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Veteran Lawmaker David Dreier Defends Congress

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“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.’

“When I say the institution is as great as it’s ever been, I think back to Feb. 28 of 1890. All one needs to do is look at those black spots on the stairs of the second floor to the first floor of the Capitol. And those are there because a former Congressman from Kentucky got into an argument with a reporter from the Louisville Times. The Congressman pulled the reporter’s ear, [and] the reporter turned around and killed him. Just like that,” Dreier said, referring to Charles Kincaid’s murder of Rep. William Taulbee (D-Ky.).

House Republicans will be losing a major source of institutional memory when Dreier leaves in January.

But he was quick to explain that leaving Congress was his choice — not something forced on him by the redistricting process in California.

“Redistricting had nothing to do with my decision,” Dreier said, noting that he had decided to retire prior to the current Congress but was persuaded by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to stay on.

The California Republican said there were three districts he could have run in, including one Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) is now running in.

Dreier said he held off on announcing his retirement because there was still a potential of the district lines changing. If the lines changed and he decided that no other Republican lawmaker could have held on to the seat he currently represents, he would have run again, he said.

After more than three decades in Congress, Dreier said he’d changed his position on a number of key issues. But he regrets one vote in particular.

“Martin Luther King is a real icon. ... There was an argument made that we had so many federal holidays, we didn’t need more. I voted against Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday. And that’s, you know, a regret that I have,” Dreier said.

One issue he’s evolved on in particular are proposed amendments to the Constitution.

In 1995, “I thought that the only way we could really turn the corner on this was to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget,” Dreier said. “And two years later we balanced the federal budget without touching the Constitution.”

Late last year, Dreier took to the floor to explain why he was voting against the balanced budget amendment championed by the rest of GOP leadership, angering House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Madison and Thomas Jefferson debated the issue, with Jefferson in favor of a balanced budget amendment, Dreier said, but “the largest non-defense purchase that was deficit spending was launched by Jefferson: the Louisiana Purchase.”

A similar issue is proposed amendments to ban flag burning, Dreier said.

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