Dingell and Emanuel: Cleaning up Congress


Transcript from Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL):

MITCHELL: Congressman Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, is here with me now.

Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

First of all, we’re going to be calling you “Mr. Chairman,” again, after 12 years. What is the first order of business for you as a powerful new chairman of a House committee?

DINGELL: Well, it is to organize the committee, followed immediately by beginning the process of the committee.

First of all, we’ll try to accomplish the things that the speaker and the leadership want with regard to the 100 hours. And then we will move on toward things like improving health care, addressing the problems of Part D and allowing the secretary or requiring the secretary of HHS to negotiate over drug prices. We’ll try and deal with the donut hole and a wide array of other questions there. And also we’ll take a look to see whether or not the amount of money being spent on Part D is justified in terms of the benefits given to the recipients.

MITCHELL: Congressman, as one of the veterans on Capitol Hill, 51, I mean, the most senior House member of all, how do you feel about some of the changes, particularly ethics reform? A pretty sweeping reform now, which would really reduce the power of lobbyists and get rid of junkets. Do you think they’ve gone too far?

DINGELL: Well, the package has not yet been fully reviewed. But I have to think that significant changes are required. Certainly the events leading up to the election and the people’s response to those events tells me we have to do something quite strongly to see to it that we could have the Congress function in a way that the people will be pleased with and that they can trust.

MITCHELL: There’s some talk, and you can confirm this for me, of a rebellion by some of the most senior chairmen, former chairmen and soon-to-be chairmen, such as yourself, against the term limits, that Nancy Pelosi will go along with what the Republicans did, which was a six-year term limit on chairmanships. How do you feel about that?

DINGELL: Well, I have to say that I’ve always opposed term limits.

I have a two-year term limit which my people give me every time they elect me, and every other member of the Congress has the same situation.

I would note that the interesting thing about term limits is that in the case of our Republican colleagues it cost them some of the most able leadership who were compelled to leave at the time when they were being most productive in terms of accomplishing what the Republican Party and what those people wanted done.

MITCHELL: Is there any way that you can express your opposition?

Can you vote against those new rule changes?

DINGELL: Well, I have contemplated these things. I have communicated my concerns through the Office of the Speaker, and also through the Office of the Majority Leader. And I’m talking with other chairmen to ascertain what it is they want to do.

MITCHELL: Joining me now is the man that many believe was the driving force behind the Democrats’ midterm election, Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

Congressman Emanuel is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Congressman Dingell, stay with us for just a moment while we bring in Congressman Emanuel.

How do you feel about these rules changers and the term limits on people like John Dingell?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, remember what the real priority here is. The priority here was to make sure that you couldn’t have lobbyists buy meals, to take travel—like, say, you’re going to go on a trip, a fact-finding mission, and all you pack is your golf clubs. And all our reforms are intended to change the old way of doing business to make sure that the voices of the American people get heard.

As it relates to term limits and others, we’re going to work that out. But the major comprehensive—as you said, Andrea, when you introduced and said these were sweeping reforms—look, you need a sweep to clean up this place.

And this is the most comprehensive lobbying ethics reform since the Watergate era. And it’s been noted by those who are watchdog groups.

And we have an obligation, having said that what happened in the past was wrong, to set the rules right.

And I’ll guarantee this: that when it comes to meal ban, it comes to gift ban, it comes to travel restrictions, it comes to earmark reform that brings transparency, all those will also receive bipartisan support. Because the Republicans know in their heart of hearts that what happened in the past corrupted not just the process, but corrupted all of us who participate in the process.

And so we’ll make those reforms. And once that happens, things like what John was talking about, which is direct negotiations for lower prescription drug prices, those reforms can come forward because those bans that were put in the prescription drug bill were a result of lobbyists who were too intimate with legislators.

MITCHELL: Well, let me ask John Dingell…

EMANUEL: So they’re all of the same…


MITCHELL: John Dingell, are you still there?

DINGELL: I am still here, Andrea.

MITCHELL: OK. Quick question. Is there any way that you can protest against some of these other changes, such as the term limits? Do you think there’ll be some votes against the speaker from Democrats today?

DINGELL: I think it’s really (inaudible). The Democrats are happy to be back in power. We are quite determined that we’re going to carry out our commitments to the people. And we are very anxious to work together. And I think to say that there’s any kind of a revolt going on is probably premature.

MITCHELL: And are you happy with this big celebration that Nancy Pelosi has planned for herself? Is it a bit unseemly to have, you know, Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett, and the dinners, and the lunches, and the brunches, and the trip to Baltimore to rename the street in honor of her? Isn’t it a little bit too imperial?

DINGELL: No, I think not. Each individual and each party celebrates events of this kind in their own way. Let’s look at this.

Nancy Pelosi is the first woman speaker in history. This marks an extraordinary event in terms of giving equal rights to all of our people and to recognizing that that’s one of the goals and purposes of this country. So I think celebrating it is entirely proper. I think not only are the women pleased with these events, but, quite honestly, men like me are also quite delighted, because we are giving now another step toward real equality for all of our people.

MITCHELL: Well, we certainly know, John Dingell, that with Debbie Dingell as your spouse that there is no greater feminist among the men on Capitol Hill than you.

Thank you so much. We’ll all be watching you right here on msnbc later today when you swear in the new speaker of the House in that historic moment.

Thanks for joining us.


MITCHELL: And continuing here with Rahm Emanuel.

The president came out yesterday and said he’s in favor of earmark reform, and he is, I think, trying to preempt some of the early positions that you guys are taking.

Is this going to be a shared goal or are you going to try to one- up the president and he tries to one-up you? How do you see this…

EMANUEL: Competition may produce good results, number one.

Number two is, I don’t see what the president did as so much as trying to one-up us. I saw it as he understood this election, as he said himself, was a thumpin’, that there’s a change, and he’s responding to that change, which is people wanted more fiscal discipline. So he’s responding to that. That’s appropriate.

He also said he would support a minimum wage. He’d like to see tax cuts for small businesses included.

I think he understood that if you took an election of this historic proportion and made no alteration, you would not be hearing the voices of the American people and he would pay in his own consequences. And I think he’s adjusting to the differences that the American people want to see over what happened in the last six years.

MITCHELL: I have to ask you as a—as we hear the sirens go by out here as we are on the balcony of the Cannon Office Building, as an expert political strategist, a former member of the…

EMANUEL: Or at least somebody who plays one on TV.


MITCHELL: Someone who’s been given credit for this House congressional takeover by the Democrats.

You have been part of the Clinton White House. You’ve watched Hillary Clinton.

Has this put an added burden on you? You’ve got your own role here in the House but, clearly, you are a part of the “Hillary Clinton for President” team; the campaign-in-waiting. Are you not?

EMANUEL: I think—you ask a very—I think the best thing—it will be a campaign season, presidential…

MITCHELL: Hasn’t it already started?

EMANUEL: No, my view is that it’s a governing season. There’s a campaign season and there’s a governing season.

I come from Chicago and there’s a—my dear friend, Mary—and what’s our motto in Chicago? “Good government is good politics.”

If we do what we’re supposed to do—raise the minimum wage, vote on the stem cell bill, move the tax subsidies from energy companies into alternatives and new renewable energy—we’ll not only be doing good politics; we’ll be doing good policy.

And that’s what I think. And I think both Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, all understand the most important thing they can do as Democrats for their own aspirations politically is to govern well.

MITCHELL: All right. We’ll see how long…

EMANUEL: That’s a dodge…

MITCHELL: Such a dodge—Rahm Emanuel. But we’re going to be talking about a lot of politics over this next political season. And Hillary Clinton already meeting behind the scenes with people like yourself, but there’s a season where we can talk about…

EMANUEL: We have a high-class problem. We’ve got number of great Democrats who want to run for president. Talk about an uptown problem.

MITCHELL: Thanks very much.


Dingell and Emanuel: Cleaning up Congress