Charlie Dent, the Republican Party and the Future of Politics (S3E25)

Charlie Dent left Congress because he was critical of the direction both his Republican Party and Congress was taking. Listen as he explains how Congress works and the direction it’s taking. And hear how he is actually helping to improve government from the outside.


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Charlie Dent: I can’t tell you how many members have said to me, I just don’t really have the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle outside of a committee meeting, which is kind of structure. And Republicans sit on one side, usually Democrats on the other, and they’re not. And there’s there’s not enough really constructive interaction, good differences when, you know, the government works most effectively to serve the needs of its people.

And hopefully the members of those governing bodies are doing so in a way that’s aboveboard, ethical, and is more or less results oriented of some constituents. You know, I think prefer somebody who’s going to yell and scream louder. And others, I think, prefer workhorses.

These these ideas don’t come from Washington. I learned about this from a constituent who sent me a letter.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode, I’m having a conversation with former Congressman Charlie Dent. Congressman Dent served 14 years in Congress, representing the 15th District of Pennsylvania. It’s an area that includes Allentown, Easton, Eastern Pennsylvania. But in 2018, he resigned during his term, and we discussed why he decided he needed to leave Congress.

But while he was there, he was chairman of the House Ethics Committee. And we talked a little bit about how that committee has changed. Prior to his election in Congress, Charlie Dent served in the Pennsylvania State Senate and the state House of Representatives altogether. That’s 28 years in government. As an elected official, this is a man who can explain government good and bad.

Today, Charlie Dent is the executive director and vice president of the Aspen Institute. There he heads the congressional program. This brings members of Congress together to examine and learn more about the important issues of the day. This gives all elected officials a better understanding of subjects like climate change, food insecurity and artificial intelligence. And that’s just to name a few recent subjects they discussed.

But as he will explain, this also gives folks a chance to really meet and talk with each other. So this is my conversation with former Representative Charlie Dent. It’s a good look at how Congress functions and how he continues to promote and work for good government. That conversation is coming up right after this. The good government show is sponsored by NACO.

That’s the National Association of Counties. County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling law enforcement, water and sewers in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county. That’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across the USA.

Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices. Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government. Welcome to the Good Government show. I have with me my guest, former Congressman Charlie Dent. Charlie, thanks for joining us.

Charlie Dent: Hey, great to be with you.

David Martin: So you left Congress?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, I left Congress in 2018 after 14 years in the U.S. House and 14 years at the state level, 28 years, 13 elections. And I’d like to say I’m 13, you know, defeated, undefeated and unindicted so far. Well.

David Martin: That’s good. Little bit of research I did prior to talking to you. It seems like you just sort of got fed up with the direction that Congress was taking and the Republican Party was taking. Is that fair?

Charlie Dent: Well, yeah, I think it’s fair. I really got look, I, I had no desire to serve after the 2018 cycle. They got to the point where, you know, the party was moving in a different direction than I was. And I was at a point in my life where I was at an age where I was, you know, healthy and young enough to do something else.

You know, I’m ready to do something else. That really was it. So partly personal? Partly it was politics, but but I thought it was time.

David Martin: There is certainly been times in the past in American history when Congress has been more divided. The Civil War, for example, is this one of the sort of darkest periods in Congress, in U.S. government mean today?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, Yeah, certainly. One more one of the more divisive times in the history of the Congress. But it’s, you know, we’ll see just how bad it really. Yes. I mean they still have the capacity to do some things collectively, but it’s getting much harder as each side becomes more polarized and tribal ized. It’s yeah, it’s it’s become almost unmanageable.

David Martin: There are some senators who keep calling for bipartisanship. Recently, we avoided a debt, a debt fallout or a debt crisis because they were able to pass a bipartisan bill. Big picture, Is bipartisanship possible with this Congress, with this make up with this environment?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, sure. They just did it on the they just engaged in a bipartisan agreement on the debt ceiling. You know, the Democrats in the House, I came Jeffries provided key votes on a procedural matter to allow for ultimate passage of that debt ceiling bill that included a two year budget agreement and some, you know, some work requirements and clawing back of covered moneys.

So, yeah, they I mean, they still can get some things done, but I think you’ll see fewer and fewer areas where they will cooperate. And I think each side in this case knew they had to protect the full faith and credit of the United States government. And that’s why they they acted the way they did, that they actually decided they had their collaborate and they did.

And and they averted a catastrophic default.

David Martin: What happens when it’s not a catastrophic tragedy on the other end of this of the pipe? Is it possible to do things together without the threat of like, you know, government collapse, staring and staring down the barrel?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, I mean, that is the the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Last Congress, they did the the chimps act to allow for more manufacturing of, you know, critical semiconductors in the United States. So they still can do some things. But it’s I think it’s just getting harder, though, to do the basics. I mean, we’ll find out how bad it is or, you know, how good it is is if, you know, when we come up towards September 30 is when we have to keep the government funded, there’ll be a continuing resolution to do that.

They have to pass the appropriations bills right now. One of the bigger challenges is not just the collaboration or cooperation between Republican and Democrat. It’s it’s the challenges within the House Republican Conference itself. You know, after the debt ceiling agreement, the hard right element, the members, the Freedom Caucus just the other day, you know, used their ability to stop the majority from taking up bills.

They voted against the rules. So it was the Republicans who are fighting with each other. And that hard right group was upset that Speaker McCarthy cut a deal with Democrats. And those hard right members, those hard liners felt as if, you know, McCarthy betrayed them somehow by entering into that budget agreement. And so they’ve been throwing a tantrum ever since, you know, again, preventing the majority from just, you know, passing a bill on gas stoves.

That was what they did.

David Martin: Well, with that Freedom Caucus in particular and other congresspeople, you were especially critical of Marjorie Taylor. GREENE For example, you spoke out against something she’d said I think it was an editorial you wrote that, you know, just people like her can’t can continue. Is it possible to get good government out of Congress?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, they get some I mean, I guess I think it would be very limited, though, in terms of what kinds of bills they will produce. I don’t it’s hard to say just, you know, going forward. But they’ll be able to consider I mean, you know, the one area where there’s some agreement is on China. You know, we’ll see if they can come to any agreement on policy towards China.

You know, cybersecurity and AI or other areas where there’s a possibility that they might be able to cooperate. But again, the the areas of cooperation will be much more limited. There will be other bills that will come up, as there always are, that are not particularly controversial, where you can get both sides to agree. But I don’t know that you’re going to see any grand bargain.

So on some big issues.

David Martin: You are chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Is there a lack of ethics in Congress right now?

Charlie Dent: Oh, I don’t know. I do think that most of the members try to behave well. I really do. Most try to behave well, try to play by the rules. And, you know, that’s not to say some are going to get in trouble. They will. But the but most are trying to play. Well, I’d say, you know, the ethical conduct of most members is usually pretty good.

They try to seek permission.

David Martin: That’s good to hear.

Charlie Dent: They say they seek permission before they do things. In the event that there’s a question, they seek guidance. So I would say most of them are pretty well-behaved. Some, you know, the ones who always are the ones who get in trouble. Yeah. Or the ones who are not very careful and not very nice.

David Martin: So you’ve got right now the chairman of the House Ethics Committee is a guy who’s denied the the legitimacy of the last presidential election. That seems like a cause for concern both in Congress and on the Ethics Committee.

Charlie Dent: Well, what I found on the Ethics Committee, at least in my time, you know, you’re not usually debating debating the great issues of the moment. You’re usually just you’re looking at specific cases.

David Martin: Of.

Charlie Dent: The alleged misconduct by members of Congress or their staffs. And most of the time, I felt that the members because you’re in a closed door setting and these committees evenly split, five and five, that most are really just trying to get to the facts and then render a judgment. And so it really wasn’t about debating, you know, any any policy or any position on a given issue.

Charlie Dent: So I don’t know. I can’t speak to the current chair of the committee except to say that I think most of the time those members on that committee, you know, try to.

David Martin: But isn’t it isn’t it upsetting that having a person who’s chairman of the committee who can’t even accept the fact of who won the last presidential race, isn’t that a problem?

Charlie Dent: Well, you know, I never talked to them, so I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know enough about. But, you know, he may or may not have said. But again, you know, the Ethics Committee is really looking at members to see how they’re complying with House rules as they break those rules. You know, they can be sanctioned and that’s usually it.

Again, on these political questions, they tend not to be debated so much on that committee.

David Martin: Well, that’s good to hear. That’s good to hear. I know that there are on the Ethics Committee there in a closed door session that you can actually work together. You’re now working with the Aspen Institute, which I understand is an organization that sort of, I guess, a bit of a think tank that allows people to sort of look beyond their small area.

What’s your role in that and what are you doing?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, I run the Aspen Institute, a congressional program. We are part of the broader Aspen Institute, and we are a policy program. We convene we convene meetings of members of Congress. We can meeting these members of staff. We do it in a non-threatening, off the record setting and where where we bring in experts both domestically and globally, to conduct conversations on some of the, you know, the great policy challenges of our time, the US role in the world, great power competition.

How are we doing relative to Russia and China? How’s the rest of the world view US energy security and climate initiatives? We look at that. We look at our food supply and agricultural development, and we look at a number of areas and artificial intelligence. Another area where we’ll have convenings, where we will essentially sit down with a group of members often may as as many as 15 to 20.

Charlie Dent: And, you know, talk about these issues very civilly and and it’s all policy. The whole times I graduate graduate level seminars that we put on.

David Martin: Is it is it a more productive for a format for consensus and bipartisan thought and bipartisan action?

Charlie Dent: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Because it’s one of the few times when members of Congress can sit down with members of the other party and it for a prolonged period of time where they can actually get to know each other. Often spouses are at these gatherings. They can they can all, you know, again, focus on specific policy issues, talk about them, have dinner with each other and lunches, and and just get to know each other in a rather undistracted way, frankly.

And so I think the members appreciate it because, you know, the current way Congress functions really doesn’t allow for those types of opportunities very often. I can’t tell you how many members have said to me, I just don’t really have the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle outside of a committee meeting, which is kind of structured.

Republicans sit on one side, usually Democrats on the other, and they’re not. And there’s and there’s not enough really constructive interaction.

David Martin: Have you seen people come together as a result of these and provide good government or create good policy or better laws or.

Charlie Dent: Yeah, we’ve seen members of Congress over the years collaborate. You know, this program started many years ago, 40 years ago with the Nunn-Lugar Nuclear Nonproliferation Program, arguably started in one of our conferences. Dick Lugar and Sam Nunn together began there. I participated in one of our conferences when I was a member and came back and I worked with the Democrats, Sam Farr.

And we we adjusted the Peace Corps funding after visiting some sites in Africa, because based on these convenings, we can also know there are other areas where members will identify things that they did that they felt were built. Basically came out of the ideas that came out of our conferences.

David Martin: Yeah, anything that’s happened recently you can talk about.

Charlie Dent: Oh yeah, there was I just mentioned the one thing I’ve done. You know, what I did was on the Peace Corps. Think I can talk about another area of collaboration just out of a recent conference on food security, a few senators together just reviving some legislation introduced and having to deal with maternal health in developing countries. So, yeah, there have been some very specific actions like that.

Charlie Dent: Yeah.

David Martin: And any particular stuff you’re working on for the future?

Charlie Dent: Oh, me? Yeah, I just. I’m just working on more potential convenings for members of Congress on energy and climate change and the energy security and the Arctic. Also working on the, again, a conference to deal with the issues of the developing world. You know, health, food security. Food is medicine. You know, how do we better develop? How do we better help?

How do we better provide, you know, tools to these developing countries to better manage themselves? And and so we’ve I’ve got a few things like that on the horizon also looking at doing some more some programing in the area of artificial intelligence. There’s certainly a lot of folks in the Congress who want to better understand that issue. And I think that many members probably have some gaps in their knowledge right now.

Right on artificial intelligence and could probably, you know, use a little bit of a crash course on AI and how things how think. Well, you know how we got to the point where we are and how things are moving and where they might go in the future.

David Martin: Getting back to climate change, is it hard to bring people together on that issue when some people aren’t don’t start at the same place?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, you know, I think it’s getting better. And that issue that many folks recognize, I think that, you know, obviously there there’s some on the Democratic side who see this as an existential threat and we have to move now or humanity’s doomed now. But you’re seeing some on the Republican side, I think, engaged now more constructively maybe than they had in the past on this issue, recognizing that good.

David Martin: Progress, good progress.

Charlie Dent: We need to decarbonize. I think many of them were saying this better. The question how you do it and how fast, how fast and and also understanding the the importance of maintaining reliable energy supplies and trying to figure out the balance, at least in the near-term of conventional sources of energy with with carbon free sources like nuclear and renewables.

So trying to try to get to where we need to go while not disrupting that reliability is, I think, a question that many on both sides are seeing more and more. I think they’re also starting to talk to about the impediments to getting to a, you know, a carbon free country nation by 2030 or 2050. I mean, they understand that, you know, we need critical minerals, for example, to mine critical minerals to to, you know, for electric vehicles.

Let’s another so they understand that, you know, we can’t just be dependent on some unfriendly folks for some of these minerals that we need. They they know they also understand to use that to, you know, to make the demand to provide, you know, clean energy where in need one heck of a lot more transmission and distribution capacity. And, you know, that’s that’s going to require some permitting ahead.

And we simply don’t have that We don’t have that ability right now that we’re going to need a lot more capacity to get this country to where we need to run on electricity. And so I think that’s something else that members on both sides are becoming more sober in their conversations. You know, Democrats are saying, hey, we just can’t be, you know, willy nilly opposed to conventional sources.

Republicans are saying, yeah, we can’t have our heads in the sand and pretend that, you know, that climate change isn’t a problem because it is. And so you’re getting both sides, I think, to talk in a more sober way about the issue and look at, you know, solutions that are long term, that are doable and that maintain critical energy supplies.

David Martin: Well, sometimes it does take an outsider to bring the people inside to where they need to be. So that’s good to hear that there’s there’s assists in getting Congress to provide good government. There’s one thing I read in your bio. I thought it was kind of interesting. I wanted to ask you about how you were given the order of merit from the Federal Republic of Germany.

Can you explain that how that came about?

Charlie Dent: Yeah, well, I’ve done a lot of work over the years on transatlantic issues. I was in Congress. I was chair of the co-chair of the the Congressional Study Group on Germany, the US Germany Friendship Group. And so I got to spend a fair amount of time going to Germany and meeting with parliamentarians and other business leaders both there.

And they came here and reciprocated. And so I spent a lot of time working with them. And I was really honored when the German government, the president, President Steinmeier, you know, awarded gave me that award. He didn’t give it to me personally. But the the ambassador, U.S. ambassador did, and the German ambassador to the United States presented it to me a few years ago.

David Martin: And your district is a it’s there’s a heavy German population. Is that fair? Well.

Charlie Dent: Much of eastern Pennsylvania historically has a very strong Pennsylvania German tradition. Okay. My mother’s family was very much Pennsylvania German. And now again, many of our ancestors came over here before the American Revolution. And but but there always had been a very strong Pennsylvania German identity. It was not as much the people speaking a dialect. But there still are some, but not as many as it used to be.

But yeah, but there is a very strong tradition. There’s also a lot of German investment in them. In my old congressional district in Pennsylvania, more broadly. Now, we have a lot of companies that have made big investments in Germany in the US. Braun is one in our area. I can start naming others Heidelberg Cement, you know, the auto companies.

David Martin: So the German thing doesn’t come out of nowhere. Got it. Okay.

Charlie Dent: So Bosch, a big auto, auto parts manufacturing companies presence there. A lot of these companies that have made very significant investments in the United States and in Pennsylvania in particular.

David Martin: So we have a good government questionnaire which gets to the heart of finding out your personal philosophy of government and how government should work. Are you ready for the questions? All right. Here we go. From where you sit now with the Aspen Institute, assisting other members of Congress. Prior to that, a congressman prior to that, a state elected official.

Define good government.

Charlie Dent: Oh, defined a government. I think good government is is probably the best definition is good. Governance is when, you know, the government works most effectively to serve the needs of its people. And hopefully the members of those governing bodies are doing so in a way that’s aboveboard, ethical, and is more or less results oriented. I mean, that’s kind of my idea of good government.

And when leaders in government are trying to advance a good policy for the benefit of the community, nation or state, whatever the case may be, and that’s really what it’s what it’s about. But again, but doing it in a way that’s, you know, it’s clean. It’s you know, it’s, you know, above board and, you know, under a a regular order manner.

David Martin: When you were an elected official, how did you judge your personal success?

Charlie Dent: Oh, I guess I really wasn’t for me to judge was for the voters to judge. The voters judged our success more than I did. I always saw my role in these bodies was to, you know, to be part of the governing wing of the US, in this case, the Republican Party, you know, helping us get the things done that needed to be done.

That’s how I that’s how I judge myself. It really wasn’t about any necessarily any specific piece of legislation, but helping shape policy more broadly. Being in the conversation on many big issues that needed to be considered and, you know, helping to, you know, develop budget strategies, funding strategies. These are some of the things that I felt I had my hand in, in a big way that I couldn’t claim success by myself on these.

But, you know, but, but, you know, help get us to a better point.

David Martin: So how do the people, the citizens, how do they know if they’re getting good government and how should they be holding you accountable?

Charlie Dent: I think it’s the citizens, the citizenry has to look at their members individually. And and I think they they have to make a determination. Do they want somebody in Congress who is performative, more interested in getting attention, likes the likes on social media or clicks and all that, and they want that or they or they prefer somebody who, you know more the workhorse in the show horse.

So I mean, I think, you know, some community communities some some constituents, you know, I think prefer somebody who’s going to yell and scream louder. And others, I think, prefer workhorses. So it’s okay. I don’t think all voters are the same and depends what part of the country you’re in. And often these members who are very safe seats are they’re very Republican or very Democratic.

But, you know, it seems they tend to get members more members, you know, who tend to be more of a closer to what are the more extremes.

David Martin: And to that end, your district changed, right? You were the 50 congressional. And that’s no longer.

Charlie Dent: Well, it’s now the seventh district. They were renumbered. But but the district remains pretty much as it always was. Okay. Is the Lehigh Valley based district that includes basically Lehigh in those 18 counties.

David Martin: In Bethlehem.

Charlie Dent: Bethlehem, Easton And then. Yeah, for about six years, my district was reshaped and I still included most of the we have valuable extend to be further west now towards Lebanon and Hershey is off the I-78 corridor. But that was basically always been though a Lehigh Northampton seat and a little bit now of Carbon County to the north.

David Martin: So if people look at their congressional leaders and their state leaders and their national leaders and they feel like they’re not getting good government, what should they do?

Charlie Dent: Well, I mean, we have elections for a reason. I mean, if people are dissatisfied with the type of representation they have, they might not like the representations because they’re philosophically in disagreement with the person there or they might not like the person or, you know, because you’re not doing the job. But there might be times when you have a member of Congress who you know, who does function well, but you may disagree.

The citizen may disagree with that person’s view of the world. Yeah. And so we have elections to correct that. And you certainly want good government in the sense that you want members of Congress to have offices established and capable people to answer the questions of the citizenry because they always are running into problems with the federal government. You know, why can’t I get my my guy?

Can’t I get my tax return filed by the IRS properly and sent to me? Why? You know, what’s the problem? My Social Security check? Why is Medicare hassling me and this or that? And then they need somebody to call or my passport. You know, I’m having problems with the State Department. Yeah. So you get into all these things.

So I think people expect their their their congressperson not only to deal with this high policy level, but to be available to address these day to day challenges with the bureaucracy. That can be very frustrating. So they expect people expect their members of Congress to be responsive in that way.

David Martin: You’ve worked at the state level. You’ve been elected at the state level. You’ve been elected at a national level. What would you as a government insider, someone who was in government? What would you like people to know who aren’t in government about government?

Charlie Dent: Oh, a few things, I guess. I think most people really, you know, don’t want the government involved in their business. I mean, that’s that’s most of the time they don’t. But at the same time, they also want the government to be there to provide help and assistance when they really need it. And then when they so, I mean, some people have this kind of mixed feeling about government on the one hand, and they don’t want it too big and intrusive the other hand.

There are times they need they need some help from the government or, you know, in dealing with the government. And and so you’re always they’re always trying to strike that balance. I think a lot of people have mixed feelings about the about the federal government, you know, its size how how active and how big it should be, what role it should play in all of our lives.

So there’s that. There’s that. Oh, there’s always that tension that that exists.

David Martin: Who’s your political hero? What got you involved?

Charlie Dent: Oh, I don’t know. I guess like most Republicans and Americans, I probably admire Abraham Lincoln. You know.

David Martin: Denver, Republican Party, my friend, different.

Charlie Dent: Races, but I guess different Democratic Party. I mean, back in the day, that pragmatic party was more more the party of slavery. But it’s not that obviously. Yes. Parties change over time. They yes, they do. They they evolve. They change. And, you know, and and I think what’s sad about well, I I’d have to probably say people like Abraham Lincoln were, you know, you know, great role models or Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, you go down the list of, you know, the presidents who are all, you know, all made it make a real difference.

David Martin: So you spend a lot of time in Washington. You’re from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. What are your favorite regional dishes? What you’re in Pennsylvania. What do you wish you’re having in Washington when you’re in Washington? What do you miss from home?

Charlie Dent: Well, I can’t say there’s a whole lot of difference in the food. You like it better?

David Martin: Some stuff in different places.

Charlie Dent: Yeah, but you get better schnitzel up in the Lehigh Valley. Oh, no, no. I mean, look. Yeah, What I found in Pennsylvania, we have kind of very traditional Americana tastes, you know, more and more meat and potatoes, you know, Washington, D.C. and on there. I think they’re much of the menus are a little bit more maybe more refined, you know, upscale.

But, you know, but, you know, I my old area always said, you know, and now, of course, the big Hispanic population. And so you’re you see a lot more. I always said she got, like I said, a lot more meat and potatoes and and know rice and beans, too, up here in D.C., it’s it’s just a little different in terms of the cuisine.

As I say, probably a lot more variety, a lot more different types of restaurants and that sort of thing. But but at the end of the day, I mean, it’s you know, I’ve always said, you know, people would always say about members of Congress and that, you know, all of our districts, you know, in some respects they’re different, but there’s more that actually unites us.

Really. It’s there really is, you know, urban, rural and suburban areas. I mean, you get to Washington, you meet your colleagues and you find out, you know, they’re they’re not that different than you are for the most part. And they’re, you know, hopefully they’re for the same or similar reasons.

David Martin: So. Growing up, did you want to get into politics? Was it did you want to be president? Were you president of your high school class?

Charlie Dent: No, I wasn’t president of my high school class. I, I can’t say I necessarily had the desire to run for office when I was in that age. Although I was always interested in public policy, I was interested in it. And I thought I might move towards maybe some kind of work at some point in the public sector, but I didn’t necessarily anticipate I would run for office.

David Martin: So you did run for office. And again, you served in both the state of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Congress. Give me an example of something you did where you actually changed and brought about some good government projects.

Charlie Dent: Yeah, okay. A few things. You know, when I was let’s just go right to here’s a very specific example. Sure. We said there aren’t a lot of original ideas coming out of Washington or Harrisburg or state capitals. Usually the ideas that I developed for legislation came from normal people in my district who had problems or who identified problems for me.

So I’ll give you an example. I had a guy named Was George Bush out? He he was a he was a Lebanese descent and and I’ll never forget, he came to me one day and said that he was trying to get his citizenship, but he couldn’t get it because, you know, he was serving in our armed forces in Iraq.

And he was and, you know, he was going for ten years. He was going from, you know, from the United States. Or if you spend four or five months at a time in Iraq, come home for a few months, then go back. And he was doing this for ten years while he worked as a translator. And there’s also State Department security.

David Martin: Okay.

Charlie Dent: And and the law was pretty rigid. And they said he was unable to achieve his citizenship or to reach the get his citizenship because he had not spent 12 consecutive months in the United States. And and I so I went I went to great lengths to have the Department of Homeland Security and everybody in immigration that suggested well, he’s he’s actually been working out of the embassy, the American embassy, which is technically American territory.

Right. American in Baghdad. And I said, can’t we count his time in the service, you know, in Iraq, you know, fighting for our country as time in the United States that can we count that towards his residency? And they said, no, we cannot. You have to change the law. We did and we changed law and we changed the law, too.

It was a lot of it was a very fine tweak to immigration law. And so, you know, basically I said, anybody like this man, you know, if there are who are in the armed forces because he was in the State Department, they would count it. But he had been in the military, he probably would have been naturalized while he was over there in Iraq.

But even though the rest of his family was naturalized, you know, we got this guy naturalized in in a nanosecond. It wasn’t a private bill for anybody like him. We said, who’s who is you know, who is serving their country, you know, in a client conflict zone. That time would be counted. His time in the United States, you know, for purposes of citizenship.

Okay. And so but it was a very specific outcome. I’ve done things to on you know, I worked on the you know, I used to do the funding for the VA and military construction projects and know we did one thing to that I was proud of. I worked with some of my colleagues with a couple of Democrats, actually, you know, who wanted to make sure that those veterans who are struggling with service connected infertility issues could get the treatment they needed.

And we did. We did that. I said, well, we don’t have to invent anything here for the VA, so the Pentagon’s already doing it. Why don’t we just adopt their policy? And so we basically took their policy. It wasn’t a law, but they had a process to help a veteran. I mean, I served an active service member who had a service connected infertility issue that we could work.

You know, basically they and their spouse can get covered for treatment. So I said, well, why don’t we just take take their policy and apply to the VA? And we did it. And so were there other specific examples like that? Were there there issues that come up that, you know, we we try to we try to help people.

Also, another area, a really specific specific outcome. You know, I was one of the first guys get involved in combating these synthetic drugs. And like I said, I these these ideas don’t come from Washington. I learned about this from a constituent who sent me a letter and said her son had nearly died from synthetic marijuana. And I and I said, this can’t be.

And they bought this stuff legally. You know, this is before the legalization movement really right to vote. And so I and I said, well, 99 and what I said, what is synthetic marijuana? What is what are these synthetic drugs and why are they legal? And, you know, and I and I learned a lot that, you know, there were people dying of, you know, using these products called K2 Spice.

They were synthetic drugs that were not illegal. And and they were being sold at some convenience stores, usually not the brand name ones. You know, it’s not Sheetz or 7-Eleven or those types of places, but some that they were they were.

David Martin: Selling them as a street in the neighborhood. Yeah.

Charlie Dent: Yeah. And and but these were not unlawful products. They were but they were quite unhealthy. And and we saw terrible situations and we worked closely with the DEA, the FDA, Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency and others to try to prevent the sale and distribution of these types of synthetic drugs that were causing people to do some really bad things.

Ordinarily, we’re not bad people. And so and so we we cracked down on that, worked with a lot of folks at the time by Senator Schumer, Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, among others. You know, and we we passed laws to make it much harder to distribute those types of drugs. And we really did what happens in these guys and they figure out ways to reformulate these things.

And so we but we we have done a better job of making it easier to get some of these these chemicals scheduled.

David Martin: It sounds like you were effective in getting a few laws passed that that, you know, were good government and help folks. But now with what you’re doing at the Aspen Institute, it seems like it’s more important than ever to get, you know, a groups of congressmen together to talk about an issue that’s important where do you think you’re providing better government in Congress or now as an outsider?

Charlie Dent: Well, now it’s just a different role. Now I’m just trying to help members of Congress to get better informed on certain certain policies, you know, because too much of their time, the members of Congress, they’re making it look, I can say this. I’m a recovering elected official. They are the elected official.

David Martin: I like that.

Charlie Dent: They spend a lot of their time, you know, being pulled in very different directions. Their staff needs them to you know, you have to meet this constituent about something. You’ve got a meeting with another member over over here. You’ve got to go make fundraising phone calls. Who’s going to.

David Martin: Say, isn’t a lot of it come to fundraising?

Charlie Dent: Well, a lot of it. They spend a lot of time on campaign activities and fundraising, and they don’t get to spend the time they’d like diving into some policy we try to do is give them a little time in a safe space to focus for an extended, extended period of time on a given policy matter where they can become much better informed.

A better expert on these issues. Sometimes you’re dealing with members who are real experts in the issue. Sometimes you’re dealing with members who just they to learn more about an issue. They realize they have a gap in their knowledge and they want to they want to become better informed. And so we’re trying to give these members some space, you know, to learn and to become better policymakers.

And also candidly, the other thing we do to do is try to help them to get to know each other better. It’s not about a specific outcome. Sometimes the fact that these folks develop relationships will strengthen that, that those relationships will help in other areas completely unrelated to whatever the policy is that we were discussing at our conference.

But they’re just like me now. They’ve developed a relationship and they will work together on other things right.

David Martin: And that’s one of the things that’s been explained to me is one of the big changes in Congress over past years was everybody used to go together, They would hang out together, they’d have dinner parties together, they’d go to events together, and everybody gets on a plane on Friday and goes somewhere to fundraise. So it’s hard to get people together.

Charlie Dent: Who’s that job that what a fair amount of truth to that. But I mean, I hear it regularly from some of the members. They’ll say to me, Hey, we really appreciate these opportunities. I said to them, Why? And they say, Well, because they So you see that one congresswoman over there who said, you know, I, I wouldn’t have known her if I ran into her in the grocery store.

I just didn’t. And I said, no. But she’s actually a pretty good person. I mean, we’re working on some things together now and but we didn’t have these gatherings. I would have never developed that kind of relationship or, you know, they’ll say things like that to me or some of them will say too. And we do a weekly breakfast series.

We bring in a speaker to talk an expert on something, and they’ll come in and they’ll talk about a given issue. And and I’ve had members say, Me, thanks for doing this each week. Yes. The only time I can sit down and kind of, you know, kind of look at an issue maybe from a 60,000 foot level, we bring in a speaker.

I had Sam Altman in, for example, to talk off the record, just to talk about it was back in January. For most of us are focused on I know in people like that or I.

David Martin: As a former congressman, is it easier or harder to work with your former colleagues?

Charlie Dent: Oh, it’s easier. I mean, you know, I don’t want anything. I’m not you know, so I don’t I don’t really want anything. I’m not lobbying them. I can’t lobby in my current position, but I don’t but I just like, I really I’m not really after anything other than that. Just, you know, help them participate in these programs and become more knowledgeable on on on some topics.

And that’s that’s all we’re really after. And hopefully developing, you know, better, more effective members, you know, who can take a real interest on some of the big issues of our time and and they like to do this. That’s why they came to Congress. Most of them do want to engage on these big questions. What’s the role of the U.S. in the world?

What’s the you know, how do we have we become more energy secure? How do we, you know, conserve our resources? You know, how do we develop a better food, food supply and, you know, what are the what are the impediments to, you know, becoming helping more people become more self-reliant in terms of agricultural production. So they they want to learn about these issues or, you know, data privacy, artificial intelligence.

I mean, they’re thirsting to understand these issues better. Knowing, though, that, you know, they it’s hard for them to set aside time to focus, because I always said a lot of members of Congress struggle with A.D.D.. I have to confess, we all find it. Did you know we are pulled in so many directions and it’s nice and we can kind of get them into a room without the cell phones, without the staff that anybody else there to bother them, you know, about anything and learn and yeah, that’s all we do.

David Martin: All right. Well, former congressman, current vice president of the Aspen Institute, Charlie Dent, thank you so much for talking with us. And it’s great to hear that you are in a different way helping to facilitate good government.

Charlie Dent: Well, thank you. I appreciate it very much.

David Martin: Thank you very much, David. The good government show is sponsored by our CO. That means our community, our CO has found a way to make government even more effective. Our co provides a platform that blends in-person and digital interactions and that connects people with their government, their mobile app transforms meaningful conversations into reliable data, and the result is actionable insights that inspires a positive change.

It’s sort of like having a flagpole. Do you want to know if the community would rather have a dog park or a bike trail? Our CO can get you an answer immediately from the folks in your community. With our CO, you can engage your citizens or any group, learn what they want and build programs and policies that advance your county, your job creators and your constituents.

So visit our COCOM. That’s 0urco dot com and learn how they do it. And while there get a demonstration. Well, some good news in all of this. It sounds like through his current role outside of government, Charlie Dent is actually helping government improve. And it’s good to know that even though he left Congress as he was seeing a less functional legislative body, he thinks many of the folks in Congress actually want to do better.

That’s good news. That’s my conversation with Charlie Dent joining us again on The Good Government show for another conversation with another leader in government working to create good government for all of don’t forget to check us out and like us on your favorite social media platforms. Follow us and share our show with your friends. Let’s all spread the word of good government.

So keep listening where you listen to your favorite podcast until next time. I’m Dave Martin and this is the Good Government show. The Good Government Show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions. Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic. This is the good government show.

Thanks for listening.


**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.