C-SPAN's Brawner Moderates a Discussion with Former Senator Dorgan at Spring 2013 SMLS

C-SPAN's Brawner Moderates a Discussion with Former Senator Dorgan at Spring 2013 SMLS

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Maha Neouchy
April 29, 2013

The Washington Center hosted Bryon Dorgan, Former Senator of North Dakota and Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, for the third SMLS of the spring 2013 semester. Hundreds of interns learned about Dorgan’s work over the last few decades during a moderated discussion between Dorgan and Greta Brawner, Senior Producer and Host of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, which took place at TWC’s Blinken Auditorium last Monday.


The event started off with Dorgan providing a background of his career in politics over the last three decades before retiring from the U.S. Senate in 2011. He served as both a Congressman and Senator during his years of political service in North Dakota. During the SMLS, moderator Brawner asked a series of thoughtful questions that the former senator eloquently addressed during the session. Topics included:


  • Advancing bipartisanship
  • The impact of social and digital media
  • The moral political dilemmas regarding constituents

To kick off the SMLS, Dorgan expanded on a question that he always asked himself when he was in office: “What is important for my country to do well and move forward?” He realized that partisanship had always existed and would always exist, but that our current generation and generations of the future are different because of how they have been shaped by around-the-clock media--both digital and social. Unfortunately, most people in the United States “usually only tune in to stations and different media outlets that reconfirm their beliefs." Dorgan, on the other hand, firmly believes in "having a contest of ideas."


Moderated Discussion with Greta Brawner


Brawner: Do you believe there is a benefit to having a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate controlled by Democrats?"


Dorgan: I believe that it can work, but it divides government. It also suggests that the American people divided the government by choice. At the end of the day, a divided government, unfortunately, means that less can get done. Let's use the current budget as an example. Both the House and the Senate passed different budgets, but there is still no consensus or compromise that has been met. The budget continues to be an issue until these two bodies of government can come up with a compromise.


Brawner: What grade would you give this president?


Dorgan: Well I'm a friend and a Democrat, so it's safe to say that I'd give him a pretty good grade. Ultimately though the president doesn’t have complete control of Congress, and that makes getting things done more difficult.


Brawner: We've seen President Obama wining and dining Republicans, getting to know them in a more social setting. What do you think about that?


Dorgan: I think that's important. It can't help but impress people that he reconfirms that the Republican party's opinion matters.


Brawner: I want to address the gang issue in Congress. Can you address the political gangs that have formed recently in the Senate?


Dorgan: Gangs have been forming largely outside committees of jurisdiction. Most gangs have not worked so well but have been effective in garnering a lot of publicity for themselves.


After the candid discussion with Brawner regarding past and current issues that have affected the American political system over the last few decades, former Senator Dorgan took questions from spring 2013 interns.


Questions from TWC's Spring 2013 Interns


Kwame Simmons, International Affairs intern and student at the University of Central Florida, brought up former governor John Huntsman, who was reported as saying that there is a trust deficit. Simmons believes that a trust deficit still exists between parties and wondered how Dorgan would address a concern like that. The former senator believes a lot of the trust deficit exists because of negative advertising. He used the airline industry as an example. "What if, for example, airlines were saying negative things about one another? What do you think people would say about those two airlines? They probably would not want to do business with them. In politics, these are similar issues with political parties and when the dust settles, people ask why there are such negative images of politicians. It's because we spend billions of dollars on negative coverage. Our next steps in the future needs to be reinforcing the good news and the little things that the government does."


Victoria Gosnell, International Affairs intern and student at University of Alabama at Birmingham, noted that many politicians are "increasingly on the defensive" and asked Dorgan how politicians are able to advance bipartisanship in that type of political climate. He noted that there is a great deal of polarization and partisanship but that when politicians get to know each other, it changes things up. Unfortunately today, no one is interested in getting to know one another. They come to Washington, D.C. on Mondays and leave on Thursdays. When you don't know someone, it becomes easier to take some liberties with the way you describe their positions and views.


Evaristo Pineda, Córdova & Fernós Program intern and student at the University of Sacred Heart, asked Dorgan to compare the strength of the current immigration reform proposal to the one made back in 2007. The former senator feels that this is "a hard issue to tackle because many come here without legal authority and the U.S. needs to figure out how to resolve this issue. If we legalize immigration, this country may not be able to handle a new wave of people coming in. I can't tell you if this bill is better than the last but I do think there is promise in the work of the gang of eight because it started with Democrats and Republicans with enough credibility to resolve this type of issue.


TWC was happy to welcome both Dorgan and Brawner, who contributed to addressing many political issues that hold weight in the current political climate. In addition to Dorgan's current positions at the Bipartisan Policy Center, he also teaches, consults, writes and participates in various speaking engagements, including TWC's last SMLS of the 2013 spring semester!


[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

[Learn more about the International Affairs program]

[Learn more about the Córdova & Fernós Program]

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