tv Congressional Career of Rep. Eliot Engel D-NY CSPAN December 22, 2020 11:38pm-12:12am EST
at 8:00 the economist authors in his views on politics and history. on c-span3's american history tv, we mark the mayflower's 400th anniversary in a conversation with robert stone, director of the virtual mayflower project. how they used virtual reality to re-create the ship that traveled from plymouth, england to america in 1620. c-span, yourching unfiltered view of government. c-span was created by america's cable television companies in 1979. today, we are brought to you by these television companies who provide c-span2 viewers as a public service. new york congressman eliot engel, the outgoing chair of the foreign affairs committee was interviewed about his career,
which spanned 16 terms and more than three decades. this is about 30 minutes. engel, you are wrapping up 16 terms in congress. he first came in 1988 for freshman orientation. what do you remember? rep. engel: i remember pinching myself. a lot of people are friendly. a lot of people have become lifetime friends. i did not expected to be elected and reelected so many times. i love the job, i love the people i represent, and i am very grateful they gave me this opportunity to represent them. it has been beyond my wildest dreams. in public growing up housing projects in the bronx, i could only have dreamed that one day i would be a member of the
united states congress. dreams do come true. >> when and what made you decide to run for congress back then? rep. engel: i was always interested in government. i always used to know the names of all the senators and the members of the house, and things like that. i was involved somewhat politically. i got elected to the state legislator, the new york state assembly. my congress member was indicted, jailcted and went off to and there was a vacancy in the seat, everyone told me i should run. i have small children, we were not sure it would be easy for the family. but after speaking with my wife a number of times, we decided, this is an opportunity that i will never forgive myself if i do not take advantage of. it's really interesting.
to say that if it's there you have to just take it. run and be able to contribute things than to not run and wonder what it might of been. never regretted it for one moment or one second. running for congress is the greatest thing that has happened to me, and that i have done. it's wonderful. i have a norman's respect for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. i have been known as somebody who works on both sides of the aisle. my relationship with my ranking member on the foreign affairs committee cannot be better. when i was ranking member, my relationship could not be better. foreign affairs has always been my love. it is really important because we don't live by ourselves. we live in a world, the united
states has been the leader of the free world, certainly since the end of world war ii. i think with leadership comes responsibility. i would rather that we tried that responsibility than have some hostile nation mike iran and china do that. so i think it's important for us to be involved. it's important for us to do good things, and it has been an honor for me to serve here and to chair the foreign affairs committee. >> what sparked your love for foreign affairs? my dad was an iron worker, he was a union welder, and my father, the democrats, because everyone who grew up in the bronx in those days were democrats. we used to talk about these issues. i used to have a fascination what was going on in congress, and i would discuss these things with my father. when i was 7, 8, nine, and it was a matter of just loving it.
people would read novels and i would read papers on issues. >> how old were you? rep. engel: 10, maybe. 11 question mark -- 11? >> what about your family's heritage? how did that shape you and your love for foreign affairs? rep. engel: my family came to this country from eastern europe. before world war i my grandmother lived with us. she came in 1907. i followed all the events. is a significant fact for me, and something that has guided me. that's why i think it's so important that we set the of respecting the rights of all people. is a lot of anti-semitism and lots of anti-everything in this world.
i think people of good will have to fight back. we have to make sure everyone is treated the same, regardless of who they are, the color of the skin, religion or any other factors. i think in america we have much more things -- much more things that bring us together then to divide us. and i look forward to president biden doing this work, because he has been in the senate for a long time and foreign affairs is one of his fortes. so it is not someone who has to learn the issues, he knows them, you has worked on them, and i have seen him firsthand through the years. he is very smart and very what het in terms of sees america's role in the world should be. i agree with the way he has conducted himself all of these years. >> are you open to serving in a biden administration? >> let's just get through with
this term, then it is something i would certainly take a look at. it would be an honor and a privilege to serve. i think i would enjoy it very much. you have to look and see what job would be the best for you, where you could contribute the most. what kind of job would give you the most satisfaction? and being the chairman of foreign affairs committee, we have the jurisdiction over the state department. we have been critical, i have been critical of the fact that the state department personnel have not been treated well, and that there are lots of things i would change. something the state department and people have said to me. we will see. i have time to decide to do that.
you mentioned working in the new york state assembly, you were there for a decade prior to coming to washington. how did that impact you. when i was first elected, i graduated from college. i went to a college called hunter college and it then became lehman college. it's part of the university of new york. thisduated from college, was a municipal college, so we lived at home and we went to school every day. it was the type of thing where i graduated with no debt. i contract that to my children, my. or who is a lawyer, she has tremendous debt, and seems like she can never climb out from under it. but i think that new york had it right, and i hope that they continue to have it right.
it is now not free anymore. you have to pay a little bit, but it's much, much better than graduating with debt that you will have with you for the rest of your life. so i think that is a very important issue for american families. to the stateected assembly, we did a lot of things that affect new york state. but my love was always international relations or international affairs. of course you don't do much of that in your home state and the state capital, you do it in washington. i always knew if i got elected, i would move on to do that. tom foley, who later became a speaker, i think he was the majority leader when i first came in. he said to me, what committee do you want to be on. and he would list through choices.
i wrote, foreign affairs, foreign affairs, foreign affairs. i said i would like to be on the foreign relations committee. he said, the senate calls it foreign relations, but the house calls it foreign affairs. i said, ok. he said, the way to remember it is the house has relations -- the senate has relations and the house has affairs. he became speaker a few years later. .t is just a marvelous trip it has been such an honor and a pleasure. you hear about nastiness in congress. i have always tried to go the opposite way. ,hen we did trips abroad bipartisan committees with democrats and republicans, i always thought it was important that politics stopped at the waters edge. that people in other countries should not be fighting amongst each other, that you would see
us working together. are leaving the country going to other countries, we are american representatives, i think it's important that we leave the fighting behind. i tried to do that in the time i have been chairman, at the time i was ranking member. even before i was just a regular member. i think it really works. differences in philosophy, but we are all americans, proud to be americans. to be a part of the political structure of this country. it is a dream come true. hopefully some of the good things we have done we can build in the future. >> who has been your closest power in capitol hill? rep. engel: when i was elected in 1988, there were back-to-back
districts. anita and i got elected for the first time and now we are both retiring. so we will have served the exact same time in congress. she is the chairman of the appropriations committee, and i am the chairman of the foreign affairs committee. , personal good friends. it is amazing how we stayed and both of us started the same time. there have been a number of friends that i have had. jerry nadler is someone i knew from albany, from the state legislator. we were of course friends before we were ever elected to anything. and there are others as well. i was first elected, i have small children. so it was a little bit difficult, but we brought the children here for a number of years, now they are back in new
york, but they lived here. i'm just always amazed at the amazing people who run for office, who do well. if i don't agree with them on some issues, they are not my enemies. and we areamericans all proud to represent america. >> what about on the other side of the iowa? who have you grown close to over the years? mccaul is: michael now the ranking member. we all got along very well. there are a number of people in the foreign affairs committee that i have gotten along with. abroad, youyou go realize that there is much more of being together. >> how many trips abroad have you taken over the years?
rep. engel: i don't know. probably not as much as most chairman have done in the past. it's a, to go on a trip whole big thing, you are away for a week, then you have to plan and you come back. i did not go on a lot of trips, but enough to see people around the world, to try to improve america's image around the world. to try to show that we are all working together. again, i think it's important that america keep its role. before, that nobody tops us on the shoulder to be the leaders. we have to go out and do it. i have very strong feelings about what the world should be, and that the united states should not withdraw from the world. united states should be in there. we have an alliance called nato,
which basically was formed to keep the russians in check after world war ii. the russians called their country the soviet union. i grew up under that, and felt that they would somehow be around forever. but they collapsed and rotted away, and we saw a lot of soviet bloc countries in eastern europe become western countries, and allies of the united states. do,his is what we should meet on climate change and all of these things because we have the expertise and people look for us. angela merkel and others. united states is sometimes missing, and that is not a good thing. >> your favorite trip or moment being overseas, serving in this position? rep. engel: that is a good question. that my visiting many
different countries -- it's hard to pick it out. i have an emotional commitment to israel. i have worked very hard with the albanian community in my district and in my area. there i haveace been many of times. we have prevented genocide in kosovo in 1999, before the balkans war. we drove serbia out of kosovo. they were doing ethnic cleansing and lots of people were murdered. i go to kosovo now. i have a couple of highways named after me, they have me on a postage stamp, which is lovely. i was kidding around with some of my friends and i said, it's -- a cheap posted stamp,
postage stamp, it's two euros. and they have an older picture of me, so i look much greater. but if you can make a change in people's lives, what is better than that? there is nothing better than that. mentors onyour capitol hill? rep. engel: certainly nancy pelosi. nancy came to congress six months before i did. i had never seen anybody in my life work harder than she does. and is as smart as she is. she is unbelievable. if you go on a trip with her, you start in the morning and finish at night, it's 1:00 in the morning, she keeps going and going and you are ready to fall over. she's amazing. thatat has she said to you has motivated you to stay, to keep working? rep. engel: that we can make a
difference in peoples's lives, and that is what we are doing. and if you are not there in the middle of things, then your ideas don't get forwarded. that is important to be there. it's important to speak your mind. it's important to stand your ground. i have is somebody admired. he is almost the dean of the delegations of the democrats. i think he has served longer than anybody else. and we have so many other people as well, younger members. you look at the new members coming in. i look at the foreign affairs committee. we have the freshman coming in gorgeous so much better than any other class that came in before them. people that have worked in the military, the state department, or some kind of foreign issues.
stuff anda lot of they come and they hit the ground 1 -- and they hit the ground running. frankly, the republicans have some very good members on the foreign affairs committee. >> what advice would you give to these freshmen coming in? rep. engel: i would say, work hard and understand that you don't know everything. that you have good people with expertise that can help you, work with you to understand what we do, why we do it, and vice versa. you can help them, because from your knowledge and they can help you with their knowledge. other, to listen to each we need to talk with each other, we need to work with each other. otherwise we can spend the whole time here fighting and yelling.
i don't think it does anything ,xcept turn people off who say they are all the same. it's not true. there are so many people working .ere i am a democrat, i'm proud of being a democrat, and we have great people working here. republicans have good people to. -- good people as well. >> what vote over the years do you view as consequential? i have always been fighting for working class people. ,y father was a union welder making sure that they are paid wages that are correct. making sure that they have health care. of the original people to sit down with the affordable health care act. not only am i on the foreign affairs committee, i am on the
committee that handles health care. i remember when ted kennedy passed away, we had to settle for what we got. of course, people, some of the toublicans had been trying kill it off. i think that would be a tragedy. everyone is entitled to health care. right, not as a privilege, particularly in the richest country in the world. so helping working people, average people, people who work hard over their lives. book -- helping the government give service to these people is something i feel strongly about. >> was there ever a moment that you do not think it was going to happen? sure.ngel: we tried -- i wanted a medicaid program, and we were also
looking at the various ways that we can do those things. it was very hard. majority.get a -- we could not get a majority. then teddy kennedy passed away. we did not have what we wanted. still push, and i think we are not going to the other issue and climate change and the climate accords. we had to get back in there and lead the world, not be a country that sits and watches on the sidelines. there are a lot of bad players out there, bad governments. if the u.s. does not get involved, who will get involved? involved rights. in those days, it was a
different attitude than now. i have been supportive of all those bills that protected people's rights because of sexual orientation or anything. frankly, stay out of people's lives. . always laugh they think that the government should intrude into people's .ives and tell people it is not the government's business. you that is what they are elected for. some -- they saw something in me and elected me. by being thet it client, tenacious -- i have had 70 colleagues come up to me the past few weeks, congratulating
me. a number of republicans, as well as democrats. that is a nice thing. they think i have done a good job and they enjoyed serving with me, that is great. votes that you regretted? representative engel: i regretted the votes for the wars in afghanistan and iraq. first of all, we were lied to. we were told saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction. it turned out to be a lie. they showed us classified material that i read.
read things, think of colin powell going before the u.n., and i was convinced when he said they have weapons of mass destruction. the next one is 9/11, being a new yorker, looking at the carnage. it happened on a tuesday. september 11 was a tuesday. friday, we were there at ground zero, looking at the damage. it is something i will never forget my entire life. greta: who were you with that day? representative engel: president bush. president george w. bush there that day. when he was with the bullhorn next of the firemen, i was next to him, two or three people were next to him. it was a time when americans
came together. and i'm very proud of the new york delegation, because for years, we couldn't get health care funding for people who were affected by 9/11, who were sick. and some people are dying, even now, with cancers and other things. the new york delegation, we really rolled up our sleeves and fought to get it and were very successful in doing that. i have always been someone who feels very strongly about fighting for my state and fighting for my district. i have done that throughout. the affordable care act, they were putting something in there that would have hurt new york hospitals and i demanded that it would be changed while wasn't going to vote for upton was going to organize people against it.
and we got those changes. so we get little things that add up to big ang said we help the people we represent, i can't think of anything that is better than that, that gives you more gratification than that. and as i said, i grew up in a housing project. we didn't think we were poor. i talk with my sister, i say we didn't know we were poor, but we were. so i have always believed government needs to help people. we had help, my dad and my mom were great, worked hard all their lives, taught me and my sister the right values. and they were very proud that someone who comes from an average family could represent their district in congress. i have lived in the district since i was 12, and am a lot older than that now.
and it is just great. greta: from a housing project to chair of the house for an affairs committee. representative engel: when you think about it, i am humbled to tell you the truth. and do you know what? the years went by fast. it was 32 years that i have served here, but in many ways it seems like it has been less. because the years go by. my grandmother, the one who emigrated from eastern europe, present-day ukraine, she lived with us, she said to me, you will see when you get older how quickly the years pass. yesterday, i was a little girl dancing in the streets, now i am an old lady. she said that to me and i never forgot, and it is true. the years to go by fast. that is why it is so important that for every moment that i ,ave, that i'm helping someone
that i am helping to effectuate change. difference making a in people's lives. everything, wend need the government to be involved. i'm disappointed this did not pass, but we helped people pay their rent and keep their jobs. that is something we should be doing. my father used to tell me stories of the great depression in the 1930's. he was a newspaper boy, and helped make money to help his family. these are things as americans we all struggle with, commonality. this is the greatest country in the world, and i'm proud to have been part of the politics in
government in this country, making people's lives better. greta: as we sit here in this committee room, the house of foreign affairs committee room, you see portraits of previous chairs, i'm wondering have you set for your portrait? rep. engel: i have not yet. we have been busy in congress, but i intend to do it. it is such an honor. some of these people i know, republican chairman of this committee, and all the others. his picture is here. the foreign affairs committee is probably the most bipartisan committee in congress. we have our say, and we have effectuated change, but done it in a way to bring everybody with us, rather than having factions fighting.
it is important to stick to your principles, but it is not important to fight when you do not have to fight. the old adage, you can get more flies with honey -- i forget how it goes, but you know what i mean. greta: chairman engel, thank you. rep. engel: thank you, it is great for me to think about these questions you have asked, and it makes me proud to be an american, and proud to have served with my colleagues. i am not retiring, i am changing jobs. it is great, i think it is great. the more you deal with your life, the better it is. i have been fortunate to help people and be successful doing
it. it is the greatest thing. thank you for the interview. i will go back home tonight and think, i should have said this and that. i feel great. again, we are a great people and we have a lot to share with the world. that is why i want us to get involved with all the right things. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> this week we feature our annual authors week series with a new author. coming up wednesday morning. princeton university on his new book begin again. ands baldwin's america lessons for our own. kristin tate talks about her recent column about what she describes as in exodus from cities in blue states. launch c-span's washington
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