Alan Simpson on Defying GOP Leadership
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Conservative interest groups say they're disappointed with the seven Republican senators who signed a compromise this week to avoid a showdown over judicial filibusters, and they say it does not resolve the battle over the judiciary and the president's nominees to federal courts. Tony Perkins is president of the conservative Family Research Council. He put senators on notice.
Mr. TONY PERKINS (President, Family Research Council): We'll continue to speak to congregations across this country. And so it's just a matter of us helping people connect the dots. And when we begin to point to the fact that it's senators like DeWine and Graham and Warner that have snatched a defeat from the jaws of victory, it won't take long for them to take action on their own.
MONTAGNE: One politician who knows what it's like to be attacked from the right is former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. In 1994, the pro-choice Republican was ousted from his party's Senate leadership. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams spoke to Alan Simpson about the consequences of defying his party's right wing.
Former Senator ALAN SIMPSON (Republican, Wyoming): I've been a Republican all my life, you'll never throw me out, but they have an amazing ability to eat their young where they give each other the saliva test of purity every once in a while and then they lose and then they just sit around and bitch for four years and it's a fairly fascinating party.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Well, let's talk about an experience that you had as a centrist Republican during your 18 years in the Senate. After the '94 election and the so-called Republican takeover, you were defeated in the contest for minority whip by none other than Trent Lott, 27-26, I believe.
Sen. SIMPSON: That was one vote. I remember the pain of it, yeah--no. No, it was a surprise. I thought I had three, four votes. Trent won by one vote and I took him by the hand and I said, `Come on out. I'm going to announce to the media that you're the new assistant leader and that I'm going to support you fully,' and moved on.
WILLIAMS: But you were defeated by the argument that you were not sufficiently conservative to be the leader in a time of Republican revolution, that you were too centrist because you were pro-choice, because you were willing to listen to the other side, because you were an environmentalist.
Sen. SIMPSON: Those are all real. I think--look, if we could just put in the platform that abortion is a deeply intimate and personal decision, and out of respect for each other, it will not be part of the platform.
WILLIAMS: But my point to you was you were being punished for not being sufficiently conservative. Did you take that as a message that you should change your ways?
Sen. SIMPSON: No, I never did. During all my 18 years and 13 in the Wyoming Legislature, I'll never forget the first time I ran with Goldwater. Everybody in Wyoming voted for LBJ. In fact, the Wyoming Legislature, what I went into, was controlled by Democrats. That's where I learned how to legislate. They'd say, `Well, this is part of the platform. You don't embrace that.' I said, `No, I didn't write it. I don't know why I have to embrace it.' `Well,' they said, `you're a Republican running on the Republican ticket.' I said, `I don't give a whip. I don't have to follow all that stuff. I think some of it's goofy.'
WILLIAMS: Let's talk about the current situation. Mike DeWine, the senator from Ohio, is being targeted because he's a centrist. His son is going to run for Congress. And already we hear people from the Family Research Council, Mr. Perkins and others, saying, `We're going to go after his son because of the stand he took in allowing the Democrats to escape without a ban on filibusters.'
Sen. SIMPSON: Well, that's what Republicans do. Now Mike DeWine is a very able tough guy. I'll tell you, he's a worthy adversary. And if they want to then go defeat DeWine or his son, then I would hunch they might get a Democrat that probably wouldn't agree with them 100 percent of the time.
WILLIAMS: Do you have any responsibility as a Republican to stick with the party line, to stick with your leadership in the Senate?
Sen. SIMPSON: Oh, sure there were times because I was the assistant leader for 10 years, but I would say there were six or seven times where I just swallowed hard because President Reagan or President Bush and Dole said, `Al, we've got to have this vote.' And I said, `I think this is a bunch junk. I can't do it. What do I'--`But you're part of the leadership.' So out of hundreds of votes a year, obviously, and thousands over my career, I can think with some anguish of seven, eight times where I just, you know, threw everything over and went right down into the tank.
WILLIAMS: Senator Simpson, thanks very much. I appreciate your time.
Sen. SIMPSON: You're very welcome.
MONTAGNE: Former US Senator Alan Simpson spoke earlier with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.
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