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NPR - An Exit Interview With Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman

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ROBERT SIEGEL: If you count literally, then Ted KAUFMAN's soon-to-conclude Senate career is one of the shortest in the chamber. He was appointed January 15th, 2009 to fill the vacancy that was created when Joe Biden of Delaware was elected vice president. Next Monday, after 22 months as a U.S. senator, he will vacate the seat in favor of Delaware's Senator-elect Chris Coons.

On the other hand, if you figure that KAUFMAN's time in the Senate began as a staffer in 1973 when he went to work for Senator Biden and that he spent nearly 20 years as his chief of staff, in that case, a long career in and around that august chamber is about to come to an end.

Senator KAUFMAN, good to talk with you again. Welcome back.

Senator TED KAUFMAN (Democrat, Delaware): Hey. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And I'll ask you about securities fraud and the state of the republic in a moment, but first, what's it like to go from being the career staffer - briefing, planning, hiring, firing for someone else -to be the guy who's having all that done for him?

Sen. KAUFMAN: Well, it's - I always thought it was a gigantic change, and I used to - you know, I taught about it. I've been teaching about it for 20 years at Duke Law School about the Congress, and I always used to say about, you know, there's - that the staff people are like - it's like volleyball where the staff people are the setters and the senators are the spikers. And it doesn't mean one is better than the other. You can't get by with either one of them. But I did find it's an incredible experience to be a United States senator. And it's - one of the reasons is that when you're a chief of staff, especially, you spend a lot - I remember one time a chief of staff introduced himself to a group and said I'm so-and-so's chief of staff, and my job is to worry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. KAUFMAN: And I think when you're a chief of staff, you really do. You worry about everything. And if you don't wake up one or two nights a week, staring at the ceiling, worried about something, then you're not really doing the job. But as a senator, not once did I ever wake up in the middle of the night worried about things.

SIEGEL: A senator can sleep soundly at night knowing that someone else isn't.

Sen. KAUFMAN: A senator can sleep soundly...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. KAUFMAN: ...exactly right, exactly right.

SIEGEL: Now, one thing that you pressed for was a tougher crack down on Wall Street.

Sen. KAUFMAN: Right.

SIEGEL: And here back in April, you talked about the prosecutions you expected to come. A civil suit was brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs, which was settled for half a billion dollars.

Sen. KAUFMAN: Right.

SIEGEL: But, you know, I read yesterday that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Goldman another $650,000...

Sen. KAUFMAN: Right.

SIEGEL: ...I think the equivalent of my getting a parking ticket.

Sen. KAUFMAN: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that the market crash of 2008 has essentially passed without prosecution?

Sen. KAUFMAN: No, I don't think we're done yet. I have had two hearings after we passed the bill that gave the Justice Department more FBI agents and more prosecutors, and it takes a while. These are very complex cases to run. They've had a number of civil rulings, and they've gotten rulings on, you know, Bank of America and Citigroup and others. This has not all played out, but, you know...

SIEGEL: But...

Sen. KAUFMAN: ...I don't think this is over.

SIEGEL: But to cases that are brought three and four years after the fact...

Sen. KAUFMAN: Right.

SIEGEL: ...do they have any deterrent value if they...

Sen. KAUFMAN: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: ...(unintelligible)?

Sen. KAUFMAN: No, I think they still have deterrent value. The (unintelligible) can you really bring them, though, because after three or four years, I mean, all of us that have watched "Law & Order" know that if you don't get somebody in the first 24 hours, right, it's hard to find them. So going back on the trail, and they point out - and they point out in the hearings and everyone has that Wall Street fraudsters are not like drug dealers. Drug dealers kind of just commit one crime after another.

When you commit fraud on Wall Street or endanger it, you have good attorneys around you to kind of clean up after you. So they clean up as they go. And then when you actually go to trial, these are very, very, very complex cases. But I still think we will have some good cases. And I also think that if isn't a deterrent, they will continue to do that. And I think we have the people in place now at the Securities Exchange Commission and the Justice Department to hold them accountable.

SIEGEL: Think back to the 1970s, when you were first working in Senator Biden's office, does the conventional wisdom that the Senate is a very different place, a less civil place today than it was then, does it check out for you, or is it pretty much the same?

Sen. KAUFMAN: Well, I think it's pretty much the same, but it's a lot more civil than it was 15 years ago when I left Senator Biden's office in 1995. In the Senate, the civility is excellent. I mean, you can watch it on C-SPAN. Members aren't down on the floor yelling at each other. Basically, the senators - I find the vast majority of senators like each other regardless of party.

And the other thing that you hear from people is the Senate is dysfunctional or gridlocked, but we passed more legislation in this Congress. I've been around - 40 years I've been around and talking to some of the experts around town who follow this, more legislation since FDR. So it's not like we have gridlock now.

Do people like legislation? They may not. And do some people wish that we could have - like I did - think to be good if we had a health care bill that had the public option in it? Absolutely. But you can't say it's dysfunction or gridlock when you passed such an incredible amount of legislation.

SIEGEL: By the way, based on your lifelong experience of the legislative process in Congress, would you say that the health care bill is pretty much immune to legislative attack now, or that it's extremely vulnerable and it could well be undone in Congress?

Sen. KAUFMAN: Look, every time we - this is one those things - every time we passed major legislation, I don't care what it is, we spend the next few years, you know, fixing it. So we're going to be changing health care reform, and I think it's healthy that we do.

SIEGEL: No, but I mean undoing. I mean, people who have come to town saying let's repeal Obamacare, very frequently heard from Republican candidates.

Sen. KAUFMAN: Yeah, no, I do not believe that'll happen. I believe the vast majority that would require people to really look in detail with amendments on what they want to remove.

For instance, I've not run into one person, a civilian, not on the Senate, the Senate staff or something like that, in America that knows that in that bill are incentives to create 20,000 primary care physicians.

Now, do we want to you know, they don't even know it's in there. What's going to have to happen, I think, is people are going to have to go back and actually look at the bill and say okay, this is what we want to do. And when they do, I think they're going to find that most of the things that are in that bill, when it comes to be actually litigated, most Americans really, really will like.

SIEGEL: Well, Senator KAUFMAN, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

Sen. KAUFMAN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Thats Senator Ted KAUFMAN, a Democrat of Delaware, whose time in the Senate ends next Monday.


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