Rep. Barney Frank Bids Congress Farewell

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Mara Liasson, national political correspondent, NPR
Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat from Massachusetts

After three decades serving in Congress, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank has announced his retirement. The liberal Democrat will leave behind a legislative legacy that includes financial regulation and memorable sparring matches with both colleagues and constituents.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Cain issues a pre-allegation denial then decides to reassess. Barney bows out after 30 years. And the DNC unloads on Mitt. It's Wednesday and time for a...

NEWT GINGRICH: Less disgusting...

CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

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CONAN: Every Wednesday, we wrap up the week in politics. Ken Rudin is on the road today and out of pocket. Guest political junkie Mara Liasson joins us. As the Cain campaign reels from an adultery allegation, polls show Gingrich narrowly ahead of Romney, and the GOP frontrunners start to sting each other as Iowa approaches.

Perry tries to recover lost ground on immigration. The president airs his first ad and hits the road to Scranton. The recall petition gathers steam in Wisconsin. And two senior Democrats decide to retire from the House: Charlie Gonzalez of Texas and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who will join us in a few minutes.

Later in the program, commentator Ted Koppel on the latest crisis in Iran. But first, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us here in Studio 3A. And Mara, as always, thanks for pinch-hitting.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And is this the end for Herman Cain?

LIASSON: Well, I think it's close to the end. I don't think he had much of a future anyway. But you see conservatives turning against him. They were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when the topic was the sexual harassment allegations. Now we're talking about an allegation of a 13-year affair.

And a lot of the conservatives that I've talked to and read on the Web say it's not even so much the allegations, it's how he's handled it and how inept the campaign has been. And if you can't run your own campaign, how are you going to run for president against President Obama or be the president?

So I think Cain's chances of being the nominee were already slim to none, and now I just think it's a matter of time.

CONAN: The allegations, Ginger White, a woman, came forward this week claiming that she and Herman Cain had a 13-year very casual affair. Here she's talking with Fox 5 Atlanta.

GINGER WHITE: He made it very intriguing. It was fun. It was something that took me away from my sort of humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting.

CONAN: Speaking with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, this even before that interview aired, Herman Cain said after earlier allegations of sexual misconduct, he says this one is also false.

HERMAN CAIN: My wife's reaction was very similar to mine: Here we go again.

CONAN: And today in a campaign appearance, he says, well, he's still reassessing his campaign, but he's a victim of character assassination. Yeah?

LIASSON: You know, it's funny, when you're reassessing your campaign, that's not a good place to be. And apparently Ginger White has a record, which she shared with these local news organizations, of many text messages and cell phone calls to his phone.

And one of the initial ways that his campaign explained this was that this shouldn't be an issue because it was a private matter - not very satisfying. I really think that, you know, Cain at this point is a sideshow because we have yet another anti-Romney candidate.

CONAN: Well, and that is Newt Gingrich, who's taken the lead. And it's interesting. Some places have done one of those snap polls that if Cain is out of the race, then what happens. And it shows nearly all of his support going to Newt Gingrich.

LIASSON: That is what we've seen all along. Various anti-Romneys rise and fall, and when they fall, their support does not go to Romney; it goes to the next one in line, who's auditioning for the job of being the anti-Romney. You saw it with Bachmann and Perry and Cain and now Gingrich.

Some polls show that Romney is the second choice of many Republican voters, but so far, they haven't gone there. He's held steady in the low 20s, mid-20s sometimes, which is enough to win against a crowded field of conservatives. But if Newt can consolidate the conservative anti-Romney vote, he has a theoretical shot at the nomination.

But he doesn't have any kind of an organization the way Romney does, doesn't have the money, and he is vulnerable when Romney decides to start attacking him.

CONAN: Well, Mitt Romney yesterday labeled Gingrich as a D.C. insider on this interview on Fox News.

MITT ROMNEY: I wouldn't be in this race if I didn't think I had unique background and vision for America and the capacity to actually replace President Obama. I think to get President Obama out of office, you're going to have to bring something to the race that's different than what he brings. He's a lifelong politician. I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works, and I do.

CONAN: And thus far, Mitt Romney has very largely tried to stay above the fray, attacking President Obama. Here at least he's beginning to focus in on what seems to be his first serious rival.

LIASSON: He has to. The interesting thing about this career politician charge, he tried it against Rick Perry, Newt is so unusual. His career has been so kind of strange that you can't really call him a lifelong politician. He's not a blow-dried, safe, scripted guy.

As a matter of fact, John Burnett, who's our correspondent in Austin, did a really interesting piece early on when Rick Perry and Mitt Romney appeared before the same audience in Texas. It was a VFW convention. And at that point, Romney was attacking Rick Perry, who was his rival du jour, as a lifelong politician.

And he interviewed some of the people in the crowd, and they said: I don't want someone who's a lifelong politician. And John said, oh, you mean Rick Perry? No, no, that other guy, Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney just looks like a lifelong politician. He's been trying to be a politician his - most of his adult life.

CONAN: His father, of course, was a lifetime politician.

LIASSON: Lifetime politician. He's been running for many, many, many years for many, many different offices. He hasn't succeeded yet. So I don't think that's a very fruitful line against Newt.

However, there are many more attack lines to choose from when it comes to Newt Gingrich.

CONAN: And I should mention, of course Mitt Romney's father who also ran the Ford Motor Company. So he did other things, as well. But in an interview with CNN on Monday, Newt Gingrich says he thinks Romney could be President Obama, that he's a wonderful person, closer personal friend but had this to say on why he might be the better candidate.

GINGRICH: I mean, if you run to the left of Teddy Kennedy, it's a little trickier than trying to run to the right of Newt Gingrich.

CONAN: And that getting to the flip-flop issue in a roundabout way.

LIASSON: Yes, that's Mitt Romney's great vulnerability, and that has been something he hasn't been able to dispel, this idea that he says what voters want to hear at the moment, that he changes his views, that he has no core. Yesterday, in probably one of the longest television interviews, national television interviews he's ever given on Fox News, he - Mitt made a - Romney made a big deal of the fact that he hadn't changed on health care.

And he kind of used it as a badge of honor. He said: If I really was one of these flip-floppers, I would have disowned my healthcare plan, which is so interesting because he was reading the stage directions because his campaign made a decision not to flip-flop on health care so as not to contribute to his authenticity problem that he flip-flops on everything.

CONAN: Nevertheless, he was asked a series of questions about his position on immigration vis-a-vis Newt Gingrich's position, for which he got a lot of flak a couple of weeks ago. This is Mitt Romney on Fox News yesterday.

ROMNEY: My view is that those people that are here illegally today should have the opportunity to register and to have their status identified, and those individuals should get in line with everyone else that's in line legally. They should not be placed ahead of the line: They should instead go at the back of the line, and they should not be allowed to stay in this country and be given permanent residency or citizenship merely because they've come here illegally.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But isn't that what Gingrich is saying? Isn't he saying short of citizenship...?

ROMNEY: I can't tell you what Speaker Gingrich is saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But yet you call...

ROMNEY: No, what - if he's going to do what I believe he said he was going to do for those people who would be allowed to stay permanently and become citizens, that would be providing for them a form of amnesty.

CONAN: Mara, let me make this perfectly clear: I don't get what he said.

LIASSON: It's impossible to know what he says. This is one of the most interesting debates in the Republican Party right now because the Republicans have a long-term general-election problem, which is you can't be perceived as the anti-Hispanic party and win national elections because Hispanics are the fastest growing bloc in the electorate.

Newt Gingrich, who has talked about this for a long time, is pointing a direction for Republicans to resolve their Hispanic, their immigration problem. He's talked often about a middle ground between amnesty and deportation. He wants to figure out something, some middle ground.

And he's come up with this plan where you would become a legal resident but not a citizen. I suppose you'd be able to do everything short of vote, meaning vote for Democrats because that's one of the reasons why Republicans don't want to legalize - make citizens out of all these Hispanic immigrants.

Newt - Mitt Romney said also further on in that interview, he said - he was asked would they go to the back of the line in the United States, or would they have to go home? He said no, they would have to go home and apply for legalization or citizenship.

Now that is an incredible statement. So in effect he is talking about deportation, which not only is incredible impracticable, impractical, it's also a red flag for Democrats, who were jumping up and down today because they're looking forward to painting Romney as someone who favors the mass deportation of 11 million illegal Hispanic immigrants.

This is something that even putting Marco Rubio on the ticket might not be enough for Mitt Romney, if he is the nominee, to solve.

CONAN: In the meantime, of course Democrats, well, they're running their own campaigns, as well. This is an ad from the DNC that focuses on, apparently, the fellow they think is the most likely Republican nominee.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: From the creator of I'm running for office for Pete's sake comes the story of two men trapped in one body: Mitt versus Mitt.

ROMNEY: I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose. The right next step is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Two Mitts willing to say anything.

CONAN: And it goes on, but Mitt Romney in response says, well, clearly they think I'm the most dangerous person: Bring it on.

LIASSON: Yes, bring it on, they think I'm going to be the nominee. They're obsessed with me. Interestingly enough, the abortion question is one where he readily admits he changed his mind. That is the one so-called flip-flop that he does admit to.

What's interesting about this is that until now - and you start to see this real debate between Gingrich and Romney, where they are starting to attack each other - Romney has had more or less of a free pass from the other Republican candidates. There hasn't been a concerted negative assault on Romney, even though he's been the putative frontrunner all along.

So it's been left to the Democrats and to these outside groups or the DNC, who made this kind of ad, which is very unusual. I can't think of another election when the incumbent has started to attack the person he thinks is going to be his opponent this early. But the Democrats have to do this. They feel they need to soften him up now because this is the period of time where they have a bit of an advantage.

They have a lot of money, and they can use it. They're not going to have a financial advantage over the Republicans once the Republicans have a nominee.

CONAN: We're talking with guest political junkie Mara Liasson. In a few moments, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank will join us. He's just announced plans to retire. If you'd like to talk with Congressman Frank about his time in Congress or how Congress has changed during that time, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, and guest Political Junkie Mara Liasson joins us, NPR national political correspondent. Ken Rudin will be back next week. So will his ScuttleButton puzzle and his regular Political Junkie column. Both are posted at npr.org/junkie.

If you'd like to talk with Congressman Barney Frank about his 30 years in Congress, nearly, and how Congress has changed over that time, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

As mentioned, Congressman Frank announced plans to retire at the end of this term, and he joins us now from his office here in Washington. Congressman, thanks very much for taking time to be with us. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

REPRESENTATIVE BARNEY FRANK: I appreciate this opportunity.

CONAN: And once you've left office, you're freed from the shackles, you'll be able to finally be free to tell us what you actually think.

FRANK: Well, I'm working on that. I'm kind of shy in some ways. But I'm trying to get up the courage to do that.

CONAN: Why now?

FRANK: Well, I'm 71 years old. I'll be a few months short of my 73rd birthday when this term expires. I started working fulltime in politics in October of 1967, when I volunteered in the mayoral campaign of Kevin White(ph). In what will then be 45 years at the end of next year, I've had six months off.

I've enjoyed it enormously. It is a great honor and a great privilege to be able to participate, and I'm a great fan...

CONAN: And we've lost contact briefly with Congressman Frank in his office on Capitol hill. We're going to reestablish that in just a minute and get back to him and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, I'm here, what happened?

CONAN: And let's see if we can get somebody other than the engineer up there. Mara Liasson, in the meantime, getting him back momentarily? Congressman, are you with us?

FRANK: I am.

CONAN: I apologize for the problem.

FRANK: I don't know at what point I disappeared.

CONAN: Well, you were talking about being - will be 73 and started in '67 in the campaign for Mayor White.

FRANK: Yes, and since then, as I said, it will have been 45 years in which I've had a chance to be a participant in something I care deeply about, democracy. I think intellectually and morally and in every other way, it's a great thing.

But I'm getting kind of tired, and...

CONAN: And maybe we'll get him on the phone as opposed to trying to use the device we're using. In the meantime, Mara, we should note that another senior Democrat retired. This is Charlie Gonzalez, Democrat of Texas.

LIASSON: You know, these retirements, while they're not a flood, are considered to be a sign that Democrats are not so confident about getting the 25 pick-ups in the House they'd need to retake the majority.

These are people who would be committee chairmen if the Democrats were in the majority again, and if you don't think you're going to become a chairman next time, maybe if you're of a certain age, why not retire?

CONAN: Okay, Congressman Frank is back with us, and I do apologize.

FRANK: Let me respond to Mara's comment there because it does not apply at all in my case. I had four years as a chairman. It was a great thing. Frankly, as I contemplated not having to work so hard at the age of 73, the prospect of being chairman again was a very mixed blessing.

In my case, as I was saying before we lost contact again, I would like to do some other things. I've always had an interest in writing. I want to be a public policy advocate. I have a great respect for written words, and I would like to join in that intellectual conversation from which I've been not as much of a participant as I would like.

I think in some ways, given the nature of our politics today, I can be a more effective advocate for many of my public policy views than if I'm seen as someone inside the system.

Some people can do the kind of job I have and also write. I'm too easily distracted by the blank page, or I suppose I should say the blank screen. So I was planning to retire. Then the Republicans took over the House. I had decided last year to retire at the end of this term, and then the Republicans took over the House, and I felt some obligation to stay here and to not be a lame duck because that loosens you, lessens your influence.

And so I could fight for protection in the financial reform bill and for making sure the military spending reductions are part of the deficit reduction. But then I got a new district from the Massachusetts legislature, which has (unintelligible) new people. I was disappointed by it, but if I were to run for re-election, I would not be able to spend my time doing the things I wanted to do on financial reform and fighting for military spending reductions. I would be busy campaigning as if I were running for the first time.

I think I would have won, but the relevance there is simply that I would have spent the last - this next year in a campaign instead of in the kind of advocacy, and given that choice, I thought it didn't make sense.

CONAN: Mara?

LIASSON: You know, Congressman Frank, given that the considerations of a Democratic majority or not in 2012 don't apply to you, what do you think about the Democrats' chances next time?

FRANK: I don't know. Oddly enough, it depends - somebody said it really depends on Angela Merkel. The American economy is now for the second time on an upward swing which is threatened by problems in Europe. If you go back to the last quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, we were moving out of the slump in a good way, and unemployment was dropping, and then the Greek crisis hit, and that - the world is so interconnected now that bad news anywhere is bad news everywhere.

We are again ready to move. There was a prediction, we had a good quarter, there was a prediction of over three percent growth next year. That's now been downgraded because of the fears about Europe. So it really depends.

I mean, if the economy is on the upswing next year - and I think people are voting often not only on the action(ph) level but on the trend and how it's going, if the economy were in fact swinging upwards and unemployment was dropping, then I think you would have a good Democratic year because the Republicans benefitted in 2010 from a lack of familiarity on the part of the voters with what they stood for.

I think we are still blamed for a lot of things, but I think the Republicans are in some ways less popular. So if you were to combine the perception by the American public of the Republicans' extremism, which is an accurate perception, which an upswing in the economy, then I think we have a good chance.

But nobody can know for sure what's going to happen in Europe, and if the economy in fact were to start - either stall or go downward, then it would be very bad news for us.

LIASSON: So you're saying the Democrats' and President Obama's fate is really tied to the economy, over which, given that events in Europe are really driving this, they don't have a whole lot of control.

FRANK: Absolutely correct.

LIASSON: What do you think - what would you like to see the president doing that he hasn't been doing enough of or he hasn't done yet?

FRANK: Well, he's been doing most things I agree with. The one change I would make is this: I think we should be pushing harder for reductions in America's role, self-appointed, as the world's military guarantor of stability and security.

Harry Truman did a great thing when he intervened to protect Germany and Italy and Austria and France from Stalin. Stalin's dead. His successors have not materialized. They don't continue. And those countries, which were devastated after World War II, are now quite prosperous and strong.

We continue to be spending billions and billions of dollars protecting Western Europe from non-existent threats. We're still ready to fight a Cold War with the now non-existent Soviet Union. I believe we should be getting out of Afghanistan, where especially now that bin Laden is dead, we do ourselves more harm than good, and substantially reduce our worldwide military commitment.

I want us to be the strongest military power in the world for a variety of reasons. We can do that a lot more cheaply than we now are. And that means that you could then do deficit reduction while still having money to help improve the quality of life in America, not to deprive older people of a decent cost-of-living increase.

And that has two important reasons. I think people like myself, liberals, face a problem today that the public has lost confidence in the government's ability to produce good results. And we're in a vicious cycle: The more the people are skeptical of the government, the fewer resources are available, and the fewer resources are available, the less we produce and the more people are angry.

The one way out of that cycle is to say, you know, we've played a very important role as the worldwide defender of almost everybody against almost everything, but still be the strongest nation in the world and protect those vulnerable areas like Taiwan or Israel or South Korea.

But let's pull back from this worldwide commitment we have. Let's accept the fact that it's not our national moral duty to solve every problem everywhere, especially when they're not often easily solved by American military personnel.

And so I would put back - and I was, for instance, disappointed when the president announced he was sending 2,500 Marines to Australia. They perform absolutely no political function - military function. They're there to reassure people in Australia, and I think it would be cheaper to send them Xanax than to send them 2,500 Marines.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Paul's on the line. Paul's calling us from Haley in Idaho.

PAUL: Yes, how - what a pleasure, Mr. Frank. If you take two weeks and fish the Wood River in Idaho, and you wander right, looking back, what would you write about? Would you do your memoirs?

FRANK: Well, there are a couple of things. One, I have a particular perspective: My political career and the movement for gay rights, as it was called originally, serendipitously were about the same age. You know, the Stonewall riots were in '69, and gay rights began right around that - shortly after. And I was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in '72.

We made enormous progress in protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and now transgender people against discrimination, and I would like to chronicle that, partly because I think there are lessons in there about how you do it, what's the effective way to do that.

I'd like to write a book about what I think liberalism should look like today, how you combine a respect for the wealth-producing aspects of the private sector with an understanding of the need for a vigorous public sector that improves the quality of life and provides a framework for that.

And the third book, I guess, would be something very important in our lives and not well understood, and that's the business of legislating. If you go to the law schools, they would teach you a lot about how judges judge, but they won't teach you much about how legislators legislate.

And I know the process in which I'm been engaged for 40 years of legislating isn't very neat, and it's often easy to follow, but it's not totally random. There are things you can learn from of it. So those are the three books I'd probably like to work on. In what order, I don't know.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much.

PAUL: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Here's a tweet from Mark. Congressman Frank, young voter here frustrated by partisan bickering and a do-nothing Congress. Has it always been this way?

FRANK: Well, in the first place, I differ with his notion about partisan bickering. When we debate whether or not we should raise taxes on people who are making more than $300,000 a year, I don't think that's bickering. I think that he's picked up an unfortunate tendency to denigrate a legitimate debate. We're not arguing about who gets the parking spot or who gets the early lunch hour. We're talking about some of the most fundamental issues. I bicker - if that's the way you want to call it - with the Republicans who wanted to keep gay people out of the military.

I bicker with them about whether we should address environmental issues like climate change. Having said that, I would say that the partisan differences are deeper and are being carried to too much of an extreme by some more today than previously. And the reason is - and I will make what sounds, I suppose, like a partisan explanation - it was the election in 2010 of a lot of people in the Republican Party who were very much on the right, who do not share what's been an American consensus view that there's a positive role to be played by government.

So no, there are sharper differences, but that's, you know, people have said to me, well, why can't you work things out with the Republicans, and my answer to my friends has been: Exactly on what issues do you think Michele Bachmann and I can compromise? At some point, differences become so sharp that in a democracy the legitimate approach is to debate them, tee them up for the electorate and let them decide.

CONAN: We're talking with Congressman Barney Frank, who earlier announced plans to retire at the end of this session of Congress. Guest Political Junkie Mara Liasson is with us. Ken Rudin is back next week. I said earlier George Romney was president of the Ford Motor Company. Wrong, George Romney was in fact president of the American Motor Company. I'll be tortured by memories of my Rambler. Sorry for that mistake. And thanks to all of you who called to point out the error. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we go next to - this is John. John with us from Saint Louis.

JOHN: Hi. Representative Frank, I had a question - since the housing crisis that came out of 200 - 2007 and beyond, what are some of the things that could be done differently to prevent the failures that were experienced with Fannie and Freddie?

FRANK: Well, the failures of Fannie and Freddie predate 2007. What happened was Fannie and Freddie were being pushed by the political leadership to some extent to buy mortgages that have been granted to people who shouldn't have gotten them. Now, I was in the minority in the House until - from 1995 to 2006. During that period, in the early part of those years, I did not see the problem. By the later part, I and some others did try to ban subprime loans that shouldn't be given.

But frankly, Tom DeLay, who was then Republican majority leader, he said, no, we're not going to interfere with the free market, that - the Wall Street Journal said don't interfere with the free market and not want to interrupt the flow of these. The Republicans then had a fight among themselves between the House Republicans, the Senate Republicans and the president - I guess they could say - among and as to how to pass a bill to restrain Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I was in the minority at that time, so I wasn't a major player. What happened in 2007 was that the Democrats took over, and in that very year, in the first months, as you would read if you saw Henry Paulson, Bush's secretary of the Treasury's book, I worked with him, and we passed the bill that made reforms in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unfortunately, by the time the Senate got to passing it the next year, it was too late, and they had to be taken over. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as far as what has to be done to prevent the recurrence, we've already done that.

In 2008, acting under legislation that was passed only when the Democrats took over in 2007 and 2008, Bush's secretary of the Treasury put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into a conservatorship. Since that time, they have not made a significant number of bad loans. According to the administrator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, under the federal housing finance administration, who's not a friend of Obama's - Obama's tried to fire him a couple of times - this man reported to us, Mr. DeMarco, that since these two entities were put in a conservatorship as a result of, frankly, Democratic-passed legislation, they have not incurred any losses, that the activity they have engaged in since 2008 has in fact been profitable. The problem was by the time we got around to that a lot of bad stuff had already happened.

CONAN: As you know, Newt Gingrich has proposed that you be sent to jail for your role in this.

FRANK: Well, Mr. Gingrich apparently is unhappy because he was being paid through 2006 by Fannie Mae and - by Freddie Mac - I don't know, a certain number of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it was when they went into conservatorship that that was cut off. So maybe he's angry because they cut that off. I know there's been Republican line that somehow I and other Democrats are responsible for these issues. What they try to get people to forget is that from 1995 to 2006, which were the years when the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac problems developed and when the bad practices were engaged in, they were in control.

Now, I acknowledge I was late in seeing this, but it didn't make any difference by the time I did say it in 2004 and '05, that we had to rein them in. Nobody paid attention to me. I was in the minority. This was Mr. Gingrich's until 1998, and his Republican successors who ran this. So yes, it is true, Mr. Gingrich, who got well over a million dollars from Freddie Mac to lobby the Congress for them, I believe, and it created a favorable climate so they could keep doing what they were doing, is trying to blame me. In fact, I was in the minority until 2007. In 2007, as I said, I acted to try to change things.

CONAN: Mr. Gingrich says among - he may have done many things - act as a historian, I think, but lobby was not among them.

FRANK: Yeah. He was clearly the highest paid historian in American history. And I think Mr. Gingrich may have done a lot to the humanities because there's been this question about, well, if I major in history or literature, will I be able to make a living? And if Mr. Gingrich is to be believed, on which I will reserve comment, he was paid a million-six in a very short period of time for being a historian. So that may encourage more people to become history majors.

CONAN: Congressman Frank, as always a shrinking violet. We thank you very much for your time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FRANK: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: And, Mara Liasson, again, thanks for pinch-hitting for Ken Rudin.

LIASSON: Glad to be here.

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