An Exit Interview With Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman NPR's Robert Siegel talks with outgoing U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Delaware Democrat, who was appointed to Joe Biden's seat when Biden was elected vice president. Kaufman's 22-month term in office will end next Monday when Chris Coons is sworn in.

An Exit Interview With Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman

An Exit Interview With Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks with outgoing U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Delaware Democrat, who was appointed to Joe Biden's seat when Biden was elected vice president. Kaufman's 22-month term in office will end next Monday when Chris Coons is sworn in.


Senator Kaufman, good to talk with you again. Welcome back.

TED KAUFMAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And I'll ask you about securities fraud and the state of the republic in a moment, but first, what's it like to go from being the career staffer - briefing, planning, hiring, firing for someone else - to be the guy who's having all that done for him?

KAUFMAN: Well, it's - I always thought it was a gigantic change, and I used to - you know, I taught about it. I've been teaching about it for 20 years at Duke Law School about the Congress, and I always used to say about, you know, there's - that the staff people are like - it's like volleyball where the staff people are the setters and the senators are the spikers. And it doesn't mean one is better than the other. You can't get by with either one of them. But I did find it's an incredible experience to be a United States senator. And it's - one of the reasons is that when you're a chief of staff, especially, you spend a lot - I remember one time a chief of staff introduced himself to a group and said I'm so-and-so's chief of staff, and my job is to worry.


KAUFMAN: And I think when you're a chief of staff, you really do. You worry about everything. And if you don't wake up one or two nights a week, staring at the ceiling, worried about something, then you're not really doing the job. But as a senator, not once did I ever wake up in the middle of the night worried about things.

SIEGEL: A senator can sleep soundly at night knowing that someone else isn't.

KAUFMAN: A senator can sleep soundly...


KAUFMAN: ...exactly right, exactly right.

SIEGEL: Now, one thing that you pressed for was a tougher crack down on Wall Street.


SIEGEL: And here back in April, you talked about the prosecutions you expected to come. A civil suit was brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs, which was settled for half a billion dollars.


SIEGEL: But, you know, I read yesterday that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Goldman another $650,000...


SIEGEL: ...I think the equivalent of my getting a parking ticket.

KAUFMAN: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that the market crash of 2008 has essentially passed without prosecution?

KAUFMAN: No, I don't think we're done yet. I have had two hearings after we passed the bill that gave the Justice Department more FBI agents and more prosecutors, and it takes a while. These are very complex cases to run. They've had a number of civil rulings, and they've gotten rulings on, you know, Bank of America and Citigroup and others. This has not all played out, but, you know...

SIEGEL: But...

KAUFMAN: ...I don't think this is over.

SIEGEL: But to cases that are brought three and four years after the fact...


SIEGEL: they have any deterrent value if they...

KAUFMAN: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: ...(unintelligible)?

KAUFMAN: When you commit fraud on Wall Street or endanger it, you have good attorneys around you to kind of clean up after you. So they clean up as they go. And then when you actually go to trial, these are very, very, very complex cases. But I still think we will have some good cases. And I also think that if isn't a deterrent, they will continue to do that. And I think we have the people in place now at the Securities Exchange Commission and the Justice Department to hold them accountable.

SIEGEL: Think back to the 1970s, when you were first working in Senator Biden's office, does the conventional wisdom that the Senate is a very different place, a less civil place today than it was then, does it check out for you, or is it pretty much the same?

KAUFMAN: Do people like legislation? They may not. And do some people wish that we could have - like I did - think to be good if we had a health care bill that had the public option in it? Absolutely. But you can't say it's dysfunction or gridlock when you passed such an incredible amount of legislation.

SIEGEL: By the way, based on your lifelong experience of the legislative process in Congress, would you say that the health care bill is pretty much immune to legislative attack now, or that it's extremely vulnerable and it could well be undone in Congress?

KAUFMAN: Look, every time we - this is one those things - every time we passed major legislation, I don't care what it is, we spend the next few years, you know, fixing it. So we're going to be changing health care reform, and I think it's healthy that we do.

SIEGEL: No, but I mean undoing. I mean, people who have come to town saying let's repeal Obamacare, very frequently heard from Republican candidates.

KAUFMAN: Now, do we want to - you know, they don't even know it's in there. What's going to have to happen, I think, is people are going to have to go back and actually look at the bill and say okay, this is what we want to do. And when they do, I think they're going to find that most of the things that are in that bill, when it comes to be actually litigated, most Americans really, really will like.

SIEGEL: Well, Senator Kaufman, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

KAUFMAN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Senator Ted Kaufman, a Democrat of Delaware, whose time in the Senate ends next Monday.

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