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NBC "Meet the Pess" - Transcript: Interview with Rep. Denny Heck

Interview

Date: Dec. 8, 2019

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT CHUCK TODD:

And we also saw the caustic comments and angry stares between Democrats and Republicans during the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings over the last month. It's all been discouraging enough for one of the intel Democrats, who became a familiar face to many, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state, who announced his retirement this week, writing, "The countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary." Denny Heck joins me now. Welcome to Meet the Press. That's something else there, "rendering my soul weary." You've been an active member of the political class, shall we say, for 40 years. This sounded like a statement of somebody who felt defeated. Is that how this feels these days?

REP. DENNY HECK:

Not so defeated, but my soul is weary, Chuck. I will go to my grave not understanding how some of my colleagues could simply turn the other way and overlook the president's behavior and his misdeeds, who would overlook his unrelenting attack, frankly, on the free press, overlook his kind of vicious character assassinations, sometimes gratuitously, as in the instance of Ambassador Yovanovitch --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

REP. DENNY HECK:

-- and just frankly, ignore the fact that he has such, to put it charitably, a very distant relationship with the truth.

CHUCK TODD:

I imagine you've tried to strike up this conversation with many members, particularly those on the other side of the aisle. First of all, how many relationships, realistically, are there now across party lines?

REP. DENNY HECK:

Well, there's still a goodly number. Because the truth of the matter is, we live in a pluralistic society. And if we're going to get anything done, we're going to have to figure out how to make principled compromises. It is, however, one of my points of discouragement, that there are a growing number of people, on both sides of the aisle's bases, who simply don't believe in compromise, don't believe it even in principled compromises.

CHUCK TODD:

You actually put it really -- I loved how you put it in your statement. I want to put that up, actually, another part of this statement. You said, "Success seems to be measured by how many Twitter followers one has, which are largely gained by saying increasingly outrageous things, the more personal, the better. There are simply too many hyperbolic adjectives and too few nouns. Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in." I mean, many of us couldn't have written it any better.

REP. DENNY HECK:

Well, I'll take that as a compliment. And thank you. Lots of people are voting with their feet, Chuck. The truth of the matter is, I think, even especially on the other side of the aisle, when you -- look, the facts are the facts. Three times as many Republicans are not running for reelection, who aren't seeking higher office this time, as Democrats. It was almost exactly the same two years ago. This is not their Republican Party. This is Trump's Republican Party. And they're voting with their feet. They won't say it publicly. Because they're afraid of the backlash.

CHUCK TODD:

One of my frustrations, when I do these interviews with folks who I'm always surprised are leaving, and who make a statement that feels, feels as if needed to be said, and at the same time, so then don't leave. Why leave, if you're trying to bring more civility? You seem to be one of the more civil ones. You seem to be somebody that isn't trying to do what you said here, get Twitter followers, attack your folks. You realize that the more of the civil folks that leave, you know who replaces them.

REP. DENNY HECK:

Chuck, I have run my race. I have fought the good fight. And I've kept the faith. And I am tired.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you --

REP. DENNY HECK:

Look, I'm a west-coaster, Chuck. I commute 150,000 miles per year, because my wife, Paula, she who must be obeyed, has stayed in Olympia. And we're newlyweds. We've only been married 44 years. And she occasionally has moments where she would like me home.

CHUCK TODD:

I get that, on the personal level. Are you concerned, though, that what we're going to see -- you saw these -- look, we invited a few of these Republicans, who have actually gone on the record about their weariness of being in here, to see if they would also have this conversation. Some of them didn't want to do that. But they're going to get replaced by more partisan and more caustic members, likely.

REP. DENNY HECK:

I actually have hope, Chuck. It's not a given. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability." But look, we've been treated to the worst of it, of late, in fact, as we sit here, the worst of it. But there also has been some of the best of it. Think about those courageous public servants who stepped forward and put their personal reputations and, indeed, their jobs at risk and were willing to speak truth to power. Think about the job the media has done, frankly, in steadfastly bringing this story into the living rooms of America and, I think, with great self-discipline and integrity, refused to out the whistleblower. And I think about all the people that came up to me on the floor this week, Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservatives, and said the usual, very nice things. But you know what is very clear?

CHUCK TODD:

It was after you said you're leaving, though.

REP. DENNY HECK:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, you know, that's the frustrating aspect, right?

REP. DENNY HECK:

Chuck, here's what's clear. People don't want it to be this way. They really don't.

CHUCK TODD:

So why --

REP. DENNY HECK:

That hasn't changed it yet.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, because there's no doubt, if there were a secret ballot about this, everybody in Congress, I think, would say, "This isn't working." We've got to -- so you've been in, you've been in a state legislator. How do we get out of this? And is it just Trump? I mean, you've said it's not. But is it because of him that we can't try to get out of this now?

REP. DENNY HECK:

I think it starts with the occupant of the White House. And whomever replaces him, frankly, regardless of which political party or what their philosophy is, needs to bring a greater sense of decency and a greater loyalty to truth. But that's letting the rest of us off the hook, Chuck. And that's important to note.There was a recent survey that showed that less than a third of American adults can identify the three branches of the federal government. Look, Benjamin Franklin warned us about the, about the peril of keeping this republic. We've all got to double down on our commitment to the rule of law and free, fair, and open elections and a commitment to freedom of press and speech and religion and assembly.

CHUCK TODD:

If President Trump gets a second term, what do you think the impact's going to be on Congress?

REP. DENNY HECK:

That is a nightmare scenario, in my mind.

CHUCK TODD:

Why?

REP. DENNY HECK:

Because of the absence of a commitment to decency or truth on his part that has been amply demonstrated in his three years in public office, because of his refusal to recognize even the most basic precepts of constitutional principle.

CHUCK TODD:

Give some advice to a young person who's getting into politics, who sits there and looks at this and says, "Hmm, why should I risk character assassination of myself to run for office?"

REP. DENNY HECK:

America's worth fighting for.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go. Denny Heck, Democrat from Washington state, Tenth District. You're the founding congressman of the Tenth District. Anyway.

REP. DENNY HECK:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. I appreciate it.

REP. DENNY HECK:

You're welcome.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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