Conor Lamb Is Losing His Patience

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S1: Even in preppy Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb has got this reputation for being buttoned up a while back. He actually made a list of all the ways journalists have described him.

S2: Some personal favorites were, you know, plain vanilla, reminiscent of a well pressed pair of khakis or something like that. The one that always got the laugh like the punch line was. He looks like the kind of guy that Taylor Swift would dump in a music video.

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S1: It could be a good thing. Like you’re you’re in the music video.

S2: Well, that’s right side. Like, at least I was in the game with Taylor Swift. Like, if she’s dumping me, it means I made it to like that level. Right.

S1: So because he was elected as a Democrat in a district that also elected Donald Trump, Representative Lamm has often been seen as a kind of bellwether, an object lesson in reaching voters Democrats have lost ground with over the last few years. No one calls him a progressive. In fact, some journalists, after noting his Oxford shirts and commenting on how straight laced he is, they call him conservative. Do you think that’s a fair description of you?

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S2: No, I don’t. I think I’m right square in the in the center of where the Democratic Party is and has always been.

S1: You’ve also described yourself as a compromiser fairly regularly. I think that’s fair, though.

S2: That is fair. And I’m actually I’m proud of that.

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S1: His reputation as a compromiser is why I found it so surprising that Representative Lamb got on Twitter the other week to voice his support for blowing up the filibuster. You remember the filibuster, that rule that you need at least 60 votes in the Senate for most legislation to go anywhere after watching the bipartisan push for the January 6th commission failed spectacularly because of a filibuster, Lamb says he felt like he had no choice. The filibuster has got to go looking at your recent take on the filibuster. I was thinking about you as a compromiser, and I was thinking about how my take on compromise is that the trick is that you have to compromise without feeling compromised. And I I wondered if you’d reached a kind of tipping point where you didn’t feel like that was really possible for you anymore to compromise without feeling compromised.

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S2: Well, I would say, you know, I reached a tipping point on the specific issue of protecting this small D democracy as we know it and and protecting the institutions that make compromises on other issues possible and even desirable. So, you know, as I’m talking to you here, I’m in the midst of a bipartisan negotiation on infrastructure and trying to help that break through. I haven’t given up on the project of compromising. But January 6th and then the Senate filibustering the January 6th commission showed me that we don’t have a willing negotiating partner on on the basic issues of truth and accountability about the current state of our democratic institutions and what we have to do to protect them. We just don’t we don’t have it.

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S1: Today on the show, what bipartisanship and compromise mean when there are fewer and fewer people to compromise with. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. It strikes me you’re trying to walk this narrow path where right now the project of democracy is being politicized, the idea that we should look at reforms that will increase the democratic process and increase the democratic project are being seen as progressive or left wing. But you’re trying to sort of separate that out from your stances on issues like the environment or the economy. But I kind of wonder if your constituents are separating them out, too, like when you talk to them about the democratic values that you clearly hold. Did they see those as apolitical values or do they see something else?

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S2: You know, I think it’s still a little early in this process. I’ve noticed Washington, D.C., always moves a lot faster in conversation than than people back here in my district. And so I am now, you know, sort of every day on on high alert for what’s happening to our democracy and what’s happening in these different states. And I’m not sure that the average person in my district is yet, particularly because here in Pennsylvania, we more or less are at a stalemate because we have a Democratic governor who’s not going to allow the legislature to do all these crazy things they’re doing

S1: elsewhere, even though the legislature is Republican controlled.

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S2: Yes. And they have tried, you know, that we just had a bunch of state legislators travel to Arizona to watch the phony recount. But I can say with a lot of confidence, having got to know my constituents over the last three years, that that they would expect me to continue working for achievements and compromises on issues like infrastructure, even as we debate the fundamental issues of our democracy. And that actually makes sense to me. You have to look at the the nature of the thing. You’re talking about an infrastructure. Just to give you a quick example, there’s there’s a lock on the Ohio River that makes it possible for barges to to carry construction equipment and coal and all the things that they move on the river. It is it’s so old that it’s literally at a 50 percent chance of cracking in half and falling into the river in the next two years. And if that happened, not only the whole river would be shut down, but construction sites along the river would be shut down. People would lose their job. Traffic on the roads would increase. I mean, that’s a real scenario. If that happened, I don’t think anyone in my district is going to look at me and go, well, yeah, that’s not your fault, because, like, you were fighting with Republicans about democracy. I mean, like, it’s just there’s some some basic stuff that we really have to try to get done for our people no matter what.

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S1: So you’re trying to make the case to your constituents that we need to be able to get these things passed because otherwise your stuff is going to break and and then, you know, it’s too late for us to fix it.

S2: Yeah, actually, I think I would actually reverse I think that’s the case my constituents make to me on a pretty regular basis. And I you know, I agree with them. You know, I think that we have to be able to do multiple things at once. But I’ll also say that that my view on the filibuster, on on the commitment to democracy that we have to have and and the intensity with which we have to have that debate that has evolved in three years. So I’m I’m learning on the job and I’m I’m trying to achieve this balance right now of working with the Republicans. And, you know, when I say the Republicans really are mostly working with Republicans who did not vote to overturn the election, you know, many of the ones I’m working with voted to impeach Trump the second time. And so you also have to distinguish among the types of people that you’re working with here.

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S1: Can you tell me about that evolution? Like I noticed, when you are talking about the filibuster and sort of announcing your take on it, you said I believe in bipartisanship because it’s supposed to get results. But I think a lot of people would say, well, it hasn’t been getting results for a little while. So tell me about your evolution as a lawmaker and how you began to just think this isn’t working the way it is.

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S2: Yeah, and, you know, I always challenge people to to make sure we know what we’re talking about when we say we’re not getting results because we actually have even in the depth of the Trump era, we’ve gotten bipartisan results on important topics. I always use the example of, you know, the same week that we did impeachment in the House, the first time we did the U.S.A., the most probably the most important trade agreement in the United States in the last almost 30 years by a massive bipartisan vote. And there have been other examples like that. So it still does happen, even though people correctly perceive that that we’re in much more partisan times. But I think the last three years have taught me that the Republicans have really made this whole attack on the ease of voting and I guess more more generally just an attack on on telling the truth and meaning what you say and basing your your statements on facts and true observations about the world. They’ve really made it a core pillar of their party because. They have tied themselves so tightly to Trump, so I don’t think every Republican walking around thinks that way, but they have all made the decision basically that he’s the head of their party. And so now all that really matters is what what he wants or what pleases him in January 6th really revealed just how dangerous and and sinister of a of a development that that is. There are many who sort of saw all this coming. I think I think for me, once I saw it happen on January 6th, and particularly that night when I saw so many of them still vote to overturn the election, I realized, you know, that we had kind of crossed the Rubicon with them and that there wasn’t going to be a negotiation on basic issues of truth and democracy and that we would have to fight for those things along. There are many who sort of saw all this coming. I think I think for me, once I saw it happen on January 6th, and particularly that night when I saw so many of them still vote to overturn the election, I realized, you know, that we had kind of crossed the Rubicon with them and that there wasn’t going to be a negotiation on basic issues of of truth and democracy and that we would have to fight for those things along.

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S1: Can you tell me about January 6th, because you gave this speech that night,

S3: my point, Madam Speaker, is this enough has been done here today already to try to strip this Congress of its dignity and these objectors don’t need to do anymore.

S1: Can you describe that moment?

S2: It was a difficult moment for me because I came into office wanting to lower the temperature, not raise it, and wanting to make friends with Republicans, not attack them. And so I don’t I don’t think I had ever given a speech like that that was so directly pointed at my Republican colleagues. And I was looking at many of them in the face on the other side of the chamber.

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S1: And you said you you have been lying.

S3: We know that that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere. It was inspired by lies, the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight.

S2: Yeah, because there were and I just I really I didn’t know how else to describe it. And I thought it was important for anyone at home watching, which it turned out there were a lot of people watching, despite how late it was. I thought it was important for them to hear that that what motivated the attack that day is Trump’s lie about the election. And that same lie was causing these people to come back into the chamber and vote to overturn the election and basically disregard people’s votes.

S3: And the members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves. Their constituents should be ashamed of them.

S2: Once the attack happened in, those people came back into the chamber so determined to continue following the big lie and following Trump, I realized it just wasn’t about a point by point exposition of the evidence anymore. It was about something a lot deeper and and more basic. And it was about. You know. Putting the truth up front and center and not allowing things like respect and bipartisanship to actually become something that hides the truth from from the people we’re supposed to represent. And that was I guess that was a transition for me to have to to have to prioritize telling the truth in very in very raw and stark forms over the, you know, the kind of practices of bipartisanship that I had been working on for the last three years.

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S1: Yeah. A colleague from Virginia interrupted you and asked that your comments online be stricken from the record

S4: generalises point of order. Yes, they

S5: were. The gentleman said that there were lies on the floor here today looking over this direction. I ask that those words be taken down. We may have a disagreement of a on matters, but

S4: this is not.

S1: And you spoke to them. You said the truth hurts.

S3: It hurts. It hurts them. It hurts this country. It hurts all of us. But the fact is that the people have made this country work by not giving you that shout it out.

S4: But it is not in order. The gentleman will proceed.

S1: What happened then?

S2: One Republican member, I guess, kind of crossed the center aisle and I don’t know what he was going to do.

S4: But the order in the House in order, the house,

S2: there was there was a bit of a melee. My good friend, Colin Alred, who’s a former linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, basically stood up and stopped them all in their tracks. And that was

S4: that. The gentleman will clear this chamber. The gentleman will clear the chamber, gentlemen will proceed.

S2: But it was it was interesting to see, you know, they were also offended and emotional about an attack on their their character. And I just I was just standing there thinking, I wish you could be as offended and emotion as emotional about the attack on our capital that just happened because that, again, is is rooted in the same lie that you are telling right now. It was not an easy thing to to set aside the bipartisanship in that moment and talk about what was really happening, but it was really happening. And, you know, first things first, if we can’t agree to defend the capital, if we can’t agree to have a peaceful transition of power, the rest of it, you know, doesn’t doesn’t really matter. And I was looking in the eyes of these people that I pray with on Thursday mornings. And, you know, we were just we were really at an impasse, but. That that is where their party is on this particular issue right now, and I think we just have to continue to tell the truth about it and that the message I really wanted to get across that night. Was the idea that these people want to gain power so badly that they were willing to kill a police officer, that they were willing to gouge out the eye of a police officer, that they were willing to. I mean, think about what it would take to hold up a can of bear spray and sprayed in the face of a police officer like that is how bad people who follow Trump want to gain power in the society. And if we don’t want it more badly than them, they will gain power. But the difference is when we want something badly, we have to channel it through these institutions themselves. We have to become better small D Democrats. We have to be better at winning elections the right way and upholding the rule of law and really, you know, honoring the system that that we’ve inherited and that’s made our country what it is. But that’s a lot of work and it’s difficult. And people have busy lives and we’ve been through a pandemic. And so that’s that’s why I think we need to keep this front and center to so people understand how motivated we have to be and what’s at stake.

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S1: It’s interesting you say you pray with your colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I know you’re Catholic because one of the things that stood out to me about that speech you gave on January 6th is that you said flat out like this is not a speech for the other people in the room with me. This is for the people at home. This is for voters essentially to just name what’s going on here. To me, it felt a little bit like. You’d almost given up on and on talking to some of your colleagues on the other side of the aisle because you felt like that’s not working anymore.

S2: That’s right. I mean, I think that’s kind of what I’m saying on this particular issue. That was the the moment where I realized, if you could witness it, an attack on your country’s capital like that. And in you knew at that point, I think we only knew that the one woman had died, but we knew that that woman had died. We knew all the pain and tragedy of that day. If you could actually come back into the chamber and in your role as a representative, continue to endorse the same big lie that caused that attack and continue to be complicit in it. You know, I’m not a fool. I know that you’re beyond negotiating at that point. And I felt that it was my job to represent my constituents by by just saying that that’s what was going on and that these were the stakes and that this was the kind of deeper truth of the moment. And look, you know, I’m someone that lives by I think Abraham Lincoln really captured this well. And I quoted his speech on election night last year, which is that, you know, at the Civil War, which is an even worse conflict, that what we’re talking about, both sides prayed to the same God. You know, both sides read the same Bible and invoked his aid against the other. And the prayers of neither were answered in full. They couldn’t be. And so, you know, when I was looking at those guys that night and since then in the same same prayer breakfast, I’ve acknowledged that, you know, that, you know, we both we both do pray to the same God. But, you know, that was a night where I just felt like I had to, you know, I had to to ask my God to to guide me in speaking honestly. And I just hope that he did that.

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S1: When we come back, her January 6th has made Conolan rethink how he’ll campaign next time. Conor Lamb came to this new understanding of the limits of bipartisanship after winning a bruising election, his seat was in the crosshairs for Republicans. Donald Trump had rallies supporting his challenger, Sean Parnell. Lamb pulled it out by a narrow margin, but then he had to fight off his GOP challenger in court. Parnell was trying to get mail and votes thrown out. Now Representative Lamb is trying to decide whether to run for a promotion next cycle when Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey retires. If he does that, it could end up as something of a rematch. Sean Parnell, that Republican he ran against in 2012. He’s already planning to run for Senate.

S2: Of the three people I’ve run against, he is in a lot of ways, I think, the clearest archetype of where the Trump Party is going. Why do you say that? He he understands, I think, pretty well how to use the tools of social media, combined with, you know, the kind of national TV appearances on things like FOX and and, you know, some of the big right wing podcasts and stuff to to really narrowly tailor a conspiratorial pro Trump anti-democratic message to the people that need to hear it, but then also kind of present himself as a, you know, a normal veteran who wants what’s best for the country today.

S5: The fight for freedom is not on a battlefield. Overseas now, the fight to preserve the fundamental things that make us Americans will be won or lost here at home. You and I face a generational crisis. Will we cherish our freedoms or will we submit to a government that tells us how to live, what to drive, who to worship and what to think?

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S2: There’s very little shame there for the same reason that Trump’s show show of strength and machismo and, you know, aggressiveness is is good for their followers. This guy has a lot of the same attributes. And, you know, he he continued that with these attacks on on the election itself, he took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court that had just no basis in reality. And he never he never held himself to a standard of speaking accurately about the election. He had no idea what was happening in the county election headquarters or with the ballots. And he didn’t care. Like it was all just about pleasing Trump and the appearance of of fighting for Trump. The in other words, you can say he’s someone that will do or say anything to give people the impression that he’s fighting for Trump. The problem with that is, is there still is an expectation among normal people that if you want to represent them, you’re going to fight for them.

S1: I wonder if that election also sort of changed your take on on how loud to be about the democratic processes and what needs to be firmed up. Because, I mean, you’re saying that basically your opponent who came close to beating you two points, it’s not it’s not huge, 10000 votes, but it’s it’s something that he was good at weaponization, this kind of anti-democratic talk and like using it against you. And so I wonder if part of you coming out now is just saying, like, yeah, we’re not going to we’re not going to fight this the same way next time.

S2: That’s that’s correct, but I have to say, I think that was a lesson I learned on January 6th as opposed to in November of last year, and I’m almost a little bit ashamed to admit that because I took some pride in the fact that I felt like I knew a little bit more about the Trump team’s tactics and approach to politics than anybody, because I had just been through it three times. And each time Trump was here personally using my name, you know, tearing me down in my own community, and we still managed to come out on top. And I really thought we had found the formula of just don’t get distracted from your core economic message, the one that still applies to the greatest number of people in your district, and get out and meet them in person. And you don’t have to. I mean, like my first campaign, I literally never used the words Donald Trump, and that was the lesson I took from those campaigns. But then I certainly was challenged in that by Parnell and in his tactics and just the constant lying. But it was really January 6th where I think I finally understood that, that they would actually go to a level of violence and encouraging violence and allow I mean, if you think about Trump as the president sitting in the White House and allowing a violent attack to occur for several hours and doing nothing about it, that was when I I realized we have to be so much more. You’re not going to just beat this with a good economic argument,

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S1: the fact that you won your seat by a slim margin, some would say that’s an argument for a rule like the filibuster, like it’s a way to ensure legislators find some kind of common ground. I’m wondering if you can explain more why you disagree.

S2: Yeah, I think in theory, if we had no evidence to look at, I think in theory you might think that was an attractive idea. But the evidence is pretty clear that in in this polarized era, the filibuster has become nothing but a weapon to grind the Senate and therefore all of the lawmaking process to a halt. And so I think if you look at that evidence and then you also look at the history of the filibuster itself, you know, it’s not in the Constitution. It has had many different rules over time. It’s been used differently for different purposes. But it definitely has this this kind of anchor in the Jim Crow era, it doesn’t say nothing about it really suggests that it actually has been a tool for compromise. And then my own just it’s only three years of experience. So I’m not going to claim to be an expert. But my own experience in Washington has been when you know that a bill is moving like every year, we know that the the national defense bill, for example, is moving because we have to fund the military. No one would really want to get in the way that when, you know, a bill is moving, people from both sides start to get on board because they want to attach something to it that’s a long held priorities of theirs and get it through. So I’ve actually been just observing that, that in this era, I think if we took away the filibuster, we would probably see more bipartisanship in the short term because all of a sudden, people in the minority party in the Senate would say, well, this bill is going to move. I might as well get involved early to try to get what I want from it.

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S1: There’s a reason to compromise.

S2: I think there becomes a reason to act at that point. It’s just too easy for everyone not to act right now if they know that the filibuster is going to block it. And then there’s the whole series of issues about the fact that the filibuster is basically done secretly. Now, it’s not a Mr. Smith goes to Washington thing anymore, and I think that’s bad for the public as well. I think the public deserves to see more debates.

S1: Is there a little bit of self-interest here? Like if you were in the Senate, which I know, you know, that’s that idea. It’s a while off. But if you were there and there was no filibuster, that would be a reason for your Democratic colleagues to be doing a lot more compromising with people like you, people who are considered more conservative Democrats or have views that are not as progressive as some others in your party. So do you see that, too?

S2: You know, it’s hard to say because I think for the same reason we talked about the importance of bipartisanship. Majorities are going to come and go in Washington for both parties. And so, yeah, I guess if we’re in the majority and it’s a narrow majority, then then sure. That could empower someone like me again. You know, I think I’m squarely in the middle of where the Democratic Party is. I resist the idea that I’m some person on the on the right wing of it or whatever, but I guess they could work that way. To me, the more important motivation is that I continue to experience my constituents, people I talk to about politics, normal people who probably think about politics for less than five minutes a day. I just continue to experience them as being very disappointed and frustrated and even cynical about what we do in Washington, D.C., not because of any particular issue, but because it seems like we get nothing done. And I think one of the true reasons that we get nothing done is the way the filibuster has become this weapon for the forces of opposition. And so, again, I’m only really talking a. About setting it aside for the purposes of voting rights and democracy at this point, but if the choice was to get rid of it,

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S1: oh, so you don’t want to blow it up entirely?

S2: Well, I think what I would say is if the choice was to keep it how it is or get rid of it entirely, I would get rid of entirely. I’m a young person. There’s a lot I think we need to accomplish to to meet the challenges of our era. But my hope would be that if if it was set aside for the purposes of enacting H.R. one and the Voting Rights Act and doing what we need to do to to shore up the institutions of our democracy, you know, we might be able to come to some understanding at some point of of how we’re going to protect and promote the minority rights debate. And maybe that becomes something that’s not called a filibuster. Maybe it operates differently. But, you know, I would still be looking to do that because, again, both sides are going to be in the majority in the minority at some point. But, you know, I think you have to look at whether you can create a series of options and not just be in the binary of of habit or don’t have it.

S1: Yeah. And the fear, if you abolish the thing completely, is that all of a sudden bills are just rocketing through and you’re going to swing back and forth and back and forth. And that’s not great either.

S2: Right? I’m I’m less fearful of that. Maybe because I’m younger than than some because I still think it’s phenomenally difficult to get things through the House, Senate and White House and then clear legal review later. I mean, our our system still does set up quite a number of obstacles. And again, our our founders didn’t design it to have the filibuster included. So, I mean, our founders set up this system thinking that that was good enough to balance the interests. And I think it would probably be good enough to

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S1: you know, I noticed you held a fundraiser recently with Joe Manchin. And, of course, that caught my attention because he’s one of the major figures in the Senate right now who said he’s against getting rid of the filibuster. And he’s been pretty consistent on that. I wonder if you were having a conversation with him, what you would say from your perspective, to just explain how you got where you are and maybe sway him?

S2: Yeah, I mean, I my conversations with him or private, so I would just kind of say that that what I would say to anyone who was thinking about this is that the the Trump Party has shown us who they are and they’ve shown us what they care about. And what they care about is lying about January 6th and doing whatever else they can at all costs to please and protect their leader, Donald Trump. And so what you did not hear and what I just said they cared about is preserving our democracy and our democratic institutions, which, by the way, is what we all swore, an oath to protect the thing. We swore an oath to protect us as lawmakers was the Constitution. It’s the same oath I swore as a Marine officer, as a prosecutor. It’s something I take really seriously. And so I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon to the point where, you know, allowing the filibuster to remain a tool for them in their in their goal of just gumming up the works in Washington so that these state legislatures out there can can try to basically steal our elections and take away people’s right to votes. I don’t think we should allow that to happen. I really don’t. You know, the right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution. The right to filibuster is not. There’s an order of priorities here.

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S1: Representative Lamb, thank you so much for joining me.

S2: Thanks for having me. And for what you’re doing. It was nice to talk to you.

S1: Conor Lamb represents Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, and that’s the show. What Next is produced by Kamal Dilshad Davis Land, Mary Wilson, Danielle Hewitt and Ilana Schwartz. We are led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. You’re gonna want to stay tuned to this feed because tomorrow, what next? Our Friday show is going to be here with Lizzie O’Leary. If you’re like me, you are still trying to plan some little getaway for the summer, maybe go to the beach. Jeff Bezos is going to space. You’re going to want to learn more. So tune in. Meanwhile, I’ll catch you back here on Monday.