Bob Menendez grew up the son of immigrants in a tenement building in Union City. A product of New Jersey's public schools and a graduate of the state's universities, he has served as a school board member, a mayor and a state legislator. Since 1992, he has been fighting for New Jersey families in Washington, where he rose to become the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives before taking office in the Senate in 2006.
In Congress, he has fought to make health care more affordable for New Jersey's families and to improve schools so they prepare our children for a successful future. Now he is fighting to make college more affordable for the next generation of leaders. After September 11, 2001, Bob earned national recognition for his leadership in reforming the country's intelligence and public health systems and for fighting to establish an independent commission to investigate the terrorist attacks on our country. Today, he is working to improve the security of our bus, rail and public transit systems.
Elected by his colleagues in 2002 as the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Bob Menendez became the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congressional history. He previously served as the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and has led key Task Forces on Education and Homeland Security. After being appointed by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Bob was sworn in to the Senate on January 18, 2006. In November of that year, New Jerseyans elected Bob to serve a full six-year term as United States Senator. He currently serves on the Senate Committees on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; Budget; and Foreign Relations. Bob is also the Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection.
Question: Is the American political system broken?
Robert Menendez: I don’t think the system is broken. I think Americans look at the debates that go on, for example, in Congress and say, “Well, they can’t seem to get along with each other. Or they’re just political or partisan.” And there is an element of that; but people come from across the country, and I’ve had the privilege and experience of representing . . . being in both houses of Congress. So I look at when I was in the House of Representatives, there are . . . 435 people come from across the country, from North and South and East and West. They come from great cities and farms. They come from suburbia. They’re doctors, and lawyers, and farmers, and business people, and teachers, and former veterans and a whole host of other things. They’re Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim. And across the spectrum they’re brought to the nation’s capitol to not only represent the interests of their particular district, but to represent the collective interests of the nation. And they’re asked to face some of the most difficult challenges we have in our country, and to also look at the great opportunities that exist with our country, and come together to lead in what hopefully is a strong bipartisan response to these issues. But at the end of the day, all those different experiences, all those different backgrounds, all the different political ideologies . . . sometimes they are rooted in . . . clearly in very strong views – principled views – as to how we achieve these goals or overcome these challenges. And those principle views can sometimes be in great conflict. And so that . . . Whether it’s in the House or in the Senate, the reality is that it seems to me that what people sometimes view as strictly partisan is the clash of ideas – the clash of ideas that people brought from a very diverse country, but who hold, I think, common goals of achieving . . . making America the best that it can be. And in doing so, that clash of ideas produces differences. Some people look at that as a broken system. I look at that as largely to be the fulfillment of the democracy that we have.
Recorded on: 9/12/07