HINOJOSA: Welcome to the NOW on PBS Podcast. I'm Maria Hinojosa, with NOW on the News. Joining us today is soon to be Chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, Representative Charles Rangel or Charlie Rangel as he's known in Harlem—in my neighborhood. How are you doing Congressman?
RANGEL: Better than I used to, Maria.
HINOJOSA: Yeah. In fact, that's what I wanted to ask you about. Because you made that statement in the summer that you said—"If the Democrats don't win the House, I'm resigning." And I thought—oh, my gosh. You were ready to put it all on the line.
RANGEL: I was, but it really wasn't so much resigning that sounds so disappointing. It was and it wasn't really the search for the Chairmanship, which I'm certainly honored to have achieved. It was that this country and Congress has been so good to me.
And the 36 years that I've been in the Congress, I've been able to get things done. I—I've won a lot. I've lost a lot. But in the Congress is where the people are supposed to govern.
To see all of the debate cut off, to see the inability of Democrats to put an amendment—there were no hearings. To see a country go to war and no one ask why—no—no oversight. To see kids dying every day in—hundreds of thousand Iraqis. To see the corruption. To see social programs being cut back—Social Security and Medicare in jeopardy.
And I just subconsciously was saying, "What if someone was to ask, 'Rangel, with all of that going on—when they took away the Constitution, the rights of privacy, going into torture—what were you doing?'" And I—in this dream, I'm saying, "I couldn't do anything."
And I—hell, I may be 76, but I got a lot of energy. And I figured—if—if we lost, there may be another place for me to fight. I—I've been running around getting ministers more involved. I mean, this is—these are more oppressions—people dying and being killed.
And I was prepared to go around the country and say, "Hey, maybe someone might ask you what did you do when your whole country was in jeopardy and being taken over." It was a great positive interview, but in the end the guy said—"Well, what if you don't win?" And I said, "I'm getting out of here."
HINOJOSA: All right. But now as you know, a big question you got lots of issues now facing the Democrats, one of the central ones is are the Democrats going to spend the next two years dominated by investigations, hearings—and instead of—you know, some people might say, "Hey, fix the problems." But then again, we've got some pretty big problems facing our country.
RANGEL: Well, I can't speak for the leadership, but—no, there won't be a whole lot of investigations. During the campaign, anything that you did was suspect. If you say you're going to provide oversight—that's a Constitutional responsibility. That is why the executive branch is supposed to execute, and then we are supposed to overview that to make certain that what we legislated is happening.
Other people say, "You're going to be dropping subpoenas." That's—not really. They should welcome the opportunity to come to the Congress to say what they're doing with the taxpayers money. And if they refuse to do it, then of course you subpoena them, and then the third branch—the courts—they put you in jail if you hold the Congress in contempt.
So—no, we will be providing oversight on everything, and the war's not excluded. What is our agenda? Our agenda is to metrically oppose—really to what the Republicans are talking about—our agenda is education and healthcare, decent wages, protecting the environment. And we're going to legislate.
And I, for one on the Ways and Means committee as the Chairman—our jurisdiction is the tax—code, which we hope that maybe we can simplify—Social Security that we hope that we can firm up—the Medicare programs, especially Part D in terms of prescriptions, trade agreements. I hope that I can reach across the aisle in my committee—work with the Republicans. I've spent a lot a time talking with Secretary Hank Paulson, who's the Secretary, Treasurer—and saying that—"Hey, I would want to work with the administration." But they can't stay the course with domestic issues, as they stayed the course in Iraq. It doesn't work. The American people have spoken through the House of Representatives, and we—we are going to lead.
HINOJOSA: All right. So how do you lead on the question of Iraq what do you want the President to do right now understanding now that we've had Generals coming forward, General Abizaid saying we can't pull out right now. You know, we may need to increase troops. What is the message of the Democrats to the President on Iraq?
RANGEL: I'm glad the way you framed that question, because so many reporters say, "What is the Democratic plan? And what will you do?" Well, we're not executive branch.
And we are not the ones to determine what happens in Iraq. But I tell you who we are we're the representatives of the people. And no President can continue to stay the course when the American people say that the course is wrong.
And when the President takes a look, it's not just the question where politically they're angry—they have said they wanted accountability. They may not be asking how we got this done—war in the first place, but they want to find out—how do we get out of it? And all this business about staying the course and we're to stay until victory—oh, no. There's going to be answers. Some Generals say that we should withdraw. Some say we need more troops. Others say we don't have any more troops to send. But what is going to happen is that we're going to have more of these hearings. And the President—he doesn't have to worry about the Congress just cutting off all funds and putting our men and women in jeopardy. But one thing is clear—he cannot successfully continue—this war in Iraq. Now you ask—what would I want to see done? I'm not a part of the executive branch, but what I would want done is for the President of the United States, the Secretary of State to pull together all of our so-called friends in the area—Egypt, our friends in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and make it abundantly clear that you guys have been fighting for over thousand years.
We have come in, right or wrong, to bring some piece in equity. But because of the tribal Kurds differences, Shiite's differences, it's impossible for us to do this at the end of a bayonet. So, we're going to call all of you together and ask—"Which is the best way for this group of people to find their independence and justice?" Because—we are not going to be caught in the crossfire between a civil war between the people in that community.
HINOJOSA: I want to ask you about your response to a cartoon actually that I saw on an editorial page. And it had a quote from Colin Powell saying in reference to Iraq if you break it, you own it. And then it said: "The perfect solution for the Republicans. If you break it, you give it to the Democrats."
It's your problem now—is essentially what this cartoon was saying. Now the Democrats have got to come up with a solution. And you've got a lot of expectations on you.
RANGEL: Oh, that's going to be easy. And they should be expectations, because the difference is that—when it was broken—you may say that the President and the Republicans picked it up, but it was the United States of America that held this broken foreign policy. And the fact is that the President and Rumsfeld could do and Condoleeza Rice could say and do anything. They could just make up stories as why we went over there in the first place. And the best information we ever get are people who are working in the White House that write books and tell us different things.
And so, all of that has—we never had any Republican oversight. We never found out the truth, but one thing we know that we're on the wrong course now. So, what is it that the Democrats do? We're going to find out exactly what is this victory thing they're talking about? How long do they think it would take? And why can't some of the people in the area make up for the slack and get our troops out of there?
Where are our friends that we had in Europe? We want them to come back home. And we have to admit that this is not just a Israel, U.S. problem. This is an international problem that's infested right there in that region. And once they find out that we lost our arrogance and we're willing to work with them, I'm confident that the good nations, and civil nations, and democratic nations of the world are able to overcome a handful of disorganized terrorists.
HINOJOSA: But I wonder, Congressman, David Gergen said yesterday on one of the evening news programs and he said in relation to the Iraq study group, which will be you know, giving it's report soon and he said, "You know, it seems as if the Republican administration in the White House is now outsourcing foreign policy." What do you think about that? Is it in fact, when you're 'handying' a situation like Iraq to—people who were in leadership and who had their own problems in leadership during the first Bush era what about this notion of well, the administration is outsourcing it to them to the Iraq.
HINOJOSA: study group?
RANGEL: Listen, politics is no different from anything else in life. When you make a mistake and you got people following you, sometimes you need a face saving device. It does not go unnoticed that most of the people that the President are relying on now have been long time friends of his father, whom he never relied for any advice he said. He relied in his Father in heaven.
Well, his Father in heaven hasn't been able to help him out. And now many of the friends and reliable people are now studying they're studying taxes, they stuttering other domestic problems, and they studying Iraq. When they come back perhaps the President will find some way to say that he's still staying the course, except he'll have a different interpretation about what the course is. And I don't care how they do it. The thing is that anybody should know and the President probably got the drift that the American people are fed up. And when Americans behind a war, then you can bet your life they're going to change the course.
Another thing which is interesting is that some of the military experts in Iraq are saying that even those pundits or those politicians that subscribe that we need more troops over there to bring peace in that area that we don't have the troops. That's a very interesting admission, because it proves that the volunteer Army not only is not working, but they may have to talk about the draft. And once you start talking about the draft and putting everybody's kids in harm's way, you can bet your life we'll be out of there over night.
HINOJOSA: And just to make it clear, you are somebody who supports the return of the draft. But I actually want to move to another issue, which has to do, Mr. Congressman, with some of the words you use. You recently called the Vice President an SOB.
RANGEL: Bad, bad words. Shouldn't have used it publicly. I can't wait to see him to tell him that I said it to him privately. And perhaps he'll share with me some of the things he said publicly about me. And we can say, "Hey, that's pre-campaign rhetoric. What we have to do now is bend this country."
But fortunately, he doesn't involve himself too much with—domestic policy. So, I don't think I'll be seeing much of him. But I will be working with people in his administration.
I had lunch yesterday with Secretary of Treasurer Paulson. I had conversation with the United States Trade Representative, a couple of them. I will be working with the Social Security administrators, well as the Medicare people. But the Vice President's just a mean old man and I don't pay too much attention to him.
HINOJOSA: Well, he said that there would be economic disaster in our country if you become Chairman of the Ways and Means, and I'm wondering how.
HINOJOSA: How you—
RANGEL: What does he know? You have never read anything where he has—been involved in improving the economy of this country—whether we're talking about jobs, taxes, revenue, training. I mean, if you were to ask somebody, "What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Vice President?" And it would be anger, war, and going hunting with your friends. I mean, no one associates with him with anything—in America expect the war. And unless if I'm wrong, Maria, don't let me make a mistake on another program. What does the Vice President do? What contribution is he making?
What does he know about Charlie Rangel, the Ways and Means committee to nationally say that I'm a threat to our economy. True, I shouldn't have called him a son of a bitch, but he should be—if it's just something that you say in a campaign, that's okay with me. And that whatever I called him and shouldn't have called him that ends with the campaign. But I wish I could say I'm willing to work with him, as I can say with the President and the cabinet. But I don't know what he does.
HINOJOSA: So, does that mean that you really are going to try to take over his office on the second floor of the House of Representatives?
RANGEL: No, no, no, no. Maria—said the only committee that is—described that we have to have in the United States Constitution is the Ways and Means committee. And because of that, we work more than most of the committee. So, we have a committee room on the second floor of the United States Capitol. So, that while we voting on the main floor of the Congress, we can still go into our room and continue our legislation on the issues that's before the Ways and Means committee.
But and for always, it was the Chairman's room to call Republicans and Democrats in there to continue a legislative work. For some reason—for the first time in the history of the United States, the Republican Chairman of the Ways and Means committee loaned that room to the Vice President. Now the Vice President has offices on the Senate side of the Capitol, because he resides over the Senate. But there's no constitutional or legislative reason for the Vice President to be our side. So, in the new Congress, the allocations of the rooms go directly to the majority. And so, he has no lease—or if he did, it expires, and that ends that.
HINOJOSA: Congressman, before we let you go I want to ask you two questions about two of your colleagues. First, I think many Americans were, I don't know shocked, or maybe not, when the information about Harry Reed being implicated in the Abramoff scandal. Why is this, what's your take on what's happening with Harry Reed?
RANGEL: There have been so many Republicans going to jail and having their reunions that I really haven't focused attention on the rumors surrounding Senator Reed. I mean, we're talking about indictments, sentencing, and going to jail, but Reed—I think they're talking about an ethics investigation as the deal with sales of land. All of these things should be looked at, but my God on the other hand when you talk about Abramoff, he used to work for Tom DeLay as the Chief of Staff. And Tom DeLay was the majority leader of the Republicans in the House. And he hired all of the Chiefs of Staffs of the Republican committees.
And so, what we're talking about is a cancer. Reed may or may not have some problems that can be taken care at the local first aid sten—center. But what was going on with real corruption—with members of Congress and on their way to jail—they took money. They did not take advantage of some property deal. They took money from Lobbyists and in turn voted for legislation of taxpayers money to benefit the people that they took the money from.
And so, I don't want to belittle anything that anyone does wrong, if the investigation really got up to that status, but believe me, you cannot compare Senator Reed's—the—the—the implications with him. There are people who already serving time that are not rank and file, but senior members of Republican party. Who's the other person?
HINOJOSA: Well, actually I'm going to ask you one quick question before I ask you about the other person. You have been elected 19 times to Congress. So, what do you do to clean up the situation that exists now in Congress in terms of corruption?
RANGEL: Well, I think that the public, with their recent vote, have done a lot to clean up corruption. And Nancy Pelosi is going to be reaching over to the Republicans to make certain that we have a higher standard in terms of our code of ethics and enforceable standards there. But I think the people have made the difference.
But it's not what you're going to do. We got to have those standards. We got to debate those standards. And we got to vote publicly on those standards, and let the American people know who believes in them and who don't. I truly believe that members who hold themselves out for public office—especially in the United States Congress, have said to the voters that—"You can expect of me to have a higher standard than most people." And if we don't keep that standard, then we're breeching our promise to the people and we should be out of here.
HINOJOSA: Okay. So, finally what are your thoughts when you see a Barack Obama? The possibility of even the conversation of an African-American perhaps running for President in the year 2008. What does that do for you Congressman Rangel, as the long time representative of Harlem, African-Americans heart in our country?
RANGEL: Maria, what it says to me is how many Obama's and Hispanics and women are really out there? And only if they get a little break or pushed to do a who—a little bit to get on center stage and then the whole light is on them. And they say, "Wow. You should be President of the United States."
I am so glad that we made the progress, so that we can think in terms of young men and women of color—that they would be able to aspire to become President. But what I really think is that there are tens of thousands of people all throughout this country—given the access to education and the opportunity to lead—it should not be just one person standing out there. It should be hundreds of thousands where pretty can say, "Wow. What a terrific choice. What a terrific group of people to make a choice as to who I would like to see as my President." So, I am glad that from Illinois we have one. But I am convinced that we have tens of thousands of people given the opportunity going to impress America—and the world—the way Obama has.
HINOJOSA: Congressman Rangel—so, 76 years old? What do I need to eat to make it to 76 and still have the energy that you have?
RANGEL: My doctor says that I got this far just on genes and I better take better care of myself.
HINOJOSA: Which is why you're losing that weight, eh?
RANGEL: That's right.
HINOJOSA: Congress Rangel, thank you so much for joining us on NOW on PBS.
RANGEL: Thank you so much, Maria.
HINOJOSA: Thank you for joining us NOW on the News, and we'll see you again, or you'll hear from us again in two weeks. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.