Elissa Slotkin and Peter Meijer: Voices across the aisle in a challenging time

February 16, 2021 1:03:52
Kaltura Video

Representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-MI 8th District) and Peter Meijer (R-MI 3rd District) talk about the challenging Congressional session and find common ground to tackle the urgent problems facing the United States. February 2021.



Michael Barr: Welcome, everybody. I'm Michael 
Barr, the Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of  

Public Policy. It's my pleasure to be here today 
to host this conversation. This is part of our  

Conversations Across Differences series, a series 
the Ford School has been producing for the last  

four years with politicians and policymakers 
from across the ideological spectrum. This  

event today is co-sponsored by the Gerald R. 
Ford Presidential Foundation, the Domestic  

Policy Corps student organization here at Ford, 
and Detroit Public Television. We're grateful for  

the support of this series, including a recent 
generous gift from Tom Tuft which will help us  

continue to bring essential conversations to our 
community and the public. Today, we're joined  

by two dynamic representatives, members of the 
Problem Solvers Caucus, both have served in Iraq,  

Representative Elissa Slotkin as an 
intelligence officer, and Representative  

Peter Meijer in the Army Reserves. So they 
bring that national security perspective.

MB: They're deeply tied to Michigan. 
Representative Meijer was elected  

this past November, so he's been in 
Congress now for just over six weeks.  

In addition to his tour in Iraq, he worked with 
a veterans-based disaster response organization  

and led humanitarian efforts in South Sudan 
and the Philippines, as well as in New York  

and Oklahoma after storms. He went on to run 
an international NGO organization's advisory  

operations in Southern Afghanistan. We know 
of his family in Michigan for four generations  

as the innovators who created a great food 
retail business from humble beginnings in 1934.

MB: Representative Slotkin, Democrat from the 8th 
District, is serving her second term in Congress.  

Before her election in 2018, she had been in 
a series of senior National Security posts  

at the CIA, Department of Defense, and in the 
White House under both Presidents Bush and Obama,  

including as Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense 
for International Security Affairs. Her family has  

also been in Michigan for many generations. 
The family business has a food tie as well,  

Hygrade Foods produced by our beloved Ball Park 
Franks, which were first served at Tiger Stadium.

MB: In the interest of full disclosure, 
let me also say that there are  

ties to the Ford School. Representative Meijer's 
own father serves on the Ford School Committee,  

and my son happens to work for 
Representative Slotkin. Welcome,  

both of you for this conversation. I'm really 
looking forward to chatting with you today.

MB: We have some really serious issues 
we're grappling with right now as a country.  

We've just seen an unprecedented violent 
attack on the US Capitol on January 6th,  

we saw the impeachment of President Trump and then 
an impeachment trial in which he was acquitted.  

These are really difficult issues that I know both 
of you are grappling with very much. Let me just  

start by asking, I don't know the answer to this, 
were either of you up in the Capitol on January  

6th, and what was that like on a personal 
level? And maybe Peter, you could start.

Peter Meijer: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for  

having us here today. I'm pleased to join 
my colleague, Representative Slotkin.  

On January 6th, I was in the House gallery, so 
in the House chambers watching the Electoral  

College certification debate around Arizona taking 
place, and we ended up getting barricaded inside  

the gallery for about the first half an hour, the 
folks, the armed group entered the Capitol after  

about the 30-minute mark. Capitol police evacuated 
us from the chambers, rushed us out, put us in an  

elevator, hit the sub-basement, and then we were 
wandering in the tunnels trying to figure out what  

parts of the complex were still secure, knowing 
that the Cannon Complex had been evacuated,  

we made our way to a cafeteria and then later 
to a committee hearing room where we were for  

several hours until we were eventually allowed to 
get back to other places in the Capitol complex.

Elissa Slotkin: And for me, I was on my way to 
the gallery, walking through those same tunnels,  

going to the floor of the House, and when I 
came to the staircase that would have led me  

right up to the House floor, probably the first or 
second stair, I could hear yelling and screaming  

and breaking glass, and what I thought was 
a flashbang, like a crowd control measure,  

which was probably a gunshot, now that we sort of 
know more of the facts of the day. And literally,  

my mind clicked into prior training, which is just 
get off the X, get off the X, get off the target,  

get off the bull's eye, and I just hauled 
myself back to my office and locked myself in.  

Fellow Michigan Representative Andy Levin called 
me, he couldn't get back to his office, so  

he and his chief came and spent the next few 
hours in my office where I spent the next  

time, a couple of hours at least on the 
phone with the senior ranks of the Pentagon,  

making sure that they sent the National Guard 
and making sure that they heard from someone who  

wasn't... This wasn't my first rodeo of 
a dangerous experience, but making sure  

they understood that we had lost control of the 
situation, there were weapons in the compound,  

and that they needed to get over quickly.

MB: It sounds like a completely 
harrowing experience, and  

I'm so sorry on behalf of the whole 
country that either of you had to go  

through that. What do you make of the reaction 
of the White House? And it sounds like, Elissa,  

you were on the phone with the Defense 
Department, were they responsive in terms of  

getting, and I know the National Guard eventually 
came, but was that a tough conversation to have?

ES: It wasn't a tough conversation. I think we 
will have plenty of time for lessons learned on  

unpreparedness leading up to that event, because 
anyone, of course, from Michigan, would have known  

there was gonna be violence on that day. In 
fact, I'd told my staff in a written guidance,  

no one is to come to the Capitol compound, I 
just assumed the violence would be outside,  

as we've seen similar things happen 
in my own district in Lansing. But  

I think context matters, and to be honest, the 
senior ranks of the Pentagon were very chastened  

after what happened with Lafayette Square in 
June, where uniformed military helped clear  

peaceful protesters so that the President could 
have a photo op. They were lambasted for that.  

We had helicopters, military helicopters involved 
in crowd control by flying low over the city of  

Washington, DC, and we know we had active-duty 
troops just outside the bounds of the city.

ES: So they were very cautious 
leading up to this event  

not to have a repeat situation where they were 
accused of overly militarizing a situation,  

and were very hesitant, and even the small 
numbers that were called out ahead of time,  

no weapons were authorized, they had really, 
really conscribed, constrained, excuse me,  

rules of engagement. So they were dealing with 
now sort of the pendulum swinging and everyone's  

saying, "Come here, come here, come here." 
They were not mustered at a nearby armory,  

they were not prepared. Now, the National Guard 
needs to be called out by someone, they don't just  

arrive on their own, so like I said, there'll be 
lots of time for conversation. But I never was  

under the impression that there was a problem, 
a political problem, sending them after they  

were requested, just that they weren't in place 
to respond as quickly as we would have liked.

MB: That's helpful. Peter, I wonder, 
what were things like in terms of,  

were you kind of canvassing with Republicans 
during this time, or were you all jumbled  

together as a group of cross-party lines? What 
were the conversations like while you were  

waiting for essentially a rescue?

PM: Yeah, it was definitely very much a 
bipartisan, cross-partisan mix. There was  

no distinction when you were evacuating. 
Actually, it was Representative Dean Phillips,  

Democratic side of the aisle, he was taking 
video and I hadn't seen it until I think Friday,  

and I realized he was right behind me as we were 
kind of fleeing the House gallery. But, well, I  

guess what was kinda going through my mind, and 
I think several of us had this conversation, was  

you always kind of assume that there was a plan, 
right? [chuckle] You hear about the Cold War,  

and okay, you got the Greenbrier, and there's 
all these continuity of government operations.  

I understand that there are scenarios 
where you don't necessarily want to brief  

what may be sort of a classified or a confidential 
plan ahead of time so that it doesn't leak. And  

what was most dispiriting was you have the next 
three people in the chain of command, right? In  

the presidential line of succession, I should 
say, all in the same building, and we're all  

just forced to scatter. There was no secret bunker 
somewhere that everyone goes and is secured in.

PM: I mean, we were first in a random cafeteria 
with big windows looking out and knowing at the  

time that pipe bombs have been discovered and 
neutralized in adjacent buildings, that shots  

had been fired and at least one person was shot 
and killed, that folks had stormed the Capitol and  

we're in a cafeteria or wandering through tunnels, 
several dozen. I think we had groups of 25 to 40  

members kind of wandering through these tunnels, 
Capitol Police sprinting in the other direction  

and trying to flag them down and saying, "Where 
the heck are we going right now?" Not knowing  

if you turn a corner and encounter folks who 
had gotten in unauthorized. So in the realm  

of lessons learned, there are many, many, many 
lessons, but I guess it was just that sense that  

we had assumed that there was a plan, and 
when push came to shove, there was nothing.

MB: Do you guys think that 
there should be a 9/11 kind of  

commission to investigate what happened 
at the Capitol that day? Is that  

kind of the right next step in terms of trying 
to figure out what reforms need to be done?

ES: Yeah, and actually we had some movement 
on that officially yesterday when the Speaker  

of the House announced essentially 
what is a 9/11-type style commission  

with the retired General Honoré as the head 
of it. So it is extremely important that  

it be independent, it's extremely important for 
all the reasons Peter just mentioned, right? For  

a branch of government not to have a continuity 
of operations, continuity of government plan.  

We could have had what we literally call in 
national security circles a decapitation event,  

where the top leadership are wounded or hurt or 
God forbid killed. And we need to understand how  

the succeeding, like failures that took place 
that day in preparation and in response.  

So I'm glad that it's independent, it's now 
been announced, I think it's still forming,  

because I think we need accountability on 
that kind of event in order to move forward.

PM: And to Representative 
Slotkin's point, I mean, 100%,  

it has to be something that's beyond reproach, 
that isn't viewed as a weaponized for political  

ends entity, but I think, obviously, it was a 
tragedy that that five folks died and including  

a Capitol police officer, two more lost their 
lives to suicide in the subsequent days.  

It's important to remember that. It's 
almost a miracle that it wasn't worse.

ES: Correct.

PM: Talking to some of the police officers who 
were very conscious of the fact that they did  

not... That if gunfire erupted, if they shot at 
folks who were coming in, if an exchange occurred,  

they were probably out-gunned. It's easy 
to imagine a scenario where not only, where  

multiple, dozens, I mean, potentially hundreds 
of people could have lost their lives that day,  

including senior government officials, including 
those next three individuals in the presidential  

line of succession. There are scenarios, there 
are ways that that spins so dramatically out of  

control that we should be feeling very... We 
escaped what could have been much, much more  

of a catastrophic event. And that's all the more 
reason to make sure that we never allow anything  

like this to occur again. We learn the right 
lessons, we have accountability for what happened,  

we clear some of the fog and uncertainty. I've 
been incredibly disappointed that to this day,  

apart from some of the things 
presented in the impeachment trial,  

unless I experienced it directly or read about 
it on Twitter, I don't have any more information  

than anybody else. And we've been... We're six 
weeks out from this, just about, and it's still  

a lot of unknowns and a lot of variables, 
and obviously, this is a massively complex  

investigation the FBI is conducting, but we need 
to make sure that there is a full accounting.

MB: So it sounds like you all have 
not been briefed systematically even  

on what happened that day, let 
alone the potential failures.

ES: No. I think we were given a security 
briefing in the days after the attack,  

literally a physical security briefing that laid 
out some of the threat streams that continued  

after the attack against elected officials, but we 
haven't had, what I guess from my background, I'm  

sure from Peter's background, would be a true sort 
of update brief, after-action report, any of that.  

And I know that this is feeding into a 
conversation about what do we continue to do about  

security now that the impeachment trial is over. 
Obviously, no one likes having so many uniformed  

military around such a symbolic building, no 
one likes the fences, no one likes all of that,  

but the truth is, I don't personally have a 
great handle on what Capitol Police's plan  

is to secure us going forward, to ensure 
that we wouldn't have some sort of breach,  

and whether that's the similar folks that we 
saw on January 6th or another group, right?

ES: And I think it exposed vulnerabilities that 
had clearly long been there, but you can imagine  

lawmakers want to make sure that before all 
that security dissipates, and that includes  

the Michigan National Guard who were pulled back 
to go help secure the Capitol. We all want them  

to go home, but we need to understand the plan 
for securing the building after they depart.

PM: And Elissa and I were out at FedExField 
thanking all the Michigan National Guardsmen  

and Air Guard who were out there and 
for the work that they did, and then,  

what, 72 hours later, they got recalled 
back to the Capitol. So it's clear,  

and we've seen this in some of the resignations 
and the statements of no confidence by some of  

their members that the Capitol Police are going 
through an incredibly trying leadership moment.  

But to Elissa's point, I mean, the vulnerabilities 
that were exposed, others could take advantage of.  

How there was not some additional 
provocative entities in that crowd,  

how other malign actors, international malign 
actors didn't see this as an opportunity?  

I mean, as I said before, it is so easy 
to imagine how this spins dramatically  

and catastrophically out of control, and that's 
all the more reason that we have to make sure  

that we have a full accounting, we learn every 
lesson and we apply the right ones going forward.

MB: Let's talk more broadly about the 
domestic terrorist threat in the United  

States. Some people think that's the 
biggest threat we're currently facing.  

What should we be doing about it? What 
should we be doing about the rise of  

white extremist nationalism, white supremacist 
organizations that were involved in this attack?  

How do we move forward on a national security 
basis, not just with respect to the Capitol, but  

broader issues of domestic terrorism in the United 
States? Maybe, Elissa, you could start us out.

ES: Sure. Well, this is some of the bread and 
butter that I know Peter and I will be working  

on this year. I just became the Chairwoman of the 
Subcommittee on Intel and Counterterrorism, which  

will be basically taking on domestic terrorism 
this year. And the truth is, I think the 9/11 era,  

those 20 years after 9/11, have officially 
been capped off, where the greatest threats  

are external to the United States, where we're 
looking at terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS  

and others, and lone wolves who are associated 
with them here in the United States, I think  

the division between us as Americans is the single 
greatest national security threat. And I mean that  

not in terms of just physical security, but our 
inability to govern because of that division,  

that the problems it creates even at the local 
level, which which we're seeing now. So clearly,  

I think it's really a risk to us moving 
forward and having the life we all want here.

ES: But it's important to learn some of the 
lessons from the 20 years of the 9/11 era  

and not repeat, frankly, some of the mistakes. 
Some of those mistakes involved over-reacting,  

we had been attacked, we'd had the symbolic event 
loss of life, and so frankly, in those early days  

after 9/11, we made some bad decisions, we 
opened up Gitmo, we allowed detention, rendition,  

torture, we launched the war in Iraq on false 
pretenses, we reacted because we were emotional  

'cause we had been attacked and Lord knows, I got 
international security because of that emotion,  

but we can't do the same thing with domestic 
terrorism, particularly 'cause it's so sensitive,  

because freedom of speech 
issues are wound up in it.

ES: So we're gonna be taking a look 
at it and looking at whether we need  

additional domestic terrorism laws, but also at 
some of the things that, frankly, we can be doing  

to affirmatively educate people, right? I'm 
really into mandatory Holocaust education  

across the country, so people understand 
the symbols that we saw out on the lawn  

of the Capitol as I walked through that morning, 
and making sure that we are appropriately  

resourced for the threat. For Peter and I, if 
you were really a up-and-coming national security  

type in the 9/11 era, you focused on external 
terrorist groups. The resources, the support,  

the interest in domestic terrorism wasn't really 
the hot place to go in national security, and so  

we've under-resourced it, and that's at a time 
when the FBI will say that they have more open  

domestic terrorism cases than they do foreign, o 
we've gotta be resourced to the threat, and those  

are some of the things we'll be looking at. And 
Peter's a member of the committee, which is great.

PM: And as Elissa's on Intelligence 
and Counter-Terrorism as the lead,  

I'm the ranking member on Oversight, Management 
and Accountability on Homeland Security,  

so there'll definitely be some opportunities to be 
very mindful of how do we get to the point where  

this threat was not adequately assessed. And to 
Elissa's point, I'm also deeply concerned and  

want to make sure we don't over-react, 
we don't infringe on civil liberties.  

The biggest difference between domestic terrorism 
and international terrorism is within the confines  

of our country, our government has a monopoly of 
violence, we have legitimate authorities, we have  

law enforcement and investigative apparatuses, 
we have the ability to deal with these acts  

through appropriate criminal mechanisms. We don't 
have those by and large overseas, that's what  

makes international terrorism so hard is you have 
areas that are non-permissive, where our forces,  

our law enforcement cannot operate without 
some type of military or lethal support.

PM: So I think we need to... And this is 
some of the conversations we've been having,  

be open to what might need to change, but 
my bigger question is, is this a question  

of staffing, is it a question of resources, 
is it a question of focus and attention, or  

is it a question of permissions and having 
the statutory grounding to go after and  

ensure that those who are seeking to sow 
political violence don't find opportunities.  

That's something that's going to be coming out, 
I should hope, of the 9/11-style commission  

of the independent investigation that 
will have that more full accounting.  

I don't want us to, in this immediate moment, 
over-react and potentially cause more damage.

PM: And we've seen with some of the... It could 
be a very slippery slope on domestic terrorism,  

at what point does First Amendment right to 
protest, right to engage in speech, where does  

that transgress and at what point does the FBI 
start to go in? 'Cause even if we look before the  

9/11 era, going back to the Civil Rights Movement, 
there were long-standing abuses of peaceful groups  

in the FBI, especially under J Edgar Hoover, 
infiltrating and recording and blackmailing  

individuals who were engaged in peaceful 
protest and expressing their political beliefs  

that didn't cross into violence, didn't reach that 
level. So we need to strike that right balance,  

or else I don't think we'll be ultimately putting 
the country into the direction it needs to go.

MB: That's really helpful. Let's spend just a 
little bit longer on this moment, and then I'm  

gonna broaden to some other topics. Obviously, 
we just came out of an impeachment trial,  

President Trump was acquitted, although 
there were 57 members of the Senate  

who voted to convict President Trump 
of inciting the riot on the Capitol  

on January 6th, including seven Republicans. Both 
of you voted to impeach. Peter, you were more  

alone on your side, not fully alone, but more 
alone in your side in doing that, and I know  

have been criticized strongly from a number 
of Republicans for that stance. I wonder if  

both of you could just say a little bit about 
your decision with respect to impeachment,  

and then maybe more critically, what does the 
acquittal mean for the health of our democracy,  

the future of our institutions? How worried should 
we be about... Not just the, again, the particular  

moments of January 6, but more broadly, the 
strength of our institutions, our democratic  

institutions? So maybe Peter, if you could start 
us out and then Elissa, that would be great.

PM: Yeah, well, I was one of 
10 Republicans in the House  

to vote for impeachment. This was a vote that was 
a vote of conscience, and when I say that, I don't  

just mean we were voting with our conscience, I 
mean this was not what's called a whipped vote, so  

leadership and the whip team weren't going around 
and saying, we recommend you vote this way, it was  

up to each individual member and that's... 
I don't think we've ever had an impeachment,  

we don't have a strong track record of them, 
historically, only, there's only a handful,  

but where this... At least in the party of the 
President, where that was not a whipped vote,  

which doesn't mean there weren't tremendous 
consequences, especially at the local level, and  

folks feeling deeply frustrated, but in the days 
leading up to it, I had a number of conversations  

with folks back in the district, and to me, the 
most striking and frankly terrifying element of  

some of those conversations were the people 
who immediately shifted to a denial mode.

PM: It wasn't supporters of the former 
President that stormed the Capitol,  

it was BLM, it was Antifa, I mean, the rapid 
proliferation of just absolutely unfounded ideas  

that were a means of denial, a means of avoiding 
accountability or trying to hang their hat on the  

smallest procedural grounds. To me, it was 
ultimately a question of, is the Republican  

Party a party of rule of law, a party of holding 
leaders to a high standard? I talk to people who,  

when we were evacuated, were strong believers, 
that they've lost complete confidence in the  

President, were discussing the 25th Amendment 
and whether or not to openly support that,  

and then a week later vote to acquit. So you can 
see how this kind of reversion back to a pretty  

unsustainable mean occurs, and I think we've seen 
the same in a lot of rhetoric from officials of  

my party who were openly condemning in the days 
that followed, and then kind of back-pedaled so  

hard the chain fell off the bicycle or chain fell 
off the sprocket and was dragging on the ground.

PM: So I think when we slip into 
political violence, that is a line  

that cannot be tolerated, that cannot be 
excused, that cannot be treated with kid gloves,  

and we saw that if it wasn't for the President 
propagating and insisting that this had been a  

landslide election victory on November 3rd that 
was stolen from him, and that January 6th was the  

day to stop that steal, without those two... 
The violence of the Capitol never happened.  

Without encouraging more folks to come on 
January 6th, we wouldn't have had the...  

Not only encouraging them to come, but in 
that speech, telling them go to the Capitol.  

Granted, he said, march peacefully. He 
also said, fight or fighting 20 times.  

And if you don't fight like hell, 
you're not gonna have a country anymore.

PM: You can try to squirm out 
of the accountability question,  

but at the end of the day, the folks who were 
arrested at the Capitol, they were doing what  

they felt Donald Trump wanted them to do. 
And if he was disappointed or horrified  

at what had occurred at the Capitol in those 
immediate moments, he wouldn't have... He would  

have been reacting immediately to shut that down, 
to tell people to go away. It took him hours.  

He was still trying to get Senators to delay, he 
was still tweeting attacks at the Vice President  

while the Vice President and his wife and his 
daughter were in the building, and people who were  

roaming the hallways were chanting, "Hang Mike 
Pence," and there was a gallow erected outside.

PM: So to me, it was an unconscionable dereliction 
of duty, it disqualified him from that office,  

he abandoned his oath of office. And I will 
be very honest, in the days leading up to it,  

it was the worst week of my life, not because of 
what occurred, not just because of what occurred  

at the Capitol, but knowing that this was a 
decision that would deeply disappoint so many  

folks in my district, but at the end of the day, 
if the Republican Party is one that coddles QAnon,  

that gives into the darkest and most feverish 
corners of the online fringe, that is a  

sad and dangerous direction for the Republican 
Party to go in and for the country to go in.

ES: And I would just add, when you work 
alongside the military, you are taught  

that leadership climate is set from the top, 
and watching, frankly, the years of messaging  

to the President's followers using his mantle at 
the White House to set a tone of permissiveness  

around hate and violence, that is the legacy 
we're gonna be living with long beyond what  

happened in the Senate last week, and this is what 
makes it, I think, even harder as we go forward.  

Peter made a decision that risked his career. 
When I was going through the first impeachment,  

people told me, that's the end of your career. And 
I think it's critical that people be willing to  

stand up for what they believe in, but now 
the work of trying to bring the country back  

together in some form or fashion really begins 
when the cameras turn off on Capitol Hill.

ES: And just in the past week, in my own district, 
we've had pastors and church services Zoom-bombed  

by the KKK and people threatening to rape 
and kill our pastors, people Zoom-bombing  

our city council meetings, kids bullied at 
school because of their political views.  

It has seeped into the fabric of our lives, and I 
think it is extremely important as we go forward  

that we try and reset that red line around 
threatening or inciting or using violence  

in politics. That goes nowhere good, 
that goes nowhere good for any side,  

and we have to be just absolutely vigilant 
that if someone's going to threaten violence,  

that is a law enforcement issue, that 
is no longer a freedom of speech issue.

ES: So I am gonna try and figure out, 
frankly, what my role is in helping to bring  

our communities back together, because leadership 
got us into this and it will take leadership to  

get us out. That's complicated, but if 
anyone thinks that kind of like we can  

separate into two Americas, we cannot talk to 
each other... That doesn't work here in Michigan,  

that's not who we are, it's not our state. And my 
neighbors are devoted Trump voters, my in-laws.  

So this is something that I think Michigan has a 
special role in helping the country think through  

how we move forward and how we heal, because 
we have to keep that on the agenda, or else  

it concerns me where we'll 
be in a couple of years.

PM: And I think the phrase a time 
to heal is especially appropriate  

given the name of the school.

MB: I was gonna ask you a little bit about that, 
Peter. So I want to touch on the themes that both  

of you have been raising, 'cause they're just 
so critical for the future of our country. And  

maybe we'll start, Peter, with that last 
point. Your district isn't fully aligned  

with President Ford's former district, but 
it's got certainly quite a lot of overlap.  

What does it mean to you to have the legacy 
of President Ford as part of your legacy?

PM: When I was running my campaign, my motto 
was to return strong, stable and effective  

representation of West Michigan and fulfill the 
legacy of Gerald Ford, Paul Henry and Vern Ehlers.  

That's an open question whether 
or not the Republican Party  

is still one that nods to that legacy, 
that conservative legacy. But to me,  

it's the question of does... And then this 
gets kind of back to the Burkean sentiment,  

is the role of a representative to pull the 
district or their half of that district and  

do what a majority of them want at any one time 
or, as is my belief, is it to exercise judgment,  

judgment that will be held to account on those 
two-year cycles, but with the understanding that  

what might be that incredibly intense emotion 
in that moment may age in a different way.

PM: I obviously voted my conscience. 
It was a difficult vote. I've been on,  

I think I'm on my second county GOP censure, and 
continue to talk to constituents and hope that  

that those relationships can be mended and that we 
can respect differences of opinion on that side.  

But I've strongly thought about Gerald 
Ford and, frankly, if I would have...  

That was one of the argument that some folks were 
making that President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon,  

that was how we move on and we need to 
unite, we need to heal these divisions.  

To me, I couldn't square that with not voting for 
the article of impeachment that was presented,  

because in the case of the Ford pardon,  

it came after Nixon resigned, it came 
after Nixon accepted responsibility.

PM: That was a way to move forward because  

that responsibility had been 
accepted by the guilty party.  

And in this case, not only did the President 
accept no responsibility, but there was no...  

You can't move past something without 
working to... By papering over the division.  

That wound will remain open, it will never heal 
unless you confront the reality, unless you demand  

accountability, and I don't want us to wind 
up in the same spot in another two years,  

four years, six years. I don't want us to 
wind up in a scenario where political violence  

is not fully held to account. And so that's 
why I thought that this district and where I  

hope that West Michigan and Michigan as a whole 
can be a place where tough decisions are made,  

where we don't just take the 
easier, the popular way out,  

but do what's right and necessary for the 
long term and the good of the country.

MB: Elissa, obviously, you've been... You won 
the first time, you've been re-elected a second  

time in a district that traditionally is 
quite Republican. You ran as a Democrat,  

and you're obviously... You speak in terms that 
I think many of your constituents might not  

agree with all the time. How do you think about 
these questions of reaching across the aisle,  

having conversations across the differences we all 
have, and taking that special role of Michigan,  

as you said, seriously, to be a model for 
the country. How do we do that together?

ES: Well, it's true, there is a smaller group 
of us in Congress right now, I think there are  

seven of us Democrats who represent Trump voting 
districts, Trump 2020 districts. And I think I'm  

the last Democrat in Congress right now who 
represents a district that went for Romney,  

Trump and Trump, and... So we're a smaller 
group, but when I was making decisions,  

when Trump's first impeachment happened, you have 
to get comfortable with the fact that you may  

not be re-elected and that some things are more 
important than you keeping a job, and you have to  

have faith in people, right, you take a leap of 
faith that people want people representing them  

who have integrity. And they may not agree with 
everything you believe in, but they respect you  

for being transparent about how you make decisions 
and for then going with what you believe in.

ES: And I made that gamble and the voters answered 
that in the affirmative, and to me, Michigan is  

a good place to try and bring integrity back into 
politics, because I still believe the average  

Michigander can't stand the violence, can't stand 
the vitriol. They just want government to work,  

they're pragmatic people that get up every day and 
they have stuff in their lives that annoys them,  

and they have stuff that they love, and they just 
want to do well and have their kids do better.

ES: So if you believe in that, as I do, then 
you can take votes that are difficult, and I  

think... Listen, I'm a Democrat who, my father 
was a devoted Republican. I believe that we are  

a better country when we have a Republican Party 
of empathy, where we have legitimate ideological  

differences about the role of government in our 
lives, and we push and pull against each other,  

but we all believe in making the country 
a better place and have a shared vision of  

what that is. So I desperately want my peers in 
the Republican Party to figure out where they're  

going as a party, and obviously Peter is a great 
representation of a modern Republican, I hope.

ES: But in the meantime, I think you can't close 
the door to other people, you can't say, "Well,  

I didn't agree with that person a year ago, so 
I'm just... They're done. I'm not gonna ever  

keep the door open for them." Both Peter and 
I are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus,  

these are the Democrats and the Republicans 
who desperately believe in bipartisanship and  

in getting things done. We've had some difficult 
conversations since the attack on the Capitol,  

it has not always been easy, but I think we feel 
that it is important that we show to the country  

that you can still disagree without it being 
so angry and vitriolic. So setting an example  

and then, frankly, just realizing that 
people can always come in the door,  

if you keep it open. So that's what we're 
trying to implement, at least in my district.

PM: One of the things that resonated 
off of what Elissa said was  

the idea of serving every term as if it's 
your last. And I think the problem that  

I've seen... And granted, I've been 
in the role for all of six weeks,  

but I saw this in some of the difficult votes, not 
only on the 13th with impeachment, but on the 6th,  

and the conversations leading up to it 
about certification, which at the time  

I thought that that would be... That certifying 
the election would be an act of political suicide,  

so I was pretty... It goes to show you 
the naivete of the pre-January 6th moment.

PM: But that sense of, if your number one 
goal is how do I ensure my own re-election,  

you're going to be looking at every issue from a 
point of self-preservation rather than fidelity  

to the oath of office that you've taken. And to 
me that's something I never want to forget, it's  

what is the appropriate policy? What 
needs to be done? The politics side,  

that's something that you work on later, but it 
is what is in the best interest of the country,  

not just in the best interest of 
furthering an individual career.

MB: Well, I think that if we had this kind 
of perspective widely shared, that both  

Elissa and Peter you've expressed, our country 
would certainly be in a much better, a much  

stronger place. We're gonna go to 
audience questions in just a moment.  

I thought I might pick, before we do, just one 
or two substantive areas to think about. So  

one of them obviously that is pending right now 
is the stimulus bill, or the relief package,  

that President Biden has put forward. I wonder 
if each of you could offer your perspectives  

on whether we're on the right track with that 
approach, are there things you'd like to see done  

differently in it, and maybe again, Elissa, 
we'll start with you and then go to Peter.

ES: Sure. Well, it's a little wonky, but 
we are passing this bill, we're on a course  

right now to pass the next COVID bill through 
a wonky process called budget reconciliation.  

And instead of doing what we've done for 
the last five bills of work hard, negotiate,  

get a bill that independently stands on its own 
and goes through the House and Senate and over  

to the White House, we are putting it into a 
budget reconciliation process, which basically,  

I don't love. I'll be honest, I don't love. It 
wasn't my preference, and I still am holding  

out hope that we could have an independent 
COVID bill, because I think that's the way  

we should make big decisions, is through a bill 
that we can debate and amend and argue over.

ES: I do think it's important that 
we get money out into the system,  

especially for vaccine distribution, I'm sure 
for Peter it's the same thing, it's the number  

one thing people are asking me about is how come 
there feels like there's differences in who gets  

the vaccine based on where you live, and all 
this stuff. That's 'cause we have scarcity,  

we don't have enough supply, and people are 
frustrated. So we need to get money out,  

no matter what. I don't love the method, 
but we gotta deal with the problem, so  

frankly, the number... I tend to be a little 
bit more on the fiscal conservative side when  

it comes to being a Democrat, so I want to 
understand and unpack all of those numbers.

ES: It's a lot of money, we've gotten pretty 
used to throwing out trillions of dollars,  

and I still do believe we have to think about, 
overall, the debt. Now, we're spending right now  

because we need to be spending, but I think we 
shouldn't get too comfortable passing trillions  

and trillions of dollars without actually diving 
into it, and that's what I'm doing right now.

PM: The question is, well, where 
does the $1.9 trillion come from?  

And the best as I can tell, that's the highest 
number that you can claim without saying it's  

in the "trillions" of dollars. It's a plural 
question. If we look... Two recent things,  

one, under President Obama, the recession era 
stimulus was $800 billion, and we're already  

upwards of $3 trillion that we've been spending. 
So there's this ultimate question of how are  

we arriving at the numbers? What is the right 
number? I'm deeply worried about the inflationary  

consequences we may be facing. I think some of 
the economist estimates that our GDP gap, or  

our GDP loss, relative to expectations, may be in 
the magnitude of $800 billion to $1 trillion. And  

if we are tripling or quadrupling that in terms 
of deficit spending we're adding to the economy,  

that could have some very unforeseen macroeconomic 
consequences, in addition to our elevated debt.

PM: But I'm deeply frustrated by the budget 
reconciliation process. It essentially means that  

no Republican input is required whatsoever. I 
think Elissa and I were both on some efforts to  

carve out the most urgent necessary components, 
specifically money for vaccines, for testing,  

and for PPE, and have that as a set-aside, 
because the more rapidly we can get vaccines  

out and in people's arms who want it, and are 
eligible, the faster we're gonna be through the  

other end of this pandemic, and the less need 
there will be for the never-ending stimulus.

PM: I'd also like to see the direct cash payments 
cleaved off as well. I have yet to hear a  

compelling argument about why a $15 minimum wage 
increase should be in a COVID stimulus package,  

that seems like a separate legislative 
item, and especially worrisome for our  

restaurant and hospitality industry that are 
already getting hammered by the pandemic. I think  

the hospitality industry's off anywhere from 40% 
to 50% negative declines in revenue year on year.  

So I'm optimistic that we can find a 
more expedited way to get support to  

people and to support the vaccination 
process that allows us to separate,  

you know, items that are frankly not an 
immediate priority, as the vaccinations are.

PM: And the prior stimulus package, the 
COVID stimulus we had, the 1.0, the 2.0,  

the CARES Act, those are overwhelmingly bipartisan 
initiatives. So going down a path to make the next  

American rescue plan inherently partisan 
spits in the face of the message of unity  

that President Biden made nods 
to during his inaugural address.

MB: Let me shift focus from the immediate 
economic needs that you all just discussed  

with respect to the stimulus, and ask you to 
share with our viewers your thoughts when you  

think about the long-term health of the state 
of Michigan in particular, and how you imagine  

us with a different kind of economy in the next 
decades than the one we have now, which is still  

not where it used to be and not where I 
think anybody wants it to be. So maybe  

Elissa, if you could start us out and then 
we'll go to Peter, on long-term thinking  

about what the Michigan economy ought 
to look like and how we might get there.

ES: Sure. Well, we still are a place that makes 
things and grow things, and that's our specialty,  

we're the best in the country at it, and I think 
we saw during COVID when our companies stepped up  

and we needed things like ventilators and masks, 
and we had the manufacturing base to actually  

answer the call in a way that a lot of my peers 
from other states were like, "Can I get some of  

your ventilators?" We were in demand, because it 
turns out it's still important to make things.

ES: I think we can bolster that sector and do that 
by strengthening buy American requirements, by  

making sure that if you're using taxpayer dollars 
to buy stuff for the Centers for Disease Control,  

that should be mostly American stuff. And I think 
the Biden Administration understands we can open  

up that market a little bit and enhance American 
manufacturing, which is always gonna be important.  

But we also have to realize that time marches 
on, and the announcement that GM made the other  

day of going to all-electric vehicles, I'm a 
little biased 'cause I represent Lake Orion,  

which is where we're making a lot of 
these electric vehicles, but if the  

country is in some ways moving towards electric 
vehicles, let's be the one to make them, right?

ES: I don't need to give that to Tesla, let's 
be the ones that make that and capitalize on  

our know-how on those industries. And then I think 
we've learned a lot through the pandemic. I think  

everyone knows people who have come back home, 
who have relocated temporarily, people who have  

fancy jobs in Silicon Valley are able to do them 
at a fraction of the cost of living and have the  

great Michigan life that everyone enjoys. I think 
letting our small towns have a piece of that pie  

so that anyone, as long as they have 
broadband, which we should talk about, anybody  

can participate in that economy and keep that 
know-how, that engine, going here in Michigan.  

And we all know that in the manufacturing 
sector there are fewer and fewer jobs,  

but we also have the biggest robotics 
community in the country, so if we're not  

the guy on the line, we should be the guy 
making and fixing the robot. We have to adapt,  

and I think we're well-positioned to do 
it, but it takes creativity and vision.

PM: And I couldn't agree more. I think 
for too long Michigan's losses have been  

the gains that have been seen overseas, by a place 
that a lot of our jobs have been outsourced to.  

COVID showed us the fragility of our international 
supply chains and [] ____ manufacturing sectors,  

and we're dealing this right now with chip makers, 
supporting our autonomous and electric vehicles  

and just our vehicles more broadly, how the 
more outsourced some of those components are.

PM: And maybe there was a marginal gain in 
productivity or a cost decrease initially,  

but very quickly that cost gets eroded by the 
additional risk that's added in. So thinking  

strategically about how to on-shore a 
lot of the medicinal, pharmaceutical,  

higher technological and other critical 
components of our supply chain is going to be  

a real opportunity, especially for Michigan, 
in the years to come. But To Elissa's point on  

our cities and towns and our state in general, I 
want New York, and this is me being very selfish,  

but I want New York and California and 
Illinois, I want their losses to be our gains.  

We have a higher quality of [] ____ lower cost 
of living, and the intersection of those two,  

especially in a world where a significant amount 
of work will continue to be remote, and frankly, I  

hope that the conversation 
we're having right now...

PM: I'm about to run and go tour a vaccine... 
A mass vaccination site with the Governor.  

I can do both of those things 
in the span of two hours,  

right, because of Zoom, because of this remote 
work. When Elissa and I are back in DC for votes,  

we can still be present in our community through 
remote systems. And so the more we adapt to that,  

the more opportunities to decentralize a lot 
of the employment that we've seen historically,  

and the more that I think Michigan can gain. 
But, to Elissa's point, making sure we have  

a robust infrastructure to support that will be 
critical, including high speed Internet access.

MB: The next set of questions from the 
audience are around climate change,  

which both of you touched on in different ways 
in your remarks, but I wonder if you could  

tell us what you think, again, both Michigan 
needs to do and the United States needs to do,  

and the world needs to do, with respect 
to the problem of climate change, which  

so many people are worried is the biggest 
existential threat that the world faces.  

Peter, maybe you could start us out, your 
views on climate change, and then Elissa.

PM: I think climate change is 
real, I think it's a problem,  

and I think it's something that we need to 
act in a thoughtful and serious way towards.  

One of the President's executive orders that 
frustrated me was shutting down the Keystone  

XL pipeline. We need to recognize that the more 
we can shift production to renewables the better,  

but we're always going to need some form of 
on-demand energy generation, whether that's  

nuclear, whether that's natural gas, that's 
going to have to be the case, and that we can't  

flip a switch. We have existing systems, we 
have existing infrastructure that we need  

to be doing what we can to pave the way to the 
future, but that that's also going to take time.

PM: I'm firmly supportive, and we are in a 
state that's defined by its natural resources,  

I mean, the shape of our state is defined by the 
lakes all around us. We have the third largest  

fishery industry, protecting the environment, 
preventing the worst impacts of climate change,  

and beginning to peel back the path that 
we're on is essential for our economy,  

it's essential for our future, 
and it's going to ultimately be  

a far lower cost in the long term 
than continuing to neglect this issue.

ES: Yeah, and I would just say, listen, I 
come from a national security background,  

and when I was at the Pentagon we co-authored 
the first study of how climate change should  

be viewed as a national security issue. 
And again, when you're in the intelligence  

community or the military, you're planning. If 
something even has a 10% chance of happening,  

you're planning against that threat, so prudent 
planning obviously should be accelerated and  

taken extremely seriously when it 
comes to mitigating climate change.

ES: I think we have to acknowledge that that means 
doing something about carbon and fossil fuels,  

we can't do it at the expense of collapsing our 
economy, but we can have serious conversations  

about how we lower the carbon coming out of our 
state, out of our country. I think we should have  

those conversations. The good news is I think the 
environment, as Peter mentioned, is one of the  

most bipartisan issues in the state of Michigan. 
It always seems to surprise people from the East  

or West Coast, they think it's this political 
thing, and it's like, "No, our local lakes,  

rivers, streams, our way of life, our Great Lakes, 
people are pretty serious about protecting them."

ES: And so I tend to focus on those issues where 
we have overlap 'cause it's the way to havfe a  

real conversation about the environment, but if 
we don't understand that environmental security  

is literally Homeland Security, after Flint 
and having PFAS in our water, if you can't hand  

your child a glass of water without knowing that 
they might get a life-long learning disability,  

that is a direct threat to your family. And so I'm  

for reframing the issue and being more muscular 
about it. Protecting your local watershed,  

protecting the water that comes out of your tap, 
that's what you should be doing as a citizen,  

protecting your family. So I think reframing 
the issue and then keeping it something that  

we all focus on, I think is kind of the 
way that I engage in environmental issues.

MB: That's great. We're getting 
close to the top of our time here,  

but we have a set of questions that are 
returning to the theme about conversations  

across difference from the beginning. 
And one question from the audience is:  

"Present company aside, could each of you 
name a political figure of the opposite party  

who you admire and say a little bit about 
why?" And maybe Elissa and then Peter.

ES: Sure. Well, I've worked in Republican 
administrations, so I worked in the Bush  

White House, I was assigned there. I 
worked for senior Republican officials.  

Someone who I appreciated quite a bit was, 
actually just more current, is Brian Fitzpatrick,  

he's a Representative, a Republican Representative 
from Pennsylvania. He cares deeply about things  

like PFAS and water, he's one of the chairmen 
of the bipartisan task forces on that,  

and I think separate from any one issue, he's just 
a decent person. We've had issues where we don't  

agree, we've had issues where we agree, but you 
can tell pretty quickly when you come to Congress,  

and I'm sure Peter is going through this now, 
everyone says they want to work across the aisle,  

but it's hard work sometimes, especially 
in this polarized environment.

ES: You have to be committed to doing it, and 
the way that you get through hard times like this  

is you just... You be a human being, and 
say like, "Hey, I don't agree with you,  

here's where I'm coming from, this is tearing 
my town apart and we can't go on this way,"  

and having another human being say, "I hear you, 
that's not... I didn't think about it that way."  

And it is... Brian has been 
one of a number of folks who  

we don't always agree, but he's a human 
being, and when he lost his older brother  

last term, we were able to comfort him as human 
beings because we saw each other and dealt with  

each other that way, and we need more of 
that in Congress, desperately, right now.

PM: And a lot of the folks that come to mind 
are freshmen, and some of them come from very  

blue districts, and so I don't want to 
throw them under the bus by getting a  

compliment from a Republican. So I'll shift 
to the other body and just say I appreciate  

folks like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, 
and how you have folks who are not afraid  

to buck their party, are not afraid to make an 
unpopular vote. I think we've seen in many bodies,  

and you see it on the Supreme Court, 
you see it in our houses of government,  

how in a trying time, in a highly polarized 
time, there are folks who gravitate and  

realize if somebody doesn't try to create some 
balance then we're all gonna be out of whack.

PM: And so I really respect those who are 
not afraid to take grief, aren't afraid to  

have their party and primary challengers thrown 
against them. Maybe I'm now psychologically  

revealing a little bit about myself 
in the current moment that I'm in, but  

I do think that in the long arc of history, 
history looks kinder on those who stand up  

for what they believe in than those who 
just try to not wind up in the minority.

MB: So we have only a minute left, and the last 
question is pretty complicated, but I'll try it.  

One thing our students are worried about is when 
people call for civility, they mean sit down and  

shut up, don't say what your... Don't speak up for 
injustice, in the way, Peter, that you were just  

describing. How do you wrestle with this question 
of how to be strong in your principles and stand  

up for what you believe in for justice, but also 
reach out that hand to people who disagree with  

you? And again, we only have a minute left, so 
give it your best shot. Peter and then Elissa.

PM: I think it's being honest. And being honest, 
you can tell a very hard truth without being  

impolite. And I think folks deserve 
that, they don't deserve to be...  

You disrespect, you patronize somebody when 
you tell them what you think they want to hear  

rather than what they need to hear. And I think 
that can be a problem with rising generations,  

is assuming something that's uncomfortable 
is negative rather than something that's  

uncomfortable might be exactly the 
conversation that needs to happen.

ES: Yeah, I don't see it as calling for civility 
means backing off the strength and passion of your  

argument. I actually see it as the opposite. 
It gives you the tools to actually have that,  

frankly, moral high ground. If someone is 
threatening violence and is heckling and is  

angry and is crossing all kinds of civility 
lines, and you respond in kind, what have you done  

to help the cause? I mean, you've all solidified 
your feelings that you don't trust the other side.

ES: But you can have a passionate, 
strong argument without it being nasty,  

and I would argue that it's more effective. 
And I don't consider myself a shrinking violet,  

and I have had threats and things hurled against 
me for a long time now, and it doesn't empower you  

to sink to that level. And the truth is, I think 
some of the greatest leaders in our country have  

been the ones that have said... I think of Martin 
Luther King, I know it's trite, but honestly, the  

man lived in the segregated South, and he figured 
out a way to keep his heart open to other people,  

and he did more to transform our country 
and civil rights than any other human being.

ES: So it's not always easy, it's sometimes 
deeply uncomfortable to have conversations  

with people who you really don't agree with, God 
knows, I know, but if you just respond in kind,  

you're just... That's not demonstrating leadership 
and it doesn't get you where you want to go.

MB: Well, this has been an amazing conversation. 
I wish it could go on for hours longer, but you  

all have both been generous with your time. I 
really appreciated the openness towards each other  

and towards opposing views, and the courageous 
stance you both have taken in different aspects  

of your work, so on behalf of the Ford School 
and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation  

and our wonderful student sponsors, 
thank you so much for joining us today.

ES: Thanks, Michael. Thanks, Peter.

PM: Thanks, Elissa.

MB: Take care.