FRIDAY FOCUS: Sen. Simpson weighs in on President Biden, Speaker McCarthy (Part 2)

Says spat over House speakership “makes Pelosi look good, and everybody hates her”

By CJ Baker

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Former U.S. Senator Al Simpson has been outspoken in his criticism of the current direction of the Republican Party, including its embrace of former President Donald Trump.

Simpson, 91, recently sat down with the Wyoming Truth to discuss this “troublesome time” in America. The first set of excerpts from the conversation covered his thoughts on the Republican Party, with this set covering U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Trump and President Joe Biden.

Although Simpson supported Cheney, a fellow Trump critic, she lost the Republican primary in a landslide to Rep. Harriet Hageman. Simpson said he knew it was coming.

Simpson: It’s not discouraging, because she [Cheney] is smarter than all of them. She’s got wisdom … and knowledge. And nobody’s ever going to bruise her.

I don’t know where she’s going. But wherever the star is getting hooked on, I’ll hook on with her. Is she gonna run for president? I have no idea. … Her dedication is deeper than that. It’s to prevent Donald Trump from ever, ever getting into the White House again, unless he’s with a tour guide. And that’s a mission worth pursuing in my mind. …

[Trump] is seeing the golden chalice slip from his lips. And I don’t know who will push it away or tell him not to quaff it anymore. It’ll be [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, it could be [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz, could be [Missouri Sen. Josh] Hawley. I have no idea. But whoever it is will be better, at least in my twisted mind. Because one more tour with him, and the vindictiveness and revenge will have just crystallized and codified and constipated his mind with revenge.

Last year, President Biden, one of Simpson’s former Senate colleagues, presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Simpson: I’ve known Joe for 45 years, and I got to know him very well. … I sensed a common bond because he can get his foot in his mouth as much as I can — and then we have to stagger out of the weeds and repair ourselves.

There’s nothing venal in him. He’s not the evil uncle in the basement. He’s not demented. … If there’s anybody that was a little goofy, it’s got to be Trump. …

[Biden] is in a terrible spot, but he’s undaunted. … I don’t agree, principally, with his immigration [policy]. He’s saying that what he’s doing is lessening the flow now, and it isn’t.

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Freedom to former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson on July 7, 2022. Simpson says Biden “is in a terrible spot, but he’s undaunted.” (Courtesy photo from Adam Schultz, the White House)

Simpson was at the center of the country’s immigration debate back in the 1980s, when he sponsored the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Simpson: I may have made a lot of mistakes. But one of the ones I didn’t make was on the immigration bill. … They took out one sentence: It said we must have a more secure identifier. … Then here came the right and the left, here they came. And it was the ACLU on the left, and Grover Norquist on the right, and they joined together to say, “Don’t you know what this means, a more secure identifier? This is a national ID card.” And that just spread like wildfire. “Tattoos.” “You mean Nazi Germany?” … And we were just overwhelmed.

Without a more secure identifier, the employers of America weren’t about to play cops. They said, “If you don’t give a more secure identifier, don’t come to me and blame me. I’m a great American, trying to do business and hire people.” It ended up with a study, but there was no teeth in it at all … and now they’re talking about retina scans. And for God’s sake, the slippery slope has turned into an alpine ski slope. …

No telling where it will all end up.

President Biden is currently facing scrutiny after classified documents were found in his possession.

Simpson: They just barreled my [Senate] stuff out in a truck and took it to the University of Wyoming to the archives. And I have no idea what is in it, but I had a top secret clearance. I’m sure that some of that stuff might be old hat, but I wouldn’t have any idea. … The university has it all, so if they haven’t found it, I guess I’m home free.

Retired U.S. Sen. Al Simpson and his wife Ann pose for a photo at their Cody home. “She’s as beautiful now as she was when we married,” Simpson said. (Wyoming Truth photo by CJ Baker)

Simpson doesn’t have a preferred presidential candidate in 2024 and doesn’t know whether Biden will seek reelection. But he doesn’t think a candidate’s advanced age — Biden will turn 82 and Trump 78 in 2024 — should be disqualifying.

Simpson: If you’ve got somebody with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or some things that are happening that are out of the norm — like Woodrow Wilson, he was, he was incapacitated, and his wife ran the country — they have things to take care of that in the law. … But I’m 91, and I’m not over the hill yet. …

If you can explain yourself in a way that’s cogent and hinged together, you shouldn’t be prevented from serving as president.

Simpson observed the protracted process the House Republicans took to settle on Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker and called it “very unfortunate.”

Simpson: It showed a lack of grace, it was embarrassing to see. You can’t have a minority running the House. That’s why the Senate is there: You can have a minority running the Senate with a filibuster and all the things that are built in to protect the unknown voice of the minority, whatever the party. That’s Senate stuff. That never should happen in the House [with] five or six guys called the Freedom Caucus.

McCarthy has, in a sense, sold his soul. He has now given up some of the prized attributes of authority of a speaker to pick up these five or six people and their vote. …

It was diminishment of the legislature, diminishment of the House, a laughingstock. And it makes [former Democratic House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi look good — and everybody hates her. I mean, you don’t want to talk about her out here, but she was a smart one. She kept it all together and kept her power.

That’s when you bring a person in, say, you know, “I really need you on this.” “Well, I don’t think I’ll be with you.” “Well, I think you will if you know that I could send you to the journal committee, and you could languish there. Or I won’t come and campaign for you or I won’t do this. You make your choice.” So that’s what you do. It’s called hardball.

The retired senator recalled taking a hard line against a colleague who put an amendment on one of his sure-to-pass bills, a change to hike Social Security benefits by 2%.

Simpson: I said … “I know it will [pass], but it won’t pass with this piece of s— on it. And so I have a thought for you … you will never see another one of your bills ever come out of the light. They will be placed in orifices that are unheard of.” And he said, “You’re kidding.”

I said, “No, I’m not kidding one bit, and I love you, but get that out of here. … You’re running for president and that will get you elected president, but I want a bill that’s going to affect the American people who are not thinking of running for president.”

 And he took it off.

The University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center houses Al Simpson’s papers from his time in the Senate, including this photo of him sharing a laugh with the late President George H.W. Bush. (Courtesy photo from the American Heritage Center, UW)

Simpson loved his time in the Senate, but now keeps busy with his family, staying involved with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and fielding calls from journalists and others.

Simpson: I get called to participate in various things, and I can do that by Zoom. …

I had a rule: answer the … phone. And [when there was a hot issue in the Senate], I would often do that at night myself. … So I’m on the phone, some guy from Torrington says, “Where is that stupid son of a b—-?”

I said, “Speaking … it’s Al Simpson.” He said, “Oh, I didn’t want him.” I said, “You must’ve, you said, ‘Where is that son of a b—-?’”

It was always fun to have those experiences.

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