tv Conversations with Retiring Members - Rep. Lamar Smith R-TX CSPAN December 13, 2018 5:50pm-6:27pm EST
his administration, the learning curve was incredit apply steep just like it is for every single president of the united states. there are no classes and no degree on being president. >> watch book tv this weekend on c-span-2. c-span sat down with a conversation with congressman lamar smith of texas. this is just over half an hour. steve: congressman smith, what led to your decision to retire this year? rep. smith: steve, good question. appreciate being with you today. a lot of factors went into my deciding not to run for reelection. i was one of the first to announce that because texas has an early primary. we have an early period in which you have to file for reelection and i decided early on i was not going to. a couple of factors -- on the
republican side we have term limits as committee chairman and this is my sixth and last year to serve as chairman of the science committee. if i had run for reelection and had been reelected, i was facing a bleak prospect of wandering around aimlessly with sympathetic stares directed to me because what was i going to do? i thought it would be a good time to go because of term limits and the prospect of not being committee chairman and i also have two new young grandchildren and i would like to spend more time with them. a combination of those events. i also have to tell you one more reason that has just come up recently. not a real reason but a facetious reason. i asked the research service last week as i was curious to take a look and find out how many sons and daughters of members i had previously served with, that i am serving with now
and it turns out that there are 20 sons and daughters of members whom i have served with their fathers and mothers when i was first elected. i did not want to wait around for the grandchild of someone i had served with before. 32 years is enough by almost any standard and serving a lot longer than i expected to be in congress but i kept getting to be the chairman of this committee or subcommittee and that keeps you are around. it is hard to walk away from that. but having just finished up my six years on the science committee and been term limited there, it seemed like a good time to leave. steve: what do the you think about the idea of term limits? rep. smith: i like what the republicans have done. so you can only serve the six years because that brings in new ideas and people and new expertise and new knowledge and new perspectives. i like that. as far as term limits for the
entire congress, i would argue that we have term limits and they are called elections every two years. there is a pretty large turnover in fact. and you have a situation today where two thirds of the members of congress have been elected since the year 2000. you do not need term limits to have new faces. and beside that, term limits would require constitutional amendments which is a high hurdle to clear. in effect, we have term limits between the natural turnover and the elections every two years. steve: i want to talk about the science committee in a moment but was there ever a committee assignment that you did not ike? rep. smith: when i was a new member, i wanted to be on the judiciary and science committee. and then later on, after 9/11 i
was also assigned to the homeland security committee. all three committees were those that i requested and i thought they were a good combination of good for my constituents, district, and personal interest. steve: how has lamar smith left his mark on the science committee? rep. smith: the science committee is a forward leaning committee. 80% of the budgets we oversee -- $40 billion. most of the money is spent on research and development and technology and that is the future. when you are talking about r&d and technology, you're talking about economic growth and new jobs. and so, it has been an exciting committee to serve on and to be chairman of. as far as leaving my mark, i guess i would have to say, and this does not get emphasized enough, of the 40 bills we have passed on the house floor, 36 have been bipartisan bills.
those that are partisan seem to be those that are emphasized but a point of fact is that 36 of 40 were bipartisan. the most significant were space commerce. the encouragement of the private sector to get involved in space exploration. so you do not just have nasa having a monopoly or a corner on the market. nasa is now giving contracts to private sector companies to help in the exploration of space. it may be shuttling supplies to the space station. spacex does that. there are two or three other private companies, blue origin being one and virgin galactic being another. i have to digress because it is xciting. two things coming up in space -- space tourism. in the next few years, individuals walking down the streets not astronauts will be
paid to go up into low earth orbit. they will get a certificate that probably says "junior astronaut on it." we now also have 3000 exoplanets that have been discovered. and sometime in the next 10 years because of advanced telescopes, we will probably detect for the first time in history signs of life on another earthlike planet not in our solar system. we do not know what kind of life. but if there is oxygen in the atmosphere, there may be plant life. i do not know if it will be sentient or intelligent life but that will be a huge breakthrough as well. a lot of exciting things happening in space now.
other legislation that we have passed that i think has had an impact is quantum computing. when you have quantum computers, they operate at a speed that makes current computers look like they are slow walking. that will change everything. we have been involved in quantum computing. a bill i introduced in the last session of congress -- a small bill that should have a major impact over time was a bill to expand the definition of stem education. we added computer science to the definition of stem. and we had a hearing. as chairman, i get to ask the first question. i asked an expert witness -- how is it that stem cannot include computer science? and they said that is because the definition of stem was written before we had computers, ap tops and cell phones.
there was unanimous consent that computer science needed to be added. we have added $7 billion for computer training for teachers. billions of dollars for scholarships to encourage students to get advanced degrees in computer science. other countries are doing far better than we on that particular subject right now. those have been some examples. we have done exciting things on energy, national science foundation. we adjusted their focus -- they spend $6 billion a year giving grants to individuals. individuals can be scientists, professors and others. we refocused their efforts to ake sure that money would be spent on projects that served the national interest. we are trying to focus on that also. the science committee has been exciting and i have been grateful to be on it. there is a lot to do.
we will have a new chairwoman of the committee. she will be a texas colleague. steve: i wonder generally speaking in terms of our society, looking at the mercury and apollo program and the space shuttle program -- as a country, do we share the same excitement we did in the 1960's and 970's? rep. smith: people got excited about the apollo program and the 12 people that walked on the moon and we don't have anything that big and bold right now. but i have to tell you that the american people have never lost their interest in space. the american people are still looking up at the night sky and wondering what is up there and what to do next. two examples of that enthusiasm our first of all that the air and space museum in washington is the most popular museum in america. more popular than any of the other smithsonian museums including the natural
history. and the art museum in california. people are fascinated by the subject. and second, and i would never have predicted this, we just added a new crop of astronauts designated last year. 12 new astronauts. last year, for those 12 positions, we had 18,000 applicants compared to 9000 four years before that. twice as many people applied to be astronauts recently than we have had before. people continue to be fascinated even though we are not putting a man or a woman on the moon. what we have coming up next i think will be a space station that is going to be going around the moon. i think that might lead to a lunar colony where we have a prominent presence on the moon and 25 years from now, we may be going around mars with astronauts. i think that will keep up the interest in space exploration
and in addition to that, we have new telescopes going up that will discover new planets that are earthlike in other ystems as i mentioned. we may discover the presence of some other life form on some of hose exoplanets. i can say that nasa and these private sector companies will continue to provide subjects that will stimulate the imagination of the american people. steve: 32 years in the house of representatives. do you remember the first day as a member of congress here? rep. smith: goodness, yes, i do only because it was the first time i had ever walked up the capitol steps. for many years, i was in another office building. i intentionally walked outside rather than take the underground subway or walk underground. just so i could walk up those capitol steps and look at what
i considered to be the capital of the greatest country of the world. and i am still obviously touched by that. it has been a part -- to have been a part of the greatest democratic government in the history of the world -- you never get tired of that. and i oftentimes say that people should retire when they are not inspired by the sight of the capital or when they cannot take the steps two at a -- capitol or when they can't take the steps two at a time. i can still take the steps two at a time and i am still nspired buy the sight. steve: high point and low point for you? rep. smith: oh gosh -- different components to this. high points would be first of all serving constituents and helping make their lives a little bit better and their dealings with the federal government. members of congress represent over 700,000 people today. we have handled tens of thousands of what we call constituent cases. these are typically cases where people have not had the experience they should have in
dealing with federal agencies. and when we can get them a benefit that a deserve and we can help expedite the process or reduce the interference of the bureaucracy, that gives us immense satisfaction. that is the satisfaction of being in congress from the perspective of back home. the other side is the satisfaction coming from being a part of legislation or introducing a -- that becomes law and feeling like you are doing something to help everyone in the country as far as laws go. and the two laws that i worked on that probably got the most attention was a few years ago the american -- act. i spent six years. people think laws get passed quickly but only 5% of the bills introduced become laws. one out of 20 to start with. i worked with pat leahy from vermont. and we worked on that for three congresses and finally got it through. it updated the patent system
for the first time in 100 years. that was an example where the patent system was developed and ad no idea when they came up with it originally on how it as going to adjust or be djusted for these modern devices. anything related to a computer. and so we needed to protect our intellectual property in america and we needed a system that allowed inventors to protect what they invented. and so, the american -- act was enacted and the main satisfaction was helping the system. we were named legislators of the year which was a nice recognition. another bill that i entered had to do with immigration reform. that was a number of years ago but that was for the last
immigration bill and it double the number of border patrol agents. that got a lot of recognition when it passed and i got some awards for that. those would be the two bills that have probably got me the most attention. there have been dozens of other bills that would give me immense satisfaction as well. i mentioned somewhat the science committee and the judiciary committee. i am still a member of the judiciary committee. the american -- act was passed when i was chairman of the judiciary committee. i might take a minute for a second to mention a lesson i learned. because, when we think about learned. because, when we think about he future, about trying to get
things done, bipartisanship and by the way, it may take a while for new members to learn but nothing will be passed unless it is bipartisan regardless of which party is in control or in the majority. you just cannot get anything done unless it is bipartisan. steve: the perception is that this town is dysfunctional. rep. smith: and yet every bill has to be bipartisan or it will be blocked. it has to be somewhat bipartisan. when i became chairman of the judiciary committee, john conyers was the ranking member, the senior emigrant. -- it's senior democrat. i don't know why this happened, it was almost spontaneous. the judiciary committee was not known for passing legislation because it deals with so many ontroversial topics. it is considered a very partisan committee. the republicans are more conservative than most republicans and democrats are more liberal than the the majority of the democrats. john conyers deserves a lot of our respect for what he went through during the civil rights era. i went to john the day after i became chairman and i said
john, i have an idea. i know it has never been tried before. you and i are going to disagree on almost all of the issues that i think we can find common cause if we work at it and i would like for us to be a roductive committee. my recommendation to john and my recommendation to the committee chairs and ranking people today would be the same thing and that is i suggested to john that we never mention each other's name. we never mention each other's name in a statement or a news conference or during a debate. or discussing a bell. when you mentioned the other person's name, you are attacking them and impugning their integrity. it is hard to do that and then turn around and try to find common ground. john thought about it for 30 seconds and we shook hands.
and that was the beginning of a great partnership that we had on the judiciary committee. and for two years, neither one of us mentioned the other person's name even though we would disagree on the issue. i also asked that our chiefs of staff get together for lunch every other week whether they thought they had something to talk about or not. and they'll always found something to talk about. we might introduce a bill, john or i, and the circles may have only overlapped 25% but we would get together on that 25% and tried to pass bills. at the end of congress, my goal was to enact more bills than any other chairman. i did not make that public. it would've been too immodest and the other chairmen would've tried to beat me. at the end of the year, we passed 34 bills, more than any
other committee. and i give john the credit for that. had he not agreed to have a no-name contest and had he not agreed that we would not take each other's name, then i am sure we would've said something offensive and not considered each other to be friends. i also did something else that had not been done before. when i became chairman, i had a bipartisan retreat. most of the times, republicans conspire against democrats and voiceovers are. i had a bipartisan retreat. i had the entire committee in the room and i separated individuals so republicans had to sit next to democrats. i alternated. not nameplates but i put a donkey and then an
elephant. it took them 30 minutes to sit down but eventually everyone sat down and we had three guest speakers. among them was justice breyer. i had him come because he was the supreme court justice and he is the only justice who had worked on the hill. get worked for senator kennedy. then we had someone come and talk to us -- i had read a book called "getting to yes." i was intrigued by the idea that you could get to yes that i had someone come down to talk about that book. and the third speaker was someone who was talking about how to negotiate. we got off to a good start with the bipartisan retreat and then
john and i had already agreed we would not take each other's name in vain or even mention it at all. i think if we did that today we would get more done because it would not become so personal. and we would find areas where believe it or not, you might be able to agree upon and the common ground that no one thinks exists might be there. he other thing is that is an untold story. beneath the by part -- beneath the partisanship, there is a lot of bipartisan friendships. you get on an elevator and there is a good deal of camaraderie. and you get out of the elevator and you go back to being partisan. i have a lot of democratic friends who i consider to be as close as some of my republican friends. but not much is said about that. it shows you that you can get things done. steve: from ronald reagan to donald trump come you have had
interactions and worked with six presidents. one relationship particularly close? rep. smith: that is unknown. i looked last night because i was curious myself. five or six presidents and it was six. two years of ronald reagan and through president trump. i have to confess that the second george bush, we were in college together and he was one year i had of me -- ahead of me and i did run into him on campus and he was the president of a fraternity on campus and pretty well-known. i did get to know him a little bit on campus. and we were roughly the same age. when he was governor of texas for two terms i was already in public office so we worked
there as well. his father, the first george ush, was probably the most honorable man i have ever encountered. i did not get to know ronald reagan that well. i have met president trump several times but don't know him that well. i was not invited to the white house that often during president clinton or president obama's terms. but the first president bush was one of the most honorable men i having countered so i admired him from afar and felt like i knew him a little bit as well. steve: you have been in the majority and the minority. what advice would you give to your republican colleagues? rep. smith: i have been in the minority twice. they need to brace themselves. most of the republicans have never served in the minority. it is a little disconcerting. one congress cast about 500 votes and you lose everyone. virtually you will lose every single vote and that gets pretty old pretty quickly. again, i would go back to passing things that are bipartisan.
you can still help mold legislation. do not make any permanent enemies. you have heard that before as well. and decide to look for compromise and friendships. i might go back to something i was told when i was in the minority for the first time and was feeling a little dejected. this -- the most senior member of congress called the dean of the house was a man no longer serving in congress named john dingell, a democrat from michigan. i remember walking onto the house floor. i saw him sitting on the front row. with hands on a cane. and i thought -- he has a lot of wisdom. he has accumulated a lot of knowledge. i sat next to him. and i said -- john come you have been here longer than anyone else, 36, 38 years, what lessons have you learned during your time in congress? and i was bracing myself and looking forward to a 10-mid -- 10 or 15 minute lecture. i was looking forward to that. and he turns and looks at me and says -- lamar, i have only learned one thing. oh my goodness, almost four decades and only one thing. and he had a smile. and he said -- things are never as bad as they seem.
and i have never forgotten that and i have had reason to apply that lots of times and i would apply it today. i would say to republicans even though they are thinking that things are about as that is they can get, john dingell -- i meant to say his name. his things -- he said things are never as bad as they seem can make republicans feel better because there are still some things they can get done and no matter what, they are still part of the greatest government in the world. for the democrats, i would say, when they think things cannot get any worse when they think about the white house, president trump is not as bad as you think he is. an example that both sides can remember that both sides can emember that they are not as bad as they think. another way would be to say to think positively and look on
the upside and look for ways to make a difference. around here, if you are persistent and work hard, you will get things done. maybe not as much as you want done. and you may be frustrated by how slowly bills get passed or considered but i do believe that persistence is more important than anything lse. and the best members of congress that i can think of are the ones that even after defeat are smiling. steve: you have cast thousands of votes. anyone vote that you regret? rep. smith: i am going to quote frank sinatra "regrets, i have few, but too few to mention." i do have some votes that i regret. maybe a half-dozen over 32 years. not too many. one would be an example --
raising the debt when i should have been more fiscally conservative as i normally m. maybe a couple of votes -- trying to think what else. those are the the couple that come to me. there are probably other bills where i felt may be obligated to toe the party line and i should have been more independent but not that many and overall i like to think that i represented my constituents and they really do come first. when you are not sure how to ote, you think about why you are there and who sent you there. and also, if you have a political philosophy, mine would generally be to be fiscally conservative and not raise taxes and reduce regulations and more individual freedom and more free enterprise. things like that. your political philosophy will dictate how you vote about 99% of the time. it is not like you have to think long and hard about how to vote. i am sure there are always some votes that if i had to do over
i would but not too many and i just contradicted myself. i just said too few to mention and then i mentioned a few. steve: september 11. members of congress, democrats and republicans, broke out in singing the national anthem. what do you remember about that day? rep. smith: what i remember that day was that i was driving by the pentagon when it was hit. i was coming in from mclean, virginia and my air-conditioning did not work hat day and it was warm. had the windows down. i was driving by the pentagon and i heard something that made me look to my right. and the minute i look to my right, i must have heard a muffled sound of some kind. i looked right and i saw black smoke coming up on the side of the pentagon. the only thing i thought to
myself was -- that is strange because it is so close to the building itself and it is also strange because it is dark smoke and not white smoke. light smoke would have metropolitan wood or paper or something like that -- would have meant wood or paper or something like that. dark smoke is chemicals, oil. i was curious. that seems strange and out of context. five minutes later i pulled into the raburn garage and i was stopped by the capitol police and they said -- the terrorists have struck the pentagon. and i said -- is that what i just saw five minutes ago? and they said, yes and we are on lockdown. you can go into the garage and to your office and you will hear what to do. it was a very graphic introduction to a lot of events that occurred after that including learning of the deaths of so many people not only in d.c. but also new york ith the twin towers as well. ongress' response was to
create the new homeland security committee and i tried to be on it. i had a particular interest. the jurisdiction interested me as well and that became my third committee. steve: is it working today? the committee? the department? rep. smith: i am slightly sympathetic to the various homeland security chairs -- they have not gotten the jurisdiction that they probably should have had. a lot of other committees have jurisdiction over aspects of homeland security so i think it has been frustrating that they have not been able to do that much. i suspect that in some new congress, i don't know if it will be the one in january, but at some point they will probably give that committee more jurisdiction. they have been doing good work but i think they are frustrated by their lack of jurisdiction. steve: i ask the question because the first homeland security secretary said there were too many committees
involved in the department that took up too much of his time. ep. smith: those other committees had the jurisdiction that should have belonged to us nd therefore it is hard to pass legislation. if someone introduces homeland security legislation it will be referred to a number of committees. you have all of these committees involved when there ought to be one. i don't want to second-guess how that jurisdiction should be reassigned but they probably need to be beefed up a little bit. steve: 32 years later, when you walked down those steps the fine -- when you walk down hose steps the final time,
what will you be feeling? rep. smith: gratitude to my constituents for having reelected 2016 times not counting the contested primaries. and just, as i said before, i used -- to have been part of the greatest government in the world. gratitude and appreciation for those that of let me represent them for some years. steve: you talk about your grandkids, but what else do you want to do? rep. smith: i can't go from what i have been doing to nothing. i am not a member to slammed he door behind me. being in congress is the greatest job i could imagine. i have loved every minute of it. some more than others. i cannot walk away from these friendships and issues that i still feel strongly about. i would like to find some way to keep one foot in d.c. and one foot back home in san antonio. i would like to spend more time back in san antonio with the family. and they are all there. spend more time there. maybe get to d.c. every other week. check in with friends. if i can be of any help.
i just cannot walk away from what i have been doing for so many years because i love the eople, the subjects, the challenges and so i would love to find something part-time in d.c. and a little more than art-time in san antonio. steve: to your successor, from your congressional district -- rep. smith: chip flory. i will get to your answer in a minute but he does not need much advice for me. he is so well-qualified. he has been assistant u.s. attorney. assistant u.s. attorney general of texas. he has grants, great experience back home. he has worked for a premier conservative think tanked in texas. he is extremely ell-qualified. he is already off to a faster and he will be very effective and persuasive and
influential. i don't know any specific dvice. give your family priority. give your constituents priority. all of which he knows. look to make friends on the other side of the aisle. you do not want to compromise your principles but if there is way to find common ground to advance your goals, do that. i would also say a little bit of -- enjoy the job. it is not the worst thing that an happen to be in the minority because you are still in congress. he will do and outstanding job and i wish him well as well as the other new members. i can remember how excited i was when i came up. it is exciting to have the trust of voters back home that you will represent them and to be in the capital. it is hard on the family and a lot of travel. i got a letter from american airlines a year ago saying --
congratulations, you now have 4 illion miles on american airlines. i don't think anyone had any regrets and i know he won't either. steve: but you are a "mr. smith goes to washington" aren't you? not everyone will remember that jimmy stewart movie but i have to say that i shamelessly played on that theme when i first ran for congress and we had bumper stickers that read send mr. smith to washington." nd we decided it might be an interesting idea to try to auction off a poster from the movie, a poster of the movie, "send mr. smith to washington." and i called jimmy stewart, a republican and he autographed a poster for me and we auctioned
it off at my first fundraiser in san antonio. i had a friend pay 1000 dollars for that poster. he has that autographed jimmy stewart poster at his house today. that brings back happy memories also. steve: congressman, we thank you for your time. >> democratic congressman michael capuano of massachusetts is leaving congress after losing his primenary september. he sat down with c-span for a conversation about his 10 terms in congress. steve: congressman, when you walk out of the house of representatives for the final time, what will you miss the most? time, what will you miss te most? rep. capuano: my friends. i have made some close friends here. when you are in a rep. capuano: my friends. i have made some close friends here. when you are in a battle with somebody, you learn to like and respect the people in the battle with you.