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Senator Phil Gramm Announces His Retirement

Aired September 4, 2001 - 14:31   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Phil Gramm has just walked out to the podium where he is expected to announce he will retire after his term ends. That will be 2003. He is the three-term senator from Texas. He first ran years ago in 1976 as a Democrat. He is an ardent Republican now. And we are going to hear his announcement, as he brings his staff out, and then we are going to talk with our senior political analyst Bill Schneider about this announcement from Phil Gramm.

That's his wife standing with him. Gramm was asked a few month ago if he would run for reelection, he said, yes, he said, count me in. And he said, quote, "I enjoy beating Democrats even if I have to do it one at a time."

But it looks like Phil Gramm will announce today he is not running again. Bill Schneider, let's hear from you while we wait for Phil Gramm. Surprise announcement?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a bit of a surprise, although the Texas press has been full of stories for the past week that he may not run for reelection. There has been some discussion of pressure from the White House for him not just to say he is not running for reelection. That's his own decision, but if that is his decision to resign early so that the Republican governor can appoint another Republican to the seat and have another incumbent Republican in that seat.

But apparently, he has no plans to do that, we are told, although we will hear exactly what he is planning to do in just a few minutes.

GRAMM: ... I got two job offers and a marriage proposal today.

I want to thank you all for coming.

When I ran for Congress 25 years ago, I promised the people of my district that I would go to Washington and work to put the federal government on a budget; to put more money back in the pockets of the people who earned it; that I would work to pass power back from the federal government to the states, to the counties, to the cities and to the people; that I would work to reform welfare, to rebuild national defense and roll back the borders of international communism.

Today I can stand before you and say that not only did I fight for these things, not only did I play some leadership role in each and every one, but that, remarkably, they all happened.

The budget is balanced.


The budget is balanced. First working with President Reagan and now with President Bush, we've cut taxes twice. Never in American history has so much power been passed back from the federal government to the states to the counties to the cities and to the people, than in the last 25 years. We did reform welfare. We reduced the welfare rolls by 50 percent, and we gave America and millions of our citizens a new dignity and meaning in life that they had never had.

With Del Latta in 1981, I wrote the first Reagan budget -- the Gramm-Latta budget that rebuilt national defense and that laid the foundation for a program of peace through strength; the Reagan program that tore down the Berlin Wall, that liberated Eastern Europe, that transformed the Soviet Union and that changed the world.

Remarkably, the things I came to Washington to do are done. Now, I know that no victory is ever final. I know that all these battles will have to be fought again by other generations, and I know that there are new challenges that face America. But what better time to call it a career than when you've finished the work that you were initially sent to Washington to do?

Of equal importance to me, I can leave the Senate at the end of this term with absolute confidence that a Republican will win my seat. Eighteen years ago, when John Tower decided not to run, it was far from certain that a Republican would win his seat.

Today Republicans dominate Texas politics, we hold every statewide office and I can announce today that I'm leaving the Senate with absolute confidence that the person who takes my place will share my philosophy and my values, but of greater importance, that they will be a Republican who shares the philosophy and the values of working men and women in Texas.

After a long and difficult period -- in fact, the hardest decision I've made in public life -- I have decided to announce today that I will not seek reelection to the United States Senate. At the end of this term, I will end my period of public service.

I'd like to say to the people of Texas that it's been the great privilege of my life to represent you in the United States Senate. I want to thank the people of Texas for standing up with me and for me, whether it was electing a young idealistic economist professor to the Congress or whether it was hearing me out on one of hundreds of votes that I cast that were immensely unpopular, the people of Texas were willing to hear me out and sometimes agree that I was right.

I have spent two-thirds of my adult life in the service of Texas and America, and I want to say that I have loved absolutely every minute of it. I am profoundly grateful for having had the opportunity and all that I am I owe to the people of Texas. I want to thank my wife Wendy and I want to thank my sons, Marshall and Jeff (ph), for their steadfast support. And I want to thank them for not complaining about all the important events of their life that I have missed. I'm very grateful that they realize that I missed those events in the service of the greatest state in the greatest country in the history of the world.


I want to thank my great staff. I want to thank them for doing all the work the large and small things that made it possible for me to do my job. I want to thank Ruth Cymber, who came to Washington with me and who has dedicated 25 years of her life to serving me and to serving the people of Texas and America.

I want to thank Larry Neal, Dick Ribbentrop, Wayne Abernathy (ph), John Sabrecool (ph), Steve MacMillian (ph), Mike Solin (ph), Linda Lord (ph), Jeb Hinserling (ph), Phil Wilson (ph), everybody gathered here today and everybody who's gathered in my offices in Texas. Each of you deserve much of the credit for all that we've done in Washington, D.C., and I want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

While I'm announcing today that I'm not running again, I'm going to be the United States senator from Texas for 15 more months. And I intend, as I have in the past, to represent people like Dickey Flat (ph), the people who do the work and pay the taxes and pull the wagon in my state. The working people of Texas deserve to have their voice heard on issues like Medicare reform and like restructuring Social Security. And I'm going to work to assure that that voice that is heard on their behalf is a roar and not a whisper. As long as the people of Texas and America pay my salary, I'm going to give them their money's worth.

On a personal note, leaving the Senate for me is bittersweet. The sweetness is going home to Texas, going to the ranch, and freedom, the opportunity to have one more career. The bitterness is that I will miss the arena and the cause and my colleagues and the challenge of doing the important noble work that is entailed in representing the greatest democracy in the world.

I know it's conventional when people close out a public career these days to talk about how that they've become cynical and that they're disillusioned. Let me conclude my remarks by making it clear that I am not cynical and I am not disillusioned. I do not love government; great understatement. But I have more confidence in government today than I did 25 years ago.

I love my colleagues. I have enjoyed having the opportunity to serve with them. America is blessed to have great men and women working in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans.

I will leave the Senate in 15 months, being very proud that I came, and extraordinarily proud in what I've done while I've been here.

So this has been a great privilege for me to represent the people of Texas. It's obvious that it's an emotional moment when you end a 25-year career. It's been a great career. And you could grow old listening to me about all the blessings I've had in this job.

QUESTION: Senator, about five weeks ago you had said that you were going to run for reelection. What happened in the intervening time to make you come to a decision...

GRAMM: Well, it was a combination of two things. First of all, one of the reasons that I'm announcing this so early is is that I have a few gifts as a politician, but I'm not very good at saying things that I know is not so.

This has been a hard decision for me. I've gone back and forth. I've been torn by people who wanted me to run. When you represent 20 million people, you build up a lot of loyalty to those people. I'm sure a lot of people at home are going to be disappointed about my decision.

But I felt for all the reasons I've outlined in the statement I made that it was time to quit. I think the time to end your period of public service is when you've completed the mandate that you were given to begin with. I feel I've done that.

And when I became absolutely certain that I was not going to run again, obviously there were some people I had to talk to, and whenever you do that, word starts leaking out.

But I feel comfortable with this decision. I believe I'm making the right decision for me, for the 20 million people I represent, and for the things I believe in.

QUESTION: And if the Texas A&M president's job were to be offered to you, is that something that would cause you to leave early?

GRAMM: Well, I don't want to -- obviously when you're giving up one career, you don't want to be writing anything in or anything out about another career.

I love Texas A&M. But you know, one of the things I've always felt is is that when something is as close to you as that is to me, maybe it would be best if I weren't on their payroll. I don't want anything to happen there that could in any way change my feelings about things. So I don't know.

I've been in academics. I know academic politics are a lot tougher than the politics I've been involved in. But I'm looking -- when this career is over, I'll start thinking about a new one. And fortunately, I'm leaving the country in great hands, the economy's going to get strong in 15 months, I expect there to be a lot of things out there I could do.

QUESTION: Senator Gramm, have you discussed anything with President Bush about a possible appointment in the Bush administration, maybe something on the Federal Reserve Board?

GRAMM: No. I talked to the president. I told the president about my decision as usual. The president obviously was not happy that I was leaving. We're very close, but the president knew that I'd made the decision, and he was very supportive.

But, no, I'm not seeking any appointment. I don't expect any appointment. I believe that in 15 months I'm going to end my period of public service, and look, I'm not looking for any more.


GRAMM: Well, you know, I'm not ever going to say "never." You know, if Coca-Cola called me up today and offered me $50 million to put the fizz back in Coke stock, I might be tempted. But I got no reason to think that they're going to do that.

Look, I've had as close to a picture-book career public service as you could have. And I don't expect any more, and I'm not looking for any more. I want to have the chance to go out and have one more career, whether it's running a business or being a goat herder or whatever, all those options are out there.

QUESTION: What advice would you leave the Republican Party for making sure that the party continues to grow?

GRAMM: Well, my advice -- first of all I'm not going to get involved in the primary. I'm sure that a lot people are going to run for my seat. Texas has got a very deep bench on the Republican side of the aisle. I think a lot of people will run. I'm not going to play favorites.

I am certainly going to work hard to see that the Republican nominee is elected. I would be embarrassed if that didn't happen.

QUESTION: What advice would you give the president to put the fizz back into the U.S. economy?

GRAMM: Well, he took some advice that I gave him, which was to cut taxes. I think maybe it's time to do it again. I think we ought to cut the capital gains tax rate. It would put revenues in the coffers for the next two years. It would stimulate the economy.

But look, this absurd criticism the Democrats are making that somehow it's the president's fault that the economy is down, it just won't bear up under scrutiny. And this complaint about the surplus -- I mean, these are the same people that for the next three months are going to be screaming for more spending. I don't understand how politically they can possibly gain from what they're doing.

QUESTION: A Texas-related question (OFF-MIKE)

GRAMM: I don't think race has anything to do with it. I think, quite frankly, in modern American politics, there's too much preoccupation with race. My advice to the 20 million people I work for -- first of all, people that were smart enough to elect me three times, and elect me as both a Democrat and a Republican to the House, don't need much advice from me. But my advice to them is to elect the best person you can elect. If that person's Hispanic, great. But whatever they are, elect the best person you can elect, because this is serious business around here. Those of you who cover this beat know we're shooting with real bullets. We're making real policy and they affect real people every day. And I just think in Texas and everywhere else, there's just too much preoccupation with race.

QUESTION: Did losing your chairmanship have any impact on...

GRAMM: No. The plain truth is, I spent almost my whole career as a private in the Army here. The influence that I had was influence from ideas. And it made no difference whatsoever. If we were still in the majority, it would actually be easier. Had Vice President Gore won, I couldn't have not run again.

But, you know, we got a president that I have total confidence in. The country's in good hands. And it gives me the luxury of doing what I'm doing.

QUESTION: Senator, I was wondering if you've made a call to ((OFF-MIKE) of Texas to talk (OFF-MIKE).

GRAMM: Oh, I did.

QUESTION: And what did he say?

GRAMM: Well, he was not happy that I was doing it. He understood it.

QUESTION: Senator, Democrats are taking your retirement as a sign that you know the Republicans aren't going to be able to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Senate and you won't be (OFF-MIKE). What makes you think the Republicans can be (OFF-MIKE).

GRAMM: Let me just, first, be sure that everybody understands that I'm leveling. My chairmanship didn't have anything to do with this. I enjoyed being chairman. I think we got a lot done. We passed a historic banking bill; has my name on it. Probably 50 years from now, somebody will look at my picture on that wall and say, "You know, I don't remember that guy, except for Gramm-Leach-Bliley." It's very humbling.

If you want to get humbled in my job, open up a desk in the Senate and look at the names of all these men, mostly, who were great luminaries in their day and you don't even remember who they were.

So, but being chairman had nothing to do with it. Quite frankly, I think we have an excellent chance of taking the Senate back.

And for me, from my own personal point of view, it's a luxury to be able to not run. And I feel confident about the future. I feel confident about the economy. I feel confident about the Republican Party.

ALLEN: Senator Phil Gramm announcing that he will retire at the end of his term, that's 15 months from now. He first came to the national scene when he was a Texas A&M economics professor back in 1976. He ran for Congress as a Democrat, he lost. He won in '78 and switched to the Republican Party during the Reagan administration, and then became a senator in the '80s.

Quite emotional and eloquent, senator talking about how much he will miss the job when he steps down. Let's bring in CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill, we normally see this tough Texan talking on and on about the budget, and today to see the emotional side of Phil Gramm, to hear how much he loved his work and how much he will miss it, it was rather touching.

SCHNEIDER: It was rather touching. He said he's going to start a new career, though he didn't say exactly what it would be. He's been known to talking to Texas A&M University where he once taught about possibly becoming the president of that university. Though today, he said it could be a career in business, he could be a goat herder, but there's been some speculation that he might take over that university.

ALLEN: And you mentioned before his announcement that the White House had urged him to go ahead and resign during the term so a Republican could be appointed.

SCHNEIDER: Privately.

ALLEN: OK. But he said he is confident a Republican will be elected after him. Should he be that confident in the state of Texas?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Republicans are the dominant party in Texas, but nothing is a sure thing. They're going to have a tough race, both for governor and senator next year. Bush's successor, his lieutenant governor, Rick Perry, will be running for the governorship for full term. Now, there is an open Senate seat. Though some discussion of Hispanics, is it time for Texas to be represented by a Hispanic?

There are names being floated, being talked about, mentioned, on both sides, Hispanic names. One on the Republican side, Representative Henry Bonilla. The White House was known to be friendly toward him. And on the Democratic side, there has been some talk of former Attorney General Dan Morales. Even Henry Cisneros has returned to San Antonio, Texas and he may be interested in running, but there are a number of names on both sides. It could be a very hot race, and it's by no means a sure thing that a Republican is going to win.

ALLEN: And so, let's talk real briefly about what could be another hot race, and that could be the governorship in the state of Florida, with Janet Reno announcing today that she's in. What do you think about the dynamics of that one?

SCHNEIDER: That's going to be the Super Bowl race of 2002, because she is a celebrity candidate. She'll raise an awful lot of money behind her campaign all over the country, but so will Jeb Bush from Republicans around the country who want to stop Janet Reno. A lot of questions about her race. She has Parkinson's disease, how will that affect her standing with the voters? She's considered a favorite to win the primary, goes the conventional wisdom. That is not until next September. But the polls right now are showing her running about 15 points behind the incumbent, who is the president's brother.

But if the economy continues to sour, Jeb Bush might be in trouble if voters choose to make a statement against President Bush.

ALLEN: It will be fun to watch, and Bill Schneider, we thank you. We will see you again on "INSIDE POLITICS," and we hope our viewers tune in for that, because they will continue to look at these political stories developing today. Thanks, Bill.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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