Nick T: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: We hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Nick Tomboulides and I of course spent the day waving signs on street corners and collecting signatures in Walmart parking lots. But the rest of the US Term Limits crew ate turkey with their families and watched football. Good for them. As a result, this episode of our podcast will reprise some of our favorite segments from our first dozen or so episodes. We’re thankful to you, our listeners who have helped us get this podcast off to a strong start.
Philip Blumel: A common theme of several of these rerun segments is corruption, so let’s review some of our favorite moments so far in this series, with Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits. Hey Nick.
Nick T: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: First off we’ve got the Duncan Hunter segment, and I think some of these clips have actually stood the test of time. We’re having a lot of fun doing this podcast, and some of these segments truly … We record and we play ’em back and we laugh. I don’t know, corruption’s not funny … But we laugh.
Nick T: Right. And by the way, even though corruption is the lifeblood of the term limits movement, we’re not thankful for corruption around here, but we are thankful for the fact that politicians are so pitiful at covering it up.
Philip Blumel: One thing I wanted to mention about your segment that I just loved is when it opened up you had the congressman being called to the floor for a vote and he was busy on his game. Now, anybody that is a parent of a teenage kid has had this exact experience. “It’s time to walk the dogs, kid.” “Oh no, wait. I’m in the middle of a game. Just a minute. Just a minute.” You have to ask him five times. That was classic. Really good, Nick.
Nick T: I can relate to that not as the parent, because I don’t have kids, but as the child. That was me when I was 13 or 14 years old. The difference is we weren’t dealing with 23 trillion dollars and thousands of human lives at stake when I was in my basement playing Nintendo.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, Duncan’s 41 years old. Just
Speaker 3: Congressman Hunter, we have to vote on whether to put troops in Syria.
Congressman H: In a minute. In a minute. I’m almost to the next level here.
Speaker 3: Congressman, we need you on the floor!
Congressman H: All right. I’ll pause it.
Nick T: Congressman Duncan Hunter loves video games. I’m not talking about Congressman Duncan Lee Hunter, who served from 1981 to 2009. I’m talking about his son, Duncan Hunter Jr, who inherited Daddy’s House seat in 2009. Duncan Jr loves video games so much that he spent $1, 528 on them in 2015 alone. You’re probably thinking, “On a congressman’s salary what’s $1500,” and you’d be right. Members of Congress earn $174,000 a year, which puts them in the top three percent of income earners in America. But even with all that dough, Duncan Jr never spent his own salary on video games. He put them all on his campaign credit card.
Nick T: Video games were just the tip of the iceberg. In total, Hunter and his wife dropped over 250 Gs in campaign money on their posh lifestyle. Now Hunter has been indicted by a grand jury for stealing these funds. The 47 page indictment paints a picture of a congressman who was drunk on power and defying every ethics law in the books. According to the jury, Hunter facilitated the theft of campaign funds and ignored his campaign staff’s multiple warnings. The Hunters concealed and disguised the personal nature of their campaign expenditures by either falsely saying the expenses were campaign-related or by falsely reporting the item or service purchased while providing the information to the treasurer.
Nick T: The Hunters illegally used campaign funds to purchase, among other things, the following: hotel rooms, airline tickets and upgrades, meals and food, $14,000 for a family vacation to Italy, $6500 for a family vacation to Hawaii. Thousands more on vacations in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, London, and other exotic locations. In 2010, Margaret Hunter, the congressman’s wife, took the campaign credit card to Target, where she bought two Punky Brewster items, a ring pop, and four window panels. In order to conceal this illegal charge, she falsely told the campaign treasurer it was for parent-teacher events. Remember Punky Brewster, that TV show from the 1980s? The Hunters told the federal government that souvenirs from that show were a campaign expense.
Nick T: Over the course of this whole ordeal, the Hunters overdrew their personal bank account 1100 times, incurring $3,800 in overdraft fees. The spending got even crazier. In 2014, the Hunters spent $600 in campaign funds at United Airlines to fly their pet rabbit across the country. The next year, they took the family on a trip to Sea World’s Aquatica family water park to entertain. To conceal this illegal payment they suggested to the campaign treasurer that these charges be classified as an educational tour. Margaret Hunter spending $152 to make an online purchase of cosmetics. She falsely told the treasurer that the charge was for gift basket items at the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Diego.
Nick T: Remember that trip to Italy? Congressman Duncan Hunter knew that trip would probably raise some red flags with the campaign finance people, so what did he try to do? He tried to set up a day tour of a US Naval facility in Italy while he was there. The problem is he was too stupid to request the tour far in advance, so when he contacted the Navy and asked for a tour on a particular date, the Navy told him, well, they really couldn’t arrange that. It was far too late. Then Hunter told his chief of staff to tell the Navy to go fuck themselves. What a classy guy.
Nick T: After getting indicted last week, Hunter went on Fox News and was asked to take responsibility for his actions. He refused to do so. Instead, he threw his own wife under the bus, blaming her for everything.
Nick T: There’s an entitlement culture in Washington, my friends. Our elected officials go in thinking it’s a swamp, saying it’s a swamp, but when they get there they realize it’s really more like a hot tub, and they never want to leave the cozy confines of that congressional office. Here’s an idea. Let’s make them leave. Let’s pass term limits, because Duncan Hunter might seem uniquely sleazy, but we all know better. We know this type of theft and arrogance is rampant in our nation’s capital and it’s not going away any time soon if we don’t correct it. This corruption is gonna spell “game over” for our Republic.
Philip Blumel: The next segment was about dementia in the Congress, and this one’s a little touchy. You did a great job of it and you made the point in it that not everybody that’s getting up there in age has issues with their mental facilities, but of course many do.
Nick T: Right. If you had term limits or age limits as they do for judges, you wouldn’t be guaranteeing that you’re not removing some people from office who are obviously still 100% all there, but you would guarantee that those who have slipped into a state of mental decline are removed before they can have enough damage on the system. Thad Cochran for example, serving in a committee for 20 years and then being unable to locate the room for that committee is …
Philip Blumel: Yeah. That was really sad. I would suggest to you that age limits are not really required. If you have term limits and you have competitive elections where you have regular turnover, you’re really not gonna run into these issues in any serious way. I think an age limit which actually limits a lot of older people that can absolutely function at the level necessary to be in Congress, are not limited; and yet we still get what we want, which is quality people running for the offices.
Nick T: I think welfare recipients should be drug tested before they can run for reelection. Did you know that members of Congress get prescription drugs hand delivered to their offices? It’s done by Grubb’s Pharmacy, which is the oldest in Washington. It’s a cool perk that nobody else in America has, and that’s pretty much par for the course in Washington. There’s a lot more to that story, and it should alarm every American.
Nick T: Mike Kim, the owner of Grubb’s Pharmacy, told Stat news that he is routinely filling prescriptions for drugs that treat Alzheimer’s disease for members of Congress. If pharmacists are shipping Alzheimer’s medication to Capitol Hill, then some number of Congressmen are medically unqualified to hold office, and we don’t know which ones or how many. They could be back benchers or they could be sitting at the upper tiers of leadership making decisions of global significance. Since your rank in Congress is based mostly on seniority, the oldest members have the most power. That’s terrifying. Here’s what Mike Kim, the pharmacist said: “At first it’s cool, and then you realize ‘Wow. I’m filling some drugs that are for some pretty serious health problems, and these are the people that are running the country.'”
Nick T: There are 40 congressional districts in which the age of the representative is more than double the median age of his or her constituents. On the Senate side, 18 of the 33 senators running for reelection in 2018 will be 65 or older. Several of them, including Diane Feinstein and Bill Nelson, will be well into their 80s by the time they spend another six years in office. Obviously, these trends don’t necessarily mean Congress has a problem. Many people experience little to no loss in mental sharpness as they age, but there have been enough red flags lately to merit some concern.
Nick T: Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran recently had to step down from the Senate, but before that, Politico had documented that Cochran appeared frail and at times disoriented during their interview with him. Cochran at one point needed a staffer to remind him where the Senate Chamber is located despite having served in that Chamber for the last 40 years. After locating the Chamber, Cochran cast the wrong vote on a bill and had to correct himself after an aide pointed out the error.
Nick T: New research suggests that the relationship between power and mental decline could be even worse than scientists had imagined. Not only are people with brain damage finding their way into powerful posts, but the evidence shows that power might also cause brain damage. Subjects under the influence of power, according to Dacher Keltner, a University of California at Berkeley Professor, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury, becoming more impulsive, less risk averse, and crucially less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.
Nick T: That means power is literally going to people’s heads and damaging their brains. Perhaps that’s why 33 states have mandatory retirement ages for judges and 36 states impose term limits on their governors. It’s not realistic to expect unwell politicians to come clean with the public and step down, nor will their coworkers, who depend on those members for support, feel inclined to go out in public and say their friends are sick. A better solution is changing the basic rules of the game to ensure members are not likely to lose their marbles on the job, and if it happens, to ensure the problem cannot continue for decades. The only way to accomplish that is through congressional term limits.
Nick T: President Harry Truman in the aftermath of WWII sent a handwritten note to Congress demanding the passage of term limits. “We’d help to cure seniority and senility, both terrible legislative diseases,” Truman wrote. “The Appropriations committees of the House and Senate are aged and decrepit men who if they think at all have backward thinking.” Truman’s words are a prophetic description of today’s Congress, where the recent chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee briefly forgot that he was even on the Committee at all. That chairman was Thad Cochran.
Philip Blumel: Next up we have the Senator Grassley piece. Now, Senator Grassley, nobody has accused him, to my knowledge, of any criminal activities of any kind, but things about that is that there’s a line between the soft corruption of special interest influence and actually quid pro quo bribery. He’s on the legal side of it and always has been, but he’s known as the ethanol king and he’s from a farm state, so he’s getting a lot of campaign contributions and everything from these interests and he’s voting their way. You can’t convict someone of that, but it’s similar in principle.
Nick T: Yeah, and that one has polluted the entire political system because of course the first presidential caucus every four years in Iowa, and those candidates are jumping over each other to say how pro-ethanol they are, and it’s a real domino effect on the rest of our system. That’s why every gallon of gas you buy has a percentage of ethanol in it as a result of those subsidies for politicians in Iowa. It has a very negative impact on our entire economy and our entire country that a guy can do stuff like that.
Nick T: Chuck Grassley, senior Senator from Iowa, turns 85 today, September 17th, 2018. Happy Birthday, Chuck! Senator Grassley has had a long … Very long … and rewarding career as a politician, and has served the public tirelessly as a poster child for term limits. Grassley was born in 1933 in New Hartford, Iowa, and graduated college in 1956 from the Iowa State Teachers College, now the University of Northern Iowa. Three years later, he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives and never looked back. If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 59 years.
Nick T: But have no fear. His resume boasts some real-world experience also, including a year or two as a sheet metel shearer, assembly line worker, and farmer back in the day. Grassley has leaned on this sliver of private sector experience over the past six decades of making important policy decisions on healthcare and the judiciary, among others. He’s also leaned on health professionals, pharmaceutical firms, insurance companies, and law firms, which have been his largest contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Don’t forget that nearly 100% of corporate money goes to incumbents. And not coincidentally, we see that Senator Grassley has never won reelection with anything less than 60% of the vote, except for his first victory, before he was an incumbent.
Nick T: 60 years seems more like the reign of a king than a public servant, and indeed, Senator Grassley has been called the ethanol king for his consistent support of federal subsidies and mandates to protect that industry. Inspired by Senator Grassley, George Blumel at posterchildrenfortermlimits.com wrote, “Have you seen the NASCAR drivers with all the decals on their clothes and cars showing who their sponsors are? Well, I think professional politicians should have to display the logos of all the companies and groups that pay them. It would help taxpayer voters to understand why they do what they do for certain interests.”
Nick T: Term limits aims at broadening the range of experience, and also improving the incentives faced by legislators, two goals which collide with the career trajectory of Senator Grassley. It’s no surprise then that Senator Grassley has received an F on US Term Limits Legislator Score Card at termlimits.com, as he refuses to sign the USTL pledge or to cosponsor the Congressional Term Limits amendment in Congress.
Nick T: Well, Happy Birthday Chuck. We wish you the best and hope you can take a break from the decades of nonstop campaigning and fundraising to smell the flowers on the beautiful, wide- open Iowa plains.
Philip Blumel: The next segment was The Great Debate, and I have to tell you this is my favorite one. It was a simple idea. We had some quotes from Trump and also from Obama and we didn’t want to run either one by themselves ’cause they’re such polarizing figures, and an endorsement from Trump’s not gonna get very far to a Democratic listener and vice versa with Obama, but together I think it makes a really strong point about the bipartisan nature of this issue. What I really love about it is not so much that point, but the idea of opposing it as a debate was mine. That wasn’t that clever but I really love what our producer, Ken [Decter 00:18:41] did with that because … That’s his voice on there by the way is playing my sidekick in this little skit. The over-the-top sidekick. But I think this one’s really funny. It’s my favorite anyway of everything we’ve done so far.
Philip Blumel: Welcome to Caught in the Crossfire. Today we feature a debate at the highest level of the US government, the 44th and 45th US Presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, go head to head on the issue of term limits. Ken.
Ken Decter: That’s right, Phil. Never has America been so divided as it is today, and I quake to think what we’re about to witness here.
Philip Blumel: The opening salvo was launched at a rally by then candidate Donald Trump on October 2016 just before the election. Let’s hear it.
Donald Trump: But there’s another major announcement I’m going to make today as part of our pledge to drain the swamp. If I’m elected President I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress. They’ve been talking about that for years. Decades of failure in Washington and decades of special interest dealing must and will come to an end.
Philip Blumel: Then, just days later, sitting President Barack Obama fired back, not mincing any words.
President Obama: I think we want to see new voices and new ideas emerge. That’s part of the reason why I think term limits are a really useful thing.
Ken Decter: Holy moly! But he wasn’t done. From the dais at the Global Citizen Forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 2017 Barack Obama again tackled Trump’s stirring call with a more thorough rejoinder.
President Obama: I think politics suffers when you have the same people staying in power over and over and over again for many years and there’s never any new blood and there’s never any new ideas. I do believe that if you’re in power for too long, even with the best of intentions, that you become stale and your government becomes stale, and over time you will not do what’s best for the country and the country will suffer. I see sometimes in the US Congress people who’ve been there for 20, 30, 40 years, and because they’re still there they’re blocking the 25 or the 30 or the 35-year-old who is more of their time and could be more innovative and creative in terms of solving the problems that we face today rather than the problems that we faced 35 years ago.
Ken Decter: Wow! That was really something. Can America ever heal from the vast rifts that divide us?
Philip Blumel: Uh, Ken. They actually agreed about term limits here. The former Democratic President and current Republican one probably don’t agree on too much, but …
Ken Decter: Oh, Phil. The media landscape is awash with fear and loathing. The parties have never been further apart. Pets are turning on their owners. The sky is falling! The earth is flat! Do you think anything could bring this country back together?
Philip Blumel: Well, a McLaughlin poll from earlier this year suggested 82% of Americans support term limits.
Ken Decter: 82%?!
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that’s right. 82%. 89% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, 83% of Independents. It looks like term limits are one issue that Americans agree on. Perhaps this is the issue our political culture needs so we can start working thought again.
Ken Decter: Hm … I don’t know. You think the Russians might be behind this?
Philip Blumel: The last segment we have was Stacey’s, about gravy train. This one is a standout because it basically covers everything that we’re trying to cover with this podcast all in like a three-minute segment. She covers the problem, she covers the solution, and it even contains a Thanksgiving reference.
Nick T: All with perfect enunciation.
Philip Blumel: Yes!
Nick T: Which is Stacey’s hallmark. I’m genuinely worried that one day we’re going to lose Stacey to a voiceover company. Her voice is that amazing. No, I thought it was great, and we’ve laid out the problem quite a bit. We’ve talked about all these corrupt politicians, but ultimately the question is what are you going to do about it. What is the action plan? She does a real fantastic job of laying that out and giving people the practical steps they need to get involved.
Philip Blumel: After 15 episodes I think she encapsulated the best. By the way, this is our 16th episode coming up right now.
Nick T: Only 20,000 to go, right?
Philip Blumel: Right.
Stacey Selleck: Hi. I’m Stacey Selleck. As Digital Director for US Term Limits, I’ve got my ear to the ground on social media to see what everyone is saying about term limits. While for most, this is a no-brainer issue, nearly each day people ask how we can get term limits on a Congress when the politicians will never vote themselves off the gravy train. The truth of the matter is we don’t need the permission of Congress. We’re not delusional. We know the turkeys won’t vote for Thanksgiving, at least not unless they think they can sweeten the pot and give themselves a better deal.
Stacey Selleck: I know many of our supporters just want a national vote on the issue, but the Supreme Court took up the term limits on Congress issue and decided it must be an amendment to the Constitution, just as the President has. The good news is that we can bypass Congress completely by going through the states. You see, the Constitution itself in Article V provides two methods for proposing amendments. One way is through Congress. The other way is through the states. Once 34 pass the resolution for a proposal convention through their own state legislatures, the National Assembly must be called. So no, we don’t need Congress. But we do need our state lawmakers to take up the torch and support this very important issue. It is precisely for this reason, when Congress fails to act, that it’s the obligation of the states to take on the mantle.
Stacey Selleck: What happens at the convention? The Article V Convention is a forum for a national discussion. All the states will be invited to send commissioners to deliberate what the term limits amendment will look like. They hear from experts. Statisticians, academics, and governmental consultants alike will have the opportunity to provide input. After that, the terms of the amendment will be hashed out and agreed upon, or not. If a term limits amendment is approved, the proposal will go to the next step in the process, where it must be ratified by 38 states to become part of the Constitution.
Stacey Selleck: This national effort is no easy task. While 82% of the people across all parties and demographics want this, many in the DC swamp do not. This is why we need to make our case to the state lawmakers, and what better time than election season?
Stacey Selleck: We are making significant progress. If you feel passionate about putting an end to the dysfunction in DC, sign our petition at termlimits.com. Your state lawmakers will listen to you much more readily than they will to us. Your actions are powerful, but the steps you take are easy. Just tell your state Rep you want term limits on Congress, by phone, by email, or even in person, and be ready to answer our calls to action when the resolution is moving through your state legislature. The more of you who take action, the sooner we’ll get this done.
Stacey Selleck: Remember, sign the petition at termlimits.com, and thank you for your support.
Philip Blumel: We’ll be back next week with a program of all new material. Thanks for giving us the weekend off. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe. You can do so using the podcast app on your iPhone or Google Play or Stitcher on your android device. Or go to iTunes, and while you’re there please rate and review us.
Philip Blumel: In spite of all our country’s problems, we have a lot to be thankful for. For us at US Term Limits that includes you. We appreciate your interest in and dedication to the term limits movement. Until next week.
Philip Blumel: This podcast is made possible by the support of you, the American people, and your voluntary financial contributions, which can be made through our website at termlimits.com. Thank you.