ABC News Exclusive: Retiring Members Talk ‘Dysfunctional’ Partisanship, ‘Strangling’ Special Interest Money and Greatest Disappointments

By Gregory

Dec 20, 2010 2:32pm

ABC News’ Gregory Simmons reports: In an ABC News exclusive interview, four retiring representatives sat down with Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl for a candid look back on their time serving in Congress.   The two democrats and two republicans, all defeated in their bids for re-election, found common ground on the need for bipartisanship, the negative impact of special interest money and their disappointment about what they call "the dysfunction" in Congress.

 Rep. Zach Wamp, R-TN, who lost his GOP Gubernatorial primary bid, had some strong last words about the state of Congress as he sees it.

 “Congress is more dysfunctional today than when I got here 16 years ago and probably more dysfunctional than any time in the 53 years I’ve been alive,” he told Jonathan Karl.
Wamp added his greatest disappointment has been watching the erosion of the unity formed in the aftermath of 9/11 .

 Rep. Chet Edwards, D- TX, who lost to Republican Bill Flores, echoed Wamp’s concern over the increasing divide among Republicans and Democrats.

“I think that there’s more partisanship today than I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been in Congress,” Edwards said. “I think the partisanship might get uglier before American people finally blame one party or the other. And express their views at the ballot box.”

You can watch Jonathan Karl’s full interview with departing members from “Top Line” today HERE.

Edwards added he there was still bipartisanship happening, albeit behind the scenes, but the more cooperative interaction among members doesn’t hit the radar as much as the conflicts.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, defeated by Republican Frank Guinta, said the media’s focus on negativity paints an unfair picture.

“I have listened to people on television say things like, ‘Well, everybody’s on the take in Washington,’ as if that’s a given fact.  And I think it just makes people more cynical about the whole process,”  Shea-Porter said.  “That’s not true.  That’s not true at all.”

 Rep. Mike Castle, R-DE, was taken out in his primary by Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell.  Castle said that the more alarming division he sees is amongst members of his own party.

 “It was one thing when you were dealing with Democrats and Republicans.  Now you’re dealing with divisions within your own party,” he said.

Castle, a known centrist, also commented that working with the other party has come to be viewed as  a sin.

 “I mean, I know I suffered in my primary defeat on the basis that I had supported some Democratic legislation, supported the President from time to time.  And that was treated as a great sin,” Castle told ABC News.

 The four retiring members also expressed concern over special interest money. Congresswoman Shea-Porter said watching the growing influence has been her biggest disappointment.

 “It’s been just awful watching this over the past four years.  And I think it’s strangling us,” she said. “I think that when the American public feels cynical about that, they’re right. They’re in the halls of Congress everywhere.”

 Congressman Wamp agreed.

 “It’s not even about raising money for your own reelection or for your own base, which can make you strong and give you, you know, the ability to serve those people.  It’s more about the committees now and these outside groups are going to come in and take more and more people out.”

 Congressman Edwards said the Supreme Court ruling this year concerning campaign finance leaves lawmakers worrying about more than just their constituents. 

“In the future, you’re going to have to think before you cast a vote against an individual drug company. They can run a $2 million television campaign against you in Central Texas or in Delaware and take you out under the guise of being something they’re not,” Edwards said.  “Congress has to find a solution to that within the limits of the new Supreme Court decision.”

Jonathan Karl and Amy Walter also checked in with Major Garrett of National Journal today.

Watch that segment of “Top Line” HERE.




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