Sen. King On How 2016 Is Different From Other Presidential Campaigns
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You know, if one theme has stood out in this remarkable election year, it has been a rejection of the status quo. Some candidates have ridden that to victory, such as Donald Trump or to a strong second-place finish like Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has tried to channel that dissatisfaction as well. Just listen to the candidates.
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HILLARY CLINTON: A lot of people feel that their best days and, therefore, our country's best days are behind us.
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DONALD TRUMP: And I competed along with a lot of establishment people. I beat them all.
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BERNIE SANDERS: We need new blood in the political process. And you are that new blood.
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TRUMP: I'm an outsider, and I won the primaries.
GREENE: All right. One of the voices you heard there, Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, speaking to his supporters last week. And we're going to speak now with the only other independent member of the United States Senate. It's Angus King of the state of Maine who joins us on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.
ANGUS KING: Hey, great talk to you, David. Good morning.
GREENE: Well, good morning to you. So listen to those voices there. We have three different candidates talking about frustration, talking about being against the status quo. What are they speaking to? I mean, explain to us what's going on in the country right now in this election year.
KING: Well, I have some shocking news for you, David. The political system in this country ain't working very well.
GREENE: So you agree with them (laughter)?
KING: Well, yeah. I mean, look at Congress. We can't get much done. There's this constant polarization. The major problems aren't being addressed. I mean, it's - these folks - all the candidates are speaking to a very real and, I think, legitimate complaint.
Now, the problem is you go to the point of, you know, Donald Trump. And you're saying - well, we want throw all the rascals out. And we're going to put in somebody that has - in the most powerful office in the world - that has zero experience or even knowledge about how to do it. You know, if I have a problem with my plumbing, I want a guy who's, you know, seen a pipe before. And that's the problem. The urge to make change is certainly legitimate. The question is - what direction do we go in?
GREENE: So you, it sounds like, do not believe that Donald Trump would be the right person to fix this broken system. But it sounds like you really do empathize with people who have been drawn to him as well the other candidates in the field.
KING: Well, yeah (laughter). I mean, again, the system isn't working very well. And people know it. And they feel it, not only in terms of politics, but the, you know - it's really interesting. You know, Donald Trump talks about the system not working, get rid of the politicians. And Bernie Sanders talks about income distribution and how 95 percent of the income growth in the last 10 years has gone to the top 1 percent. Both of them are talking about very legitimate issues. The question is - can they or people like them make the change that's necessary in order to get at some of these problems?
GREENE: How did this happen? How did the system become so broken, as you say it is?
KING: Oh, how long do you have, David?
GREENE: Got a couple minutes here, Senator.
KING: I think it's a combination of things. The money is a huge problem. I don't think Americans realize the change in the money and politics just in the last five or six years since Citizens United and this incredible rush of dark money, money we don't know where it's coming from - has a tremendous influence on what's going on. I mean, to argue it otherwise is just being blind.
The poll polarization, the negative ads, my-party-before-my-country - I mean, all of those kinds of things have really contributed to this. And we've gotten to a place - the other piece - I call it the tyranny of the symbolic vote in the Senate, where there's no subtlety. You know, if you vote for background checks, you want to take away people's guns. I mean, that's the way it's formulated. Of course, it is a true. But it becomes sort of all or nothing. Everything's a litmus test. And it makes it very hard to do anything in a incremental improvement.
GREENE: I'm so happy you brought up the issue of guns because I wanted to ask you about that as a case study. I mean, we have this really tragic to shooting in Orlando. And now both parties - you have Republicans and Democrats talking about various ideas for how to come together. There's just this expectation that nothing is going to happen. I mean, what needs to change for there to be some kind of compromise and for something to happen?
KING: Well, there was just a poll released over the weekend in Maine. People want to keep the gun out of terrorists' hands by something like 82 percent. So the question is - can we find some language today that everyone can agree on? Or is it going to be dueling my way, not your way and then there's nothing in the middle? Hopefully, we're going to be able to go through a process today and this week and find some language because, you know, the vast majority of the people of America agree on this issue. It's a question of finding a way to make it work.
GREENE: Senator, I mean, you and I are having this conversation. I just wonder, among your colleagues on the hill, both in the Senate and the House, I mean - is there just an acceptance of this disconnect and distrust between voters and elected officials? Or is there actual conversation about - this can't go on, you know, we, as lawmakers, need to be relevant again?
KING: Well, I can tell you - there are plenty of people talking about that. But you put your finger on something I think is important. Here's an interesting number. About 65 senators have been in the Senate eight years or less. Sixty-five - two thirds of the Senators have been here eight years or less. Most of us have never seen the place work. We're like a football team that's lost every game for the past five years. We don't know how to win. And I really think that's part of the problem. We literally have forgotten how to make it work.
GREENE: So it - I mean, are people talking about how to make it work? Or is there just sort of this - this must be what life is like to be a lawmaker?
KING: It's a little bit of both. There are definitely people. There are people on both sides. I can tell you. I meet with them. I talk to them and have dinner with them. And there's a sort of a constant ongoing conversation of - how do we break out of this? So far - every now and then, it does happen, I should say. But it's not all dark. I mean, we're getting things done. We got a major education bill done. We got the National Defense Bill passed last week. We are getting things done.
But on the big issues, the controversial issues, we're just stymied. And a part of it is - the money part of it is the interest groups. And part of it is the next election. Everybody's maneuvering to get the other guy to make a bad vote on the next election.
GREENE: All right. That's Senator Angus King, independent of Maine. Senator, thanks as always.
KING: Great to be with you, David. Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.