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CBS "Early Show - Transcript

Interview

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

HILL: We are, of course, in Washington, and there is so much talk these days about the divided Congress in this town and the lack of cooperation and even respect between the two parties. Congressman Jim Cooper is a Tennessee Democrat with nearly two decades of experience in Washington. He's been labeled the "Conscience of the House" for his view on the state of dysfunction among his colleagues, and simply put, he's had it.

COOPER: I'm deeply worried that there are so many people here now who will do anything for partisan gain, including tear down our own country, that that's borderline treason, and that really scares me.

HILL: Today's Washington is a far cry from the Congress Jim Cooper joined in 1983. Back then there was disagreement, but also understanding.

COOPER: Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan were a classic example. They'd argue during the daytime, and they'd go have a beer together at night. They'd tell stories. And they'd get along. People today rarely do that. They like to fight during the day and at night. They don't even know each other's names.

HILL: In July, Cooper shocked many of his colleagues when he used the floor at a House committee hearing to chastise that behavior and to call for change.

COOPER (in July committee meeting): It doesn't have to be this way. We can be civil to each other, we can be informed, we can resist the partisan talking points. But I'm not seeing that sort of behavior. COOPER (present): I didn't intend to just scold them. I wanted better behavior, and I wanted younger members to learn that you don't have to act this way.

HILL: As a Blue Dog Democrat, Cooper's efforts haven't always found widespread support. He's often too conservative for his own party, too liberal for Republicans. But he's hoping this is an issue that can transcend left and right.

HILL (to Cooper): How do you fix it, then? Where do you begin?

COOPER: Well I think the solution starts with better candidates. Every two years there's an opportunity for better representation back home. Another solution is the power of money. It's overwhelming in Washington. Lobbyists really are more powerful than Congressmen by far.

HILL: And don't forget the voters. After all, someone gave these lawmakers their jobs.

COOPER: People want their side to win. They don't want to learn about the issue. They don't want to compromise. And they want to hear good news from their elected official.

HILL: Translation: We all have a job to do. (Banjo playing) And while Cooper waits, he's figured out one way to deal with the stress.

COOPER: Music is good therapy.

HILL: Do you ever feel like, "that's it. I can't do it anymore. No one is working with me?"

COOPER: There are days that I lose hope. But when I look at the Capitol dome, when I see this magnificent city and country, I think, "I'm so blessed to be born here." But the key is to realize that no political party has a monopoly on wisdom. No individual has a monopoly on wisdom. And if we put our best brains together, we'll get a better solution.

HILL: Congressman Cooper is traveling around the U.S. right now. He's giving speeches on what he says should be done to fix Congress.

One of his other concerns is the redistricting that's been going on. He says it takes away the balance between liberals and conservatives. He says that it supports extreme points of view. We have seen a little bit more goodwill though in the last few days, so we'll see if perhaps that can continue.


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