Five Freshmen House Members Discuss Their Plans for New Session
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, five freshly minted members of Congress’s incoming freshmen class, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: While a few House races remain to be decided, it’s clear that there will be at least 42 freshmen when the new Congress takes office in January: 29 are Democrats; 13 Republicans; and five of those new members join us today.
Democrat Yvette Clarke will represent New York’s 11th District, comprising most of Brooklyn. She spent the last five years as a member of the New York City Council.
Democrat Tim Walz will represent Minnesota’s 1st District in the southern part of that state. Walz is a geography teacher and football coach who spent nearly 25 years in the Army National Guard.
Democrat Ed Perlmutter will represent Colorado’s 7th District in the suburbs west of Denver. A lawyer, he spent eight years in the Colorado State Senate.
Republican David Davis will represent Tennessee’s 1st District in the northeastern part of the state. He owns a health care company and spent eight years in the Tennessee House.
And Republican Kevin McCarthy will represent California’s 22nd District in the state’s agricultural Central Valley. He served two terms in the California House, the last as minority leader.
And welcome to you all. Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the NewsHour.
REP.-ELECT TIM WALZ (D), Minnesota: Thank you.
REP.-ELECT ED PERLMUTTER (D), Colorado: It’s great to be here.
MARGARET WARNER: Let’s start by having each of you tell us briefly why you came to Washington, beginning with you, Tim Walz.
TIM WALZ: Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I think the reason I’m here and what my constituents were sending me here to do was to have a vision for this country that would extend beyond politics, that would extend beyond the next election. And in southern Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic is located, and where leaders in renewable energies, they want to see a vision on what we’re going to do in this country, in terms of health care, especially in terms of renewable energies.
And that’s what I would like to see done early in these coming years. They don’t want to see this incremental growth; they want to see massive growth when it comes to renewable energies.
MARGARET WARNER: Kevin McCarthy, what about you?
REP.-ELECT KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), California: Well, I think this global economy, I’m concerned about the United States being able to compete. I think we need a tax system that’s more fair, simpler, and allows us to compete with Europe, and China, and India. And I think that will enhance our ability to create more engineers and make us able to compete and continue.
MARGARET WARNER: Yvette Clarke?
REP.-ELECT YVETTE CLARKE (D), New York: Yes, I have a very diverse constituency. They have two really strong concerns right now, and that is how we’re going to remove our troops from Iraq, and immigration reform that’s very humane. And I’m going to be very focused on those issues.
MARGARET WARNER: Ed Perlmutter?
ED PERLMUTTER: I’m coming from a district that’s right down the middle politically, right down the middle financially. I think the economy is an issue, about the squeeze on the people in the middle.
But for me, one of my kids has epilepsy, and stem cell research holds out so much promise for people with epilepsy, and Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s, and diabetes. And, you know, I’d like to be here to see that we really do use the science that we have available so that that promise is fulfilled for people, you know, like my daughter.
MARGARET WARNER: And David Davis?
REP.-ELECT DAVID DAVIS (R), Tennessee: Thank you for having us today. I come from a very Republican district, a very conservative-leaning district, so they want to make sure that we have those same values and heritage that our country was founded on. That’s one of the things that brought me to Washington.
And then, being a health care business owner, I’m a respiratory therapist by training, so I’ve been taking care of patients for almost 30 years. And I’m a business owner, so economic development’s going to be very large in the things that we look at as we go into the future.
Bipartisan efforts in Congress
MARGARET WARNER: All but one of you has served either on a city council or a state senate or state house. How has that shaped your approach -- and why don't you begin, Kevin McCarthy -- to how you think this divided Congress can work together?
KEVIN MCCARTHY: Well, I come from California, where I served in the minority. And it was a uniqueness, because we recalled our governor during my time -- never done that in 100 years -- and we elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came from the middle.
I found the ability that you can have bipartisanship, but it's got to be willingness on both sides. It can't be, "I want bipartisanship. I just want the other side to vote with me." You've got to give give-and-take.
And if you come to that perspective that you can give and take and you're willing to give a little to get where you want to go, it can happen. But it takes real force, and the top of the leadership has to push it.
ED PERLMUTTER: Well, I served in the minority for six years, and then I was in the majority for two years in the state senate. And there was one point where we had a Democratic governor and Republican houses, and then there was a point where it was a Republican governor, two Republican houses, and the people in Colorado like checks and balances. And that's when we won the Senate for the first time since Kennedy was president.
And the people in Colorado -- really, it's the unaffiliated voter that is swinging things to Democratic side this time, and they expect compromise. They expect you to move the ball forward. They expect you to work with the other side.
And, you know, just having been through the orientation with these gentlemen and many others, I mean, we all are here to make this country as great as possible. And, you know, we're going to have some disagreements, and we're going to have some times where we don't, you know, like what the other one is saying, but we're going to move the ball forward. I have no doubt about that.
MARGARET WARNER: David Davis?
DAVID DAVIS: I've been in the Tennessee legislature for eight years, and I've been in the minority. And as long as bipartisanship means that we really want to work together and it's not just rhetoric, I think we all come out better. And as one of the colleagues that I've met here on the Hill this week, that's exactly what we want to do.
It'll be much better for us. There's going to be some key issues that we're going to be dealing with -- tax policy, family issues, the war -- there's going to be a lot of things. And what I found in Tennessee was about 97 percent of the time the Republicans and the Democrats voted alike. It's that 3 percent of the time where you have some real key issues, and that's what sets the two parties apart.
YVETTE CLARKE: Well, the New York City Council was really a one-house legislature, predominated by Democrats. So we had to really negotiate with the Republican mayor. And I think that's the essential element in dealing with a bipartisan legislature. It's the art of negotiation, creating the win-win scenarios where we can.
And so I think we're all open to that. That's what the American people have said through the electoral mandate that we've received, and I think we're heading in that direction.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Tim Walz, your background as both a veteran and as a teacher, how do you think that shaped your approach that you bring to this?
TIM WALZ: Yes, I do think it matters, because I think I represent the large number of people who never do serve in the legislatures, elective office, and I think that was one of the reasons they were looking at me.
People operate in a reality where they have to compromise, they have to get things done, where effectiveness trumps ideology. And they feel strongly about issues, but they understand the real pressing issues of the day are the ones that need to be taken care of.
So I'm very optimistic. And I agree with Dave on this. If this becomes just rhetoric, if the Democrats just give the rhetoric, it's bad for the country, and we all know that. So I think it's a golden opportunity for us, and I'm really encouraged by this freshmen class.
We do have a responsibility here, and the American people have given us that. I never said last Tuesday was a mandate for the Democrats. It was a mandate for America to fix the Congress, and that's what we're here to do.
Addressing security in Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: Let's talk about Iraq. And, Yvette Clarke, you brought it up first. What role do you think House Democrats should play in reshaping policy in Iraq?
YVETTE CLARKE: Well, you know, I think it's very clear that there's a need for a change of course. Certainly, our president has begun to recognize that, as well. And I know that right now there is a working group that are coming up with recommendations for him.
Americans want to see us disengage to the extent that we can to enable a democracy to rise. It's evident that we're not in a position to do that if we're in the midst of a war. And so Democrats have a responsibility of coming up with some really responsible solutions and looking at a time table, quite frankly. They want to see us come home.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you on board for that, a time table?
ED PERLMUTTER: Yes. And when I was out on the stump, I talked about spring of '08 as a time by which we have transitioned security to the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military. We've started a multinational reconstruction effort that goes beyond just Halliburton, and we redeploy some of our troops to nearby bases in the event a quick strike is necessary.
And, you know, I talked about that for the last year, because it gives the administration time to really take care of what they think they need to take care of, but it also allows us to redeploy and the Iraqis to take control of their own destinies.
MARGARET WARNER: Where are you on this?
TIM WALZ: Well, I'm not necessarily for a time table, if it's not based on milestones of success, more like Bosnia. What I feel was broken here -- and this comes from the Republican side, too -- people like Senator Hagel had their voices stifled.
The process in Congress is what was broken on this. We need to get back to finding a solution. We need to get a multinational force in there. We need to get the reconstruction done. It needs to be done with the idea, what is our long-range goal for the Middle East?
When we disentangle from this, we're disentangling with the vision of where we're going to be on this. And I think that's going to come out of this. This Congress is going to discuss that. We haven't discussed it on the floor of Congress, and now is the time.
So I'm confident we can get there. But I would agree there's a definite change of course. People say a time line; of course, there's going to be a time line we need these types of things done. But they need to be successful crossing through those gateways of success.
MARGARET WARNER: David Davis, what role do you think House Republicans in the minority here should play and can play in shaping Iraq policy?
DAVID DAVIS: Well, I think, when we look at the war in Iraq, at least the people from the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee believe and understand that this is not just one front. We believe this is a war on terror. We feel like this is not a war we started. This is a war that was brought to us, and this war has been going on for a long, long time.
We had the Iranian hostage crisis, and we had other events that led up to this. I don't think anyone wants to be in war, but we need to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our troops and do it as quickly as possible and withdraw, but we don't want to be fighting here in the streets of America, either.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Kevin McCarthy, what's your sense of the Republicans' role? Do you see your job to support the president's agenda on this, on Iraq?
KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think Republicans have a vital role. I mean, I think the elections are over. We should not make Iraq a political debate now; we should make it a serious debate.
We've got the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group coming. We've got to adapt a new strategy. We've got somebody heading up that's different. Rumsfeld is leaving. I think we can look to both sides. If we take a very honest approach -- and I think, from one perspective, if we're talking about bipartisanship, Iraq can be what brought us together.
YVETTE CLARKE: That's right.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: And if we are successful with Iraq, with adapting a strategy that actually wins in the process, and listening to both sides, I think you will see bipartisanship grow, from Social Security to everywhere else.
Initial impressions of Washington
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, all but one of you has been through a grueling election, either in the primary or in the general. You're finally here...
TIM WALZ: Or both.
MARGARET WARNER: Or both.
So give me just briefly your impressions from this week. What does it feel like to be here finally?
ED PERLMUTTER: Well, I was saying we were just, as a group, we were talking about our experience here. And I was so focused on 7:00 last Tuesday night. Then to be here on Sunday, and the bus was taking us over to the Library of Congress, and to see that dome lit up -- I mean, it really does send chills down your spine.
And you recognize the responsibility that you have, the privilege that you've been granted, and that's the kind of thing that I think brings us all back to reality, to want to work together, because we are privileged here. We have a responsibility that goes way beyond any one of us. And I think we all take that very seriously, and it's just a fantastic time to be here.
YVETTE CLARKE: It's truly an honor to know that you will have a direct bearing on the course of our civil society, moving forward at such a very historic time. I'm taking it moment by moment, because if I were to take it in its enormity, it would be overwhelming. So, you know, it's a privilege, as been stated by my colleague, and I look forward to really getting to business at this stage.
MARGARET WARNER: What impression are you left with from this week?
DAVID DAVIS: I'm absolutely blessed and honored to be here. I come from humble beginnings. My father grew up in the Depression era in the mountains of east Tennessee, has a sixth-grade education, and one of the wisest men I've ever known in my life. And to be able to come and do this, just absolutely honored.
Henry Ford once said, "If you think you can, or if you think you can't, you're right," and that's one of the things that I hold my hat on.
TIM WALZ: I think with me I walked in the Capitol for the first time -- it's the first time I'd been in the building -- and knowing that I'd been elected. And I went back to last Tuesday night after the election. I had a large number of my students that were there and that had worked on the campaign. I remember a young girl crying.
And I said, "We should be so happy." And she said, "I am happy." She said, "We really can change the world. You had us believing that." And I said -- when I walked in there, I got to think this is what it was. It's inspiring the next generation. I walked in there with students, walked in as the true citizen legislator. It was humbling, gratifying, and I guess, more than anything, I'm just incredibly optimistic.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: Nobody can't be moved by walking in. I mean, they say -- I guess it was Tip O'Neill -- if you're not moved when you see the Capitol, you've been here too long. But then when you walk -- and we all went into the chambers -- but you walk on those stairs. And the marble, but you feel it moved in. You wondered the feet that walked before you. That gives you a sense of responsibility.
So before you walk into those chambers, the responsibility that you have, that you leave the politics at the door and you put the people first, I think it's tremendous.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you all five very much. I hope you can retain this spirit, and it's a fascinating discussion. Thank you.
YVETTE CLARKE: Thank you.
TIM WALZ: Thank you.
DAVID DAVIS: Thank you.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: Thank you very much.