Webb’s house. But, you know, he did have the reputation of being somebody who was introverted and accidental senator who only won simply because George Allen the incumbent Republican at the time made the now famous macaca comment.
But Jim Webb is as you know a writer, a novelist of several books, writer of popular histories and very thoughtful. And, you know, we got into the into the we got into a writing discussion actually about books and how he is not the classic politician who wants to talk about, you know, returns and districts. And he’s aware of all those things but he’s much better at ideas.
And, you know, in some ways he talks about why the Republican Party had been so successful up until that point because they were willing to talk to the American people about ideas and themes and not government programs which he thinks the democrats had fallen victim to for too long.
LAMB: We just saw a republican change parties to democratic and lose in the primary, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. How was Jim Webb able to switch parties and win? And he’s not the first there’s a long line of them that had done that.
SAMUEL: It happened I think two things. It happened a long enough time ago that a lot of people didn’t hold it against him. And he was never actually so publicly republican except, you know, he served in the Reagan Administration. Again, he was it didn’t seem so nakedly opportunistic as the Arlen Specter switch of several years later.
LAMB: You quote Mark Prior whose father was in the Senate and now he’s in the Senate from Arkansas as saying, ”There are too many members who use to be in the House of Representatives.” I think I remember his father had been the House of Representatives and then came over to the Senate.
LAMB: Is he right? And if he is, why?
SAMUEL: He was he was partly joking but it goes to this point. That I mean this was a discussion-taking place in the context of what you remember as the nuclear option for getting rid of the filibuster, very acrimonious. It looked like the Senate is going to completely come to a standstill. And the question was my question was why is this happening?
How could this be happening in this, what is supposed to be this collegial, deliberative body and, you know, the sense is that the Senate is supposed to be prudent and wiser and the House of Representatives was this raucous carnival and he was talking about that. But increasingly I think and part of what the point I think the book makes is that it’s less they’re less and less different than they used to be.
LAMB: Bob Corker the only Republican. How close did you get to him?
SAMUEL: You know, I think pretty close. I spent some time with him in Tennessee, I spent some time with him here. He is he is an earnest, a genuine guy who made the point of, you know, he was the only republican in that class and we’ve seen since that he has spent a fair amount of time bucking the party on some important issues, financial regulation being the most recent but also, you know, the deal on the automotive bailout SCHIP.
Bob Corker is a guy who got out of college and went and made a ton of money as a young man, starting his own business with this kind of drive and obsession to make things work. And then he got to the Senate and realized that, you know, things don’t happen because you say they’re going to happen, or they don’t happen next week because you’ve put it in a calendar.
And he had a lot of trouble adjusting to the pace of the Senate and the kind of give and take that is required to be successful there.
LAMB: A moment in your book, Bob Corker wins in 2006.
LAMB: The only republican who wins a seat that time around in the Senate and George Bush does not call him.
LAMB: Did he bring that up to you or did you ask him about it?
SAMUEL: We were talking about what happens on election night. And, you know, we went through the whole list of Harry Reid calling everybody the Republican Leader and I said, so did the President call you. And he was like, no he still hasn’t called me. And his joke was, you know, it’s not like he had a lot of other people to call, being the only one.
But no, there’s a sense that the President was detached, you know, Corker doesn’t say this but I, you know, the President Bush the next day went before the cameras and referred to the 2006 loss as a thumping. And I think Bob Corker kind of reflected some of that, you know, the President never called him. He didn’t say he was upset but he did mention it and pause while he did.
LAMB: Yes, but you go on in your book to talk about a meeting that he eventually had and that he saw something in the President up close that seemed to bother him.
SAMUEL: He said that he went to see the President after he had gotten elected. This was in the height of the discussion about what to do about Iraq. He was a republican and the republicans in the Senate had been essentially the last bullock (ph) against doing what democrats wanted to do which was bring troops home, pass resolutions to establish a timetable, the White House was absolutely against that.
The republicans in the Senate had enough votes to sustain that. Corker went to see the President about Iraq and said that he came back more concerned than when he went because he got the sense that they didn’t exactly have a handle on what they were doing in Iraq. Yes, he was he was concerned about that.
LAMB: You say 44 men have been elected President and 16 of them served in the Senate but only two, now three have come directly from the Senate to the Presidency. What do those figures mean to you?
SAMUEL: I there is a sense that the Senate is kind of a stalking course for people who want to be President. They want to be President and the Senate is one of the places that they go to check that box.
The problem and, you know, history kind of points up this over and over again, that the Senate is not a good place to become a to prepare you for the Presidency. Not immediately anyway. That’s why we’ve seen so many governors elected, you know, in the Senate people are literally talking to no one and they kind of lose the sense of connection to people and there is too much back and forth.
Tom Daschle describes as one, you establish a record where people can use it against you and you gain a lot of enemies that don’t forget and so it makes it harder for you to be President directly from the Senate which is why I think the genius in Barack Obama’s decision to run when he did was that he didn’t stay long enough for any of those things to happen.
LAMB: The rest of this list. Any of them let you in the inner circle, let you campaign with them on a daily basis?
SAMUEL: You know, I saw Webb in Virginia like I said. I went to Tennessee with Corker. I went to the Minnesota State Fair with Klobuchar I went to Montana. So those are the four that and then I talked to Cardin and White House all in Washington after they had been elected.
LAMB: What about Claire McCaskill or Bernie Sanders.
SAMUEL: I’m sorry I went to Vermont with Bernie Sanders who having come from the House and was talking about the adjustment to the Senate and talked about the but the trick with the Senate was just simply a matter of learning how to use power. It had come down to that for him to understand it.
LAMB: He obviously wins in the state of Vermont. Why does he win and how many people up there would say they vote for him because he is a socialist?
SAMUEL: Not many people would say that he’s a socialist but the rhetoric the Bernie Sanders, little guy fighting the government, not being actually a member of either party, you know, a registered Independent and willing to take on both sides of the aisle when necessary I think is really appealing to a lot of people in Vermont and he won huge.
LAMB: So how did you go about doing this book and here we are almost to the 2010 election
SAMUEL: It was an, you know, on some days I described it, it was more, you know, alligator wrestling than writing but, you know, the book started out with, like I said this idea that the Senate was and the government at large was so personality driven.
And then we I thought well the way to take a look at this would be through the eyes of these new senators who are trying to figure it out at first. And so initially, I just started talking to everybody on that list practically. You know, I talked to Cardin who was
Maryland who was then sitting in the office of Tom Daschle now the, you know, the anthrax office and Cardin, talking about the differences between the House and the Senate, said he was adjusting to the fact that he had 20 minutes to make a point when he needed it when in the House, you know, you had a minute and literally had to rush and so small adjustments like that.
Eventually I think not being able to follow an entire class and make them characters in a book, we kind of I had to pair it down and I think I just went for some of the kind of extreme personalities or personality types so I say.
Webb, who nobody expected to be in the Senate because he just, he was just such a terrible campaigner, he didn’t want to raise money, he was a party switcher, he was a, you know, he was a democrat and TAUPO boasted about his union membership in Virginia that didn’t seem to work. At the end however there he is in the Senate.
Tester who, you know, those stories about having campaign workers buy his first suits during that campaign and just Amy who’s funny and had a young child which is an interesting thing to try to have kids in the Senate for anybody, but particularly for a mother I think. And then Corker who simply had to be part of it because he was the only guy there.
And in talking to Jim Webb, he had a he made the interesting point. In some ways, every Senate class gives you a sense of what the country is thinking at that moment. And so I think you get a sense in the book that even though Corker is the one Republican from the other party there is in kind of the way he approaches things, something that there’s a there’s a commonality of viewpoints in how you kind of serve the electorate at that moment and I think you see it in Corkers willingness to cross the aisle on so many issues.
LAMB: You were born in Trinidad?
SAMUEL: I was.
LAMB: What year?
SAMUEL: Nineteen sixty-two on JFKs birthday.
LAMB: What was your family like?
SAMUEL: My mother was a young woman, single. I lived with my mother, my grandmother, my two aunts. And my father lived two villages away and yes, it seems really far away.
LAMB: And you grew up in Trinidad for how many years before you came here?
SAMUEL: I grew up mostly in a little village in Trinidad called Moova (ph) until I moved to the Capitol of Port-of-Spain when I was about 10. I finished Catholic High School when I was 17. I moved to New York City where my mother had been for the last 10 years or so. I went to the City College of New York and then started a newspaper career.
SAMUEL: Roanoke, Virginia ”The Roanoke Times” and at the time it was called ”The Roanoke Times and World News”. It’s long enough ago that there was still an afternoon paper, ”The Roanoke Times” was the morning paper, ”The World News” was the afternoon paper.
And I had a city editor who this was actually, you know, the clear sign that afternoon papers were done, he didn’t have enough he never had enough stories to put out an afternoon paper and he’d walk around the newsroom offering $5 for anybody who could come up with an afternoon lead for him and that was enough money to get a lot of people motivated to do it on most days.
LAMB: And how long were you in Roanoke and where’d you go next?
SAMUEL: Roanoke for 3-1/2 years then to ”The Philadelphia Inquirer” where I covered suburban politics and got my first taste of Arlen Specter, suburban news in general, stayed at ”The Inquirer” for 10 years, three of those as the bureau (ph) chief in New York. Left ”The Inquirer” when I was the banking writer in 1997 and moved to Washington.
LAMB: Well, having grown up in Trinidad, what is still Trinidadian about you if that’s such a word? I mean, what did you bring with you and how did you ever make the transition into being a journalist about the American system and for that matter, the United States Senate?
SAMUEL: Interesting question, what is still Trinidadian about me? I think, you know, pretty much everything. I mean I I mean part of what I think you see in not just the book but my work in general is this sense of wonder about how this works.
It is kind of an outsiders view of an inside system in a lot of ways, you know, it’s, you know, Annie Dillard once said something that writing should be about giving voice to your own astonishment and, you know, I’m constantly astonished by how the system works.
And I think my transition was kind of an evolution into understanding that all I really wanted to do was tell stories. And, you know, if you work for a newspaper it’s an unbelievable way to make money-telling stories.
LAMB: When did you leave ”The Philadelphia Inquirer”?
SAMUEL: In 1997, I had a girlfriend who was living in Washington, I got a job in the Washington Bureau of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. A year later, she agreed to marry me and that was 12 years ago and here I am.
LAMB: You didn’t though continue with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, you went from there to where?
SAMUEL: I covered I covered The Future of American Cities for the Post Dispatch, it was about urban policy and what was happening with cities in the late ’80s and early ’90s, actually late ’90s at that point.
And St. Louis was one of those cities that was having a lot of trouble just kind of holding it together, the downtowns were dying, everybody was moving to the suburbs and the question was what would happen to those cities.
And I’d seen it in Philadelphia and so I spent those three years writing about exactly those things in Philadelphia and Kansas City and Louisville trying to figure out, you know, taxation systems that would actually help the city and the suburbs. And in 2000, I went to ”U.S. News” to be the chief congressional correspondent and the beginnings of the book.
LAMB: And you spent five years there.
SAMUEL: Five years there and then
LAMB: And there is no more really I mean there’s a Web site ”U.S. News and World Report” and, what, a monthly they do.
SAMUEL: They do a monthly and they do a lot of special reports. Yes, the magazine as it existed when I was there is gone as is, you know, I mean
LAMB: And ”The Philadelphia Inquirer’s” been in trouble
SAMUEL: The Philadelphia
SAMUEL: Right. I didn’t have anything to do with killing either of those publications however. Yes. You know, it’s this media world that we live in is just completely turbulent and I think what we’re seeing is a transition to something, a very painful transition to something.
My sense, though, is that what we do and what I did at ”The Philadelphia Inquirer”, ”The Post Dispatch” and ”U.S. News”, is I mean there’s as much or even a larger appetite for that stuff. The question is how do we deliver it to people in a way that they find it useful and interesting, and secondly in a way that it’s profitable for whoever has chosen to do this. And those questions I think remain unanswered.
LAMB: Early in your book on page 12 you quote from Gerald R. Ford giving a speech in front of the United States Senators. We’re going to play an excerpt of it, but what were the circumstances and why did you that was one of your first quotes.
SAMUEL: That’s one of my first quotes. So this was 2001 and so Bush had been President for a few months very acrimonious about how to move that agenda and President Ford came to The Capitol to deliver the leaders lecture which was an idea that majority lead a lot and had had. So they invited old political eminences to come back and talk about the Senate or things in general.
And President Ford used the opportunity to talk about kind of the climate and why his party or any party shouldn’t be acting like they had cornered the market on either the best ideas or the best way to do things in this town. And the very next day, that was May 23, 2001, May 24, 2001 Jim Jeffords switched parties and gave democrats the majority in the Senate for the next year and a half.
LAMB: Yes, he had been a republican
SAMUEL: He had been a republican.
then became an independent. Let’s listen carefully to what Gerald Ford said in that leaders lecture.
GERALD FORD, 38 PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I must confess that a lengthy career in the house had not fully prepared me for the byways of the world’s greatest deliberative body.
In preparing for this lecture, I came across something from another Vice President, Calvin Coolidge. Quote, ”At first I intended to become a student of the Senate rules,” wrote Coolidge. ”But I soon found that the Senate had but one fixed rule which was to the affect that the Senate would do anything it wanted to do whenever it wanted to do it.” End quote. ”When I learned that I did not waste anymore time,” Coolidge went on, ”because they were so seldom applied.”
LAMB: Gerald Ford was in the house for years, became President of the United States, never in the Senate. What was he saying there?
SAMUEL: Well, as vice president he was the he was the President of the Senate so that’s what he was talking about. But I mean I think it is one of the fuquets (ph) of Washington for people in the House to make fun of people in the Senate because they think of them as being pompous and pedantic and everything takes too long and they talk about it too much and they can’t get anything done.
And so it is something of lore in this town for people in the house to do that and I think you saw some of it happening there. And, you know, his point that the Senate has no fixed rules is largely true.
He goes on to say the Senate will do whatever the Senate wants when the Senate wants to do it, the problem is you have a 100 people who want to do different things and anyone of them can say, ”No, that’s not what we want to do,” hence the length and difficulty of getting anything done in the Senate and now by extension in the country.
LAMB: You give us some up close stuff about Harry Reid, the Majority Leader and I’m going to ask, this seems odd but I want to ask you one thing that you bring up that I never saw before and that is he lives somewhat through the movies.
SAMUEL: He loves movies.
LAMB: How did you learn that?
SAMUEL: Well, I was asking about spending some time with Harry Reid, like when can I see him and what does he do when he’s not here. And I suddenly learned that one of the ways that Harry deals with kind of the pressures of the Senate is that on the right Friday when there’s nothing going on, because sometimes the Senate goes out, you know, at noon on Friday, Harry Reid will slip away and go to the movies on a Friday afternoon.
And then you get talking to him and he’s seen kind of everything that’s in the theaters at the time. And he loves to listen to movie reviews on NPR.
LAMB: What was your reaction to that and what did you learn about him because of that?
SAMUEL: I think, in my mind, this and the kinds of movies he’s likes are kind of these American epic stories. Harry Reid’s story, personal story, is in some ways, you know, kind of it’s a movie with like a great ending.
You know, born poor Nevada, you know, kind of struggled his way to, you know, his father-committed suicide. The first money he made as a lawyer, he used it to buy false teeth for his mother.
Very, very poor, became a cop, a Capitol cop, a Capitol Hill police officer in the Capitol, went through law school at night, got elected to the House after serving as a prosecutor for the mob in Las Vegas, who one day tried to blow up his car. Very tough guy and I think he likes this kind of sense of possibility that America offers and he loves movies that tell that tell those stories.
LAMB: One of the things you don’t go into in the book and the L.A. Times did it a few years ago, was this story showing how he has five kids and four of his sons are I’m not sure that I remember the details were lawyers and they’re all set up in Nevada in a law firm that deals with the fact that Nevada’s 87 percent owned by the federal government lands and all that. And that he’s come from nothing, but they’re all doing very well.
SAMUEL: He’s very he’s very, very comfortable and in terms of a political dynasty, that is kind of feeding itself and propagating itself and is connected. I mean ”The L.A. Times” story is about kind of a sense of kind of this legal corruption that we sometimes see in politics.
Harry Reid will tell you that they’ve never been able to prove anything, but the sense that he is a very well connected politician who has set his kids up. I mean now I mean we’re looking at Harry Reid running for re-election and his son running for election as governor. So that story will not go away.
LAMB: What are the chances that he will either win or lose? I mean what are how would you rate it?
SAMUEL: I think, based on the Harry Reid I just described, the guy who just never gives up, the guy who won his first election by 424 votes, I think he’ll win simply because he knows how to do this. And I don’t think the anti-incumbency see the narrative that’s been playing out will necessarily will hold up. And we’ll see how that happens.
LAMB: What would you have said if I’d asked you yesterday about a guy you also know very well, Arlen Specter?
SAMUEL: I probably would have said the same thing and I was wrong. I would have been wrong, I think. I think, you know, I thought Specter could pull it out because he’d done it so many times. You know, nobody has ever been elected five times to the Senate in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians, after a while, just decide, you know, we’re going to go with a different horse.
Arlen Specter not only does it five times, but switches parties and I thought, partly based on what turnout was going to be in Philadelphia, that he might be able to pull it off. But, you know, when you think about it, Arlen Specter has spent 30 years infuriating, tormenting Pennsylvania Republicans.
You know, in 1980, he won with 49 percent of the vote. In 1992, when it was supposed to be the year of the woman, he ran against a woman named Lynn Yeakel and won with 49 percent of the vote.
So he went into this election, essentially depending on people and we’re talking about a primary election, which means we’re talking about mostly party activists and the most, you know, devoted party people who show up for these elections. He was depending on those people, who he had tormented for the last 30 years, to win. And so I guess that he couldn’t quite pull that off.
LAMB: Back to your book, you have a quote in here from January 4, 2007 from Harry Reid and we’re going to run it where he talks about the Senate and his approach to it.
HARRY REID, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR NEVADA: The future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in government than in politics Franklin Roosevelt, 1940. Mr. President, I’ve chosen this line to open this new session of the United State Senate because the wisdom it imparts is as relevant today as it was 67 years ago. The future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in government than in politics.
The American people are expecting positive results from this, the 110th Congress, not more partisan rancor. We stand today at the cusp of a new Congress, ready to write a new chapter in our country’s great future. It’s a time of hope and promise for our nation. The elections are over and the next Senate campaigns have yet to begin. Today, we are not candidates
UNIDENTIFIED: Please let us have order in the Senate. The Majority Leader is speaking and he should be heard. Thank you, Majority Leader.
HARRY REID, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR NEVADA: Today, Mr. President, we are not candidates, we are United States Senators. We 100 are from different states. We 100 represent different people. We 100 represent different political parties, but we share the same mission, keeping our country safe and providing a government that allows people to enjoy the fruits and prosperity and, of course, our economic freedom.
LAMB: If you were watching closely, Bob Berger’s sitting behind him and half the time talking to somebody else, looking around, not apparently paying any attention. If you listen closely, you could hear nothing but noise in the background. And then, the presiding officer says, let’s, you know, cool it. Why do they do that?
SAMUEL: They’ve gotten very used to not paying attention to each other. They don’t think that the speeches made through the C-SPAN camera are necessarily aimed at them. And so you have a lot of distractions in the Senate.
A lot of what you see happening on the floor of the Senate is essentially record keeping. We have to get this on the record. And a lot of the actual work, the actual dealing takes place when two senators sit with each other or they send their staffs to work with each other. And so a lot of what you see there is just show.
LAMB: So it is it bad that the television cameras are there, one, and two, is it really a waste of time?
SAMUEL: I don’t think it’s bad that the television cameras are there because I think, you know, we need to see this and pay attention. I mean it’s one way to keep people accountable because what they say, we now know they said, we now have it on video, we now have it on film. And I don’t think it’s a waste of time except for a lot of what the Senate does, as Corker says in the book, this is, you know, about half of what the Senate does is a waste of time.
There’s this huge dichotomy between, you know, the high ideals that Harry Reid, you know, refers to in that speech. All these things that we ought to do that kind of lives up to this kind of prudent government model that the founders intended and the day to day politics of making the place work.
And the real trick, I think, for a lot of the people who are successful in the Senate and Harry Reid, I think, you can count among them, is how they can kind of slide in and out of those roles from time to time and not lose credibility.
LAMB: In your book, you devote some time to David Broder the so-called Dean of American
Washington reporters. Works for ”The Washington Post”, I think he’s close to 80 years old.
LAMB: And is still writing.
LAMB: But here’s the quote, ”Here’s a Washington political riddle” this is from David Broder. ”Here’s a Washington political riddle where you fill in the lines. As Albert Gonzales is to the republicans, blank-blank is to the democrats, a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance”, Broder wrote.
”If you answered Harry Reid, give yourself an A and join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two Spring-time exhibitions of ineptitude to end.” David Broder writes pretty
SAMUEL: Brant (ph)?
LAMB: Well, no, he just doesn’t go for the jugular. What’s going on there?
SAMUEL: They don’t like each other, which is, you know, another great thing to see happen because reporters David Broder comes from that generation of reporters who are always impartial and they keep their feelings to their selves and they don’t tell you how they feel about particular people. And clearly, this went out the window.
I mean in my view, I think Broder is kind of a victim of kind of a mythology of what the Senate used to be. It used to be this place of statesmen and, you know, David Broder, you know, the majority leader from Montana was the majority leader as a model.
And so I think Reid who is does have a temper and can on occasion simply blow up at people and tell you what he thinks. And I think a lot of it was that, you know, he said, ”The war was lost.”
He comes across as intemperate when he calls the President a liar when he calls Alan Greenspan a hack. And so I think that was just kind of beyond what Broder expected from the majority leader but, you know, it’s a different world.
LAMB: I want to ask you in a moment whether you think it’s the Senate is a perceived to have a been a body of statesman or whether not we just now know more about them and they always have been they are perceived to be now.
But first, here is the other sides take on what the Senate is and it was on the same day that Harry Reid gave his speech. You quote him in the book here’s Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
MITCH MCCONNELL, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER: The Senate has the unique role in our government, it always has. It’s a place where the two great political parties must work together if a common goal is to be reached.
It is the legislative embodiment of individual and minority rights. A place where the careful design crafted by our founding fathers pretty much operates today the way they planned it 220 years ago.
We saw this 43 years ago with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when the two parties forged a difficult alliance to reach a great goal. Segregated buses and lunch counters are difficult to fathom now, but their end only came about through the kind of cooperative resolution that is marked this body from the start.
At its best, the Senate is a workshop where difficult challenges like Civil Rights are faced squarely and addressed with good will and careful principled agreement. And at a time like our own when so many issues have a consequence press upon us it must be nothing less.
Yet the challenges ahead will not be met if we do nothing to overcome the partisanship that has come to characterize this body over the past several years. A culture of partisanship over principle represents a grave threat to the Senate’s best tradition as a place of constructive cooperation.
It undermines the spirit and the purpose of this institution and we must do something to reverse its course.
LAMB: Were there statesmen more statesmen then there are now?
SAMUEL: I think yes but for this reason. I think the idea of a statesmen requires that there is some mystery to this person, kind of personal mystery that is just not available to somebody who has a Facebook page, who’s on television every day. Who, you know, people can Tweet from wherever you are, anything you say.
I think there’s just too much information for any personal mystery to be preserved about kind of this grand idea of the statesmen anymore. And so I think yes, there were there were more that it was an easier threshold to get to.
LAMB: As I was listening to Senator McConnell, it struck me he was talking about Civil Rights and all that. Is it fair to say that the Democratic Party has an image of being the party of Civil Rights?
SAMUEL: It is. It is fair to say that. And I think and for the Republican Party they’ve never managed to sufficiently claim their role in it. And because, you know, Everett Dirksen was as crucial to what happened on that bill as anybody.
LAMB: The reason I brought it up because I went back and got the numbers and you probably know the numbers. But just to put it on the record it was interesting talk about all this partisanship. Back in 1964, the ’64 Civil Rights Act Everett Dirksen was a minority leader Lyndon Johnson was the President.
The Democrats voted on that Civil Rights Bill 46 for it, 21 percent, I mean 20 it wouldn’t be 21 percent but 21 against it. The Republicans voted 27 for it 6 against it. The Democrats were now their lot 69 percent of them voted for it 82 percent of the Republicans voted for it. Actually, over in the House it was even worse for the Democrats only 63 percent voted for it of the Democrats and 80 percent of the Republicans.
SAMUEL: It’s one of the amazing things about the party switches because of that bill and after that time. And if you remember the, you know, the filibuster on that bill was led, I mean that bill passed at the end of a filibuster led by Robert Burt. I mean he led the filibuster and he is now kind of the evidence crease of the Democratic Party.
But, you know, the Republican Party carried that bill and that issue over the finish line. And a lot of people who were democrats then are no longer democrats. As Lyndon Johnson said, ”Passing that bill will lose the South for the democrats for a generation.”
LAMB: As you move around in your own social circles and friends you have and all that stuff. What is their perception of the Senate compared to yours?
SAMUEL: I think I don’t see the Senate as a huge waste of time populated by a bunch of buffoons. And I think a lot of people that’s how I mean that’s the news coverage and that’s I mean there’s so much difficulty getting things done in the Senate that I think fairly that’s being pointed out.
However, I have the sense that there are a lot of people working really, really hard to get things done under very difficult circumstances.
LAMB: You spent a lot of time quoting Woodrow Wilson on the Congress. Why?
SAMUEL: Because I was fascinated by the President as writer. And, you know, Wilson wrote his college dissertation on the Congress. And in part, because he was also one of these he was one of the Presidents who had this kind of highly evolved sense of what the Congress ought to be because he had been kind of a student of it.
And it never actually worked to his advantage knowing all that he knew, you know, famously the Treaty of Versailles that he just couldn’t get through.
LAMB: You quoted Congressional Government of Study in American Politics that he wrote. In it he described the purpose of the Senate as something that quote, ”Clears its mind and to some extent the mind of the public with regard to doing the nations business” unquote. And do you believe that?
SAMUEL: I think that’s the role. I think they fall particularly short of that because, you know, the Senate and, you know, the idea that senators would be elected for six years and as a result would be less driven by politics was the idea that would allow them to do all this great work because they didn’t have to worry about these re-elections as often as the two year terms in the House.
But what you have is all these people who want to be President so in some ways the Senate has become even more political then the House because it’s a the stakes are higher. And they’re not doing nearly the I mean they’re doing heavy lifting but not nearly to that standard.
LAMB: Of the 10 and you could put Bob Menendez in there as
11. Of those from the election of 2006, who’s done the best? Who’s come through the last couple years in your opinion with the highest and best profile?
SAMUEL: Well, I think two things. There was the pre-Obama period. And I think Jim Webb because so much of that discussion was about the war and democrats didn’t really have a sufficiently creditable voice to present on the war until Jim Webb came along and I think he did particularly well during that period.
I think after that period after the Obama period when the question became what to do about all these things that the new President had promised and how they weren’t going to get done. I think Corker and his willingness to reach across the aisle has done particularly well.
Internally I think Klobuchar has developed kind of a reputation of somebody who can talk to everybody in the Senate and can work with a lot of people. And show that the Whitehouse has developed a reputation as a particularly smart and capably strategic thinker.
LAMB: Anybody at the moment gotten lost in the dust?
SAMUEL: Lost in the dust, I think some people have kind of faded from public view, national public view I mean, you know, a senator from a state is always a big deal back in the state.
But I mean in terms of personality I think Bob Casey simply because he’s not kind of the publicity hound and he has been seen as very quiet and I don’t know if that’s helpful for him but, you know, he’s got an election in two years and we’ll see what happens.
LAMB: Very good, we’re talking about your past and we got up to ”The U.S. News and World and Report” and you left there and went where?
SAMUEL: I went to the dot com world, I went to AOL News to help run their news portal for African American readers Blackvoices. That was obviously new and different for me. I did that for a year and a half.
Started the book during that period, went back to the Washington Post Company to help run something called theroot.com which still exists and that brings us up to the current time.
LAMB: And what are you doing now?
SAMUEL: Thinking about another book. And generally, what’s going to happen with these elections and just writing
LAMB: So you’re independent at the moment.
SAMUEL: At the moment.
LAMB: Not attached to anything.
SAMUEL: Not attached to anything.
LAMB: What did you think of the success or lack of ”The Root”? We had the editor on last year.
SAMUEL: It was a spectacular write, you know, it’s a, you know, we had the first the first meeting of ”The Root” December 1, 2007, launched it six weeks later, I think it became this vital political document during that entire election year of 2008 and now I think, you know, from something that didn’t exist three years ago it is something that a lot of people have to read every morning.
LAMB: So are we better off with a society if we go to our own Web sites, Blackvoices for instances or Hispanic groups, or whatever or should we be reading or participating in all the media?
SAMUEL: We should be participating in all the media. I think what ”The Root” did is not so much establish something for people who thought of this as their Web site but I think added to the conversation.
I often describe ”The Root” as, you know, if you went to a party and around midnight when everybody left in the last 10 smart people were in the kitchen that conversation which if it was a conversation among black people or a group of a diverse crowd of black and white and other people was a different conversation then would be had and I thought that was missing and I thought that ”The Root” tried to do.
But I mean, you know, we looked at the service from ”The Root” and essentially the reader of ”The Root” were people who also everyday read ”The Washington Post”, ”The New York Times”, or ”The New York Times” and whatever their local newspaper was or ”The Wall Street Journal” and ”The New York Times”.
And so I don’t think we were kind of siphoning so much away as adding to the conversation.
LAMB: All right, let’s just suppose that this party is going on and at the end of the party ten of the brightest black people, you know, intellectuals are standing around in the kitchen and the subject goes to Obama.
LAMB: And that’s you talk about the fact that here is a man, you know, mixed race, African American whatever label you want to put on him, if I’m a member of that group am I happy?
SAMUEL: Yes. You’re happy because I’m guessing that the politics of that group would be reflected in the Presidents politics.
The even more interestingly then the fact that they’re all black the socio economic demographic that you just identified are people who are not, they’re not politically impatient at this point and so the question about, you know, how is the President doing and what he should do next I think is not is not a crucial question.
The question about whether he is dealing sufficiently with some of the issues of the black community will come up and I think they will be back and forth but I don’t think anybody leaves the conversation saying, ”That we’re worse off with Obama than without him.”
LAMB: As you know Warren Harding went from the Senate to the Presidency and it lasted 2-1/2 years, John Kennedy went from the Senate to the Presidency lasted 1,000 days but let’s assume Barak Obama survives successfully and all of that.
But the question I was asking really was related to if I’m a senator now I mean you talk about all the senators are running in the past do I think it’s a good deal to try to run from the Senate to the Presidency?
SAMUEL: Yes, they’ve always thought that and I think the Obama model is probably going to reinforce that. And so I think you’re going to see a long line of republican senators thinking about it in 2012 and a bunch of people on both sides if the President, well whatever happens in 2012, a long line of democrats or republicans in 2016 lining up for to run against the President.
LAMB: Our guest has been Terence Samuel. His book is called ”The Upper House Senators Only” right there with the elevator button on the cover. And the sub title ”A Journey Behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate.”
We thank you very much for joining us.
SAMUEL: Thanks for having me. It was terrific.