Outgoing Rep. Mike Rogers Reflects On Congressional Career
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now an exit interview with a member of Congress we've heard from on this program from time to time. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, who represents Michigan's eighth Congressional District, is calling it quits. He didn't seek reelection this year after seven two-year terms in the House. Representative Rogers, who was an FBI agent and a state legislator before going to Washington, says that he plans to return to a passion of his college days. He will become a radio talk show host. Welcome to the program.
CONGRESSMAN MIKE ROGERS: Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: First, you are 51. Your party is in the majority. You've been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Why leave Congress now?
ROGERS: Well, I think I broke the mold as chairman. We were able to sit down - I was able to sit down with my ranking member, Democrat from Maryland, Dutch Ruppersberger, and hash out that we were going to have differences, but we had the same goal, and that was to promote national security of the United States. And so we reestablished the committee by doing budgets. They hadn't done budgets in six years prior to my chairmanship. We reengaged in serious oversight, and we could do that because we had the credibility of passing authorization bill. So...
SIEGEL: But why from - why from a point of such success? Why pack it in? I mean, is it an unpleasant thing doing day-to-day? Are you not with your family? Is it - do you not make enough money to do what you want to do? Why leave?
ROGERS: I always say dealing with all the other issues outside of the committee is like being in the middle of a very messy divorce, every single day. And it was hard for me to see a way forward to try to deal with big issues when our politics were getting so small. And it's OK. As a matter of fact, this institution is designed to sit across the table from somebody you disagree with. I mean, that's the very design of this place.
SIEGEL: Why should the understanding that you and Congressman Ruppersberger reached - you and the ranking minority member reached on the House Intelligence Committee - why should that be rare?
ROGERS: Well, it is rare. And unfortunately it's rare. And, you know, I'm sure that we had the benefit of closing the big, thick, you know, two-foot door to our classified committee spaces with no microphones and no cameras. I'm sure that had a part of it. When you walk out into the other part of Congress, there are really industries of partisanship outside the halls of Congress that get up every day with the sole design of being partisan, of making people's lives difficult and the decisions they have to make.
SIEGEL: Let's turn to the report that your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, did on Benghazi, Libya. But your successor as chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, hasn't endorsed it. What do you make of Benghazi as a lingering - to the extent that it still lingers - point of controversy in Congress?
ROGERS: Well, I had a very narrow focus. And my very narrow focus was the intelligence community. Leading up to the event, was there an intelligence failure? The day of the event, was there some failure from the operators on the ground in doing their assignments? My jurisdiction was not the State Department. My jurisdiction was not the White House.
And, again, all of the findings - we had multiple-source information. And no one has disputed the findings or the facts or evidence that supports them. They all - both sides of the aisle - are upset that it didn't find what they wanted to find. And, to me, that tells me I probably got the investigation just about right.
SIEGEL: OK. Now, onto your next career move, and as someone, personally, who also developed a passion for radio in college, I can almost appreciate your reasoning. But hasn't anyone asked you - are you nuts to go from being a senior member of the House of Representatives to opining loudly between commercials for car dealers?
ROGERS: (Laughter) Well, you know what? I'm from Michigan, so I'm a big believer in car dealers.
SIEGEL: I see.
ROGERS: So I wasn't certainly looking to leave, but I'm clearly frustrated with the lack of ability to kind of broaden our scope and solve big problems in Congress. I thought this was a great opportunity to talk to a lot more people about - listen, it's OK to be mad at your member of Congress, but let's be mad at your member of Congress for the right reasons. Wow, that sounded pretty appealing to me because maybe that's the way we spread what we did on the Intelligence Committee to the rest of Congress.
SIEGEL: You don't think that there'll be people pushing for extreme views on talk radio?
ROGERS: Oh, absolutely. But here's the trick - and, of course, I have a national security bend. I'd like to get more Americans engaged in understanding of why national security is important, why American exceptionalism is important and why we need to start believing in ourselves again. I think that people are hungry for that message. And, sure, just like here, there will be people calling for that partisan edge. I think there's enough room in radio for some differences of opinion and differences of approach to how we can govern America and get her back on track.
SIEGEL: Do you see this move, by the way, as shutting the door finally on public office, or might there be a later chapter in your career when you might...
ROGERS: Well, I have learned to never say never. And so, if the phone rang, I would not say never. It may happen and I will always leave the door open for returning to public service.
SIEGEL: Once you're no longer Congressman Rogers, will you - on the radio would you be Mr. Rogers?
ROGERS: (Laughter) Gosh, I hope so. If I have just the slightest amount of impact that Mr. Rogers did, I'd be wildly successful.
SIEGEL: Well, Mike Rogers - Congressman Mike Rogers still, thanks for giving us a little exit interview as you prepare to leave Washington, D.C.
ROGERS: Well, thank you for having me, and as I've my colleagues, I'm going to miss the clowns, but not the circus.
SIEGEL: Congressman Mike Rogers is the outgoing chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.