Rep. Charlie Dent On Not Running For Re-Election
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A prominent moderate Republican announced this week that he won't run for re-election. Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania has often criticized President Trump and his policies, including his proposals on repealing the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. Mr. Dent told The Washington Post accomplishing the most basic fundamental tasks of governance is becoming far too difficult. Congressman Dent joins us now from his home in Pennsylvania. Mr. Dent, thanks so much for being with us.
CHARLIE DENT: Hey. Thank you for having me on the program and great to be with you.
SIMON: Well, sir, why do you find it more difficult to govern?
DENT: Well, in recent years, particularly since the government shutdown in 2013, you know, I recognize that this - the basic tasks of governance are exceedingly and excruciatingly difficult. It shouldn't be so difficult to keep the government operating or preventing us from defaulting on our obligations. But sadly, that has become the case.
There's a increased polarization. There are groups out there that profit off of this type of instability and uncertainty and chaos. And they put a lot of pressure on members of Congress. I would tell you there are members in - both political parties right now have some very serious challenges. They're being pushed into some bad directions. And we need to have a stronger voice from the center of the political spectrum.
SIMON: Well, this week, of course, President Trump - unexpectedly, apparently - reached a deal with congressional Democrats to raise the debt limit and fund hurricane relief. A lot of members of your party are reportedly aghast. How do you feel?
DENT: Actually, I believe the agreement that the president reached was fair. Now, and the very members who are complaining about the deal that the president reached on the debt ceiling were upset that the debt ceiling was only to be extended for three months, rather than 18 months. But truth be told, those same members wouldn't have voted for the debt ceiling, either three months or 18 months, thereby empowering Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who will be helping put up the votes for the debt ceiling.
So the president, I think, recognized that leverage and negotiated with them. I would have preferred a longer debt ceiling as well, closer to 18 months. But I do recognize the reality of the situation. We're providing relief to the hurricane victims from Harvey. And we're keeping the government running for three months. And we have a three-month debt ceiling. The agreement was reasonable. And again, those very same members who are complaining about it would have never voted for a better deal anyway.
SIMON: I have to ask. You're from a swing district. I gather you spoke with Speaker Ryan before news of your declining to run for re-election got out. Did the speaker try and change your mind?
DENT: Well, I did speak with both Speaker Ryan and Steve Stivers. He's chair of the Congressional Campaign Committee. And they were both, I believe, fair to say, disappointed in what - would certainly prefer that I run for re-election. There's no question about that. But they understand that, you know, these decisions are not just about politics, they're personal. And they respect that, but they clearly would prefer that I run for re-election.
SIMON: You would have had a tough primary though, right? There's been rallies against you and...
DENT: Oh, no. There was a rally last week, but it was a - that was a buffoon bus. And it was a - it was a freak show, to be honest with you. I mean, it really was bizarre. I mean, it was a bunch of people from out of town in a bus, you know, yelling and screaming. I mean, it really was not much of anything, but...
SIMON: I just want to interject. They may not share that characterization, but go ahead please, sir.
DENT: Yeah, I'm sure they don't, but it's accurate (laughter). But I really had no serious challenge from the left or the right. My re-election prospects looked quite good, actually. Most of my colleagues have multiple opponents. You know, I had just one who announced in the right, and I had one who announced from the left, but neither of whom are particularly viable.
SIMON: Why leave when, arguably, your voice - it's more important than ever that you be heard?
DENT: Well, I have discussed with my family for - since 2013 about leaving Congress at some point. I never expected to serve more than five or six terms in the House, voters permitting. And I'm in my seventh term. I've been a committee chair. I'm a subcommittee chair on appropriations, a cardinal. I like that.
But at the same time, I want to leave at the top of my game. And I feel that I can provide a voice for the sensible center, not just inside Congress, but from the outside as well. And so I'm really looking forward to the next phase of my life.
SIMON: I have to ask you in the 30 seconds we have left, are moderate Republicans a dwindling breed?
DENT: Well, no. I mean, there are a lot of center-right Republicans, not enough, as far as I'm concerned, in Congress. But this is where the country is. I really believe this country does like us working from the center out. I truly believe that. And by the way, I just wanted to thank all the voters who supported me all these years. And it's just been a great - it's been the - a responsibility and honor of a lifetime to serve in Congress. And I've just thoroughly enjoyed it.
SIMON: Congressman Dent of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for being with us.
DENT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.