Making Congress And America Work Again

interview with Robert Portman
via Uncommon Knowledge
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Senator Rob Portman

Recorded on June 10, 2017

Senator Rob Portman sits down with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson to talk about the threats and problems related to Russia's meddling in democratic elections in the United States and around the world. Portman then discusses the complex process of health care reform, noting that the process has been difficult because health care is a complex issue that needs to be handled correctly. In the conversation about health care reform, Portman says that the number-one cause of death in Ohio is opioid overdose and that Medicaid plays an important role in getting addicts the help they need so they don’t end up in jail or in the emergency room. Along with health care, the Senate will take up tax reform;  Portman believes this is the most important reform that the Congress and the president can make to help the economy grow. Portman also touches on wages and jobs and helping those who are struggling to make ends meet. Finally, Portman reflects on the fraying of the American fabric and what can get us back to the concepts, values, ideas, and ideals that made the United States one of the most successful and longest-running democracies and a beacon of hope for the world.

Peter Robinson: Last year Donald Trump carried Ohio by the large margin of eight points. With us today, a man who carried that state by 21 points, the Junior Senator from the great state of Ohio, Rob Portman on Uncommon Knowledge now. Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. We're filming today in the tower room of Baker Library at Dartmouth College. After graduating from Dartmouth as a member of the class of 1978, Rob Portman took a law degree at the University of Michigan, practiced law for a time, and then went into politics. From 1993 to 2005, he served in the House of Representatives representing the second district of Ohio. From 2005 to 2006, he served as the United States Trade Representative and from 2006 to 2007, as the Director of Office of Management and the Budget holding both those positions, Trade Rep, and OMB under President George W. Bush. Rob Portman was elected to the senate from Ohio in 2010 and then reelected, reelected resoundingly just last year. Senator Portman, welcome.

Rob Portman: Peter, good to be with you again.

Peter Robinson: Okay, the unavoidable question first; the senate testimony this past week of former FBI director James Comey. What did he tell us about President Trump that we didn't already know?

Rob Portman: I don't think there's much new, honestly. Although it was the event of the decade maybe in Washington-

Peter Robinson: The coverage was unbelievable.

Rob Portman: Yeah. Three bars actually had live coverage and offered free bar on big screen TV's.

Peter Robinson: You mean you went from bar, to bar, to bar?

Rob Portman: I didn't attend those, but it was almost a spectacle. No, I don't think there was a whole lot new, but I do think that it's appropriate that we do have this special counsel and have a review of the meddling of Russia in our election. I think it's appropriate that the intelligence committee is doing its work. I think most of what we heard with regard to this particular interview in public we already knew.

Peter Robinson: All right, on a scale of zero is there's really nothing for us to pay attention to, to 10, which is a full Watergate. What are we in for this summer? Are we in for a horrible long summer of intensely partisan hearings?

Rob Portman: I hope not, because we have a lot of work to do in other areas. It will be a great distraction if it becomes a highly partisan effort and if we spend our focus on that we won't be doing things to help save the healthcare system that's crumbling or deal with infrastructure, or with tax reform, or the spending issues that we have to deal with. There's lots more to do. I do think that this issue of Russia meddling, not just in our election, but their interference in democracies around the world is a serious issue. As you know it's one that I've tackled about for a long time, even long before this last election. In fact we passed legislation last year that helps to deal with this by establishing a new inter-agency office that can actually analyze what's happening and be able to respond more quickly. Particularly on the internet. It is a concern. It's been a concern in the UK and in France, and Germany recently with their elections. It's a big concern in Ukraine and other countries in eastern Europe. We do need to understand what's happening and be able to more effectively push back.

Peter Robinson: As far as a sober serious respected member of the senate is concerned this is not, at this stage in any event, about President Trump? This is very much, or should be very much, about Russia. We know there's a problem there.

Rob Portman: It should be and it should be again, about democracies worldwide that are being affected by this. What it is, we call it disinformation, propaganda. It is literally putting out information that's not accurate to be able to destabilize and make more difficult democracies to have fair elections. It's a big deal and we should be responding to that. As we, unfortunately, find ourselves in another situation with Russia that's very similar in some respects to the Cold War in terms of that disinformation, we have to have better tools in the modern era to be able to respond. Again, a lot of that's being more effective online.

Peter Robinson: All right, health care. It was a struggle but the House of Representatives did pass a bill and send it over to the Senate. Majority leader McConnell has named you and about a dozen other members of the Republican Caucus to go into a closed room and hash out a bill that can get at least 50 votes in the senate, so the Vice President can pass the deciding vote. Why is health care, just a sort of threshold question, why is health care so hard as a legislative matter? Why is it so hard?

Rob Portman: Well, that's a good question. I think, Peter, part of it is because our system is so defuse. In other words you have Medicare, Medicaid obviously. You also have the employer based system where most people are getting their coverage who are not at Medicare or Medicaid. You have the individual market. Obviously you have the Obama Care side of this now, which is these exchanges. Even within each new group I'm talking about there are various programs. Everything you touch has an effect somewhere else. It's not easy to simply, with one stroke of a pen, write legislation that fixes our healthcare system because it is so complicated. There are so many interactions. I do think we're in a situation now that we have to step forward and do something about really two problems. One is the very high cost of premiums, deductibles, copays. I hear a lot from my constituents on this as you can imagine. We've had almost a doubling of health care premium costs in the individual market in Ohio just in the last four years. 82% increase for small businesses. No one can afford that. These double-digit increases continue. Then second is it's really not a system that's working in terms of providing choice and competition. There's not transparency on cost. This has been a long time concern, well before the Affordable Care Act, which helped to create the more recent problems. That of course is being evidence today by a lot of insurance companies literally pulling out of markets.

Peter Robinson: Anthem announced, just a couple of days ago, they're pulling out of 18 counties in Ohio.

Rob Portman: Yeah. There'll be 18 counties in Ohio with zero insurers in this market place, this so called exchange is zero. There will be another 20 to 25 counties with only one insurer. That's not competition. We have to act. Both because of the high increase, the sky rocketing increase of cost for every American, every small business, but also because of the fact that the system is not working. By the way if Hillary Clinton had been elected we would have to go in and fix this. This is not about Republican's trying to get rid of something. It's about fixing a system that's not working.

Peter Robinson: That has to be fixed. Last week, I do what I can to follow this, last week or 10 days ago Senator Burr of North Carolina said he doubted that the Senate would be able to move on healthcare before the end of the year. Yet over the last couple of days there've been stories New York Times, there was something on the television this morning, that you may have a bill within a week. What's the state of play?

Rob Portman: Well, I think six days is a little ambitious, but I do think something can be done before the August recess, which is a time when Congress traditionally-

Peter Robinson: Really.

Rob Portman: -goes back to their August work period. It may not be the final bill, but I think we can pull something together. We'll see. My big concern about the House bill is, you know, I think it went too far in terms of pushing people off of Medicaid, which is an incredibly important program poor Americans, and the working poor. It think there's a better way to do that. That's one thing we're working on.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so let me just ask that last question on health care. Some states, including Ohio, used Obama Care to expand their Medicaid roles taking federal money to do so, right? Senators from those states, including the good Junior Senator from Ohio want to phase that out very slowly, or let's put it this way, very carefully. Then you've got some states, such as Texas, which did not use Obama Care to expand its Medicaid roles. Some Senators from those state, including Ted Cruz, who have said over and over again, perhaps not recently now that you're working together on hashing out a compromise, that the states that expanded their Medicaid roles did so irresponsibly. Don't take federal money. It's not reliable. Okay, so you've got Rob Portman and Ted Cruz among those senators in the room trying to hash things out. I've seen you with Ted Cruz. I know you're genial with each other, but I also know you are very different kinds of Republicans. How's this going to get sorted out?

Rob Portman: Well, first it's no longer a small group. It's now a 52 member group. As you noted-

Peter Robinson: Everybody's invited now?

Rob Portman: You need 50 votes and so everybody's got a different point of view on health care because it is so complicated. There's an opportunity for all members to engage in that, which I think is really good and I encourage that. Having said that you're right. About 60% plus of Americans are in states where there was expanded Medicaid. Meaning that individuals up to 138% of poverty rather than a 100% of poverty were able to get coverage. Some states have done it in a way that required some flexibility from Washington by getting a waiver in very creative ways, in innovative ways to actually help to get more people into a manage care system, and to help pay for performance, in other words for good outcomes, rather than just a fee for service type programs. There's a lot of good things been going on. We want to preserve those good things because it covers more people and it gives them better health care outcomes. That's one thing I'm working, but you're right, some states that did not expand, think that it's unfair that those states that expanded like ours have this opportunity. My view is let's work together and come up with something that works for all these states. I will tell you Peter, there's one issue that unfortunately is at crisis proportions now in our country that is affecting Medicaid more than any other payer. That is the opiod crisis that you and I have talked about before. This means heroin, prescription drugs that are pain killers, and addictive. Increasingly these synthetic heroins called fentanyl, or carfentanyl, or U4. In my own state as an example those people who are on expanded Medicaid, which is about 700,000 people in my state, 50% of the cost is going for one thing right now. That is for mental health and substance abuse treatment, 50% of the cost. This has been an issue, as you know, I've worked on for many years over 20 years.

Peter Robinson: Yes, you have.

Rob Portman: I feel strongly that we need to not just have a situation where there's not an abrupt change in that so people can be able to get on their feet, but also we need some longer term solutions to ensure people can get into the treatment programs they need. If they don't those people are back in the emergency rooms, back in jail. As you know the crime rate has increased because of this. It's the number one cause of crime in my state. It's the number cause of death in my state. We do to ensure-

Peter Robinson: Stop there. Overdoses and other deaths related, in one way or another, to opioid addiction is the number one cause of death in Ohio now?

Rob Portman: It is now surpassed car accidents. It’s surpassed homicide. It surpassed suicides and it's growing unfortunately. I'll give you an example in one city, Cleveland Ohio. In a couple of weeks since Memorial Day there have been 43 people who have overdosed and died. You compare that to last year it's almost doubling in that time period. Now we've passed some legislation that's starting to help, but my point is that Medicare and Medicaid are both important programs. Medicaid in particular is the biggest payer in terms of the treatment programs that you want to get people who are addicted involved with so that they can get out of this cycle, and get back on their feet, and back to work, and get back with their families. This is one of the reasons I've been so involved in ensuring that we not only have a smooth landing, but that we have a way to ensure that these people can continue to get the treatment that they need.

Peter Robinson: All right. Defense. We're in shooting wars right now against the Taliban in Afghanistan, against ISIS in Iraq. The Russian's are adding 100 ships to their Navy in the next three years, the Chinese are challenging us in the South and East China seas, Iran continues to defy us, and North Korea is developing ballistic missiles that will soon, very soon some say, be capable of delivering nuclear weapons to American territory. Senator Rob Portman quoted in May in News Max quote, "We have to do more to protect our country right now." The Trump administration has proposed an increase in defense spending next year, of about 50 billion dollars. That sounds like a staggering sum. It is a staggering sum. It's an increase of 10%.

Rob Portman: 10%, mm-hmm.

Peter Robinson: Is that enough?

Rob Portman: It's enough as a first step, but Peter, we have a real problem right now. Our readiness is not up to the task. You talked about a more dangerous and volatile world. You named some of the risks that we have right now facing us that are really unprecedented. At least since World War II. The question is will America be able to project force to be able to keep the piece? This is not about American wanting to expand what we're doing in terms of kinetic activity, military activity overseas. It's being able to frankly get some of these players you talked about. Whether it's Iranians, whether it's North Koreans, whether it's what's going on, on the eastern boarder of Ukraine or in Syria, or in Libya, and to say America has the capability to be able to step in. Therefore we should have a response by then that leads to a more peaceful world. Ronald Reagan said best. "Peace comes from strength."

Peter Robinson: Right.

Rob Portman: Many countries looking at our readiness realize that not only don't we have the ships that, you talked about the Russians building new ones, many of our ships are at dock because we can not send them out because our military has been cut to the point that we don't have the readiness we need. We don't have planes that can fly, we don't have pilots that are able to train as they should. This is a problem. I think this is the right first step. I think we also need to be sure that the Pentagon spends it wisely. There's plenty of room to have reforms at the Pentagon in terms of waste, and particularly in regard to procurement, whereas you know we've had a lot of big projects be way over budget and behind time. I think it's a combination of things, but it requires more funding now.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so let me ask you because you were director of OMB ... there are very few people who actually know the budget the way you know the budget as the former director of OMB and simply because I have to say after knowing you for some years now that's the way your mind works. You actually enjoy understanding the details of this vast apparatus. Two thirds of the federal budget is now locked up in entitlements. Even to propose a modest increase in defense spending the Trump administration has had to propose really quite Draconian cuts across the small portion of the budget that is now discretionary. We've heard about 30% cuts in the state department. Good question whether they could even get close to that when it comes time for you and your colleagues to take a vote. People have been saying for years now, Bill Bradley during the 80's Patrick Moynihan beginning in the late 70's, that if we're not careful entitlement spending is going to squeeze out our ability to defend ourselves. It will squeeze out defense spending. Is that evil day upon us now?

Rob Portman: It's been upon us. In other words not taking on the task of dealing with two thirds of the budget it's actually growing to three quarters of the budget within the next 10 years. That is on autopilot. That is the mandatory spending, and instead simply trying to squeeze it out of the discretionary part of the budget, now one third soon to be one quarter, does put a lot of pressure on defense, which is more than half of that. Think about in terms of two thirds and one third.

Peter Robinson: You can't even increase defense even a little with that. Right, exactly.

Rob Portman: It's absolutely necessary, and by the way Bill Clinton you missed, Barack Obama you missed, both presidents Bush you missed. It's one thing that I think Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that we need to address this issue. How we address it that's become very controversial. It's important to do so for the sake of our military, for the sake of these programs you talked about including soft power on the discretionary side, including dealing with the epidemic of opioid use.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Rob Portman: The heroin issue we talked about, but also for the future for our kids and grandkids, because financial crisis will ensue. In other words if you continue to have these huge debts and deficits every year and have the mandatory spending on the healthcare side, it's about a 100% increase projected over the next 10 years. That's simply not sustainable.

Peter Robinson: If the Iranians don’t get us our own bond markets will.

Rob Portman: Well, yeah. Abraham Lincoln had a lot of great observations about the American political system and one that he said that was probably curious at the time was we're more likely to be destroyed from within than from without. We do need to be sure that we do something with this fiscal problem that has grown. I think it's already putting tremendous pressure on the discretionary budget.

Peter Robinson: Tax reform. Two quotations. Here's you Senator Rob Portman quoted in May, "There is more consensus around tax reform than there is around health care, and I think there is an opportunity for Republicans to come together on an agenda that lowers taxes." Here's former Speaker of the House, John Boehner also speaking in May, "Tax reform I just a bunch of happy talk." Senator what's the prospect? The administration wants tax reform, Mick Mulvaney, your successor at OMB, is saying we've got to get growth, growth, growth. We've got to get growth up toward 3%. Have to have tax reform to do that. Is it happy talk?

Rob Portman: No, it has to be done, and by the way when we talked about the fiscal situation that deficit clearly the most important thing to do is to restrain spending, but also to grow the economy. More revenue is how we deal with this, and how we got to a balanced budget last time in the late 1990's. It was really through growth. The best way to grow the economy right now is a combination of things.  Regulatory relief, dealing with a health care cost, better skills training, ensuring trade works for us. Nothing is more important than tax reform. Why? The system is broken. I'll stick by my earlier quote and say it's a shot in the arm with the economy. No question about it if we do it right, and there's more consensus here than with regard to health care.

Peter Robinson: Why was the sequence health care first then we'll try to move on tax reform? Did administration make a mistake?

Rob Portman: I don't know if it was a mistake, but in retrospect I think health care had a better prospect of finding that middle ground, that consensus, including some Democrats, and would have helped to encourage us to have another success with regard to health care. Infrastructure is another one where I think there's an opportunity for success. Perhaps combining tax reform and infrastructure up a little bit might work, because among the great opportunities with tax reform, and there's lots of them, is the fact that there's about two and a half or $3 trillion locked up overseas. Much of which could come back if we had the right kind of tax code, which is called a territorial system, but also have a low rate for repatriation.  Some of that funding is needed to have a tax reform process work that doesn't blow a hole the deficit, so it's revenue neutral based on dynamic scores, and growth. Some of it could also be used to jumpstart some infrastructure projects that have great economic benefit.

Peter Robinson: Question about timing. You've already said that you think you'll get health care out. You'll get a bill on health care for your colleagues to consider before the August recess. The president just last week gave a big infrastructure speech. Here you're saying, "Look folks, everybody knows we need tax reform." Can we get those three items health care, infrastructure, and tax reform to the floor for a vote before August? Am I dreaming?

Rob Portman: That would be very ambitious.

Peter Robinson: All right I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming.

Rob Portman: Look, on health care–

Peter Robinson: Before the end of the year when you come back up to the summer?

Rob Portman: On health care we're not there yet. I said it's possible, but I certainly don't guarantee it, because no one can. Again, to find 50 votes, which is where we are right now, is going to be challenging. With regard to tax reform I think by the end of the calendar year we have an opportunity to complete that. I do think there's been a lot of work, a lot of thinking, a lot of hearings, a lot of different proposals are out there. They kind of focus on one issue, which is how do you get the rates down and broaden the base by simplifying the code for the individual side or the business side. That's sort of a generalization. Then again there's just some great opportunities there because the complexity of the code and, because of the international system we have now that is outdated, antiquated, and it's not consistent with the way the rest of the world has moved. Which puts us at a big disadvantage, which is why were losing jobs and investment overseas. There's a great opportunity there.

Peter Robinson: Okay, all right. The Senate itself, filibuster rule, which in effect require 60 votes rather than a simple majority of 51 to get most forms of legislation enacted. Two quotations again here's President Trump in a Tweet. You knew I had to quote a Tweet of his before this conversation ended, "The US Senate should switch to 51 votes immediately, and get health care and tax cuts approved quick and easy." Those were his words quick and easy. Get rid of the filibuster and this becomes quick and easy. Here is your friend and colleague Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also speaking this spring, "There is not a single senator in the majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster. Not one." Why are you and Mitch McConnell being search sticks in the mud senator?

Rob Portman: By the way it would not surprise me if there was a Tweet by Donald Trump while we were talking what you're about to ask me about. That's happened to me twice when I've been on a live TV program, and I'm presented with a Tweet. The reporter just assumes that I must have somehow known it by ESP or something. Anyway, Donald trumps Tweet is interesting, as most of his are, because tax reform and healthcare reform are being done, as you know, under this 50 vote scenario. It's not subject to the filibuster. In effect, I would agree with him on those, because they're being done on what's called budget reconciliation, which you can do as a special thing under the ‘74 Budget Act. It has to relate to the budget outlays or revenue, so on. There's some restrictions to it, but that's how we're doing those. The broader issue here with regard to general legislation, I think Mitch McConnell's probably right. I don't know if I can speak for all my colleagues. Most of my colleagues look at this and think, "Let's see the Democrats have had the majority for the most part over the last hundred years. We would have a whole pan-o-play of legislation that most Republicans would find very objectionable if we had not had the ability to stand up as the founders intended. The minority would have the opportunity to be heard." The question is what's going to be best for the country over the longer haul? As you know one of my concerns about the way our country is headed is that we're increasingly divided. I'd say division is one thing polarization's another. Not just divided, but I think because of the way the Internet works, as wonderful as it is in some respects, it allows people to reaffirm their point of view and not look at the other side. I think cable TV is playing a role in this. Not this show, of course, because it's uncommonly good. I think as a result, Peter, you see in Congress the kind of polarization and division that makes it difficult to find common ground on even relatively simple things in the past we'd be able to deal with. I think if anything we should be pushing for a system where you actually do figure out away. In this case to get somewhere between 10 and two Democrats or Republicans when you have the majority. You would have a 51 vote majority, and then you have to get to 60. That's the way it has been done traditionally with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, all the big tax reform efforts, everything Ronald Reagan got through with Tip O'Neill. We need to get back to that, in part because you find you have better laws, look at Obama Care, the Affordable Care Act as an example of something that got jammed through on a partisan basis that's not working. In part because I think it would be a model in a sense, and show leadership in terms of trying to get this country back together.

Peter Robinson: Okay, one more question on this. It's not just Donald Trump. I take the point, he says quick and easy, we eliminate the filibuster we get legislation through quickly and easily and Senator Portman and Mitch McConnell say yeah right. At the moment they regain the majority it's quick and easy for them too. We go flipping and flopping back-and-forth, not good for the country. I get all that, however here is Peter Wallison a very distinguished lawyer at the American enterprise writing in the Wall Street Journal, "Can there be any doubt that Democrats will eliminate the filibuster on legislation when they next control the Senate and the White House?" Peter Wallison says you are a high minded and a patriot Senator Portman, and I respect you for that. You are also making it harder for you and your fellow Republicans to enact this president's agenda. That means you are making it easier for the Democrats to recapture your Senate. The moment they do goodbye to the filibuster anyway. That's an argument isn't it?

Rob Portman: It is. Again the big priorities right now are tax reform and health care reform, both of which are not being done with the filibuster.

Peter Robinson: Okay, fair, fair.

Rob Portman: To the extent it's a matter of getting things done the problem is not the filibuster. The problem is very complicated areas and finding 50 people working together and getting an agreement with the House. The founders did not intend this to be easy Peter, as you know well having written a lot about this. It's sometimes frustrating with the balance of powers and with the minority rights having some say in the senate. At the end of the day when you go through this process you end up with the greatest Republic in the history of the world. America is also the longest lasting democracy in the world. It's worked and so I think we need to be careful. Also, I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that if we do just assume the Democrats will switch back then maybe they will. If we don't then maybe they too will see the light and realize this is not in their interest either. Certainly not in the countries interest for legislation that actually helps solve problems and is sustainable over time.

Peter Robinson: All right. The president; as best I can tell nearly the entire Republican Caucus in the Senate is in at least broad agreement with the president's agenda. You've talked yourself health care, tax reform, rebuilding the military. Everybody agrees that has to be done.

Rob Portman: I'd add infrastructure after this week.

Peter Robinson: Infrastructure, all right.

Rob Portman: His proposals in the infrastructure I think were broadly agreed to. I certainly thought they were on point.

Peter Robinson: Okay, and illegal immigration even there are all different kinds of ways of arguing about the right number of immigrants to permit into the country. Everybody would say many years of illegal immigration undermine the rule of law and had to be addressed. I think that's right.

Rob Portman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Peter Robinson: All right. Then of course you get an originalist in the mul div Antonin Scalia and George [Neil] Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia. All that, everybody's saying behind you on the agenda. On the other hand, and I will say this to spare your having to say it crude Tweets, undisciplined remarks, the almost preternatural ability to undercut his own people, and indeed to even undercut himself. He fires James Comey for very good reasons laid out carefully in memorandum by the Assistant Attorney General. Then he says in an interview, "Oh, no, no. I would have fired him anyway and I fired him for entirely different rea-" Okay, so here's a problem. You and your colleague and the Senate are working politicians. Rob Portman figured out how to carry Ohio by more than twice the margin that the president himself carried Ohio. How-

Rob Portman: Who's counting, Peter?

Peter Robinson: Who's counting. I'll count for you Senator. What's the approach here? How can the Senate support this agenda while putting some distance between itself. Do you feel the need to put distance between yourself ... you want to avoid embracing the mode of operation. You want to be careful about this man's character. Is that not correct?

Rob Portman: Well, you do the right thing. You figure out what the right policies are and you promote those. In my case you try to encourage the president to focus on those policies. He has a great opportunity to give this economy a shot in the arm and to be able to increase wages, which to me is probably the biggest challenge we face right now. Slow economic growth makes it impossible, but even with better economic growth that to me is not sufficient. We also have to figure out how to ensure that the people I represent and people in the middle all over in America have a chance to actually see that American dream that they envision. In other words that their wages will start to go up again, and their expenses will start to, at least with regards to health care, not go up as high as they've been. The middle class squeeze is very real. I think he has a chance to do that. You've mentioned some of the ways to do it with tax reform, and regulatory relief, and getting health care costs under control, and doing something on infrastructure, which should be bipartisan after all. But he's making it more difficult by the way, as you stated, he's going about the process. That distracts everybody from the task at hand. I will say that some of us are focused and we're keeping our heads down and focusing on the policy, and we're getting some things done. Sometimes quietly as we have recently with regard to the opioid issue, passed two bills on that, with regard to human trafficking issue. I made some progress on that. To be able to push back against the traffickers and particularly online trafficking. We've been able to do some things quietly with regard to regulations, with regard to these Congressional Review Acts to take away some of the burden on the economy. Of course the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch who I saw last week. Who, you're right, is a fine person, high integrity, great character, and also understands the rule of the Constitution.

Peter Robinson: Good choice. Right, right.

Rob Portman: Exactly.

Peter Robinson: Okay, final set of questions here. You and I we can both remember the 1980's. Class of 78, class of 79. We remember the 1980's. That was a time, I think it's fair to say looking back, of genuine deep renewal. The economy began to grow again, the United States of America rebuilt its defenses and won the Cold War. There was a resurgence in the sense of national moral and patriotism. The question is whether the country has a chance like that again. You've said the president has a good program. If he would stick with the program it's a good program. Here's the question; Unlike some Republicans who fixate on policy and seem to drift away from any feeling for the way American's actually lead their lives you pay close attention to life on the ground in Ohio. Opioid crisis, sec trafficking. I just looked up these statistics the other day. Back when Patrick Moynihan issued his famous report in 1965 warning about the steady disintegration, these are his words, “the steady disintegration of the African American family structure and the out-of-wedlock birth rate among African Americans was then 25%”. Today whites 30%, Hispanics 53%, African Americans 72%. Do we have a country where the underlying social fabric is simply so frayed that God bless you I hope you get health care worked out. I hope you get the president paying attention to the program. Somehow or other there's a substructure of life as it's lived on the ground in this country that the federal government really just can't get to it. There's a sense of disintegration. I know you feel that, but you being you will have thought it through. How do you think about that?

Rob Portman: Well, I'm ultimately optimistic. I think the federal government does have a role here. It's not the central role by the way. The central role happened at the local community level in our families, in our hearts. I will make light of what you said and remind people who are watching that President Reagan's speech writer at the time was Peter Robinson, who was able in an eloquent way, to lift the country up, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall" is an example-

Peter Robinson: 30 years ago-

Rob Portman: Your words. There is a need for some inspiration at the federal level, and a president who can bring us together as a country. I mentioned earlier my deep concerns about the division I see and the polarization. Barack Obama promised it. It didn't happen. When he was at his convention, before he ran the first time, he talked about the fact that we're not red states and blue states. We're the red, white, and blue states, and we need to bring people together. He actually went like this and I agree with that. I think that's what's needed. I think that will help, but it is deeper. It's cultural. It's societal. It has to do with our country getting back to what has made us so special in my view, which is the promise to the individual, which is people feeling like if they work hard and play by the rules they can get ahead. That's why I mentioned the wage issue. With regard to this issue we talked earlier on healthcare we got to be sure that people who are on Medicaid now do have a chance to get to that next ladder of economic success, the next rung on that ladder, and move their way up. That's the idea and this is why I mentioned the innovative programs you could have in the states. I'm optimistic ultimately that we can get back, not just to a better spirit in this country of us working together as patriots and as Americans, but in dealing with some of these fundamental problems you talked about. You could say, I suppose that you have to optimistic if you're in my business, otherwise why would you stay at this crazy business, particularly with what's going on in Washington today. I will tell you I've seen it. When I'm home and I'm at a drug treatment center, and I meet a young woman who at age 14 became addicted to heroin, and is now one of the people on the other side of the table as a councilor in recovery, and she's helping other people to be able to regain their lives. Which I saw two weeks ago in Ohio, and I've probably met a thousand people in recovery, or who are addicted in the last couple of years. There are plenty of hopeful stories. There's plenty of opportunity if we provide people with the right tools ultimately I guess I have confidence in the people I represent and the American people that will rise to the occasion. Leadership in Washington is part of it.

Peter Robinson: All right, two last questions. Tomorrow morning your daughter will graduate from Dartmouth College. What advice would you like to give to her and her classmates that you wish someone had told you when you were 22 years and graduating from this institution yourself.

Rob Portman: Oh my gosh. It's a good question and congratulations to your son, Nico, on his graduation and his prowess as an Ivy League decathlon champ, which means he can do everything, right? Like Superman.

Peter Robinson: That's the way he describes it to me. Yes.

Rob Portman: Yeah. You know, I'll harken back to something my grandfather used to write me notes. He was not a college graduate but he was in his own way a successful entrepreneur. He was an innkeeper at a hotel and restaurant for 50 years. He used to write this thing at the end of his notes to me. 'Be ever kind and true," which he thought was an appropriate ... he sort of took it from the new testament. You're kind and generous and you're true. "Be ever kind and true." I would add to that, and I have with my kids, another part of it, which is work hard. It's not that no one told me that, but because I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad did work hard and my mom worked hard. This notion that somehow everything's going to be given to you is not what makes our country special. Instead what it is, is that as one wise man once told me, "The harder I work the luckier I get." In other words luck and entitlement isn't the key to success. It is hard work and it is being honest and being generous and kind. That combination actually works. In our society we have problems as you said and plenty of challenges. Some people have come through a situation that is much, much tougher than I had or my daughter or your son has had. Our job here is to level that playing field to give them a chance. At the end of the day continue to be, as a country, that beacon of hope and opportunity for the rest of the world.

Peter Robinson: Last question; Here's the philosopher Roger Scruton writing the Spring in the Wall Street Journal, "Elites nowadays build trust through career moves, joint projects and cooperation across borders. Like the aristocrats of old they often form networks without reference to national boundaries." The students who will graduate tomorrow, your daughter, Sally, my son, Nico, are all gifted. They've all been beautifully educated. They all have the opportunity, should they choose to do so, to join this kind of international global elite. Why should they remain loyal to this country? Why do this country's borders still matter? What would you say to them? How would you persuade them that in the year 2017, facing the opportunities that they face, including the subtle urgings to be citizens of the world, why would you say to them that the United States of America still matters?

Rob Portman: Well, I use the words a moment ago, a beacon of hope and opportunity, if you look historically at the role we have played I mentioned as the world's longest successful democracy we have served that role. I remember once I had the opportunity to be overseas and then Secretary of State Colin Powell had recently had a press conference. This was when we had gone into Iraq. The European journalists around him at this conference were convinced that America was going to Iraq to take the oil.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Rob Portman: Which in retrospect of course not only weren't we, but we didn't. I remember public opinion polls at the time in Europe said 80% of Europeans believed that. A cynical view of why the US would get involved anywhere. You can remember Kuwait where we liberated a country. For what? For the fact that these people were being taken over, in that case by Saddam Hussein. We thought it was our job as a moral leader to lead others to do so. Anyway, the person said, "You're going for the oil." He said, "No, actually we're not." The European journalist persisted and Colin Powell looked him in the eye and said, "Sir, we've come to your continent twice in the last century to free you from a despot in World War I and to free you from the Nazi's in World War II. We have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest to do so. All we ever asked in return was enough land to bury our dead." Those are those beautiful American cemeteries that you and I have both seen with the crosses and the Star of David. That's an incredible heritage that we are now inheriting and our kids are inheriting. That concept of who we are as a country continues today overseas. People still look at us despite what the international elite might think. People vote with their feet and they want to come here. They view us as the land of opportunity. Again, if you work hard and play by the rules you can get ahead and you can live in freedom. That I think is why we all have a responsibility to give back, and to ensure that we're focused on keeping American strong. For the sake of our citizens, but also to provide that model for the rest of the world.

Peter Robinson: Rob Portman, a member of the Dartmouth College class of 1978. The father of a member of the Dartmouth College class of 2017, and the Junior Senator from the great state of Ohio. Thank you.

Rob Portman: Thanks Peter.

Peter Robinson: For Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution I'm Peter Robinson.