Outgoing GOP Congressman Weighs In On Tea Party Influence
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Mario Armstrong will be with us in a few minutes to tell us what we need to know about giving a smartphone or the applications that go with them. And my commentary is coming up. I'll tell you about my guilty pleasure this Christmas. But, first, we're going to hear from one of the Republicans departing Congress at the end of this session. This November saw one of the biggest turnovers in American history.
The 2010 midterm election swept in a new set of freshmen congressional representatives and swept out some 70 members, including some of the capitol's most familiar faces. One of those senior lawmakers is nine-term Delaware Congressman Mike Castle. For 18 years Representative Castle represented Delaware in Congress, but he always had an outsized influence, both as his state's sole congressional representative and as a member of an increasingly rare breed: the moderate Republican.
He's leaving Congress because he ran for Vice President Joe Biden's vacated Senate seat. And initially he was seen as the frontrunner. But he eventually lost the Republican primary to Tea Party darling Christine O'Donnell. No more politics as usual was one of her mantras. But O'Donnell went on to lose the general election to Democrat Chris Coons.
So, as the Congress winds down, we asked Representative Castle to share his perspective on the midterm shakeup and to say farewell. And he was nice enough to stop by the studios at the House of Representatives to talk to us at this busy time. So, Congressman Castle, thanks so much for joining us.
Representative MIKE CASTLE (Republican, Delaware): Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: And as you look forward to this holiday season, it's a time of joy, of course for many people, most people, but I'm wondering if there is some additional reflections that come to mind as you close this chapter in your life.
Rep. CASTLE: Well, it's interesting because we're still in very heavy session in Washington, D.C. that may extend right up to and through Christmas, even between Christmas and New Years and even into the first day or two of the New Year before the new Congress is sworn in. Of course, for those of us who'll no longer be here, we're concerned about what our next step in life is. We're talking to people, et cetera, about potential jobs and that kind of thing. Closing down offices, shifting our ability to communicate back to our homes or to whatever the new job may be.
MARTIN: What do you think it means to be a moderate Republican right now? That is a term that's attached to you. I don't know how you feel about that term. What do you think it means?
Rep. CASTLE: Well, I feel fine about the term and I just attended a no labels conference in New York City in which there was a discussion that included Democrats, Republicans, Independents about the fact that we are becoming so hyper-partisan in our politics in America, and particularly in the Congress of the United States, that some changes had to be made. If you polled people in this country, the majority will say that they are more moderate than they are anything else, in spite of the fact that most of the candidates tend to come from progressive or very conservative sides of the political parties.
And, so as a result, the moderate elected officials in this country are sort of caught literally in the middle and while they may serve what seems to be a majority of the country, they don't necessarily serve a majority of either of the political parties. So they tend to get into some degree of difficulty as I did in a Republican primary. So it is difficult. But I think essentially you'll find that most moderate Republicans are conservative in their fiscal beliefs. The breakdown on the issues that are away from the financial issues is where you see the moderate voices come out.
MARTIN: I want to just play a couple of clips for you. The first one is from Christine O'Donnell. I'm sure you'll be thrilled to hear that again. But of course she was a Tea Party favorite. We'll just play her short clip.
Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Former Republican Senate Candidate, Delaware): The Republican Party has lost its way. They get behind candidates like my opponent who don't even support the Republican platform, who continue to support the Democrats' agenda lock, step and barrel.
MARTIN: Of course, she wound up losing the general election. It was the Republican people of Delaware had spoken in that particular election. But this is the - John Boehner, Republican from Ohio, who's expected to be elected as speaker of the House in the next Congress, this is from his recent interview with Leslie Stahl on the CBS News program "60 Minutes."
Senator JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): It means working together. It means...
Ms. LESLIE STAHL (Reporter, "60 Minutes): It also means compromise.
Sen. BOEHNER: It means finding common ground.
Ms. STAHL: OK. Is that compromising?
Sen. BOEHNER: I've made it clear, I am not going to compromise on my principles, nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people.
MARTIN: What happens now if the argument is that the way to success is not to compromise?
Rep. CASTLE: Well, it's a good question. But I believe that in the continuation of the President Bush tax reductions, there was finding common ground or compromise. And I believe that the American public basically wants us to go forward in terms of getting things done in the best interests of the country. They are not necessarily ideologically driven so much as they are - we want better opportunities for children.
We want good education. We want good economic opportunities. We want a sound environment. And sometimes the parties are going to have to sit down and work this out together. And it also needs to include the White House, as well as the House and the Senate and all the states of our country. And I'm a little worried we are becoming very divided in the United States, and it's going to become extremely difficult to work out compromises or finding common ground on a lot of these issues. I think we're entering into a very difficult phase.
MARTIN: Why is that? Why is that? I mean, one of the things that always intrigues me about a statement like this is that the same American people who elected John Boehner and elected the new Republican majority in the House are the same people who elected President Obama. I mean, it's the same American people. I mean, obviously, different alignments of voters in different places at different times, right? But, at the end of the day, they're elected by the same voters.
Rep. CASTLE: Right.
MARTIN: So the question I have are why is the atmosphere that you're describing here, where compromise becomes sort of a dirty word, why is that?
Rep. CASTLE: Well, first of all, I don't think it's the same people, necessarily. I think it is some people in the middle who are making a difference in voting - sometimes for Republicans, and sometimes for Democrats. I think people are driven primarily by the economic circumstances that surround them. If they feel that jobs are drying up, that America's not doing well in that sense, that perhaps one of the problems is that Congress is spending too much money, for instance. They look at those problems. They worry about the health care legislation, by their own interpretation of it, as perhaps being something that may exclude them, that may be too expensive. And so for those reasons, they may shift from voting or Obama in one election to voting for Republicans in the next election.
MARTIN: We're speaking with Delaware Congressman Mike Castle. He's leaving Congress next month after nine terms in office, and we've called him for his perspective as an outgoing senior lawmaker.
What do you think has changed the most in the nine terms that you've been in Congress?
Rep. CASTLE: If I had to identify one change, it is that it has become more partisan and more difficult for people to work together to get things done in this Congress.
MARTIN: What do you think would make a difference there? What do you think would change that?
Rep. CASTLE: Here's what could make a difference, and that is if the electorate would say, hey, I am not voting for so-and-so because I believe this person is too partisan. You know, I am a Republican. I normally vote for Republicans, but I'm going to vote for the Democrat. Or I am a Democrat and I'm going to vote for a Republican because I believe this is a more balanced person who will sit down and work out the problems of the country.
I think, unfortunately, it's going the other way. People are tending to gather around these ideological poles of liberal and conservative and electing people who are more unwilling to work together. And I think that's a negative. So it's going to take, I think, electoral changes to make a difference.
MARTIN: Congressman Mike Castle represents Delaware. He's the sole congressional representative for the state of Delaware at this time. He spoke to us from the studios at the House.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
Rep. CASTLE: Well, thank you very much.
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