Interview with Sen. Evan Bayh on His Retirement

Interview with Sen. Evan Bayh on His Retirement

By The Situation Room - February 17, 2010

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the shocking good-bye not spelled B-Y-E. We're spelling it B-A-Y-H. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is here after his retirement surprise. I'll ask if Congress is failing or if the majority Democrats are failing. Stand by.

Virtually everyone expected a bombshell, but it's landing like a political dud. That long awaited "New York Times" piece that some thought might damage New York's governor, David Paterson -- it's now out and it may be getting stronger reaction for what it does not say than what it does.

When Senator Evan Bayh suddenly announced his retirement this week, he became the new face of discontent with the way Congress works or doesn't work. As CNN gears up for a week-long "Broken Government" investigation, we're joined now by the outgoing senator from Indiana, Democrat Evan Bayh.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The chairman of the Democratic Party, your party, Tim Kaine, was on "AMERICAN MORNING" earlier today, and he said you're completely wrong when you say Congress is not getting anything done. He has a list of all of the very important things Congress has done this year. Do you want to respond to that?

BAYH: Well, Tim Kaine is a good man. And it's true that some things have gotten done over the last year, no doubt about that, but not nearly enough has gotten done. And I don't blame the Democratic Party for that.

I was listening to your intro, and I certainly don't blame the president. He's making an honest effort to reach out. But it takes two to tango. I chalk most of this up, Wolf, to the fact that, you know, on the Republican side, they need to be statesmen and -women and step forward. They have got some political advantages now going their way.

But they need to put some of that aside to get the public's business done: with regard to getting the deficit down, for example; getting the economy moving once again.

And on our side, we have got some very fervent Democrats, they're good people, but they have got to realize that some progress is better than none, and not always have these litmus tests if you can't get 100 percent.

So, you know, I think Tim is right, there have been good things done, but a lot more needs to be done. And I think you can just look at the public opinion polls to understand the American people agree with that.

BLITZER: He cited the economic stimulus package, which he credits with helping to turn the economy around, moving it away from the brink of a great depression. He cites the equal pay for women legislation that became the law of the land, extending health care benefits for about 8 million children -- poor children, increasing health care benefits for other poor people.

Those are important things that Congress did this year.

BAYH: Those are very important things, Wolf, but those were all done about a year ago, and it has been a long time. And we've got more progress yet to make. And regrettably, the two sides are just getting entrenched. It's a little bit like tribal warfare, unfortunately, where each side is just trying to beat the daylights out of the other and forgetting, Wolf, at the end of the day, we're all Americans first, not Democrats and Republicans, but Americans. And--

BLITZER: Do you want to name names? Who is the -- who is really -- you say the president is not responsible, the Democrats aren't responsible, you say Republicans are responsible. Go ahead and name some names. Who is to blame for this?

BAYH: Well, you know, look, I'm not -- there's plenty of blame to go around. And, you know, I'm not going to call people out on national television, but I will say this. The two most recent examples, and I think Tim would probably agree with us if he were on the air here, we had a vote on a deficit and debt reduction commission that had been endorsed by many on the other side of the aisle.

The president was reluctant to offend some in Congress, but stepped forward and said, no, this is a good idea, I'm for it. The minority leader had endorsed it a year ago, said, yes, this is the kind of thing we had to do. Then when it came up for a vote, Wolf, it would have passed, bipartisan, Democrats, Republicans together, it would have passed.

But seven people who had co-sponsored the bill decided, nah, for short-term political reasons we're not going to be for it. And the minority leader decided, you know what, I don't want the Democrats to look fiscally responsible before the election. OK? It's that kind of gamesmanship that's not right.

On the jobs bill, that's the American people's top priority, top priority, and so a proposal was being worked out, Max Baucus was working with Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch was working, you know, another good Republican, many Democrats, putting together something that wasn't what everybody wanted, but it was going to make a significant difference. What happened?

BLITZER: But Harry Reid -- Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, the majority leader, he backed off that jobs bill, didn't he?

BAYH: Yes, but look, I don't think Harry is to blame on this one. I think Harry wanted to go forward and get something done. Here's what happened, Wolf. Right on the cusp of them getting something done, once again, because of short-term political calculations, the minority leader decided, you know, I like some of the things that are in there, but I'm not going to come forward and actually endorse the thing, because I want to reserve the right to kick the Democrats in the shins on the thing.

BLITZER: How much blame--

BAYH: Now -- now--

BLITZER: You're a--

BAYH: Let me be even-handed here. On our side, there were some people who -- they are good people, but they decided, you know what, there are tax cuts in there for business to create jobs and we don't like tax cuts, and you know, business has had enough, and we'd like to do it another way, even though this was the only way we were going to get something done.

So it's that kind of--

BLITZER: But to be fair, you're blaming some of your liberal colleagues as well?

BAYH: Some of them were allergic to tax cuts for businesses to create jobs. They feel that, you know, more direct government spending is a better way to go. That's a legitimate debate. My point simply is if you can't get what you want, well, this proposal was better than nothing, at a time when the American people are crying out for action for job creation and getting businesses moving once again.

Let's -- as the old adage is, the cliche, don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. That happens too much to often around here.

BLITZER: All right. Let's look ahead a little bit. You have $13 million in campaign cash, what are you going to do with that money?

BAYH: Well, I haven't decided yet. I'm going to take some of it to help whoever our nominee is in Indiana. I think we have got a good chance to win that election. And so I'd like to be very supportive financially. I'd also--

BLITZER: How much can you give that nominee legally?

BAYH: Well, I don't know. That's a job for the lawyers. And they haven't gotten back to me yet. As you can imagine, I've been kind of busy the last 48 hours. But I do want to help our nominee. That's number one.

Number two, I would like to help like-minded Democrats, you know, people who want to get things done, who are practical, who want to reach out and forge principled compromises with those on the other side of the aisle, Wolf. I'd like to use some of those resources to accomplish that as well. BLITZER: So basically what I hear you saying, the 13 million, a lot of it if not all of it, you want to give away to fellow Democrats so that they can get elected?

BAYH: Yes, that's one of the things I'd like to do.

BLITZER: And what about you personally? What do you hope to do after -- your life after the U.S. Senate? Where will you be heading? What would be the dream job for you?

BAYH: Wolf, you're channeling my wife. She has been asking me that question for the last 72 hours as well. You know, I don't know. I really have an open mind, Wolf. But I can tell you this, public service, trying to help the people of this country will always be a part of what I do, because that's a part of my DNA.

And fortunately there are ways to accomplish that without being in the United States Senate or in elective office.

BLITZER: Because some are already saying, you know, he's not ruling out becoming a lobbyist. Do you plan on becoming a lobbyist?

BAYH: I do not, no.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Good luck to you. You've still got time in the United States Senate. We hope you'll be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now that you don't have to worry about getting reelected, you can speak your mind a little bit more openly, right?

BAYH: Yes, I can. Invite me and I'll do exactly that.

BLITZER: We appreciate it, Senator Bayh. Thanks very much.

BAYH: Take care.


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