Supporters of Rep. David Dreier (R) in upscale Malibu, Calif., where he bought a house three years ago, urged him to run in a district there after the one he represents was dismantled by redistricting.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to live in Malibu so I can live back in Washington!’ That wasn’t quite my goal,” the 16-term lawmaker recalled in an interview from his Capitol office.
Kidding aside, Dreier, who has a large say in the way the House functions as chairman of the Rules Committee, is a staunch defender of Congress. Not the idea of Congress or memories of the good ol’ days, but the current, tea-party-infused, 12 percent-approval Congress.
“I said that this institution is as great as it’s ever been. That’s what I said. And people are just kind of like, ‘What? What are you talking about? We have this abysmally low approval rating.’ You know, the approval rating is not the determinant of the success of the institution,” Dreier said.
As evidence, he pointed to last year’s passage of free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea —“the largest bipartisan vote on trade agreements that I ever remember” — and the current debate over budgets, saying, “I mean, right now we’re in the midst of debating six budget proposals.”
And the Republican said he is often thanked for allowing more amendments to be considered from his wielding of the Rules gavel.
“I rarely go through a week that Democrats — and, of course, Republicans — that Democrats don’t stop me and say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’” Dreier said, mentioning Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) as one colleague who praised him for helping her on amendments.
But Dreier is also looking at the issue differently than a lot of people who criticize a lack of quick, neat legislative progress.
“James Madison described this institution, the process of lawmaking, it should be ugly and messy and difficult,” Dreier said.
Recalling an episode early in the current Congress, when an amendment vote-a-rama on a continuing resolution took all night, Dreier said such activity was “not only part of it, it is an important part of it.”
Dreier has often worked on building legal institutions overseas — “I feel as if I’m sitting with maybe James Madison in the summer of 1787 when I am in these countries,” he said — and he shared an anecdote on the messy process of legislating from one of those experiences.
“I was sitting with the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, this amazing woman. She just won the Nobel Peace Prize. ... She’s the first woman to be president of any of the 54 countries on the continent of Africa. And when I was talking to her about this one time sitting in Monrovia, Liberia, I was saying, ‘I’m going to call my book “An Ugly, Messy, Difficult Process.”’ And she looked at me and said, ‘David, but you forgot one thing. Yes, it’s an ugly, messy, difficult process. But it works.’
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