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Senator Trent Lott

Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, has a lot of experience
rounding upevotes for Republican legislation. He's the former Senate majority
leader and former House and Senate whip. He's also the author of a new memoir,
"Herding Cats."


Other segments from the episode on December 1, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 1, 2005: Interview with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson; Interview with Trent Lott.



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SHOW: Fresh Air

DATE: December 1, 2005


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The accepted wisdom in American politics is that the moderate center prevents
either party from moving too far to the extreme. In the new book "Off Center"
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson write that the Republican Party has managed to
defy this accepted wisdom. They say the party has strayed from the moderate
middle of public opinion, sided with extremes and yet faced little public
backlash. After making this case, "Off Center" analyzes the techniques
Republicans have used to move the political agenda further to the right.

Jacob Hacker is an associate professor of political science at Yale and a
fellow at the New America Foundation. He's written for The New Republic, The
Nation and The New York Times and LA Times. Paul Pierson is a professor of
political science at the University of California at Berkeley and a former
professor of government at Harvard.

You wrote that Republicans have defied the normal laws of political gravity.
Which laws do you have in mind?

Mr. JACOB HACKER (Author, "Off Center"): Well, there are two laws that we have
in mind. You know, the conventional wisdom is that politicians almost always
seek the center. That's because they need to capture swing voters, people
right in the middle of the electorate, to gain office. So politicians are
expected to generally try to appeal to sort of the moderate center of public

The second law that we talk about is the--is that we have a very convoluted
political system with lots of checks and balances. It was designed to make
action very difficult. So if you are trying to change politics and policy, you
shouldn't be able to radically change them with--at least not without really
strong public support for your actions. But what Republicans have done
essentially is govern quite far to the right of the center of public opinion
and at the same time achieve and pursue many of their most conservative goals.
So, to us, that's very puzzling. It really is defying what we think of as the
normal course of American politics.

GROSS: You argue in your book that Republicans have been able to win elections
in spite of being further to the right than the majority of Americans, than the
mainstream of America. What evidence do you have that the Republican Party is
further to the right in its agenda than the majority of Americans or the
majority of Republicans who voted for them?

Mr. PAUL PIERSON (Author, "Off Center"): Well, in the book we run through a
great deal of evidence that looks at Republican politicians and also the
activist members of their party, which is sometimes referred to as the base,
which show that on a whole set of issues having to do with both the voting
behavior of politicians and the positions that are staked out by activists that
they've moved way to the right over the last 20 or 25 years. The changes are
really quite dramatic and can be demonstrated systematically. So one might
think, based in part on what Jacob was just saying about how
voters--politicians try to stay close to where the voters are, that that must
mean that voters have moved well to the right as well. But, in fact, if you
look systematically at public polling evidence--and there are political
scientists who measure every public opinion poll and look at the same questions
that have been asked repeatedly over many, many years--there's simply no sign
that, in fact, the opinions of voters have shifted to the right at all on the
major issues.

GROSS: So one of the questions you pose in the book is if the Republican Party
is further to the right than mainstream America, how have they managed to win
elections and what answers do you give to that?

Mr. HACKER: Well, I think you really have to focus on both sides of the story
in terms of elections. One side is the electoral battlefield or the geographic
map. And as we point out in the book, Republicans just have a big edge on the
electoral battlefield right out of the starting blocks. For example, in the
Senate over the last three Senate elections Democrats have actually picked up
2.5 million more votes in the last three elections in total than Republicans
but right now they're holding 44 seats in the Senate to Republicans 55. So
there's a really dramatic bias on the Senate side in favor of generally
Republican-leaning smaller states.

On the House side we've heard a lot about redistricting and gerrymandering and
that's certainly part of the story. In fact, in the most recent election,
2004, Bush won about 52 percent of the vote but he won in about 59 percent of
the nation's congressional districts. So that suggests the Republicans do have
an edge there. But I think it's also important to note that in the House side
that money is really important and the Republicans just have a huge edge in
terms of both the amount of money they have and their ability to distribute it
to Republican incumbents. So the electoral battlefield is really important.
It's very tilted in favor of Republicans.

The other thing we talk about in the book is that not only is the battlefield
tilted, but Republicans have gotten very good at figuring out how to fight the
battle on the terms that are most beneficial to them. That is, they use their
very strong control of government and of the political agenda to shift the
terrain of conflict onto those issues that most help them, such as national
security issues and the war on terrorism. And you might say, `Well, you know,
that's just part of politics.' But, as we point out in the book, the
Republicans are just much more coordinated than previous parties have been and
they've used government essentially to shut out the opposition party from any
meaningful participation in public debate. So until recently it really was
much--the game of politics was really like what Ron--journalist Ron Brown
described as a game of baseball in which only one team was at bat.

GROSS: Another point you make about elections is that in districts or in states
where the Republican is pretty much a shoe-in to win, that the primaries become
more important. In what sense do the primaries become more important in this
situation and how do you think Republicans have taken advantage of that?

Mr. PIERSON: This is a crucial change in American politics. So many
politicians are sitting in safe seats. There's less turnover in the House
these days among sitting members than there was in the Soviet Politburo in the
old days of the Soviet Union. Ninety-seven, 98 percent of incumbents are
typically re-elected. So if you're sitting in a safe seat like that, which
most sitting politicians are, and you're worried about keeping your job, the
only place where you're likely to face a threat is in the primary where you
could potentially be unseated by some kind of a challenger. And, of course,
primary electorates are very small--most people don't vote in primaries--and
they're limited to the most energized, most enthusiastic members of the
political party that the sitting incumbent is part of. And that means that
those most intense elements of the base, which tend to also be the most
politically extreme, really become important gatekeepers for politicians who
are trying to develop their careers and stay in power. And that's one of the
reasons--we don't think it's the only reason--but it's a very important reason
why the Republican Party has moved so far to the right. It's partly that they
have just moved that way ideologically but it's also that they do face this
incentive of really wanting to appeal to their base so they don't have to worry
about being challenged in a primary.

GROSS: Are there ways that you think that Republicans are trying to control
primaries in a way any different from the way Democrats are?

Mr. HACKER: Well, I think that both sides of the political, both Democrats and
Republicans, have witnessed these same trends towards increasing numbers of
safe seats. But in the Republican Party this transformation has resulted in a
much greater pull toward the extremes.

You know, one piece of evidence for this is--a University of Texas political
scientist looked at the changes in the Republican and Democratic Parties that
have caused partisan polarization and the went and they looked at every race
over the last 20 years or so. And one of the striking things was that when
Republicans were replaced by other Republicans, that is a Republican incumbent
lost office or left office and then another Republican replaced him, that
Republican was always much more conservative than the one before him. The same
wasn't true on the Democratic side of the aisle. That is, when Democrats
replaced other Democrats there was not a big shift to the left. So this is
clearly something that is much--a much stronger pull to the extremes on the
Republican side that's caused by primaries.

And in the book we talk about one possible cause of this which is that
Republican activists are much more cohesive and conservative than Democratic
activists are cohesive and liberal. For example, Republican activists have
moved dramatically to the right over the last 30 years according to the
well-respected opinion survey, The National Election Studies. They've moved so
far to the right, in fact, that they are farther away from independent voters
than they were in the mid-1960s when Barry Goldwater was nominated as the
Republican standard bearer.

And the other thing we know about Republicans is that they're very well
organized at the grassroots level. They're organized through churches and
through local organizations and school boards and that kind of organization
translates into getting out very intense, motivated, ideological voters in

GROSS: So one of your points about primaries--Republican primaries now--is that
you think that Republicans who are further to the right in the primary in a
safe seat--in a seat that's likely to go Republican or in any election that's
likely to go Republican--that it's the candidate more further to the right
that's likely to get the backing of the party and the money from the party and
the money from certain powerful right-wing groups?

Mr. PIERSON: Yes. Those groups become a key gatekeeper for the par--for people
who want to be successful in the party, and we can see that in the conservatism
that's evident among members of the House and Senate on the Republican side,
and especially among their leaders who are also tightly connected to these key
groups in the base.

But, of course, the other crucial part of the story here is that politicians
wouldn't be able to move so far to the right if they didn't feel like they were
going to have some protection around election time. And some of that, of
course, has to do with the geographical electoral advantages and the financial
advantages that we were talking about before. But it also has to do with very
sophisticated techniques that they've developed to allow politicians to appear
more moderate to a mainstream general election audience than, in fact, those
politicians actually are with respect to the policies that they're carrying

GROSS: Give us an example of what you mean.

Mr. PIERSON: Well, we can see good examples in the news today where there are
these big fights going on about the budget. Right now Congress is struggling
to pass a budget and there's a lot of discussion about how Republicans are
actually less unified, that there's more opposition than there has been in the
recent past. But a lot of that opposition is really theatrical rather than
substantive. There are efforts being made to allow moderate, potentially
vulnerable Republicans who are facing re-election next year to, as the lingo
sometimes goes, create a little daylight between them and the Republican
leadership. So they'll cast a vote in opposition to the leadership but only in
circumstances where it's going to make a very marginal change in the political
agenda or where they know that they're going to end up being on the losing side
or where they know that they're going to--that any kind of changes that are
introduced at one stage in the legislative process can be taken out at a later
stage of the legislative process. So we talk at length in the book about the
various ways in which moderation can be created--or at least the appearance of
moderation can be created without jeopardizing a more radical agenda that the
GOP continues to pursue.

GROSS: So you're basically saying that some people who consider themselves
Republican moderates and vote against--vote with the Democrat and against the
Republican agenda are basically given permission to do so when Republicans know
that the bill is going to pass anyways.

Mr. HACKER: This certainly happens. We have lots of evidence that this has
happened on high-profile legislative drives in the House and it helps account
for the fact that we've had so many bills passed with just, you know, one or
two extra votes. What happens is that the Republican leadership counts up the
votes, figures out that it has a few to spare and then carefully doles them out
to Republican moderates so that they can declare their independence from
their--from the party to their constituents. So the point is that the
Democrats have found it very difficult to get moderates to come on board when
it really matters, when it's going to mean a key defeat for the Republicans.
And we've seen that again and again. Perhaps the most revealing statistic on
this isn't what's happened in Congress, it's the fact that George W. Bush has
yet to veto a single bill since he's been in office. And you have to go back
to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, to find someone who has a record of
lasting an entire presidential term without vetoing a bill.

GROSS: I'm not sure whether you're challenging the sincerity of certain
Republican moderates or whether you're saying that certain Republican moderates
can't afford to vote against party initiatives because they will lose their
seat. And so they're too intimidated sometimes to vote their conscience and,
therefore, they will only vote their conscience when given the green light by
their own party.

Mr. PIERSON: Well, I think you--it's hard to get in the heads of individual
politicians and you would probably find that for different politicians there
are different stories that would come closest to the truth. But I think there
are elements of both these things going on. In some cases you have politicians
acting this way out of fear. They go along with the leadership because they're
afraid of what the consequences will be. And it--you know, one consequence, as
you said Terry, could be a primary challenge. But another consequence could be
losing access to those who, in a much more centralized congressional apparatus,
are the ones who are doling out benefits to various members. So there are a
lot of potential costs to crossing the leadership in a meaningful way.

But we do think that some of this stuff is so clearly staged when you look at
it closely that...

GROSS: Give me an example of something that you thought was staged.

Mr. PIERSON: Well, OK, a dramatic example would be the struggles in the Senate
back in 2003 over major tax cuts that were being proposed. One of the--of
course, the signature items on the Republican agenda has been very, very
substantial tax cuts. And as we document in the book, these tax cuts would not
have been easy to pass if there hadn't been substantial efforts to suggest that
they were going to be much more equally distributed and much less expensive
than, of course, turned out to be the case. In 2001 there was a surplus in the
budget. So it was relatively easy to convince people the tax cuts were a
reasonable idea. But by 2003 you had the beginnings of the run-up to the war
and you also had bud--large budget deficits. So there was a lot of concern
about the scale of the tax cuts. And several ostensible moderates in the
Senate announced very publicly that they would not vote for the tax cuts that
the Republican administration--that the Bush administration was proposing
unless they were reduced dramatically in size. Originally the Bush
administration was asking for about 600 billion in tax cuts over 10 years, and
they said they wouldn't vote for more than 350 billion in tax cuts. So the
Republican leadership in Congress dealt with this problem not by actually
reducing the scale of the tax cuts but by simply by using essentially budgetary
tricks of phasing in the tax cuts gradually and announcing that they would
miraculously sunset 10 years later on. And by doing that they were able to
introduce a new budget bill, which if it stays in effect would cost a trillion
dollars over 10 years. And having made their public statement about how they
were going to stand up and not accept a budget-busting 600 billion bill, those
Senate moderates then signed onto a bill that, if it stays in effect, would
cost a trillion dollars.

GROSS: My guests are Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of the new book
"Off Center." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.
They're the authors of the new book "Off Center."

How do you think the Republican approach to what you describe as controlling
the vote of Republican moderates compares to how Democrats try to control votes
so that they have a chance of winning on certain bills or, you know, defeating
other bills?

Mr. PIERSON: Well, there's no question that Democrats used some of these
techniques when they were in the majority. I was in a conversation with Norm
Ornstein, who's at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and who has
been a longtime observer of Congress--very well-respected observer of
Congress--who made this point the other day that, of course these things are
not a Republican invention, but as he put it they've ratcheted things up to a
an entirely different level. If you look again at the--at facts--at the scores
that are given for how much unity a party maintains and, again, this very
striking point that Jacob mentioned that after all--now five years in office
George Bush has yet to veto a single bill. That's--which is a sharp contrast
with previous presidents who, by this point in office, would usually have
vetoed a couple of dozen bills. That's a very strong example of how
Republicans have really maintained a united front in a way that's without
precedent in American politics.

GROSS: Do you think the Republican leadership has innovated new techniques for
controlling the political agenda?

Mr. PIERSON: We do. I mean, again, a lot of these things are not
unprecedented. In a lot of cases what you're talking about is refinements and
also--I think this is an important part of the puzzle, too--the fact is simply
their goals are more extreme. I think they're further from the center than has
been true for previous leaderships. So there are refinements.

But there are some things that are quite new. One, in addition to some of the
things that Jacob was talking about, is the way that the laws themselves are
designed so that they appear more moderate than they are. The--maybe the most
important but also revealing example is the 2001 tax cut legislation, which was
designed in ways, as I said earlier, both to make it look less expensive than
it was and to make it look like it was distributed in ways that would be more
acceptable to average voters.

One aspect of that design I think is particularly revealing, which is that
people on average incomes what they got from the tax cut bill of 2001 they got
right away in a way that was made very visible for them. People received a
check with a nice little letter from Congress and the White House within a
matter of weeks after the bill was passed in 2001. The very substantial
benefits for the most affluent Americans were phased in much more gradually so
that they would receive less attention.

And there's a striking example, again, that's unfolding right now though
without receiving any press attention at all. Beginning in January 2006--so in
two months--there's going to be a new round of cuts that were passed in 2001
but are just going into effect in January of 2006. And 97 percent of the
benefits from these tax cuts will go to people making over 200,000 a year. So
that's an example of legislative design where the bill is very carefully
structured in ways that it's more moderate or appealing elements to average
voters are presented right up front and its less appealing elements are hidden

GROSS: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson are the authors of "Off Center." They'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, more with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. Their new book "Off
Center" is about how conservatives have moved the Republican Party and American
politics further to the right.

Then we'll talk with Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. He's former
Senate majority leader and House and Senate whip and is the author of the book
"Herding Cats."

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our conversation with
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of the book "Off Center: The Republican
Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy." They say that conservatives
have managed to defy the political law that says the political middle prevents
either party from veering to the extreme. "Off Center" makes the case that the
Republican Party has moved to the right yet managed to prevent a major public
backlash. After making the case, the authors analyze the techniques they say
conservatives used to accomplish this.

Another thing that you cite in terms of how you think the Republicans have
managed to keep a tight control of the political agenda is changing the way
that conference committees operate. What do you have to say about that?

Prof. PIERSON: Conference committees are where the House and the Senate have to
come together to work out their differences if they've passed slightly
different versions of legislation and then come back with a bill that can be
agreed on by both the House and the Senate. And traditionally this used to be
an area where essentially you were just doing that, working out differences
between the two versions.

But what Republicans have done is to use conference committees as a whole new
tightly controlled environment in which they can rewrite legislation to pursue
more extreme goals. So it is now typical in these conference committees for
the leadership essentially to hand-pick who is going to participate and to hold
their meetings in private without any participation from Democrats except
occasionally one of these Democrats that Jacob was mentioning who lives in a
state that Bush carried and who has agreed to negotiate on their terms. All
other Democrats are excluded from these negotiations.

The bills are then rewritten in ways that are typically much more conservative
in many cases than the bills that came out of at least one of the two chambers.
And they're brought--and often include significant elements that were not part
of the original legislation, or at least not in anything like the form that
they turn up out of the conference committee.

These bills are then brought back to the floor of the House and Senate, where
they cannot be amended. They're simply presented for an up-or-down vote. And
that's a really powerful form of agenda control, because in many cases you'll
get a bill that has a popular label on it, like `tax cut,' or a bill for a
prescription drug benefit, that politicians are very reluctant to vote against,
even if they know that the details of the legislation have been rewritten in
ways that are quite objectionable.

GROSS: Would you give us an example of a bill that you think was rewritten in
conference committee in the way that you just described?

Prof. PIERSON: Well, the classic example, I think, is the prescription drug
bill, which started out in some ways as a kind of old American politics style
agreement where you had a pretty conservative bill that came out of the House
and then a more moderate bill that came out of the Senate, where you needed
significant Democratic support in order to get it through without a filibuster.
And Ted Kennedy played a very prominent role in helping to fashion a compromise
that wasn't anything like ideal from his perspective but, he thought,
acceptable; a compromise bill that came out of the Senate.

The bill then went into the conference. Democrats--again, except for the most
conservative Democrats--were completely excluded from the conference; no House
Democrats were allowed to participate in the conference meetings. And the bill
was rewritten and pushed on a number of important dimensions way to the right.
And then when it came back to a vote--and again when it comes up for a vote,
you're not allowed to make any kind of amendments--Kennedy was livid and said,
`This is not at all what we had agreed to before.' But a lot of senators who
were then put in a position where they were going to have to vote no on a
prescription drug bill didn't want to do that, didn't want to be seen as
casting a vote in that way. And so the bill ends up passing, even though it's
radically different from the bill that had originally passed the Senate.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.
They're the authors of the new book "Off Center."

You write about the architects of what you call the new power structure of the
Republican Party, and you say these are people who sit at the intersection of
money, mobilization and authority. And examples of people in this position you
give are Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist. I mean, doesn't it go without
saying that people who are politically power--sit at the intersection of money,
mobilization and authority? Is there anything different here?

Unidentified Guest: Yes, I think there is, you know, and there's two things
that have really changed, and we call these people--DeLay, Rove, Norquist and
others who are at this crucial juncture--we call them power brokers. And
what's changed is that the old power brokers in many ways were often fairly
pragmatic deal makers. These new power brokers, as we call them in the book,
are very ideological. I mean, the one thing that really connects all three of
the people we've just mentioned, Rove, DeLay and Norquist, is that they are
very hard-core conservatives, with the possible exception of Rove, who's a bit
more pragmatic, but nonetheless who's made his name by getting President Bush
to appeal to his conservative base.

The second difference--and I think this is the more important difference in
many ways--is that these power brokers are working with a much stronger set of
resources. They're at the intersection and brokering in a much more powerful
way than political leaders of similar sort were in the past. They have huge
amounts of resources at their disposal, and they're able to link together those
resources through interest groups and through high-profile donors up to
politicians in a way that they can really control--they're really the
gatekeepers into entry into the halls of influence. And we really haven't seen
that to the same extent, at least not in the recent past.

You know, the--each of these people like Norquist and Rove really gets to
decide who gets access to whom. And there's a really revealing story that
actually when people wanted to meet with the leadership and with the president,
they would talk with Grover Norquist, who is the head of Americans for Tax

Reform, who has no formal authority in the matter. Norquist would then talk
with Rove, and the two of them would decide who got access to the inner
sanctums of power. And we see that all of the people who were in these
positions, their staff members have all worked for each other at various points
in time. So there's a real social structure here that goes beyond the formal
authority that these power brokers have. And I think that represents a really
dramatic shift in the structure of power since the 1960s and '70s.

GROSS: My guests are Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of the new book
"Off Center." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of the new book
"Off Center," an analysis of how conservative leaders have moved the Republican
Party and American politics in general to the right of the American center.

When talking about the people who you describe as power brokers, people who you
just mentioned--Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Karl Rove--the question comes up:
What tense should we speak of them in as power brokers? You know, Tom DeLay
has been indicted; he's no longer majority leader. Karl Rove, it appears he's
being investigated by the special prosecutor. Grover Norquist is implicated in
the corrupt lobbying of Jack Abramoff. So do you think that some of the people
who you describe as power brokers are losing or have lost their power and, if
so, how do you think the Republican Party may be on the change of ver--may be
on the verge of changing?

Unidentified Guest: Well, there's no question that the Republicans are faced
with the biggest challenge to their majority status that they've faced, I
think, since they originally took control of Congress in 1994. And the
scandals--and as you point out, there are multiple scandals; it seems like a
new one is breaking almost every day or an old one is extending into new
circles. The scandals are a quiet, important part of that challenge that
they're facing.

The question, though, really is, in the end, how much difference is it going to
make? And the core of our view would be that there is a system that connects
these people. Grover Norquist said in an interview recently, `You know, if I
were to be run over by a bus, there would be somebody else who could take my
place. And if Karl Rove were run over by a bus, there would be somebody who
would be able to take his place.' And over the last 10 years or so, you've seen
powerful figures in the Republican leadership take a fall before for one reason
or another. It's easy for us at a particular moment to think of a particular
individual like Tom DeLay or Karl Rove as being indispensable, but back in the
mid-1990s Newt Gingrich was seen as indispensable. And you know, who remembers
Newt Gingrich these days except as the person who started it all? But when he
fell as speaker, it had no particularly noticeable or enduring effect upon the
Republican coalition. Trent Lott fell as a result of a scandal the same way.

And so our view would be that as the system that these folks are part of that's
the central part of the story and that it's a mistake to focus too much on the

GROSS: As the House majority leader, Tom DeLay was credited with figuring out,
you know, many ways for arm twisting, for keeping people in line. I mean,
that--is it fair to say that's considered one of the things that made him so
strong in his position? What did he innovate in terms of arm twisting?

Unidentified Guest: Well, I think that one thing that really should be
recognized is that the leadership only twists arms when it has to, and what it
hopes to do is make sure that most of its members are on board most of the
time. And so one thing that's not much recognized about DeLay is that he was
actually very good at looking out for Republican members if they were willing
to stick with the party line.

And that's a big shift in Congress. It used to be that the committees, the
congressional committees, really were the center of power and that the majority
party, you know, was sort of a scheduler of the congressional agenda but really
had not--you know, and did a few other things, but that most of the power to
make policy, to decide what issues got considered, lay with the congressional
committees that had exclusive jurisdiction over certain areas.

And what Newt Gingrich did and Tom DeLay continued was basically a complete and
total subordination of the congressional committees and their leaders to the
Republican Party leadership in the House. And as a result, really--and now
congressional committee chairs have to actually audition to become head of
their committees, and one of the key things that they have to show is that they
can raise a lot of money for the Republican Party.

So really what DeLay has done has turned around Congress so that he has both
the keys--you know, the carrots and the sticks. And he hopes to use the
carrots, the money that he's been able to raise, the fact that he can pursue
redistricting initiatives in Texas that'll mean that more Republicans will be
in Congress after the next election. So he hopes he uses the carrots, but if
he has to, he will use the sticks. And DeLay has been very tough when he has
used sticks.

We tell the story of Marge Roukema, who was a moderate Republican from New
Jersey and who essentially was shut out of a committee chair that she had been
seeking her entire 20-year congressional career. DeLay apparently was--had
funded indirectly her primary opponent and made clear to her that she would
never really have any effective power in the House. When she had come into
Congress almost 20 years ago, she had said--really, it was quite poignant to
think about today--that this had been the greatest dream of her life, and that
the one thing she wanted to do was to move up in the hierarchy of Congress and
become a committee chair. But she left Congress 20 years later not having
achieved that goal and basically having been told by Tom DeLay that if she
wasn't a team player, she wasn't going to be a part of the institution she

GROSS: Do you think the Republican leadership has done anything that's illegal
or unconstitutional in the way they've tried to control the agenda, or do you
think that they've just made very kind of strong, creative, powerful use of the

Unidentified Guest: Well, we certainly don't have any special insight as to
whether or not laws have been broken. There are people who are investigating
that right now. But we do think that the more profound thing and the more
central thing that has happened is that they have--by creating this new level
of unity and coordination, they have changed the character of the system in
ways that have really undercut our traditional sense of checks and balances, of
cross-cutting pressures that enforce diversity and moderation in the kinds of
views that are expressed in Washington. And whether or not laws were broken,
that change in the system needs to be understood and people need to think about
how to respond to it.

Our deepest concern in writing the book was a sense that accountability and
responsiveness to the concerns of ordinary Americans has really been undermined
in the last 15 years.

GROSS: I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

Unidentified Guest: Thank you.

Unidentified Guest: Thanks for having us on.

GROSS: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson are the authors of "Off Center." Hacker is
an associate professor of political science at Yale. Pierson is a professor of
political science at the University of California at Berkeley. You can read an
excerpt of their book on our Web site,



My next guest, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, has a lot of experience
rounding upevotes for Republican legislation. He's the former Senate majority
leader and former House and Senate whip. He's also the author of a new memoir,
"Herding Cats."

You're an expert on getting party members to vote the way you want them to. Do
you think techniques have changed in the Republican Party to get the votes in
the way you want the vote within Congress?

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): I think it's changed over the
years. It's gotten more sophisticated in many respects. There's more
involvement of outside groups in the work to get a vote, and some people would
say maybe that's part of the problem, when you start bringing in outside
lobbyist groups or interest groups as a part of the process and then they begin
to influence issues based on their own desires and wishes. But that's done on
both sides of the aisle. I do think that maybe in the House of
Representatives, the pressure techniques have gone up considerably.

But remember, it's easy to be in the minority. When I was the whip in the
House, the Republicans were, you know, in the minority by about 40 or 50 votes,
usually, and so you're able to hold your people together better because in the
minority you have to. When you get in the majority in the House or in the
Senate, it's not enough to just be, you know, critical or to throw bombs, so to
speak. You have to produce a result, and then to do that as the House and the
Senate has become more partisan, and you have to win so many votes on party

In the House in the '80s, I was in a position where I had to get, like, 190 out
of 196 Republicans, and then I had to get another 40 or 45 Democrats in order
to win. So it forced you to be more bipartisan. So clearly it is more
partisan now for a variety of reasons, and that forces you to really work to
hold your party members in line. It's tough.

GROSS: You mentioned the influence of lobbying groups and special interest
groups. Do you think groups and individuals who are more on the far right,
such as the Christian Right, the Club for Growth, Grover Norquist's Americans
for Tax Reform--do you think groups like that have become more influential than
ever in influencing the vote of Republican congressmen?

Sen. LOTT: Perhaps they're more influential, but it's another example of be
careful what you wish for 'cause you're liable to get it. I remember in the
'80s and '90s pleading for people that had not been involved in the political
process, including people of faith, to be more involved because it was their
government, too, and there was a little bit of an attitude then, well, you
know, if we're in a religious situation, you don't want to be involved in
politics or the art of government, if you will. And so there was a

Well, there's a lot more engagement now. And I don't think that's all bad. I
think there's no question that they--some of the votes that we have on the
issues of marriage or on, you know, the flag amendment which was advocated by,
you know, military groups and veterans groups--they clearly influence the fact
that that winds up being on the agenda and gets voted on. But I do think that
sometime some of the people on the right, some of the religious groups, people
like James Dobson, have been extremely, you know, aggressive and, in my
opinion, their language sometimes has been very unfortunate.

GROSS: In the book "Off Center" by my earlier guests on today's FRESH AIR,
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, they say that primaries have been--have become a
tool for Republicans to move the party further to the right. For example, if
you were in a Republican district or a Republican state where the party's
pretty sure that a Republican's going to win the next election, if an incumbent
hasn't voted sufficiently in line with the party's policies, you know, with the
party's legislation, they will be challenged in the next primary by an opponent
who is further to the right, and that opponent who is further to the right will
be very well-financed by groups who are further--you know, who are far to the
right and who have a stake in moving the party in that direction or keeping it
going in that direction. Would you agree that primaries have become a tool for
keeping people in the party in line?

Sen. LOTT: I probably would agree. And my question is: What's wrong with that?
If you don't vote the way that the people think you should, you should vote
against them in the primary or vote against them in the general. One of the
things I tell people is, even if your next-door neighbor or your brother or
your brother-in-law runs for office, if they don't share your views of freedom,
free enterprise, free markets, you ought to vote against them.

GROSS: My guest is Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. His new memoir is called
"Herding Cats." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. He's the
former Senate majority leader, former House and Senate whip and author of the
memoir "Herding Cats."

Senator Lott, you lost your home in Hurricane Katrina. What's the state of
your home now, and are you having to go through FEMA or private insurance to
try to rebuild it, if that's the course that you're taking?

Sen. LOTT: Well, like so many people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we lost our
home and everything in it. And I mean--when I say lost it, I don't mean
gutted; I mean it was wiped away. And the interesting thing about that was not
that it was my house, but that it was a 151-year-old house, built in 1854, and
it was 11 feet above sea level and 10 feet off the ground. And yet it was
completely washed away. And my situation was very similar to my neighbors;
their houses were either completely gone or the water washed through it and
they're going to have to be bulldozed. And my little neighborhood in
Pascagoula, Mississippi, is still a mess. But most of us that live on the Gulf
of Mexico or live on saltwater, whether it's Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf, I think
it takes a different kind of personality to live there with the risks but also
the pleasures.

And then for me and my wife, while we've struggled with it because we lost
basically over 90 years of mementos and pictures and furniture and everything
that we've accumulated, we--in a couple years, our intent is to build back,
smaller, cheaper, lower to the ground and, you know, with the realization that
it could be washed away again. But it's been very hard to hard to try to come
to terms with the amount of--the magnitude of the devastation, the debris, and
when people are having to, you know, tear out everything in their houses, and
people that were 10, 12 blocks inland were completely inundated with water. It
has been a very, very hard recovery.

And frankly, I've been extremely disappointed in the bureaucracy of the FEMA
officials. And I talked to a city manager this very morning and emphasized
that at some point you have to say yes or no to these people. Give them a
permit. Tell them what they can do. The uncertainty right now is just having
a very bad effect.

GROSS: Some people see how FEMA handled the early part of Hurricane Katrina as
being a kind of case study of what went wrong in the Bush administration; for
example, appointing somebody who wasn't really qualified for the position of
heading FEMA; FEMA being very slow to respond; the budget for FEMA had been cut
under the Bush administration. What do you see as the moral of the story?

Sen. LOTT: Well, the first point that you need to make on that is that the
magnitude of this disaster was beyond our comprehension. This is the worst
disaster, I believe, in the history of the country in terms of the length and
breadth and severity of it. And so I think that people and a lot of people,
including charitable groups, were just overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.

But then beyond that, I do think that the level--in the case of FEMA, they were
underfunded, undermanned and overwhelmed and now, I find out also, they're
eaten up with bureaucracy and they have an attitude problem. So I have been
disappointed with the response of FEMA and other agencies. There's no question
in mind that, you know, Mr. Brown, who was the head of FEMA, was not really
qualified for the job and was overwhelmed by it and was doing everything wrong.
As I said right after the hurricane, he was acting like a private down there,
you know, on the ground at photo ops when he should have been acting like a
general back at headquarters, making thing--sure that ice went to the right
place and trailers were moving and all of that, and he didn't do it.

But now on the other side of that, this president has a lot of extremely
capable people, people like Chertoff. The secretary of Homeland Security is
very competent. He was new on the job, and I think he was not well-served by
some of his underlings, but he's brought in new people that have been doing a
better job. So there are plenty of competent people there.

I think, though, there has been inadequate follow-through. It's not enough for
the president or a Cabinet secretary to fly in to Gulfport, Mississippi, or fly
in to New Orleans and say, `Goodness gracious, this is terrible; help is on the
way,' and then fly away and not make sure that, in fact, the help gets there.

GROSS: Senator Lott, thank you so much for talking with us.

Sen. LOTT: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Trent Lott is a Republican senator from Mississippi. His memoir is
called "Herding Cats."


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

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