tv Sen. Carl Levin Getting to the Heart of the Matter CSPAN April 4, 2021 7:55pm-9:01pm EDT
>> good evening and welcome once again to the center for american politics and policy. we are pleased to see so many students, faculty, alumni and other interested people joining us tonight virtually. i'm the visiting professor at and senior fellow at the watson institute. i'm honored to serve this year as the interim director of the center that is a part of the watson institute. the center seeks to impact
american politics and policy through scholarships, public opinion polling, conferences, workshops, academic research, internships and a robust series of speakers this year we have been placing special emphasis on the 2020 national elections and incident that has followed as a new administration and nation grappled with issues of public health crisis, social justice, education, the economy and a commitment to the rule of law with a roster of outstanding speakers and programs. tonight we present the 26th in the series of programs.
we are honored to have as our special guest of the former six term senator from michigan, he will be joining us shortly. there is a possibility that he may have to leave before the end of the program. we are joined tonight by the executive director of the center and wayne state law school, james thompson. he will appear later in the program if necessary and we will discuss the mission of the center. welcome to you. >> the longest-serving senator in michigan history he was born in detroit and earned his bachelor's degree in political science and his law degree at harvard. he served as a first general
counsel for the michigan civil rights commission and later special assistant attorney general for the state of michigan. in 1969 he was elected to the detroit city council and in 1974 became the president counsel. this makes him the rare local official to serve in the senate. he was elected to the united states senate in 1978 defeating an incumbent senator robert griffin. in the senate, he earned the respect and affection of many senators from both sides of the aisle. known for his integrity and tenacity over his 36 years in the senate, he became one of the
body's most widely admired members. he rose to become the chair man of the powerful armed services committee and chaired the senate's foremost investigatory committee the permanent committee on investigations known as psi he led the opposition to the authorization of the iraq war in 2003, offering an alternative designed to give u.s. inspectors time to search for weapons of mass destruction. his older brother and best friend was a member of the house of representatives and chairman of the house way is and means committee.
they served together for 32 years in the congress making them the longest-serving siblings in congressional history. he knows of my love of the senate trivia so he wouldn't be surprised if i included a fact that i'm sure he's not heard in a previous introduction. in his 36 years he cast 12,630 votes. for the top 15 senators in the history of the senate. his new book a great read by the way, is titled carl levin getting to the heart of the matter my 36 years in the senate and i will try to show it to you
here not all that successfully but try to find it it is a great read. he and his wife live in detroit. they have three daughters and six grandchildren. my conversation with senator levin tonight will last approximately half an hour after which he will take questions from the audience. you may enter questions in the q-and-a function and you may begin entering questions if you have them already, beginning now and throughout the program, please keep them short and to the point. i will convey as many questions to the senator as we have time for. this is being recorded on the
center website i see that senator levin has joined us actually just right on time he managed to miss my introduction, but now it is with great honor for me it to introduce my friend and former boss jack reed. he is an american hero. senator carl levin welcome. >> it's good to be with you. the director of the center of wayne state law school who is
joining us. you are in valuable and continue to be of huge value. you are writing and teaching so i want to thank you for your service. >> thank you so much for saying that. senator, by all accounts, the senate is a different place than it was when you arrived in 1979 robert byrd asked if civility and common courtesy and
it is kind of hard for them to put together the coalitions that require leadership and it is so essential for the legislation that i don't want to name who the giants are because some i don't want to tell you who even the disappointments are that are not living up to what should be the great tradition so as always the divisiveness in the country has been spawned and increased recently by president trump. to take positions that will not
lead to their own defeat because there is a hard-core base particularly in the republican party. the cost is there and we should try to see if we can't do can do everything we can to promote the kind of bipartisanship because of the base being so strongly speaking. >> in your book that i already mentioned is a great read, you call the decision by president george w. bush to go to war with
move in without any interaction and support with something that is precipitated will but the conflicted middle east triggered by the second george bush decision to attack. >> the senate armed services committee that you chair is typically among the most bipartisan committee of the senate. the president misled us into that war and a number of ways
believe. that was the deceptive part of the full access to the cia intelligence to say that there was a connection between those people that attacked us through 9/11 and saddam hussein. i knew that it was false and i spoke out saying the evidence that they were using for that was false evidence and something that should never happen. the evidence that they were using was that there was a meeting between the top intelligence guy for saddam hussein and of the attackers on 9/11 said that it took place in
prague. the people in the czech republic came to tell us the meeting they are using is evidence and it didn't take place. they were telling us our allies don't say that because it isn't true and yet the administration, not just the president, but cheney as well gained the most extreme statement. for the people of the united states to believe and based the decision to go to war is a huge impact and it's wrong. he was wrong at the time and we go into a great deal of detail in the book to show how he had
weapons of mass destruction and the un was involved in inspections that would have shown we cut off those inspections and stopped the un from continuing to send the inspectors so that they could show what was there or what wasn't there. i want to cite one more example. the president in one of his state of the union messages said that the british have learned that iraq is seeking fissile nuclear material for a nuclear weapon and the president in the
united states in the most watched speech of all, a state of the union message said something that wasn't believed by his intelligence community and that is the following when he said the british have learned something, the implication is we agree with that and if he says it that way. but we did not believe it. our own intelligence community did not believe what the british learned was accurate.
we did not believe that he was seeking uranium and yet the president says something that implies if we did believe something it would threaten us because it would lead to a nuclear weapon. and to say that is just technically he's accurate. he says the british belief if we don't believe it, how could he possibly create that impression to create something that isn't true so that's part of the story and.
>> let me ask you again about bipartisanship and the importance of it. if you want to get something done in a legislative setting you've got to work with people of different backgrounds and racial and ethnic origins in the different kinds of political beliefs. you've got to work with people if you want to accomplish something because this is an extraordinarily diverse democracy so if you want to accomplish for the state with the nation or the city, if you
want to get something then you have to work with people of different beliefs and backgrounds and that's what bipartisanship is all about. it's all about trying to get something done. progressive democrats are pushing very hard right now for the elimination of the filibuster. you're arguing that the democratic agenda will otherwise be thwarted by the need to get votes to end a filibuster. to get 60 votes to end the filibuster.
succeed by the opponents of the progressive agenda will you have to be willing to stand up and fight that means using your rules of the senate, stand on the floor. those that want the program adopted there's been a convenience for them to. their soccer games they will miss and weekends they can't go home but that is what fighting is all about if you can't fight
for what you believe him, then you are not really believing in it enough to help it to get achieved. but what the democrats need to do in the senate is to do what is rarely done. if they are that week that there is no support for them they are just going to be dropped out and that is true most quantitatively of the bills, but the major issues which also have not passed in this country because
we support those issues are not willing to make them stand up and support. i've seen that over and over again on the senate. i don't know the number of times when there is a hold on a bill the opponent puts a hold on it but then it's up to the majority leader whether or not to ring the bell to the floor for debate so when it's a majority leader, we decide not to proceed. it's not the filibuster's presence. it's the majority leader's decision how to allocate and how the caucus wants to fight to get
something accomplished. a. >> announcing him as no longer going to honor them. >> it is that simple. it's complicated may be politically. there may be some people in the caucus that are angry and in the other caucus there will be a lot more people that will be unhappy that they have to come and talk. they can't just say i'm going to threaten to do something. they've got to put their money where their mouth is. >> it appears the president is under a lot of pressure on this issue right now. >> it's not the way to get the agenda adopted in whole or in
part. >> you also chaired the committee on investigation which is a powerful subcommittee of the homeland security committee. the subcommittee has legislative jurisdictions but is able to counter the wide-ranging investigations into government programs and wrongdoing in the private sector as well. it's unique that they can issue subpoenas without going back to the full committee for approval. given that many investigations over the course of your career to offshore tax havens in the financial crisis, money
laundering, executive pay to name just a few of them many went to the legislation moving to other committees which had the legislative jurisdiction and influence in triggering changes. >> the governmental oversight issue i want to put in a plug-in for the book my chief of staff wrote called financial exposure. there's one chapter in my
memoir. one that has been the most visible to the financial collapse in 2008. for one example was when goldman sachs sold bonds that they had put together financial instruments that were based on mortgages which were bad faulty mortgages and they knew it because the staff described the bonds that they were selling to their own customers as crap.
it sends offshore to collect the revenues to create the fiction in other places in those so-called tax havens. to allow the companies like apple but there's others as well, the major new companies out of silicon valley that were using huge profits and paying little or no taxes is wrong for the taxes to make up for the shortfalls that created the most
profitable companies that are not paying a fair share of waiting it by the huge transferring of intellectual property. there were some heavy fines, but that hasn't changed the situation. >> there's also a big section in your book about the clinton impeachment, the senate trial. i remember as we were going forward we would see additional impeachment trials. you write in the book that you
told colleagues during the senate trial the president's conduct was reprehensible and he had the duty to tell the truth. you voted in the end to acquit the president. how difficult was the decision to come to, and looking back on it, how did the trial differ. what he did is not an impeachable offense. he lied, putting aside the technical question as to whether perjury legal or not but nonetheless he lied about whether he had a sexual relationship with monica lewinsky. lying about and the affair, that
is voluntary, reprehensible but voluntary, on the part of both is different from what trump did which is to i believe threaten the security of the congress and the country to make an attack on democracy and democratic behavior and values and in doing so, not just to establish something that is unacceptable in a democracy which is a threat. he was very supportive basically of the think tankers around the world including some now new leaders that engaged in
anti-democratic practices. it gives them support in the antidemocratic trend. we will have stood up to the kind of fanatics viewed as a time so i'm not worried about us. i'm worried about the message it sends to us but they are important in other places around the world, tomac. >> in the run-up to the election last year, there was a lot of talk among democrats about
expanding the supreme court as a way of balancing it ideologically. what is your view of this? >> i think it's a mistake. it's not going to happen by the way. it would take a change in statutes. for us to deal with it as a political issue is a mistake and against the efforts to eliminate democratic values in the country. and over and over again they've come through. it's taken a long time. there was a terrible opinion in
the late 1800s which protected the segregation so it took a supreme court opinion to tell the states they couldn't do it anymore. they had to adopt an antistate's rights decision to make it part of the constitution, so i have a lot of confidence overall in the court system and they did a tremendous job. there were a lot of good ones, but they were the bulwark against a lot of trump missions and we could give them credit i believe in a lot of lower courts even more than the supreme court for standing up for the trump
excesses. >> we have a large audience out there and some are anxious to ask. it's testimony we already talked about the filibuster. it's testimony to how hot that issue is that as i look at about the first eight questions were , six are about the filibuster but we've covered that. which of your senate folks are you the proudest and why? >> i probably would say the vote against going to war in iraq.
the standard he had broad international support to do what he did and he pushed the army out of kuwait and did major damage on the way out. but in other words, unlike his son who invaded iraq with all the consequences resulted when he went after the iraqi army for their aggression against their neighbor he was wise enough to stop at that point and it may be because of his own personal words. the leaders particularly that have gone to war were much more cautious than the sum about the use of force than many of the leaders that had never gone to
war. i made a mistake in opposing. >> that's a very interesting answer and you know the senate for many years has been referred to as the greatest deliberative body it's one of those high points in terms of the debates in recent years. >> i agree and i'm glad you called it the gulf war because it is known better by that term. i would agree that it was a lengthy debate.
we had a pretty good debate on the recent iraq war, what i call the second iraq war for all the reasons i've outlined it was one of the values of the filibuster. it gives people the right to talk and bring home issues and is the only place that there can be a long debate that isn't subject to the majority to cut off debate any time it wants to, which is what they do in the house. >> this is critical to offer amendments sometimes they don't
realize that is part and parcel. i will let a member of the audience join. he said he would love to hear your view so kind of looking at your crystal ball, where do you think it is going? >> there are some key reforms that would limit the misuse of the filibuster. to fill in the blanks. we shouldn't allow the filibuster against what's called
a motion to proceed to debate a bill. if a majority leader wants to proceed to debate, you can object and if you object and want to talk about it for a couple of days, you can delay the senate for that amount of time and it affects what will get done so that is an abuse that ought to be eliminated. we did it once when the editors got together in my hideaway but nonetheless, it's an important reform and another is it shouldn't allow the filibuster
against the bill that's been adopted to go to conference with the house. now i think we've reduced the number of times you can filibuster a conference report from 3-1. we have reduced how often you can filibuster a conference related issue and that's another thing. there's another one i can't remember out of the reforms in order to stop. it's the threat of the filibuster and again that can be eliminated by the majority
leader saying we are bringing the bill to the floor. so it is to enforce a rule. they want them to be known so that they can engage in the negotiations and by the way one of the values that we talked about is that it does promote negotiations. a lot of progress has been made because the different sides are able to work it out because there's been a threat. >> as relates to what you were saying earlier about bipartisanship it requires the parties because any majority
counts. i could give myself to a political campaign for years and also to fundraising which is so excessive. that is itself would be big. we are too close to our wonderful three kids and six grandkids. i'm going to say goodbye now for a couple of years and i'm off raising money every night. every senator gets up in the morning and sees a president in the mirror and i guess we found
one that doesn't. >> that are i don't have the right kind of mirror. this question is from a mutual friend of ours. when you reflect on dissent into particularly vitriolic partisanship in congress in recent times, to what cause or causes do you attribute it? >> i'm sorry i didn't quite follow. >> 's question is things are pretty vitriolic and partisan in the congress these days. he is asking what causes do you
think that vitriol should be attributed to. >> jeff is a good friend and great columnist by the way. to go back far enough i guess to the current situation i've contributed to the beginning of the emergence of the tea party then really supporters took the position that they are not going to pop compromise. it's my way or the highway. if you don't go to washington to the congress to compromise, if you want to get something done, that is in the way to do it but
if that's why you came to washington, you should have stayed home because it's great for people to believe strongly in causes and i hope that i do, but you've got to leave enough of the cause that you want to try to see if you can make progress towards achieving it if you really believe in it. that's why it seems to me the whole philosophy i thought was extreme, but it's been carried out by a decision trump exacerbated. it began with him and i hope it ends with him. during his primary campaign,
some of his opponents were attacking him because he would work with people whose views and other respects were totally unacceptable. so biden is in the right position i believe to kind of turned this direction of vitriol and lack of willingness to work with others to turn that around. he's the perfect president for it. >> this one is from sam and it's a detroit centered question. he asks can you elaborate on the 1967 rebellion what did you learn from 1967?
i had been created to a newly created civil rights commission in 1964 including the michigan supreme court to try to prove the right to be free of discrimination. i had been active in the council for a couple of years and then i went to the defenders office that represents poor people, indigents. i was part of the division including some people who not only had a bad a trial we felt
would also were absolutely innocent so those two backgrounds of civil rights representing people that couldn't afford counsel was seen by a number of people as being very helpful and needed people to try to bring together because of that background because we lived in detroit, we lived in detroit all of our lives i guess except for a few months maybe. we believed in the city. we've always moved here. our kids went to school here.
this is where we live, downtown detroit and putting in a plug for detroit as an amazing comeback but at any rate, i would say that people were persuasive and i hope i can be helpful in bringing those relative to the race and relative to the poverty. >> to piggyback on that a little bit, during my introduction, talking about your service in detroit as president of the city council i made the comment that that made you want to rare the members of the senate with a
deep background and the question i want to ask is how did that experience in form your service as a united states senator? >> in many ways. first of all, the control grants. whether it is a housing program, school program, infrastructure, whatever it is, water, sewer. it drove home the importance of those people and programs so
when the tea party comes along, they can give a tax cut to wealthy folks and at any rate when that argument was made, look how much waste there is in the program. let's go after the waste, but don't go after the housing program, the school program, whatever it is because of the importance to give example after example of having been an elected official i could kind of drive home the importance program. second, i learned a lot about the oversight and having to grill the witnesses that come
before you and listen carefully to answers so that really listening you're not just being superficial making statements, but you are addressing the answer to questions thrown to them. if you're not answering the question, why was a disservice provided on such and such street? if they were not responding, to know some whether a bureaucrat or witness isn't being responsive, you've got to know the details of the program and you've got to listen so i learned that in my decision to get involved in oversight when i got to washington. >> we are just about out of time, senator, and i want to
thank you for joining us tonight. as i like to say at the end of these sessions i wish we could see the audience and hear them because i'm sure you're getting a standing ovation at this time. >> i can imagine them all standing out there in front of their tvs. [laughter] >> i want to thank jim also for standing by. a. >> thank you for spending this hour. >> i wouldn't want to be anywhere else. thank you.
leafs movements and messages are not disseminating pamphlets to get their point across, it is extending crying to the camera [inaudible] are you telling me that with a video like that a person telling the story about a child crying, super emotional, is a bullet point on the news? that doesn't meet people where they are. i'm trained in medicine and around the world we have evidence-based medicine but we don't practice evidence-based communication even though we know the communication is make or break when it comes to an individual patient. it's everything in the epidemic and pandemic response. there are decades of evidence
what works and what does not work and yet we just keep repeating what we think works even though the pamphlets and facts are delivered in a one-size-fits-all method and it's rubbish and goes over the heads of so many people. it doesn't atone for the fact that we are part of an establishment that has a dirty and unethical history of vulnerable people and even now this isn't just about history but also if you talk to people, and i study anti-vaccine users, i think a majority are like i got my flu shot last year but not sure if i should get covid-19, six of them would have different reasons. but all of that is vaccine hesitancy. we have to meet people where
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