You're three months in. How's it been, and what are some of the highlights for you?
Well, the highlight is obviously getting here, and then trying to get our office painted and moved in, and hire a staff. You know, not miss a step or have a misstep. Be familiar with the issues, and try to get to know everybody, and gain their trust, and then work to solve problems. We immediately, as you know, filed the payroll tax reduction amendment. My first vote was the jobs bill where I voted for cloture and supported the Democrat initiative on that. I've voted with other measures too, even though I may not have agreed with them, to vote for cloture to allow the process to continue with the hopes that it would go over to the House and be improved. I could write a book about the highlights.
And you may.
And I may. But every day is a new challenge. I mean, here it is, it's not even 10:30, and I've already had quite a few meetings, spoke on the floor, we had an amendment pass that I played a key role in, to protect Massachusetts banks, small banks in particular, and passed 98 to nothing. So every day is very exciting.
One of the things seems to be that you vote to move things along even if you ultimately oppose the final product. You don't want to be perceived as an obstructionist.
Well, I did it in the state legislature. I would vote to move things along, in committee especially, even though I may not have agreed with it, to let it go to the floor see if it could be amended and approved. Because generally there are a lot of good ideas out there. My biggest hang-up has been how are we going to pay for things. Because, as we've talked about, the national debt is up to almost $13 trillion. When they're trying to do all these wonderful things, have great ideas, how do we pay for it? There's money there. They just need to take it, they need to make sure they go through -- use some of the unallocated stimulus dollars, some of this kind of slush funds that they have. They should use those instead of keep asking people to pay more and more and more and more.
Speaking of spending money. We noticed you haven't put up any earmarks yet. Are you just going to be a no-earmarks kind of guy?
For this year, yeah. I think I think the earmarks process is abused. There are certain projects that are worthy, and when I do fight for things, I will go and speak to the appropriate people through the authorizing process. And it needs to have jobs associated with it. It needs to be something that is going to create jobs usually, and not be one of those silly wasteful projects we hear about it.' I think there's a better way to do it, so I'm going to continue to work to try and improve that process.
Why vote, then, against summer jobs initiative?
Well I voted against that because it wasn't paid for. We didn't have a funding source. We had the money, and it was an agreement to be worked out. And then when we sent it over to the House it fell apart. The money was going to come from unallocated stimulus dollars, and I'm 100 percent supportive of that. I'd rather use it for a project like that than something that's going to be wasteful. And that still hasn't come back yet, they're still working that through.
So at least for the first year, no earmarks?
Yeah. You gotta work through the authorization process. You work through he administration, get it included in the budget. I'm going to still work with the delegation members to try to let them know my thoughts on particular projects, and try to get them funded.
But then you yourself wouldn't submit any?
Yeah, I think the process is broken.
Do you have any regrets over the past three months?
I just miss my family. I miss the dogs, I miss my wife and kids. But they were down this weekend, so that was really nice. Except the dogs. No, I don't have any regrets. I treat every day like it's my last day on this earth. And I try to get the maximum amount of each and every day. And I've met some wonderful people, people I've read about forever, I'm serving with them now. I may be the 41st senator right now, but I'm really the 1,914, I think, senator in our country. There's been many before me, there will be more after. So I don't regret anything.
Is it what you expected when you came down here? Especially since, let's face it, a couple months before your election, not a lot of people were thinking you would end up down here. The pace, the schedule, just all the things being thrown at you?
Usually you have about three months to do everything we've done. We had two weeks. It was a battle getting sworn in. and the fact that we pushed to get sworn in -- even as I was kind of getting sworn in there was still some strategy going on back home with that whole process. And then we got hit with the storm. So if I hadn't pushed to be sworn in, it would have been three more weeks before I actually got sworn in, because we had the storm, and then they vacation, and then it would have been the third week. In that three week block that we had the storm here -- [chief of staff] Steve [Schrage] was on board, and I think [press secretary] Colin [Reed] and [communications director] Gail [Gitcho] were on board, but that was it. I had the truck, so we were actually able to go through snow banks and transport people back and forth. We were literally the only people working in the entire, in any building at all. We were downstairs in the bunker, the trailers, interviewing people. So that week of snow actually gave us an advantage to get up and running and hire people. Just think of it. You're right, going from being a guy in the state senate from Wrentham to being a United States senator. Having to close down my law practice, stop and transition out of the state legislature, obviously deal with turmoil with the family, hire a staff, get new offices, get them up and painted and fully functional. Get the technology, computers, get the security, get the briefings, get the training, do the ethics training, get our finances in order, figure out what our budget is. Go from A to Z in three weeks. And still be functioning and representing and solving problems. One of our first calls, I remember down in the trailer, was Britney Gengel's [the 19-year-old from Rutland who died in Haiti] dad, saying, 'Hey I think they found my daughter but they won't help us. What can you do? Can you help?' You know, got on the phone, reached out to Hillary Clinton, reached out to the Army folks. Got the DNA investigators down there, they identified the body, we were able to help get it back quickly. That was the first case where we said, 'Wow, thank God we were here.'
What do you want to be known for when you run for re-election. It's a ways away, but health care certainly was one thing coming here [but Democrats have maneuvered around that]. What's next? How do you want to make your mark?
Well, I think I'm making it now. I mean, today one of my first amendments that I've sponsored and co-sponsored and spoke on passed 98-to-nothing. In a big bill, a financial reform bill. I'm hopeful that I will be known as the common sense senator, the one that looks at a problem with open eyes, and makes a determination based on fact, and based what's good for his state and what's good for the country, and makes a decision regardless of political affiliation or any special interest consideration. Somebody who's open minded and hardworking and trustworthy and diligent and dedicated. My typical day, I mean, I'm up at 5:30, in bed at 11, 11:30 every day. Up until last week, this is my bed [pats the couch in his office]. I would just be so tired, I'd say, 'You know what, instead of going home -- I gotta get up in four hours -- I'm just going to crash here. Because we had stacks of mail, decisions, hires. Instead of wasting time, I'd say I'm going to get a little catnap. Kind of in retrospect, the good news was I went on that CODEL to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so my sleeping patterns got totally screwed up. So when I came home it was really like 12 in the afternoon. So here I am at midnight, like, 'Ok, let's go!' everybody else was like, 'Ohh, do we have to?' So for like that two-week block when I got back, it enabled me to really just sit down and just crank. So now you can actually see my desk. So that's been the good news. We're caught up finally, our scheduling is under control almost. We have our interns, we have our mail room that's cranking out. We're a fully functioning -- highly functioning -- considering we've been here less than 100 days .The biggest part of what senator Kennedy was known for as well was constituent services. For example, we got a call from a young boy who was going on a trip and he was put on the no-fly list back home. So we were able to work that out of the Boston office. Passports. Immigration issues. We kept a Kennedy staffer who was superior at that, and she's fit in seamlessly. So we take great, great pride in having high constituent services and solving problems.
Some come here as celebrities one way or another, Hillary Clinton, even Al Franken to a certain degree. It's something you have to deal with. How do you get past that, and be seen as a senator. You notice Al Franken is just not funny.
Was he ever funny? Just for the record, I did enjoy Al Franken on Saturday Night Live.
How do you get past that so that you become the junior senator form Massachusetts, and not, this is our Republican trophy, or celebrity?
Well, I can't really control what other people think, but I know what I can do, and that's to hunker down and do my job we've only done a handful of shows, a lot of that has been perpetuated outside of things that I've done. I just can't control it. All I know is that I'm going to continue to focus on solving problems, and constituent services and learning about the issues and participating in as many things as I physically can do in a day. I think that the impression that many over there think about me, at least that's what they tell me, is that they're glad I'm here. Because it's broken -- that 60-40 deadlock of animosity. The Majority leader yesterday, I walked by and he said, 'Hey, you! come here!' I was like, 'Yes, Mr. Leader.' He says, 'Where the heck have you been? I haven't seen you in, like, three weeks!' I said, 'Well you haven't called me lately. What's up -- are you, like, avoiding me?' And then we talked about, obviously, his wife and daughter, and had a very nice talk. I'm reading his book [points to desk], and his other book, I actually brought it home. I'm halfway through it. Senator Kerry and I speak regularly, we're actually starting to bike ride together, now that he's healthy. Senator [Tom] Carper and [Senator Mark] Udall, we went over to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was one of the most amazing things I've done in my adult life. So just by me doing my job and interacting with people on a regular basis, I think that they're kind of saying, 'Yeah, he's one of us.' They're seeking me out to co-sponsor amendments. Chuck Schumer and [Chris] Dodd, and Lieberman call me every day and ask me for help and assistance on issues. And I'm happy to do it, because some of their issues make a lot of sense. And when they don't, I say, 'Listen I'm not quite prepared to go that way.'
Is there a senator you see yourself modeling yourself after, someone like Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, or Joe Lieberman?
No, I just try to be myself. I try to do the same things I've done in the state legislature and through my municipal service days. I just try to, like I said, look at everything without any prejudging. If Al Franken comes up to me, which he's done. Or yesterday we had Senator Whitehouse? Whitehouse, come up to me about a bill. He said, 'Will you look at this?' and I said, 'I already did. And I'm with you. So please put me on as a co-sponsor.' He's like, 'Really? You already looked at it?' I said, 'Yeah it's a great issue.' So they're like, 'Wow. Ok.' So we're doing our homework, we're looking at issues that we think are important for people in Massachusetts, and that particular issue was critical to our state, and just happen to be critical to his state and the rest of the country as well."
What did you think about Time magazine naming you one of the 100 most influential people in the world?
I actually haven't physically read it yet. I saw it online. And when they came around I knew they were picking me for something. I didn't realize it was in the world. I don't really put too much stock into that sort of thing. I still have to perform and do my job. Lady Gaga's number four, so let's be real. Ok?
Do you have any Democrats that you admire?
Senator Carper. Senator Udall. I admire many aspects of what Senator Kerry's done in his career, that I actually work closely with right now. On our committees, I have a very good relationship with Senator [Jon] Tester from Montana. Evan Bayh. Jack Reed. We actually see each other regularly and talk about stuff all the time. It's like, I actually go over on the other side of the floor and I actually talk to people. A lot of folks don't do that. It's like, there's the divide, these guys are on this side, these guys are on this side. I'll actually go over. Senator [Claire] McCaskill and I, I think we do an amazingly good job in our subcommittee hearings. We have done two fantastic hearings where we've really worked, Jekyll-Hyde off each other, good cop-bad cop. I know she's very excited about the next hearing, and I am too, talking about drug running, drug trade money, South America, Mexico. It's going to be a very exciting hearing. When you say what's exciting, that's been very exciting. To be actually a subcommittee chairman after three months, and really zeroing in on billions of dollars in government waste is right up my alley. I love it.
Listen, I'm always cracking a joke. I think one of the biggest problems up here is people don't have a sense of humor, or they take themselves very, very seriously. The other day in the hearing with Senator McCaskill, she was doing a good job and I looked at her and said, 'You know what? I think we're really starting to bond. There's this bonding thing going on.' It's in the middle of the hearing and she's, like getting embarrassed, and took it in the spirit it was meant to be, which was -- she agrees we're really working well together. But who would ever say that? Well, I would, because that's how I am. You know, 'my daughters are available.' I say things that I think will get a nice reaction out of people, make them feel a little uncomfortable in a friendly sort of way, break the ice. Thune and I crack each other regularly, because of the athletic part of it. The Majority Leader -- he's always kind of digging me. Schumer, you know, Dodd. They're always kind of jabbing me a little bit. There's always this professional jabbing going on. But it's not mean spirited. It's all good-hearted. And that's what I've actually enjoyed. It reminds me of being in the Mass. Senate, there's a lot of good guys, you'd go up and say, 'Hey, you're getting fat! When's the last time you were in the gym?' You know? Just stuff that if you said it to someone else they'd get offended, but because it's us, they know that we've been in here for three days straight and none of us have worked out. Like Shelby. Yesterday, I said to Shelby, 'You know what, this must be driving you crazy.' He said, 'Why.' And I said, 'Because I haven't seen you at the gym in the morning like you usually are' -- and he's there, like, religiously every morning -- and he says, 'Yeah, I know I'm getting fat.' I said, 'I know, you are!' And then he says, 'Really?' I said, 'Yeah!' And then the other guys jump in, 'Yeah, you are. Boy, and your hair. You haven't been to your hair guy, your hair is getting gray.' So we just start piling on. I enjoy that a lot.
Do you feel like Dodd and Schumer and that group, that they think of you as someone they can peel off?
See I don't consider it peeling off. When you say Snowe and Collins and the New England moderate, I don't think it's that at all. If a bill makes sense, I'm going to go for it. I don't consider it a peel off, I consider it my job to look at a bill, and if it's a good bill just do it. Washington before I got here was that 60-40 thing. And I can't tell you how many people on both sides of the aisle said, 'Thank God you're here' and 'Thank God you're a nice guy, and you'll listen because it's made things so much more pleasant.' And this is what they're telling me. I've had dozens of people say this. Because we're able to get our job, we're able to work. Yesterday I was speaking to one of the senators and she came up and we were just small talking, I don't speak to her hardly at all. She said, 'You know what? I'm so glad you're here. Because people are starting to talk again and starting to work together. And it's really because of you.' That's the biggest complement I can get.
People say they haven't quite figured out what your political ideology is.
They're trying to figure out who you are.
Is it a secret?
I don't owe anybody anything here. I don't owe anybody except the voters of Massachusetts anything. I don't owe the Republican Party anything, I don't owe the special interest groups anything. And I'm one of the only people up here that really has that ability. I'm not hiding anything. I'm not a big talker, I don't like to tell people what I'm thinking. I'll wait listen, I'm going to read the bill. And I'm reading that stupid bank bill again. It's this thick [points toward the bill and holds his fingers up]. You know? And once we get our website up, we're going to put them all out so people can read them. And I'm not kidding you when I say I'm reading the bill and I don't know. Between my staff and then bringing in the outside groups that know more than I, the specialists, sitting down with [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner, sitting down with [General David] Petraeus and [General Stanley] McCrystal, and getting that information so I can make a good decision. Many times I won't know until the night before. And even then, as we're walking over we'll be wrestling with -- listen, how does it affect our state, how does it affect jobs, how does it affect this group -- and then I'll make the decision. And I try to be the first one, I try to vote first.