The Former Majority Leader Spoke about His Time in Congress
On Monday, December 14, former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt spoke to AJA’s High School AP Government classes about his time in Congress. A member of the Democratic Party, Gephardt represented Missouri’s third district for fourteen terms, from 1977 to 2005. Gephardt’s extensive political career included running for president twice.
Gephardt came to speak as a result of his relationship with Karen Chen, the mother of AP Government student Noah Chen. Mrs. Chen works with Rep. Gephardt’s son, and when Noah Chen was talking to his parents about what he was learning in class, his mother “thought it would be a great experience to hear from someone who lived the politician life.”
Gephardt began the meeting by telling the classes a brief synopsis of his career. He spoke about his childhood and what drove him to enter the arena of politics — mainly his role in canvassing for the Democratic Party in St. Louis before he ran for office. After his introduction, AP Government students asked Gephardt prewritten questions. These questions ranged from his voting records to his day-to-day life as a congressman. “Being in Congress is a wonderful opportunity to learn,” Gephardt said. “What I loved about it is you had to work with other people all the time… even people you violently disagree with on issues.”
Reflecting on the hardest decision he had to work on, Gephardt said, “To balance a budget you have to both cut spending, which is very hard to do as a politician, and then you also have to raise some taxes because you have to work on both sides of the ledger.” He explained the difficulties of letting constituents know that he was cutting a program or raising taxes and the challenge involved with balancing the budget in a way that fosters economic growth.
“Sometimes, I saw members of Congress stay too long,” Gephardt noted when discussing why he didn’t run for reelection in 2004. “We all get older; we all lose a step or two. I just think you need to be at the height of your game when you’re in Congress. It’s a really hard job.” He described how draining the job is and emphasized the importance of being at one’s prime when serving in Congress. He also acknowledged the monetary benefits of entering the private sector; after he left Congress, he started his own lobbying firm, as many retired members of Congress do.
To conclude the Q & A, Gephardt told his personal account as House Minority Leader after the attacks of 9/11. He explained how important “implicit” trust between law enforcement agencies was after that fateful day. “We didn’t do enough to prevent that attack, and we cannot allow that to happen again,” Gephardt said, reminiscing on what he said in a meeting with then-President George W. Bush and other high-ranking members of the staff post-9/11.
Reflecting on the speech, junior Ella Goldstein commented, “It was a unique opportunity to hear from him and to understand the perspective of a government official.” She noted that it was very eye-opening to learn about the US government and politics in practice.
The meeting ran for the entire 50 minute lunch period, but senior Noa Mishli would have listened for longer. “I didn’t want it to end,” she said. “I wanted us to keep asking him more questions.”