Sen. Roy Blunt, 68, a Missouri Republican, talks about selfish lawmaking, his days as whip and why Harry S. Truman cleaned his desk out so quickly.
Q: You’ve been in Congress for a while. How is this Congress different than what you’ve seen before?
A: First of all, “a while” is not the advantage it used to be. But it is still an advantage in terms of figuring out how to get things done, I think. This Congress doesn’t seem that different — this is my eighth year in the Senate — and frankly, the whole process has been a pretty big disappointment. I’ve been able to get some things done that I’m pleased about, but it is almost like, beginning certainly in 2009, people have gone way too deep into [thinking that] whatever they want to do is the only thing that’s acceptable, as opposed to finding what’s possible. I continue to hope that we can move the other way.
I’d like to see us get back to where the members have a chance to be much more involved with the legislation. … [Right now] there’s only one thing to vote for, and none of us has really had a chance to amend it on the House or Senate floor. So we’ll see. There’s still ways to get things done.
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Q: What did you learn from your days as whip that’s valuable to you now?
A: What would be valuable still is if early on we start thinking of how you put a bill together that was going to get the votes you need to get legislation passed. In the 10 years I was either the majority whip or the chief deputy whip, we passed two bills in the House that didn’t have Democrats vote for them. You just have to start from day one thinking, ‘OK, what is possible here? What do you put in this that holds most of our side together? And what do you also put in it that gets enough of the other side that we can pass a bill?’
The House and Senate need to work together from the very start on not only what each side can pass, but what the final product is likely to look like and try and begin to work from day one to get to a bill you can pass that winds up on the president’s desk.
Q: You’re a former history teacher. What’s your favorite era to learn about?
A: I do sit every day in the offices Sen. Truman used and Vice President Truman used, the 10 years and 82 days he worked in this building. I think that World War II and post-World War II part of history is very interesting, lots of lessons to learn from it. Truman and Roosevelt, Eisenhower — they were all very consequential, their leadership and what happened in the country while they were president. The office here that we use as our conference room was President Truman’s office eight of the 10 years he was in the Senate and the 82 days he was vice president. [It’s interesting to] find out how little Roosevelt shared with him and the incredible responsibility he had the day he became president.
On Truman’s first full day as president, one of the things he did was come back here to clean out his desk, which probably means one of three things: one, [people] had more time, even in April of 1945; two, he was a pretty modest guy who thought cleaning out his own desk was the right thing to do; three, it makes me wonder what was in his desk.
Q: How did you get to the point that you made fighting for NIH funding and mental health a priority for you?
A: We know so much more about health than we did before the success of the human genome project. When I came to Congress, 20 years ago, the Republican Congress at that time had set as one of its goals to govern NIH funding for a decade, which we did. In the next decade, there’s no increase of any kind. During most of that decade, my side had lost control. Not that the other side is not for NIH funding — in particular, Sen. [Richard J.] Durbin and Sen. [Patty] Murray had been great partners in trying to get that done.
[Take Five: Doug Jones]Q: What do you like to do to relieve stress when you have downtime?
A: You know, I’m not very good at downtime. I still read probably 50 books a year. Usually I take office work on the trips to Missouri and have a book in my suitcase … so that’s part of my reading time. Mostly history. Some fiction mixed in occasionally. And I hunt a little bit; I don’t fish much anymore. I like movies.
Last book read: “The Accidental President,” “Prague Winter” and a Daniel Silva novel, “The Heist.”
Pet peeve: Needless disorganization.
Cats or dogs: Dogs. I have a dog, Max.
If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead: My great-great-grandfather.
Closest friend across the aisle: Steny Hoyer and I are close friends.