Restoring confidence in our democracy

January 12, 2023 1:30:47
Kaltura Video

Former Michigan Representatives Andy Levin (D-MI) and Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Amb (ret) Susan Page, Michigan Law and Ford School professor will explore the bipartisan challenge of restoring faith in our democratic systems and highlight ways to uphold the standards of our democracy. January, 2023.


0:00:00.8 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for being here. I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Interim Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and it is indeed my pleasure to welcome you here tonight to this very special event hosted on the U of M campus as a partnership between the Ford School, The Carter Center and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.

0:00:31.3 CW: It's great to see everyone here together on campus in Michigan, and I know we have a virtual audience tuning in from across the state and down in Atlanta where our Carter Center partners are based and beyond. I'm thrilled to see the Ford Foundation Director, Gleaves Whitney made the drive over from Grand Rapids. Welcome, Gleaves, great to see you. Thank you so much for your partnership. Tonight's conversation will be facilitated by retired Ambassador Susan Page, who is a professor of practice at the Ford School and Michigan Law, and as a trustee of the Carter Center.

0:01:07.8 CW: We are honored to be joined by two former Michigan US representatives, Democrat Andy Levin and Republican Peter Meijer, to examine the bipartisan challenge of restoring faith in our democratic systems. This event came together as a true collaborative effort, and I'd like to thank our partners at The Carter Center and the Gerald Ford Foundation for their leadership in bringing this to fruition.

0:01:34.5 CW: It's particularly fitting that tonight's discussion is a collaboration between namesakes of President Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford. They were political rivals, but also chose to collaborate after their presidencies. Presidents Carter and Ford held a shared understanding across the political aisle of the sanctity of our democratic systems. My thanks as well to our partners with U of M democracy and debate and the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, also known as close-up, as well as our media partners with Detroit Public Television and One Detroit.

0:02:13.2 CW: And a very special thanks to the Tuft Family Foundation for their generous support of this and other events in the Ford School's conversations across different series. I know that Tom Tuft is watching remotely, and I'm so glad you could join us virtually tonight, Tom. A reminder, everyone, that there will be time for questions at the end, so please write your questions down on the provided question cards throughout tonight's event and pass them to the center aisle. Those tuning in virtually can tweet your questions to #policytalks. We have two Ford School students here who will help us with Q&A, Sofie Greenberg and Rose Riley. Sofie and Rose are leaders in Turn Up Turnout, our student-led non-partisan organization on campus whose efforts center on voter education, registration, turnout for those eligible, and civic engagement for all students. So with that, I invite Professor Page and representatives Meijer and Levin to kick us off.


0:03:21.5 Susan Page: Thank you so much, Dean Watkins-Hayes, and welcome to all of you. It's a real pleasure for me to be up here and to be on the stage with our former representatives from the great State of Michigan. So before we start, let me at least briefly introduce the two of you, and I will start with former US representative Peter Meijer. He was first elected in 2020, representing Michigan's 3rd District through 2022. And he served on the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

0:04:00.0 SP: Before entering the US House of Representatives, Peter served in Iraq in the US Army. He led humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, which I know a little bit about, and he worked with a conflict analysis NGO in Afghanistan, and worked in urban redevelopment and real estate. So thank you for being here with us. And former US representative Andy Levin was first elected in 2018, representing Michigan's 9th District through 2022. He served on the Committee on Education and Labor as the vice chair, as well as the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Before entering the US House of Representatives, Andy was a staff attorney for the US Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relations, and served in various positions in the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

0:04:49.2 SP: Okay. With those introductions out of the way, let me begin by asking some of our questions. So, The Carter Center and the Ford Foundation have worked together on the key principles for elections, and they've partnered on these because they believe that they're really important. So just very briefly, they are an honest process, civil campaign, secure voting, responsible oversight, and trusted outcomes. When you reflect on these principles, as well as the legacies of President Carter and President Ford and your own experiences in Congress, how would you characterize what bipartisan leadership means to you? 

0:05:40.2 SP: Is there still a place for working across the aisle in our political process, particularly in the wake of the January 6th insurrection and the attack on the Capitol? And if I could, I'd like to start with you, Representative Meijer, because you wrote a letter to Congress, to your neighbors really, to the people that you represent at the end of your term saying that it was out of frustration with a broken status quo that you came to Congress to provide West Michigan with strong, stable, and effective representation. And you've tried to adhere to those watchwords. In your letter, you talk about what strong means, what stable means, and what effective means. So let me ask that question again of you. When you reflect upon your time in Congress and with what you hoped to accomplish, what do you see in terms of the bi-partisanship? Is it even a goal that we should work towards anymore? 

0:06:45.0 Peter Meijer: Well, I was a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which it's a good group. I think we had 26 Republicans, 26 Democrats, and we would look for areas that we could work together. There's a joke that in Congress and specifically in the House of Representatives that Republicans and Democrats we may not always agree, but at the end of the day there's one thing we can always agree on, that the Senate is the problem, right? Which one of the challenges on our Problem Solvers Caucus is we would try to get a piece of legislation going, and there were a half dozen times that I could get a couple of my Democratic colleagues who would acknowledge a problem, but maybe it was challenging 'cause if the White House isn't gonna move on it, you don't wanna be the first mover, and then in each of those cases, Speaker Pelosi found out that we were working together and shut it down very quickly. And that's gonna be the problem on either side of the aisle: You're gonna have a majority leadership that's going to want to keep groups as divided as possible, because if you start to siphon off and people start to talk, heaven forfend, they may come up with their own solutions.

0:07:50.0 PM: And that could be a difficult thing. Now, the Problem Solvers Caucus was good for members in swing districts who wanted to flex some bipartisan bonafides, and we were able to get some good pieces of legislation passed there, but ultimately we saw the most significant pieces of legislation that had bipartisan input come from the Senate, and five centres on other side of the aisle working together. So it's a challenge 'cause you're working against both your own party's leadership, which, as you know, can exert significant influence, and you're also working against the rhetorical accusations by your own co-partisans. I can't count the number of times I've been in a debate where people get up on stage, we'll be like, "Oh, it's important, we work together in a bipartisan fashion," and then turn around and castigate this surrender, 'cause anything that's bipartisan you either didn't get enough or you gave away too much, and it's always easy to second guess and doubt it. And the sad reality is so often to bipartisan effort would become more of a fugly for a... An excuse to say that you were doing something in a bipartisan way rather than something that was truly impactful.

0:09:04.4 SP: Would you like to add to that? 

0:09:06.8 Andy Levin: Well, yeah, first of all, I wanna say what an honor it is to share the stage with you! Soon as I... Many, many, many years ago I did a master's degree in Asian languages and cultures on this campus, I was supposed to get a PhD, but I went off to a law school that you preceded me at. And I've been involved in foreign affairs stuff in human rights in particular my whole life, and then as soon as I got to Congress, I got on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I created a Haiti Caucus, and you... We'll have to talk about that another time, but it just really... You'll hear my admiration for Peter throughout this conversation, but I just wanted to say that to you.

0:09:45.2 SP: Thank you. Thank you very much.

0:09:47.0 AL: Oh, this is gonna be so great, 'cause I really disagree with Peter about the Problem Solvers Caucus. I don't like the Problem Solvers Caucus at all. But bi-partisanship is really important.

0:10:01.1 SP: So it's not dead? 

0:10:02.7 AL: It's not. Well, it's on life support, but it's not dead and it's not going to die. I don't think it's going to die. I don't think our problem is really a lack of bipartisanship. I think our problem is that one of our political parties has gone off the reservation of democracy altogether. You cannot have a democracy unless you have two or more parties that really disagree with each other, and what has to happen is you go to elections and I say, "Well, yeah, he's wrong about all these things," and he says, "I'm better than Levin in all these things," and then the voters decide, and then we accept the results. And then we do our best to work together for two years or how many it is. And then we go duke it out again with the people to see who they want to elect. I didn't go to Congress to be bipartisan. And bipartisanship isn't like a be-all and end-all. I went to Congress to solve the American people's problems and achieve a more just world.

0:11:03.6 SP: But don't you think that the two of you both went to Congress for the same ultimate objective? 

0:11:09.9 AL: Right. So, my idea is that there's no chance to achieve what I wanna achieve without democracy as a basis. So bipartisanship is really important for that reason itself. And then beyond that, it's a tool to achieve things sometimes. So on the one hand, I'm a Democrat, he's a Republican. If you ask Democrats, "What are the things you're proudest of about your party that you've accomplished?" The truth is, most of them weren't passed with any or much Republican support: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Nationally Relations Act, the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour day, in terms of federal legislation, the original Clean Water Act, I could go on.

0:12:00.6 AL: But every week in Congress, when we were in session, I was across the aisle on his side looking for some Republican other to partner on. So my idea of bipartisanship would be more Ted Kennedy in Orrin Hatch. Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, nobody doubted. He wasn't any Problem Solvers Caucus, he wasn't in the middle. That's not the idea. But Orrin Hatch wasn't either. He was very conservative. But they worked together on the Americans with Disabilities Act, they worked together on the Children's Health Insurance Program, the CHIP Act, they worked together on the Ryan White CARE Act to help poor people access AIDS Care. So I think that bipartisanship is super important because most of the time you need to work together to get stuff done. And also, unless we are willing to respect each other and we're collaboratively, we can't have a democracy, and we're not gonna get anything done unless we have that.

0:13:00.4 SP: Okay. So, let's follow up on the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is an attempt at least to recognize that there's a problem and that we do want to work across the aisle. What's the problem with it? 

0:13:16.0 PM: I didn't think I was overly praising of it, I thought I was recently critical, [laughter] but...

0:13:19.2 AL: Oh, wow. Well, yeah, it's not a big deal to me here, but I... Basically, my real critique isn't of the Problem Solvers Caucus, my real critique is of the idea that I've heard over my whole adult lifetime. The grown-up places in the middle, the sophisticated places in the middle, the mature places in the middle, a real progressive or liberal and a real conservative, they are ideological, or extreme, or simplistic, or stubborn. And the reason I gave the Kennedy and Hatch example is I just don't think that's true. And if that was true, we would never have Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or many things, 'cause none of them came from the middle.

0:14:02.8 AL: So I think that to me bipartisanship in its best form is really standing up for what you believe in. Look, when I had a bill, I had an idea to... Doesn't it bug you about how generics never come to market? And right when the seven years or whatever of a patent is coming up, the big Pharma company involved find some little tweak and they say, "Oh, discovery: We need another seven years of you paying some ungodly some money for this drug." And as a parent, my mundane example is zip creams. [laughter] I'm not kidding, guys, I've got four kids.

0:14:41.1 AL: Okay, the dermatologist says, "Well, go get this," and you go and it's $350. And then when you scratch beneath the surface, it's actually just Formula A from 20 years ago and Formula B from nine years ago, and they combine them, and now it's $300, and you literally can still go buy A and B for $4 each. Okay. So, my point is, this bugged me, I created a bill to solve this, and I went and found Francis Rooney. He retired before you came. Very conservative Republican. But I found someone on the... I wasn't on the Committee of Jurisdiction, which is energy and commerce. He was, he loved the idea, and we partnered together. That's what I love about bipartisanship.

0:15:29.2 AL: I can find something I agree with with almost any Republican, no matter how conservative. The problem isn't conservative and liberal, the problem is people who are willing to throw out our democracy to win or to achieve their objectives. And that's the problem. And the reason it was so great to serve with Peter is he would never do that, and he basically ended up giving up for the moment his Congressional career, 'cause he stood up for the proposition that we have to have the rule of law and peaceful transfer of power, and God bless him. He's a hero to me for that.

0:16:04.9 PM: Well, and you said very kind things.

0:16:07.3 AL: You are. You are.


0:16:10.5 PM: And now I'm gonna be accused of both siding.

0:16:14.2 AL: Go for it.

0:16:14.3 PM: No, but... Well, I'm sorry that some of your D triple C dues went to support my primary challenger.

0:16:21.7 AL: Me too, and I spoke up about it.

0:16:21.7 PM: Thank you.

0:16:22.6 AL: And I didn't pay any dues.

0:16:23.9 PM: Yeah, fair enough.

0:16:24.8 AL: This just this time, 'cause when you're in a primary, until you win your primary, you don't pay your dues, and then I didn't win my primary, so I didn't have any money and I didn't pay my dues. Go ahead. You're right about that. I totally agree with you.

0:16:35.4 PM: I think the... And I don't mean to draw an equivalence so much as to say the amount of problems that exist that arise because the bad acts or the deficiencies of one party instead of the other party looking at that and saying, "We will never stoop to that level," or "Uh, this gives us an opportunity to sharpen our skills and to be better," the best scenario. If you have a two-party system, iron sharpening iron, if we have two parties who look at the failures of the other and say, either that gives us license to do the same, or it means we can just kinda muddle through without having to hone, you don't have iron sharpening iron, you have two like jello blobs just like bumping up against each other. The electoral college certification question. Go back to the only real recent history of that Barbara Boxer for the Ohio results in 2004. It was not Dominion Voting machines, it was the Diebold scandal, scandal, conspiracy and the vote switching. Now, there was a lot less... She was the only Senator. But you had that component, you had 2016 where there were some, I guess, 2017, 2005, 2017.

0:17:53.2 PM: But there's things where all of sudden the idea is put in the head of somebody else who says, "You know what, I think we can do that and do it one better." And now obviously January 6th is something without comparison within that dynamic and the consequences without comparison. But it would be so much easier in our politics if there were things that were just objectively like, "Okay, this team doesn't do this, and this team definitely does that." I mean, it is...

0:18:16.1 SP: But maybe that's where we're getting to? 

0:18:17.7 PM: But it's almost poetic, like the classified documents that Trump took away and had and Biden as well, and you're like, "Good god guys, can you just get your acts together on all this?" Now, that's not to say that they're equal, but if there are places where I'm not saying the responsibility is 50/50, even if it's 80/20, everyone's hands are a little bit dirty. And the other party being 80% shouldn't allow license for the other party to accept the 20%. I get so frustrated by the notion that Republicans alone are a threat to democracy when I have colleagues, and there's probably people in this room who agree with this and support getting rid of the Supreme Court or abolishing the Senate or other very serious changes.

0:19:03.2 SP: You're getting ahead of all the questions I wanna ask. [laughter]

0:19:07.0 PM: No. But it's that idea that, well, if it fits my priors and is to our partisan advantage, why don't we get away and abolish and get rid of this thing that we feel is standing in the way between where we are and the utopia that we feel we could be? And those type of short circuiting always come back to bite, always come back to a negative dynamic. Crack me up, at the same time that I was castigating my colleagues for objecting and trying to change the presidential results. Marc Elias was suing to have Mariannette Miller-Meeks not seated as a member of Congress after I've been duly certified. It's like guys... But we've lost our capacity to feel shame about hypocrisy. And I think that if hypocrisy is the respect that vice pays to virtue, you at least feel like you should be acting virtuous. We've kinda gotten to the position where it is just all means to the end cynicism and that leads us in a bad direction and a dark path.

0:20:11.0 SP: So, you talked about that in your final letter to your constituents. So let's dive deeper into that. The whole resistance to the legitimacy of elections and to the process, 'cause it's not just the result, but it's an ongoing problem. Even now, Kari Lake is still trying to... Contesting, she refuses to concede that she lost the election.

0:20:42.8 PM: Has Stacey Abrams acknowledged yet too? 'Cause I feel like that's a better comparison on the...

0:20:45.5 SP: That's true. No. And that has come up in other circles as well. Some people remember prior to the 2016 elections that Hillary Clinton also didn't expressly say that she would accept defeat. But that's a little bit different from continuing to contest that you were not elected. In other words, words versus now actions.

0:21:16.1 PM: Completely agree. And Donald Trump stands in a realm by himself on that as is patently obvious.

0:21:21.6 SP: Right. So, how do we get past this or do we with this very large divide? Again, I'm not saying that one side is better than the other, but to go to Representative Levin's point, when you have one party that even doing the right thing and standing up for the values that you believe in gets you ousted, which you accepted because you were true to your values and beliefs. But when no one else seems to be doing that, where do we go? And where do all of us go? 

0:22:03.0 AL: And can I just add that we can't have this conversation without an American or United States vacuum, right? There's no way what just happened in Brazil would have happened without January 6th. I just don't... I haven't seen any reputable analyst who thinks it might have. And then you've got authoritarianism on the... Yeah.

0:22:25.6 SP: Except that in the case of Brazil, the former president was no longer in the country. He did not... Despite all of the things that he said, he didn't stand in the way of the new president being seated.

0:22:41.4 PM: I think that's a historical example.

0:22:42.1 AL: Well, Trump fled too without... It's more of parallel than a difference. He refused to hand the presidential sash to Lula in an unprecedented fashion. Trump refused to show up at the inauguration. But then we have authoritarianism on the march in many parts of the world, and it's very, very troubling in Europe and in Asia and elsewhere.

0:23:11.8 SP: But do you think it started here? 

0:23:13.4 AL: Well, there's no day one start, but I think that the US plays and has outside's influence in the world. And I think the authoritarianism of Trumpism and the anti-democratic nature of it is really troubling for our role in the world and for democracy altogether.

0:23:33.2 PM: I'm a little bit more bullish. If we're having this conversation a year ago, I would probably... That felt like a very dark time, and you kinda have the rise of authoritarian groups. If we look at where China is today, where Russia is today, where Iran is today, they're in a lot weaker position than they were. A lot of the shortcoming started to become self-evident. But I don't wanna quote Billy Joel and say, "We didn't start the fire." It's all... You have all these feedback that could occur.

0:24:01.3 SP: If you can sing it, you can. [laughter]

0:24:03.0 PM: Yeah. Yeah. Is that really song or it's like a spoken word? [laughter]

0:24:08.4 SP: We'll have to ask his daughter.

0:24:10.0 PM: That's true. But I don't know. To me, the reactive populism that we're seeing in a lot of places, and the kind of the power of the mob being harnessed, that's what scares the hell out of me. I think people, when they're in the individual are lovely and charming and redeeming and wonderful. You get a bunch of people in a crowd together, bad things happen. That gets scary. And that is sort of the essence of whipping up that fervor. I don't know how singular. Obviously, I'm sure January 6th to some degree was a... There was some component of that and what happened in Brazil. The big difference is nobody was in session. They just kind of stormed kinda empty buildings. Did a lot of damage to those buildings. It was shameful. But I'm pretty sure if we look back in South American history, there were probably other parallels and not exactly a land with a long history of democratic transitions as we have had. So I don't know.

0:25:16.0 SP: We also have played a little bit of a role in that.

0:25:18.0 AL: Oh, yes, certainly.

0:25:18.3 PM: Yes, yeah. When it comes to preventing...

0:25:20.2 AL: Arbenz.

0:25:21.8 PM: And that worked out...

0:25:21.9 AL: Danny Laron.

0:25:23.1 PM: Worked out great for us. At least we've taken a... There is at least a greater concession right now on behalf of the foreign policy establishment that regime change. Yeah. Careful what you wish for.

0:25:33.8 SP: Okay. Let's continue. Great, individuals are wonderful, collectively, maybe not so much so. Well, what reforms can we make? Because it's difficult to reform individuals, especially when they coalesce with other people? Are there some electoral reforms that could be made that would get us further along whether it's towards bipartisanship or accomplishing certain goals and objectives? 

0:26:07.1 AL: I think there are a ton that we can make and we have tried in the house. In my view, there are several big buckets of changes we need to make. One, is the role of money in politics. Money is not speech. The creation of corporate personhood was not... It was to allow business to function, it was never envisioned when it happened in the law to the idea that corporations should have unlimited ability to interfere and involve themselves in politics. And I don't even think a billionaire should have a billion times more influence than a regular person, that's not democratic. And so that's a big problem you have to work on.

0:26:56.5 AL: The Citizens United decision is what it is. So that would require a constitutional amendment or a new... A very different supreme court. Excuse me. That there are many things we could do. In our HR1 legislation, which we passed twice, in the 116th Congress and then the 117th Congress, for example, it includes my legislation to at least require some sunshine on corporations that their shareholders who own the company supposedly have the right to know what spending they're doing. So there's the whole issue of money in politics.

0:27:34.8 SP: But where did that go? And how do we...

0:27:37.1 AL: No, there's no bipartisan support for it. Republicans are against it. They've been against our...

0:27:41.0 PM: When you were negotiating in such good... This was like, these are the bills you drop on day one of the Congress that aren't going anywhere. There was no Senate negotiations.

0:27:50.5 AL: Right. But well, we're talking about ideas. I think that we ought to get rid of partisan gerrymandering, that's in HR1 as well. We did it in Michigan as a citizenry with overwhelming support and I think it ought to happen on a national basis. I think voting access basically... Some Republicans around the country in a systematic way are saying, "We're better off if less people vote." And they're restricting access to voting, which was Stacey Abrams point, where people were disenfranchised, taken off the roles. All felon should be able to vote after they're out of prison. Some people think prisoners should be able to vote, but that's... I think people should be able to vote after they do their time.

0:28:37.6 AL: We've made, again, reforms in Michigan on the state level that should happen on a national basis, and I introduced to other legislation, for example, a bill to punish intimidation, threats, and actual violence against poll workers, the volunteers when you go to vote, if you ever go in person anymore, the folks who work there for the day. And the same against voting equipment or people who serve as voting equipment. And another piece of legislation to provide funding so that people can get, especially younger people to participate in the running of our democracy. So I think there's so many things we could do, but we haven't had a lot of bipartisanship on that issue.

0:29:24.8 SP: Well, for instance, and I know our students know this, the lines at U of M to vote at the library... At the museum at UMA were incredibly long. How long did they last until the last person voted at like 4:00 in the morning or something? 

0:29:43.1 PM: 2:00 to something.

0:29:44.2 SP: 2:00 AM.

0:29:45.1 PM: You guys had an issue with the machines in that case.

0:29:49.0 SP: No, it was just there were so many people that...

0:29:51.6 PM: So why was there only one polling station? 

0:29:53.4 SP: No, there were more than one, but students...

0:29:55.0 AL: In Michigan's history, Republicans in the legislature prevented students from voting at their universities, because they think students are more likely to be Democrats, so they... So in the reforms...

0:30:10.8 PM: A historical misconception, I'm sure.

0:30:12.1 AL: Well, whether it's true or not. We have to say that, let everybody vote and then I'm gonna do better than you at convincing people to vote for me, that should be the idea. In our reforms that we passed and promote the vote in 2018, we allowed same-day registration and voting. That students should be able to register and vote on that day. It is slower to register and vote on the same day, obviously. And so a lot of students registering and voting at the same time, and if they show up at 8:00 PM and there's hundreds of people, it's gonna take a while because our voting system is actually awesome and we're very careful and we have all the protections we need to make sure that people are who they say they are, and so forth.

0:31:00.9 SP: Okay. Let me press you on this because...

0:31:01.0 PM: Yeah, I got a lot to say. I got a lot to say.

0:31:02.5 SP: Exactly, 'cause I'm watching faces. Alright, you proposed lots of things. Representative Meijer is suggesting, yeah, but those were never serious proposals, they were just dropped on the first day, that's, I think I quoted you accurately. If they're not serious, in your view, what would serious reforms be that could be made? And how do we get to that bipartisanship that your committee worked through, that you did maybe without a committee, a special group? How do we get there? 

0:31:45.0 PM: And I will say, and I don't mean to dismiss everything on Hank 'cause I wanna look at a couple of parts of HR1. You talk about the funding of elections, which I appreciate you're still on that. A lot of your Democratic colleagues have stopped talking about that because of the Democratic fundraising advantage, both through the efficiency of ActBlue, which is an incredible system. The Republican Alternative WinRed, the incentive structure is different and it's a much higher cost. So ActBlue has been a game changer in terms of Democratic fundraising. But even on the dark money side, the GOP has started to get swamped, like they switched in 2016-2017. And you'll find a lot of Republicans wanting corporations to get their money out of elections now where the Republican party stands when it comes to corporations. But HR1 included a, I think it was a six to one low dollar match? 

0:32:35.4 AL: Yep, you could give up to $200 to a candidate and it's matched six to one. So if you gave $100, there'd be $600 more, so your $100 becomes $700.

0:32:45.3 SP: By whom? By the...

0:32:47.0 AL: Not by the taxpayers, by public funds. Funds recovered...

0:32:51.9 PM: Yeah, there was a fine mechanism, I think.

0:32:54.7 AL: Yeah. Yeah, that's public financing campaigns. I'm a strong backer of it.

0:33:01.9 PM: My biggest opposition to that was the highest Republican fundraising in the first quarter of 2021 or your sophomore first quarter. My freshman first quarter was Marjorie Taylor Greene who brought in $3.5 million. She would have been north of $20 million with that type of system. Because I think there's this notion that low dollar is pure, but the alternative is it incentivizes people with big email list who send out the most incendiary stuff. And now a lot of that gets clawed back through list rentals and vendors and all the others. But when it comes to the financing question, I don't have a good answer to that, I just am really well-positioned to pick holes and I'd like to make an offer.

0:33:42.8 AL: All right. We're gonna make... Watch us. Watch us, right here. Ambassador, watch us. Let's... No, neither of us is there anymore, but still, [laughter] let's say, keep it as it is but you only could do it for your own representative. So people in the old third when you were running could give to you, but they couldn't give to Marjorie Taylor Greene or some people all around. And I think that's democratic because I'm still getting to contribute to the person who will represent me, but I think it takes away the problem.

0:34:13.8 SP: In other words, when we all receive all of the literature or the mailing list, emails, and it's for someone in Florida, whichever side you're on? 

0:34:23.8 AL: You can contribute to Debbie Dingle or whoever is running on the other side right here, but...

0:34:30.5 SP: Hey, shoutout.

0:34:32.1 AL: Yeah, shoutout to my sister.

0:34:32.7 SP: Thank you.


0:34:34.8 SP: I'm glad you noticed.

0:34:36.4 AL: I noticed.

0:34:37.0 SP: Welcome.

0:34:37.9 AL: I long learned to notice when Debbie walks in the room. [laughter] Plus, she just radiates light. But I think... What do you think? I'm just coming up with that idea right now, I kinda like it, and it fits your problem, I'm trying to solve your...

0:34:53.8 SP: Can you get this to one of the new representatives? 

0:34:58.6 AL: John Sarbanes. Oh my God, on our side. But I support these things on principle, and I don't...

0:35:03.6 SP: But we want them to happen.

0:35:05.1 PM: And I'm skeptical in practice.

0:35:07.8 AL: But yeah, John Sarbanes, I'll call John and tell him. But I think if you could, that would be amazing to pass that.

0:35:14.6 PM: BCRA, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or whatever became fine gold as it's commonly known. The goal was to get money out of politics.

0:35:22.5 SP: Right.

0:35:24.0 PM: The challenge was it inadvertently led to the rise of Super PACS. If it didn't take money out of politics, it just shifted money from political parties to outside organizations, and that's how you saw the rise of the Club for Growth or Arabella network. You have all of these entities that kind of come in and start to do it, and there's really... So that's where I'm always wanna talk about... On the financial side, I'm very wary of, Okay, do we have a bad system, but we could probably have a worst system, let's make sure we're...

0:35:56.8 AL: Not making it worse.

0:35:58.3 PM: Yeah. They're not paved with good intentions. But I wanna talk on sort of that broader question of what reforms could help, and then my challenge is, I think one of the strengths of our country of having 50 different states who can compare and contrast, can try new things, you can look for best practices, you don't have that comparison set, if we have a one-size-fits-all solution that's coming from Washington DC.

0:36:26.9 PM: I think we should have guardrails, and Help America Vote was a little bit along those lines. I think one of the biggest issues we encounter when it comes to elections is if you have male administration or just screw-ups and you're gonna have mistakes that are made. Antrim County is a great example of just an innocent mistake that got blown way out of proportion. You look at where conspiracies can arise and it comes from systems being shut down, it comes from human error, it comes from other ways in which the processes were not great.

0:36:57.7 SP: But sometimes they come from people actively providing misinformation.

0:37:01.7 PM: Those are the people who are planting the seeds, but the ground is fertile because of those mistakes. So I'm not excusing the people who are trying to capitalize and weaponize, but in my mind, it's you drain, you reduce the area by having things performed as competently as possible, and I...

0:37:19.0 SP: Okay. So, what's the reform? 

0:37:19.9 PM: At the federal level? 

0:37:21.3 SP: At any level.

0:37:23.5 PM: Incentivizing through grant programs at the federal level along the line of very well-understood best practices. Issue One, and a group of folks on the left and the right that came out with a paper, and I think it was January of 2022. Just looking through in a non-partisan way, what are some of the best practices in terms of voter role maintenance? This is where Republicans get accused of purging because you have somebody who hasn't voted in two decades and their name gets removed from the roles.

0:37:52.8 SP: Which in a constitutional system, if you don't exercise a right, it doesn't just go away.

0:38:02.8 PM: But it doesn't say you can't vote.

0:38:03.3 AL: Also the new rules aren't about 20 years, they're about five years.

0:38:07.4 PM: It all depends on the state. This is the challenge. We saw this with the 2020 election cycle with Secretary of State Benson using the NGP VAN voter file. Again, not for absentee ballots, but for absentee ballot applications.

0:38:21.7 SP: Well, so this is a good example that you're raising. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is a great example of someone who has been widely recognized as a state authority on elections, but there are a lot of complaints, not necessarily about her, but in general about a partisan position of Secretary of State, when that person, him or herself, is also running in the elections.

0:38:53.0 PM: Same allegations against then Secretary of State Brian Kemp when he was running for Governor in Georgia against Stacey Abrams, yeah.

0:39:01.1 SP: Correct. So what kind of... At the state level, and even nationally to a certain extent, where could we go on an issue like that? Because if we want to have... Not necessarily that it's about bipartisanship, but fairness, if I'm thinking, well, yeah, but he or she is actually running, so what incentive would they have for making sure that everything is fair in today's world? 

0:39:33.7 PM: To follow the law, so you don't... You frankly are going to need...

0:39:37.6 AL: Yeah. I'm not big on this, the idea... I don't think this is our big problem, that secretaries of state run for election and they run as partisans. Look at how the Secretary State of Georgia stood up as a Republican for the propriety of the Georgia electoral system.

0:39:56.2 PM: Brad Raffensperger.

0:39:56.4 AL: I thought he did a pretty admirable job. And then if you say, "Well, they should be chose in a different way," I would... Frankly, in Michigan, we elect our Supreme Court Justices, this notion that they're non-partisan, what a joke! The parties choose the nominees, then big money floods in, and they duke it out.

0:40:20.0 SP: And they endorse them.

0:40:21.1 AL: Yeah, they endorse them, and then they follow the script not to say certain words. I think it would be better for the judicial system if they were appointed by the governors, but I don't think that's... First, I don't know if what you think about Secretaries of State, but I don't think that's a huge...

0:40:40.7 PM: I agree with you.

0:40:41.5 AL: A focus of the problem.

0:40:42.3 SP: So let's just try to... We've got money, electoral campaign financing, some voter reform, like what? And how can we as citizens get involved in trying to help with those types of reforms? 

0:41:03.4 PM: Well, I come back to the earlier conversation around voting as The Carter, Ford agreement had, that's secure, that's efficient, that is accessible. Those are metrics that you can count and that you can track. And the challenge is you have... One of the strengths of our system, frankly, so decentralized it is; having individual administration, a county levels or within a municipality, having the states have their own set-ups, it is a very tough thing to try to manipulate that en masse because of how decentralized it is.

0:41:36.1 AL: It's not online is the biggest thing.

0:41:37.5 PM: Yeah. The one thing we can probably agree on...

0:41:39.2 AL: Which like Brazil, which is weird, you saw about Brazil, they had results... Did anybody watch the results of Brazil? You were like, dang, 30 seconds later, like 4 million more votes were in, and you knew, well, that's really attractive, but it's freaky because it's all online, and I really agree. But let me say this...

0:41:57.2 PM: You are no proponent of electronic voting.

0:42:00.1 AL: Right. But let me say this. This is a civil rights issue, this is a basic human rights issue, and I'm all for the states having their autonomy in certain areas, but I'm not... Like the gutting of the Voting Rights Act was a huge problem by the Supreme Court.

0:42:17.5 PM: Specifically the removal of the pre-clearance.

0:42:19.5 AL: Yes. And that's because I don't think the state should all get to decide on themselves how much they respect people's civil rights. And I think we should have a sort of minimum level of health voting, health of our democracy, health of our voting systems, which is, we can talk about list... Maintenance of lists and come up with best practices, but we ought to have a certain... You can call it guardrails, but we're not close to having them, national guardrails. And that's what HR1 tried to do. And I'm sorry, in this case, bipartisanship isn't the answer to everything, the people of Michigan, because of our Republican legislature, had to take the darn matter into our own hands and pass these things as a ballot initiative, and I'm darn proud we did. And they garnered significant majorities. Significant, not... It wasn't all Democrats versus Republicans, because over 60% of people I think voted for both, voters not politicians, and promote the vote, and now we did a better additional promote the vote this time.

0:43:29.8 SP: Okay.

0:43:32.0 PM: Keeping an eye on the time, 'cause we've got a lot. I like the idea of taking redistricting out of political process, but there's always gonna be a political element to it. I don't know how many of you guys were watching along in the Penn Citizen redistricting commission. But the shift in interpretation from a VRA district commonly conceived as voting rights district, compliant district, being a majority minority to a minority preference was one of the reasons why, frankly, there was no African-American representation in Congress from the State of Michigan, except for John James. Yeah, on the Democratic side there's nothing.

0:44:12.7 AL: The same number we had before, but none... There's one before, there's one now, but there's no one from Detroit, which is I agree.

0:44:18.9 PM: Because the notion was cracking up the urban area so that you could get a more... Because of some of the geographic realities of partisanship, crack up an urban area like Detroit, extending it into more blue-leaning suburbs, which helped maximize the vote efficiency, but then resulted in a decrease of at least representation in that regard for a place like city of Detroit.

0:44:42.8 AL: Frankly, I think where they really messed up was at the state house representatives. I thought the level of unpacking Detroit and having... Hello, Detroit has... How many people are in a state rep district? Does anybody know? 90,000, a little over 90,000. Detroit has probably over 700,000 people, really in the census it had just under 700,000. The idea that there are virtually no state reps just from Detroit, just to increase voting efficiency, I just think that's wrong. But that was... But I don't think that is counter...

0:45:17.5 PM: No, I am not saying it is negative reform, I just think there's no panacea.

0:45:17.7 AL: To the idea of getting rid of gerrymandering. I agree those are both really important things we have to look for.

0:45:23.9 SP: Okay. So let's go back to confidence in our elections. How do we increase that? You say bi-partisanship is not the answer, but also if one group doesn't like what the majority passes and you have no bipartisanship, well, then you really just have one party making the rules until the next time when the other party gets into the position. So what do we do when you have so many people who literally believe that whether you call it the elections were stolen, they were unfair, they were unjust, illegitimate...

0:46:08.6 PM: Voter suppression tipped the balance, is the allegation. That's the core area. To me come find the data, 'cause if we are getting back to that...

0:46:15.7 SP: But data can also be interpreted in different ways depending on what you ask to be collected. But if we are not reaching those people who believe... You can provide them with all kinds of evidence, and we see this all across the board on lots and lots of issues that have nothing to do with elections; they don't believe the data.

0:46:39.2 AL: Let me just expand the lens for a second. Because, first of all, I do think bipartisanship is really important. I'm just saying that...

0:46:45.6 SP: You say, it is not the answer, I didn't say that you said it was not important.

0:46:47.2 AL: On this particular thing of reforms to our electoral system, I don't see interest on the Republican side to work together if there is... I think that's great, and I was really serious about our getting together on this idea of public financing elections, I think we were really... Had substantive ideas.

0:47:08.3 PM: You are moving the goal post on what we were talking about on public financing.

0:47:12.5 AL: Well, I thought that...

[overlapping conversation]

0:47:17.1 PM: [0:47:17.1] ____ campaigns. I'm sorry.

0:47:17.1 AL: Yeah, but what I'm saying is this. People's lack of confidence, I think bi-partisanship plays a role in it, but also it's interesting you said, "Oh, it would be terrible if just one side made all the rules, then there's an election and the other side made all the rules.

0:47:30.8 SP: I didn't say it would be terrible.

0:47:31.8 AL: Oh, in any event. That's what most of the democracies in the world actually do.

0:47:37.0 SP: Yeah, majority wins.

0:47:39.4 AL: Their parliamentary systems, and there aren't all these efforts to prevent the party that wins the election from governing. And party A wins an election, and then they go out and they run their program, and then the next election people say, "Well, did I like that program or not? Well, I think I'll go with this other party," and I think it's a legitimate democratic way of doing things. And I think in terms of reforms of the system, I think you can say that our system is so gummed up with... The democratic party, just to pick our party, hasn't had a majority that could really run our program in decades and since Lyndon Johnson.

0:48:21.5 SP: So, is that because of the big tech approach that you've got everyone under the sun that you have to try to address? 

0:48:27.0 AL: No, I don't think so. I think it's because of the filibuster, first of all, a very undemocratic anti-majoritarian notion that you have to get 60 people to do anything in the Senate, and obviously the Senate itself already... Wyoming has the same two senators, California has almost 40 million people, Wyoming has 600 something thousand, I don't know how many.

0:48:50.7 PM: Delaware.

0:48:51.4 AL: And Delaware. I'm saying small so that...

0:48:53.8 SP: So these are reforms that we could think about, but again, in the short term, how do we restore confidence to people? So if we look out at this room, we're here because we're really worried. We're very, very concerned.

0:49:10.8 AL: I just wanna say that if we actually solve the American people's problems, I think they'd have a lot more confidence in the system. If they actually made living wages, if they actually all had healthcare, if they actually... If we ever solve the immigration, if we actually tackle the big problems in this country, and we're not doing it, and we're not gonna do it in the next two years with divided government, so I think that's one of the reasons that people don't have confidence in the government. But anyway, go ahead.

0:49:40.5 PM: I will just say the argument again for abolishing the filibuster just cracks me up to no end, because by God imagine what a President DeSantis with a Republican-led Senate and a Republican-led house would do. But that's the thing, is I think we get very much in the notion. I was encouraging my colleagues ahead of January 6 to think about this: We're destroying the electoral college, for what? And you may like this idea because it narrowly benefits you now, but it's gonna come back to bite you in the rear if we're acting impulsively and not realizing that our system was made and designed to act slowly.

0:50:14.8 PM: Now, we should change the direction, we should go to the place where we are frankly solving problems and fulfilling the contract that... The social contract between the people and the government. Because I think there's a reason why before Donald Trump started saying, "Drain the swamp," Nancy Pelosi was saying "Drain the swamp." There are a lot of frustrations that are bi-partisan, the question is, do you actually have evidence? And if you do have evidence that it is a problem, do you have the solution? And when I was talking about data in elections earlier, things like how percentage of eligible voters who are registered, easy data to have that is hard manipulate, of the amount of wait time at a polling station.

0:50:58.5 SP: Providing water while people are in a polling line.

0:51:02.9 PM: Which we can't do in Michigan, by the way, as campaigns, which was cracking me up about the Georgia allegations of being Jim Crow 2.0. If anyone follows the current Georgia Secretary of State, he was putting out all of their statistics. Compare vote registration numbers in Georgia versus New York, and voter turnout numbers in Georgia versus New York. That's the bitter irony around one of the reasons why you see in more swing states or red states efforts around to get rid of partisan gerrymandering but no similar efforts in California or in New York. Everyone loves a reform if it advantages their side and as soon as it doesn't, kinda goes back. But to me what we should have as non-negotiable, is have as many eligible voters registered to vote and participating as possible, and also make voting as easy as possible, as rapid as possible in that process, but while ensuring basic thresholds and security.

0:51:53.0 SP: But it's great. That's great. But you seem like an outlier on this question, on...

0:52:00.7 PM: Yeah. This was the irony about a lot of the stop-to-steal stuff. It wasn't the wrong people voted, it was oh, the machine, something, it's in the computer, it went down a lot of rabbit holes.

0:52:08.6 AL: Alright, let's talk about data. The Republican party has a national systematic program to prevent people from voting in this country, in state legislature, after state legislature. And in my service, especially in the 100, it's called... What's the name of that org? There's an organization called the... What's it called? The national group that... No, no, no.

0:52:35.0 PM: You're talking about ALEC? The Association of...

0:52:36.5 AL: Yeah, ALEC comes up with this stuff and propagates it across the country, the American Counsel, American Legislative Exchange Council. And the laws that are introduced are identical all over the country to prevent people from voting easily, and especially black people, other people of color, students. Really, I agree that if we could take a data-driven approach, just like Peter is saying about making sure that most people possible could vote, and that they could vote easily. But it's not happening.

0:53:20.9 SP: Okay. So, you believe in that? No, no...

0:53:23.5 PM: I'm gonna firmly rebut that ALEC is involved in some, which it's a state legislature assembly. I've never been involved with them, but ALEC on the left becomes sort of the Soros of the right, sort of these nefarious string pullers, but I...

0:53:39.0 AL: It's a real thing and it exists.

0:53:40.9 PM: As is George Soros funding of DAs...

0:53:43.0 AL: We have no... There's no...

[overlapping conversation]

0:53:45.4 SP: Okay. Clearly we could have another conversation.

0:53:48.0 PM: Well, okay, we all agree on something. I think both parties, and I heard this all the time of Republicans saying, "Well, why can't Republican leadership have its stuff together and act more competently like the Democratic leadership and Nancy Pelosi do?" I think there's a lot of projection of incompetency on the other side.

0:54:02.8 AL: Indeed.

0:54:03.6 SP: Okay. That raises one question, because I wanna turn very soon to audience questions. So let me ask that key question about January 6th, and now with voter confidence so low and movement from the January 6th committee, your letter itself talks about the lack of accountability and that dishonesty is the new normal. So, where do we go from there? And if the fact that... If sitting members of Congress are found to have participated in an effort to actually prevent the peaceful transfer of power, what should happen to them, in your views? 

0:54:58.0 AL: If you break the law, there are criminal consequences, if you do something that the Ethics Committee would find that had been above and beyond, I don't know what the right term about for this, but something that is a historical breach that would have been prosecuted by an Ethics Committee, which I don't know if the house...

0:55:16.4 SP: But the House Rules Committee under the new Congress has just decided to, I think, abolish the Ethics Committee or...

[overlapping conversation]

0:55:27.4 AL: They've weakened the office of ethics.

0:55:28.4 SP: Okay, weakened it.

0:55:29.3 PM: And by the way, the House Ethic Committee was under Democratic control for the entirety of the 117th, and to my knowledge, I think there were some investigations...

0:55:39.2 AL: It's a 50/50 Committee, the House Ethics Committee, is 50-50.

0:55:43.1 SP: So, what should happen, even if maybe there is not a legal finding, but we saw all of these people after the insurrection in the middle of the night, go back into Congress and refuse to certify the vote to object. So they may not have been involved in actually damaging the building, but they at least did not want it to go forward after being physically threatened. How does that happen? 

0:56:32.0 PM: I certainly have my criticisms of that. I think the challenge is if you try to have extra political consequences for the casting of a vote, that gets into very dark territory. Ultimately, they're accountable to their voters, and they are accountable to the process, as I was accountable to my voters and to the process. So, I get very uncomfortable 'cause the amount of times I've tried to... When we were talking about stripping committee assignments from folks, I really... I get how this time could be an exception, but we're setting the precedent that we don't know what that precedent's gonna be used for in the future, and we can criticize and we can condemn, but when you start to set those precedents, those will be used in ways that we maybe cannot even anticipate right then.

0:57:20.2 AL: So, personally I think this is an extraordinary time. It's not normal. It's not like all the other times. We had sitting members of Congress actively trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. And we had 139 in the house. Was it? How many... I get the overall numbers were [0:57:38.0] ____.

0:57:39.9 PM: I think 139 voted for both, I think it was 147 that voted for at least one... Arizona, Georgia.

0:57:45.0 AL: Yeah. So, who, as you said, voted to basically overrule the votes of millions of their fellow Americans in one or two... Arizona and/or Pennsylvania. So I think the evidence that the select committee started to come out with was fairly significant about the involvement of certain sitting members of Congress in insurrection against our democracy. And that's...

0:58:12.0 SP: Which is different from voting, from how they voted.

0:58:13.7 AL: Right. No, I agree with Peter about what he was saying.

0:58:15.5 PM: That's what I mean, 'cause that'd be a criminal act.

0:58:19.5 AL: Punishing people for casting a vote is a very complicated thing. So, going to your question, I agree with you that there should be real consequences. Now, speaking personally about how we handled it, I said, okay, I'm not doing anything with those insurrectionist colleagues, and then on February 1st, there was the coup in Burma. And I wrote the resolution condemning...

0:58:48.2 PM: Of 2021.

0:58:49.1 AL: 2021, which is...

0:58:51.9 PM: Three weeks.

0:58:52.2 AL: 25 days after January 6th or something. And I had said, "I'm not doing anything with those. I'll do anything with Peter Meijer, but I'm not doing anything... " There's a lot of Republicans who didn't do that, but the majority voted. And well, talk about the importance of bipartisanship, Madam Ambassador. In foreign affairs, It's really extra important, in my view. And so I wasn't about to write a resolution and not involve the ranking member, the top Republican on the Asia subcommittee, and Mike McCaul, the ranking member of the overall committee. So I was casting about, who could I do this resolution...

0:59:27.9 PM: McCaul voted to certify, by the way.

0:59:30.0 AL: No, I know. But Steve Chabot, I believe, we were going over it and the staff said like, "Oh, he didn't vote to overrule Arizona." I was like, "Great." And then they got to Pennsylvania, they're like, "Oh, well, he did." And I was like, "Dang." I just decided I had to do it with him anyway. I had to do it with him anyway because of... So it's very difficult to figure out how to handle it.

0:59:52.8 SP: Okay. So I'm gonna ask one last one and then go to the audience.

0:59:56.1 AL: Yeah, good.

0:59:58.5 SP: And this is related to McCarthy finally being elected as Speaker of the House. What does that say about whether it's the Republican party or the fringe extreme, whether we call them right wing or other things, because the media likes to use different terms and party...

1:00:24.1 PM: And some of the terms have become meaningless too, 'cause...

1:00:28.4 SP: Correct.

1:00:29.3 PM: You have... Like putting Chip Roy in the same as like Matt... Like, it's very different motivations.

1:00:35.6 SP: So, what does it say that he finally gets confirmed, but all of those votes, all of the compromises that he made in order to be elected speaker? What does that mean? And is it just personal to him? 

1:00:52.2 PM: There was definitely some degree where there were members who were just like, "I don't like the guy, I don't trust the guy." Or something else like that. It was not ideological. It didn't have like a foundational base. It was just personal. But that's the challenge with a slim majority. I mean, the biggest irony...

1:01:09.4 SP: But it hasn't happened in a hundred years.

1:01:12.0 PM: Well, the biggest irony is that the Republican majority in the House right now is identical to what the Democratic majority was. I mean, it's 222...

1:01:21.4 AL: And then we just saw the greatest Speaker in the history of the country do what she did with that very, very slim majority.

1:01:27.4 PM: Well, and I will say, and this is I think one of the most impressive things on the democratic side of the aisle, is the amount of entities that can kind of reinforce party loyalty. The Republican party, I mean, it is a hodgepodge. There's no... As much as some of my colleagues would like to think there's all sorts of machinations, there's nobody in charge. It's just a bunch of different... There may be people who are louder and can quiet a room more, or as like...

1:01:56.7 SP: And cast their vote at the last minute, after...

1:01:57.7 AL: Yeah. But let me say that I... Well, go ahead, you finish.

1:02:00.3 PM: Yeah. But what the GOP lacks is we don't have a sort of consultant and outside effort, unified sense of purpose. Now, that doesn't mean there aren't disputes internally about the direction, but if you are blackballed on the democratic side, you're losing access to vendors, you're losing access to outside funding organizations. There are real repercussions. I mean, some of the members who tried to go against Pelosi, it wasn't like, "Oh, no, committees will think about this." It was like, "Oh, does your husband or wife enjoy their job in this left-leaning organization or that?" That's impressive.

1:02:35.2 AL: Well, let me just say that I...

1:02:38.5 PM: And GOP can't do that.

1:02:41.1 AL: So, as someone who was a whip of the Progressive Caucus all four years, the idea of this kind of unity or control of the Democratic Party, I just don't know about that. And Debbie and I both stood up and screamed when they were going to take away money from states that had already gotten money. And Nancy was very mad at us about that, and we disobeyed and we didn't... There wasn't really... I think there's... Let's not make things so simplistic, right? I mean, to be a master in politics is psychology, it's knowing everybody, it's knowing the issue, it's being a master of policy. It's really, really impressive on a hundred levels, the way she managed a pretty diverse and crazy caucus.

1:03:41.9 AL: But I just wanna say this: There has been a cancer growing in the Republican party since Newt Gingrich was elected speaker. And he said, "You won't move your family to DC, you will ideally sleep on your couch. Our line is that DC is a horrible thing." And I experienced this personally, because my dad was elected to Congress in 1982. It wasn't during my childhood, but my parents entertained Republicans, he worked together with Republicans so much. And Gingrich was like, "If you work with Democrats, that's not allowed." And it was a scorch [1:04:21.3] ____ strategy.

1:04:22.5 SP: That's failure.

1:04:23.2 AL: And it grew during the Tea Party, and now it's completely in Trumpism and it's completely out of control. And we just saw, as you say, the longest struggle to get a Speaker chosen. Longer than 1923, it's the longest since the Civil War era.

1:04:38.5 SP: Okay. Let's turn to the audience. We have a lot of great questions.

1:04:48.5 Sofie Greenberg: All right. Representatives Meijer and Levin, thank you so much for being here. We have a lot of questions from the audience regarding bipartisanship, which I know you spoke about a bit at the beginning. One of these questions is, what would you say is the most common misconception about bipartisanship and working across the aisle in Congress today, and why? 

1:05:04.3 SP: And maybe what we can do is perhaps take three questions and then go to the two of you, if that's okay.

1:05:18.1 Rose Riley: The second question that we had was about our situation at U of M. At our two satellite clerk's offices, approximately 3900 students registered to vote and 4600 ballots were deposited in official City of Ann Arbor drop boxes during the election period. On election day, we had lines at these locations that were over six hours long at their longest. Sophie and I worked those lines. [chuckle]

1:05:39.3 AL: Thank you.

1:05:41.4 RR: Yeah, thank you. And as student leaders, we see those long lines as a symptom of a need for additional resources for local clerks to provide voting services to youth and student populations. How can we best provide these resources for local clerks and student groups providing the support? 

1:05:58.4 SP: And one more? 

1:06:00.0 SG: And then another one about electoral reform. Do you see electoral reforms such as ranked choice voting or nonpartisan primaries as a strategy to help restore trust in democracy? 

1:06:11.2 AL: Wanna go first? 

1:06:12.0 PM: Yeah, I will say when it comes to the situation on the U of M'S campus, I think I'm a big proponent of subsidiarity, like you have decisions made closest to the people being impacted by them, so that you can, if there's an issue, you can rapidly address it. I think, I don't want the federal government solving why there were long lines at the U of M campus. I mean, number one, county clerk, number two, your Secretary of State, look at why were there not more polling stations that were open? I mean, what were the underlying components of that? The funniest thing in the 2020 election which... Not the funniest thing. To me, the funniest thing is that Donald Trump's margin in the City of Detroit improved significantly, which both undercuts the arguments on the right that that was where the election was stolen, but also complicates the narrative a little bit more on the left, too.

1:06:54.5 SP: Yeah, the election is only stolen for those who lost.

1:06:57.5 PM: Yes, yeah.

1:07:00.0 SP: Those who won and receded, no, they don't seem to understand that irony.

1:07:05.6 PM: But when it comes to effective administration, go to the lower levels and then figure it out, 'cause if everything is gonna come from federal funding, it's gonna be, you're creating a dependency that may not always be there and that may create other risks and concerns. I really like final four, final five primaries and ranked-choice generals or instant runoff. I think one of the... I mean, in my own primary, there was a third candidate who submitted over a thousand signatures to get on the ballot. I'm gonna go back to Marc Elias, 'cause it was his law firm, challenged her signatures, got her knocked off 'cause she fell 50 short of the thousand threshold when they went through.

1:07:43.9 PM: And then it became a head-to-head. So there's a lot of ways you can game a primary... You're incentivizing candidates to appeal to a slimmer section of the electorate rather than going more broadly. Again, not a panacea, but I think it's an interesting reform to look at that addresses one of the problems on the primary side, which really benefits whichever party has greater control of their primary. Both in 2020 and in 2022, the Democratic nominee in my district ran unopposed. Which, as I'm sure you feel, running unopposed in a primary has gotta be a much better scenario. [chuckle]

1:08:17.0 AL: Evidently for me. So, I'll be real quick. I'm not a fan... I think we should have parties that mean something and stand for something. I'm not a fan of nonpartisan primaries. Ranked-choice voting is worth looking at. I do think the federal government should give more resources for... As I said earlier, I already introduced legislation to give more resources to clerks, and I would take the friendly amendment that there should be an emphasis on making sure students can... But I like the idea of leaving the decision making to locally, so maybe the Secretary of State or even at the county level, they could decide where the resources should go. And then your... Oh, the biggest misconception. I'm gonna go back to my bugaboo about being bipartisanship means you're a centrist.

1:09:09.6 AL: I just don't believe in that. I believe in, to take our two parties, a really liberal Democrat and a really conservative Republican can work together. Another example in my life was WIC, the Women Infants and Children program has needed modernization for a really long time. The pandemic turned it into a catastrophe. I introduced legislation that was signed by Donald Trump to start to fix that. And my partner was Elise Stefanik. After she went full Trump... That was in the 116th Congress. After she went full Trump, I switched over to Jaime Herrera Beutler as my partner.

1:09:50.9 AL: And in last Congress, we moved the ball further along. And then, the exact same thing happened to her that happened to Peter. So if I was there, again, I'd have to find a third partner. But I really believe that you can get things done. And I think the important thing is to build real relationships across the aisle, personal relationships. Somebody might be totally opposite than me, but I have two kids with Crohn's disease, maybe they have themselves or have somebody in their family. And you can work together on that issue, and you don't have to focus on all the other things you disagree about. So, I think it's really powerful.

1:10:23.3 SP: That's great. So relationship building is really essential.

1:10:26.3 AL: Really important.

1:10:27.1 SP: And I couldn't agree with you more. Next? 

1:10:32.3 SG: This next question is for Representative Meijer. Given your vote to impeach Trump after January 6th, were you surprised at the amount of public pushback you received from your colleagues in your party? 

1:10:40.5 PM: Wait, what...

1:10:41.9 AL: Oh, sorry. Yeah, we're done.

1:10:43.9 PM: If that's okay.

1:10:45.9 RR: We then have a question for Congressman Levin, so if you wanna answer first.

1:10:47.0 SP: Okay, go ahead.

1:10:51.0 PM: Not necessarily, and there wasn't really that much pushback internally. That was the interesting thing. And the pushback didn't really start to become a ball that was rolling until later. 'Cause initially, this was... I mean, when I cast that vote, which by the way, the story that hasn't really been told is there was a Republican who didn't vote to impeach, who approached Speaker Pelosi about drafting a more bipartisan article of impeachment. She shut him down and we ended up with the ghoul of having fewer Republicans voting. I mean, that still... So much of my cynicism came seeing how that was handled, both on the House side, and then the way in which it was processed in the Senate, that seemed designed to keep Donald Trump alive, because I think Joe Biden's best chance in 2024 is...

1:11:35.4 SP: If it had been done differently...

1:11:37.7 PM: It would've been at least 30 if not 50 Republicans, at that moment. Because that was the most dispirited thing, seeing people say one thing and then they wait a little bit, they look around, they see which way the wind was blowing.

1:11:49.3 AL: Kevin McCarthy, most famous.

1:11:51.0 PM: Everything kind of started to iterate in that direction, and that...

1:11:54.6 SP: So, what should have been done at the... Was it at the level when Nancy Pelosi was approached? 

1:12:01.0 PM: Frankly, there could have been a vote that night, or vote immediately following. I don't judge that timing as much as having the impeachment article be incitement, which even though impeachment is a political process, that was a criminal term. And so, that created some wiggle room. But also not just having it be dereliction of duty. I mean, just something that you don't need to go through and hum and haw about whether or not it meets the threshold, and if we go back to Supreme Court... Like, we're not talking about putting somebody in jail, we're talking about the Congress having its check on the executive. So, that's my...

1:12:42.0 SP: But you don't regret your decision? 

1:12:43.8 PM: No, no. I regret that we had to, but I cast that vote and I would cast that vote today. I mean, I think my biggest surprise was how that built over time as lines got redrawn and as... Yeah, if I can answer the question on bipartisanship, I think the biggest challenge is you can work together today, you don't know how that's gonna be used against you. Not just by your own party, but how that bipartisanship might be weaponized by the other side of the aisle. The House Majority PAC ads against David Valadao, which the House Majority PAC is the super PAC that Kevin McCarthy is CLF, the Conservative Leadership Fund, Speaker Pelosi... Or, no, Speaker McCarthy. Speaker Pelosi had House Majority PAC. They ran ads against David Valadao, supporting his primary challenger and being like, "David Valadao voted to impeach Trump. He's no conservative." And again, it was coming from a Democratic super PAC by Speaker Pelosi.

1:13:45.4 SP: Right, which I think is a really... I personally think that that's very scary, that you have people so interested in either lessening what they believe will be the challenge in order to get their person in, to actually put money into the funds for a candidate who supported this.

1:14:11.4 AL: The ends don't justify the means, they just don't. And I agree with Peter about that.

1:14:16.9 SP: Yeah. Okay.

1:14:17.4 RR: Our next question is for Congressman Levin. It's from audience member Billy. How do you think we can restore trust within our own people? I think he's referring here to Democrats, in our institutions of government. The majority of the American people have lost faith in American leadership and have resorted to things like conspiracies to convince themselves of some sort of American tyranny. How can we remedy this? 

1:14:43.1 AL: So, I think that the way that we can restore confidence is first to speak directly to people about their basic economic needs. And for over 40 years, the working people of this country have gotten the short end of the stick. Income and wealth inequality have gotten worse and worse to the point that they're the worst they've been in a hundred years. We're down to 6% of private sector workers having unions, which is the lowest it's been since before the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. And I could go on and on. If we speak directly to people and advocate for their needs, that's a big part of it. But also, it's actually getting it done.

1:15:37.6 AL: And this is why I say that I actually think that we would have a lot less conspiracy theories and a lot less of people going off to chase a billionaire or a full billionaire or whatever he is, who's supposedly gonna be their economic savior 'cause maybe they can get rich like him or what, I don't know what it is, and also people looking to scapegoat people that look differently than them or pray differently than them, if we actually delivered for the poor and working class people of this country. And that's why I'm such a big advocate of democratic reforms to allow when, yes, if there's a President DeSantis and a Republican majority, let them run their program.

1:16:23.7 AL: But the times that the Democratic party has been successful to oversimplify slightly is really the 1930s and the 1960s when we had large majorities. Nobody should criticize Joe Biden or Obama or Clinton or whatever for both FDR and LBJ who both governing during great crises had huge majorities in both the House and the Senate, and they passed democratic programs, and to this day, that's what the idea of the Democratic party is except we don't deliver it anymore for decades, and so it's not that surprising that people are like, "Well, what are you all doing for me lately?" So that's what I think.

1:17:04.6 PM: If I may add, we totally agree on the ends, right? On the most goals, and I think that I would have very different means, but to me... And that's what I think, getting back to the question on bipartisanship should be, "Okay, let's come to agreement on where we wanna go, we may have different ideas of what the best path would be there." But at that point, you can just follow the facts, demonstrate. But as long as there's agreement on that end. Right now we don't even... If we can't agree on what the problem is, you're not gonna be able to agree on a solution or make progress for the solution, and if you deny that there even is a problem, then you're not even getting to the point where you can have any of those conversations.

1:17:44.6 Speaker 7: Look, I think the problem though is really insulting, the way you talk about people like that. We have to release the John F. Kennedy files, right? Why are people just pretending like the president wasn't assassinated by a grouping of people and now they're covering it up? It's very insulting to sit here and talk to the American people as if they're just so stupid. I mean, the problem is that people don't trust you, and they don't trust you, then you can go wherever you want. I spoke with a number of these people and nothing actually has been done.

1:18:14.6 SP: Okay, so...

1:18:14.6 S7: Nothing has been done.

1:18:14.7 SP: No, thank you, thank you. I think they actually want to address your question.

1:18:20.0 PM: No. I will say when it comes to the JFK files, I don't know why the CIA, every... It's like every 10 years or so, I think it's basically under every administration, they move to de-classify or they say they're gonna de-classify. They don't do all that. Now, as somebody who worked in the intelligence community, that could be because it would be exposing sources and methods that are unrelated to the assassination, I have no idea. It's similar to a lot of the UFO stuff, where it's like, okay, a little bit more transparency would help a lot, and frankly, as somebody who also worked in the government.

1:18:50.3 PM: I can't imagine our government being competent enough or enough people being able to be quiet enough to be able to pull something like that off. That's just my prior. But to your point, I'm building that trust, you need to have transparency in order to do that. The challenge is if we have an environment and information environment where you can flood the zone and kinda selectively pick out places and you don't have the trusted component, everyone's going to design their own reality, and I don't mean just on the JFK, I mean just generally speaking.

1:19:23.0 SP: Okay. No. That's great, thank you. Alright, we have time for one last question.

1:19:26.2 Speaker 8: But what about the threat of war as well? I find it condescending quite honestly that we're right now on the brink of a Nuclear war with Russia and China which both parties are funding, which both parties are escalating and risking American lives instead of talking about restoring democracy and all these non-issues. Why don't you talk about the fact that we actually are in fascism right now in the United States, and we're supporting liberal Neo Nazis who are visiting members of Congress by the way to...

1:19:56.9 SP: Okay. Thank you very much.

1:20:00.2 AL: But could you guys be... In the interest of transparency.

1:20:02.3 S8: [1:20:02.4] ____ starving right now.

1:20:03.7 SP: Okay.

1:20:03.9 S8: Been using that for hundred [1:20:04.8] ____.

1:20:05.2 SP: Thank you very much. We have one last question for people who've waited.

1:20:11.4 AL: If I may, could you guys...

1:20:12.0 S8: What democracy is there? There is no democracy.

1:20:14.0 AL: Okay. Now, okay, I didn't hear a question there, but could you guys be transparent which group you're a part of? 

1:20:18.4 S8: I want you to address the fact that we're in a nuclear war. Why don't you talk about the fact that we're currently heading towards war because you're spending all this money in Ukraine. Why don't you talk about that? 

1:20:27.2 AL: So the counter...

1:20:28.8 S8: That's a real issue.

1:20:28.9 PM: No, no, no. So it's a fair question of being concerned about escalation because of our support for the Ukrainian government. That is a very fair question. I think the alternative and the counterfactual is we do nothing, Russia invades Ukraine completely, denies the Ukrainian people the ability to determine for themselves how they are governed, and then what happens when they go to Montenegro, when it goes into Moldova or Romania, right? Essentially, Ukraine is fighting a defensive war, and so the equivalence between the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people who are defending themselves and the Russian government, which is attacking a sovereign foreign country, there is no equivalence between that.

1:21:13.6 PM: Now, to the point of concern about escalation, again, that is valid, and I think that is weighing on everyone's mind. You have the concern of what is the consequence of an action we're undertaking, and what is the consequence of inaction? And I'm not saying we're always going to get that right. I know there's a lot of people who are very concerned about that, and that comes in the back of the mind at every single decision point. But you guys didn't answer what group you're part of, 'cause this is clearly coordinated, both of you were holding smartphones and asking unique questions unrelated to the topic.

1:21:45.9 AL: With their Louishes.

1:21:47.3 S7: I find it very insulting that so-called bipartisan groupings are not actually doing anything to stop nuclear war.

1:21:53.7 SP: Okay, thank you because we wanna go to the last question for people who signed up for election confidence. So let's ask the last question.

1:22:04.1 S8: [1:22:04.2] ____ the threat of war.

1:22:05.8 PM: I will say it's also disrespectful to the other people who are here to continually interrupt.


1:22:15.6 RR: Thank you very much. Our last question, we're here at the Ford School of Public Policy. Cleary many of us are interested in pursuing careers in advancement of democracy and the causes that are dear to us. What is your advice for what today's youth can do as they consider a career in public service? 

1:22:37.2 AL: Well, I would... So go for it, first of all, and there's so many options in terms of working globally and on diplomacy, on disarmament, on the issue of military spending on many things, and on domestic issues. Follow your heart, get involved and then don't try to overthink, like be ambitious about where you have to get to, think about what you really believe in and what issues matter the most to you, and work on those. And if you're a college, an undergraduate, don't just go to law school, [laughter] go out and... Business schools are better at this, they make you out and work a little bit. Go out and do something that you believe in for a year or two. But anyway, we need you desperately, and we can have a great democratic future in this country, small democratic future in this country. But look, we're frying this planet, there's no choice but for you to get in the game and help save life on earth, as we know it, help save our democratic... The health of our own democracy, democracies around the world. So study, act, get involved, create organizations, join organizations, and we need you.

1:24:12.0 PM: And find the places that you are really curious about. Where I think Andy you said it very well, of don't just focus on a title or a position, like find an area that interests you, find an area that maintains your curiosity, and then everything else will kind of unfold once you're in there. 'Cause most jobs are maybe 20% preparation, 80% on the job training. It's great to be able to come in as prepared as possible, but you also don't want the slide into arrogance or over-confidence that you have it all figured out, because it is... You learn so much more when you are humbled to no end at all the volume of things you realize you didn't know, but then can figure it out as you go along, because I'm sure you felt that way going into Congress, I felt that way going into Congress, and I've seen folks flourish who don't feel like they need to stick to one very linear path. It's good to have a plan, but abandon that plan when a better plan comes into formulation and you find something that's going to capture your interest and not feel at the end of the day like work.

1:25:20.1 SP: And if I could add one point to that, is that for those of you who may not be able to follow your passion immediately because you have debt or responsibilities, no one knows what stones everyone else is carrying in their backpacks, then find that job that takes care of those needs and what you need to accomplish, and then work towards be the best you can be at whatever that is, and then continue to follow your passion when you can maybe more truly afford it.

1:25:54.9 PM: And I will just add, if you were at all thinking about joining the military, the military is not as monolithic as it seems from the outside. It is a fascinating institution where you're shoved together with people from all different walks of life and all different parts of the country, and you learn skills, you are put towards a common agenda, you'll be very miserable, but you'll enjoy the misery. [laughter] I was an army reservist for 12 years. I had colleagues that ran the entire gamut of the political spectrum, and it was... And there was a really strong bipartisan cohort in Congress, who are not guys in the middle or gals in the middle, you got the whole breadth. And so I think if that's something that is at all kind of in on the periphery of your interest, it's something that you should look at because I don't know a single person who served in the military that regretted it. I know a lot of folks who thought about it, and then looked back 20 or 30 years later and thought, "Gosh, I wish I would have."

1:26:53.5 SP: Yeah, it's all public service. Okay, last question is what's next for both of you? You have been in public service, you have committed yourselves and your lives to trying to make the world better, more small de-democratic. Where do you go from here? 

1:27:14.6 PM: Well, you're driving five hours tonight, I've got a two-hour drive. Yeah.

1:27:17.7 AL: Yeah. So you go first. [laughter]

1:27:20.4 PM: I'll be honest, I don't know. I think one of my goals and one of my frustrations with a lot of community level issues is at the federal level, you're kinda dipping in and dipping out, there's never gonna be a federal solution to homelessness in the city of Grand Rapids. There could be ways in which the federal government assists or provides grants or something else along those lines, but trying to solve a lot of issues as close to where that issue is occurring, so that frankly you don't have higher levels of government attempted to step in and solve it with programs that are not gonna be as effective coming from DC as they would from the ground up.

1:27:53.4 SP: So you wanna stay at the local level, you wanna come back to the local level? 

1:27:56.6 PM: I wanna be very strongly engaged in those issues, and I also have... I'm still engaged in Afghanistan and trying to chart out the future of our bilateral relations, so that the sacrifices of the past 20 years... We went there because a state collapsed and allowed the rise of transnational terrorist groups who attacked the homeland, and after 20 years, thousands of lives, American lives lost, I mean, tens of thousands of... Over 100,000, if you include their security forces of Afghan lives lost, trillion dollar spent, we can't turn our backs and then allow for those same conditions to arise again. So I'm also committed on that. Now duck-tailing the two is difficult. [laughter]

1:28:36.0 SP: Thank you.

1:28:37.4 AL: So we're from different generations. I'm totally bullish on the future of Peter Meijer. Really I am.

1:28:44.5 SP: Let's give a hand for that.


1:28:49.2 AL: In Grand Rapids, Afghanistan, and beyond. So I'm having a great time. I'm still... There's a chance I'll do something with Biden administration, but I'm not looking for a job, so we're talking about very few things that I think would really be where I really could make a great contribution. What I'm focused on is I'll probably end up at a think tank or to participating in their work, and I'm already starting to do projects in Michigan and nationally on the things that I've worked on throughout my whole life.

1:29:29.1 SP: Like Haiti? 

1:29:29.2 AL: Well, I don't... Yeah, Haiti is very, very central to me, but basically workers, workers' rights or union organizing, job training, that whole basket, clean energy and climate change, and especially where those things come together, because one of the biggest blockages, speaking politically in the American politics, to moving as fast as we need to move is that you've got a lot of working people in this country who over generations have built up really great 70 or 80 an hour packages through their unions, working in building power plants or on pipelines or in refineries and putting up solar panels. Isn't like that, and that's a big problem. So I'm working on projects to try to solve problems like that, and you'll hear more details about it, but I'm really looking forward to this next phase. And I'll be in Michigan a lot and also in Washington.

1:30:31.5 SP: Excellent. Well, I wanna say thank you so much to both of our representatives.


1:30:36.7 SP: Representative Meijer, Representative Levin, thank you so much.

1:30:40.3 AL: Thank you so much.

1:30:41.4 SP: Thank you to everyone here. And we look forward to seeing you the next time. Thanks again.