Al Simpson has always been my favorite politician to interview, and not just because he typically delivers the most colorful quotes of anyone around. It’s because I’ve never seen him pull a punch. He says what he believes and in my experience always has, no matter the consequences.

Simpson’s not kidding when he says, “In my 87 years I’ve achieved my ultimate goal: I’ve pissed off everyone in America.” In fact, he’s obviously kind of proud of that distinction.

It was a humble and eloquent Simpson who addressed the nation with one of the most moving eulogies I’ve ever heard at former President George H.W. Bush’s recent funeral service. The posture of the 6-foot-7 former U.S. senator from Wyoming may be a bit stooped now, but he stood tall that day and did the state he represented for three terms proud.

Simpson was also in the national news last week as one of the 44 former senators who signed a bipartisan letter warning that America is facing a constitutional crisis under President Donald Trump.

The open letter published in the Washington Post stated, “We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld.”

In a phone interview from his home in Cody, Simpson explained why he signed the letter and further discussed his views about the lack of civility in today’s politics, which was a key point during his Bush eulogy.

“The letter itself is not an anti-Trump screed, it’s not this or that, but it mentions this cataclysm of things: the [special counsel Robert] Mueller report, the closing of the government, the fighting between the two houses,” he said. “Somebody’s got to settle down and do something as grown-ups, and we who signed the letter think it should be the U.S. Senate. We were there and we worked together.”

Simpson noted that he often collaborated on legislation with Democrats, including Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Glenn and Lloyd Bentsen. Can that same type of cooperation ever return?

“I look at the personalities and it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “When I was there you had Bob Dole working with George Mitchell or Tom Daschle. I was the Republican assistant leader and my colleague on the other side was Al Cranston, a progressive who ran for president on an anti-nuclear campaign. But he was a dear friend.

“We didn’t sit and harpoon each other and come out of a caucus and say, ‘We’re going to screw you.’ No, we’d sit down and say ‘I’ll tell you about our caucus.’ … There’s a reason for doing something and you have to find the real reason. That’s what these guys don’t do.”

Simpson doesn’t envy the position of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), the Senate minority leader. “He’s getting clobbered by the progressives, who think he’s too much of a wimp,” he explained. “Good grief, and then there’s [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, who’s just too tough — they don’t want to mess with him. If you want to get in a fight with McConnell, bring your lunch. He’s tough and he knows the game better than anybody else there now.”

Simpson may have officially retired from politics in 1996, when he decided not to run for a fourth term, but he’s still a fighter who is always ready to mix it up when necessary. He said he took his lumps when he and former Democratic Sen. Erskine Bowles co-chaired the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010 during President Barack Obama’s administration.

“We tried to talk about the solvency of Social Security, and they said ‘you bastards are trying to ruin it.’ And the unsustainability of health care — ‘you old bastards hate old people.’”

Simpson said the Social Security system is expected to pay out 23 percent less in benefits by 2034. “The health care system is also unsustainable. This is stupidity run amuck,” he said.

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He also gives a failing grade to the media for spending far too much time speculating on the 2020 presidential race instead of those two vital issues. “For God’s sake, if the media can’t direct us to the fire, then they ought to throw water on them too,” he said.

I’ve rarely known Simpson to be reticent to talk about any aspect of politics. But he stiff-armed my attempt to draw him into a discussion about why the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate are afraid to utter a word against Trump, no matter what crazy things the president does, like threatening to shut down the federal government over building a wall on the Mexican border.

“You’ll have to ask them,” he answered in a very un-Simpson-like response. But to be fair, it’s not his responsibility to explain why the current crop of senators, including Wyoming’s Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, are so beholden to a president who is the subject of myriad federal and state investigations and seems destined for impeachment at some point.

So on behalf of the many Wyoming residents who are wondering, I’ll use this forum to ask Enzi and Barrasso myself.

Why, honorable sirs, are you so steadfast in your support of Trump through every shameful debacle, lie and deceit? You represent the reddest of states. You hold a virtual lock on reelection for as long as you’d like to stay in Washington. Your silence about Trump’s obvious flaws as chief executive is baffling.

Behind the scenes, some Republicans are apparently willing to talk to their colleagues across the aisle about their misgivings. Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show last Thursday about what GOP senators say about Trump in the Capitol cloakroom, outgoing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) rattled off this summary:

“Nuts — weak — doesn’t really understand government, doesn’t care to understand anything complicated — asks and says the most unbelievable things in meetings — no intellectual curiosity.

“I think history down the line will judge members of the Republican Party who have silently looked down and thought they could just wait this out, without even speaking out about the level of lying that goes on,” McCaskill said.

Simpson may not want to address this issue directly, partly because he told me he’s tired of being asked about Trump by every journalist who sticks a microphone in his face.

But I’m not the only one who thinks his fond remembrance of his friend Bush, and how he represented the country, stands in sharp contrast with the current petulant White House occupant. Simpson called Bush a man of “such grace and humility,” adding that “those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

“[Bush] never hated anyone,” Simpson recalled at the service. “He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.”

I wouldn’t dream of putting words in the senator’s mouth or assigning a motive to what he says. But I wonder how anyone could have looked at the current president in the front pew that day and not seen a corroded container.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Perhaps the opportunity of the interview stoppeed you from hearing, and broke your judgment?
    Are you suggesting we conflate a man who gloats at pissing everyone off with a statesman? Are you suggesting that occasional flirting with his conscience somehow excuses a career of treating the work we entrusted him with as cheap material for gamesmanship?
    His potential was incredible. I keep thinking he’ll live up to it. Instead, he spends his time trying to convince us that he’s clever and witty.

  2. Dark money in Politics and the Media just doesn’t seem to be working well for anyone, except for shallow politicians and shallow opinion based journalism of both parties.

  3. I say with regret that Al Simpson shlould have followed his own councel and run for re-election to the Senate in 1996. He may have been irked at the time for becoming a pariah within his own party’s leadership when the Gingrich Cabal shoved him aside to install Trent Lott of Mississippi into his chair. But that was the precise moment when Al needed to cowboy up and stay on the Republican rodeo circuit. There was no way that Wyoming voters back home would not have reelected him. Instead we ended up with shoe salesman and green visored curmudgeon Mike Enzi , which has been counterproductive to put it politely. He could have run with outward integrity in 1996 without a milligram of compromising with himself.

    Nearly every word Al said eulogizing GHW Bush was rote to the ears of his Cody constituents and anyone who knows him east of here . George Sr. was no stranger to Cody, and his friendship with Al was wholly genuine and marvelous. Al could’ve spoke for a full hour and not used up his Bush lore stock. We’ve heard it for years in Cody. The rest of the nation needed to hear it for the good of the country in these dystopian times.

  4. Headline should be corrected. Since the letter was written to the Senate and not to Trump “grown-up” should have been “grown ups.”

    The Senate hasn’t worked in a bi-partisan way for a long time before Trump, yet the article puts the blame on him.

    Sorry I wasted my time following misleading headlines and pull quotes.

  5. Another great piece Kerry. McCain, Bush, and Simpson unfortunately may be the last of this nations great “Statesmen” Regardless of their political affiliations, and whether or not we agreed with their positions, we know they had the welfare of this nation in their hearts and minds. I think what we are seeing today in many elected officials is a reflection of our society. A terrible lack of integrity and selflessness. We do need to revere these great men. Keep up the good work.

  6. Thanks for your interview with Al Simpson! About his efforts to work across the aisle, I want to mention a Simpson quote that says it all, “If you can’t compromise, you can’t govern.”.. Just SEVEN WORDS…,How about that?

    I also want to thank him for all he’s done, and still does, for Wyoming, with the support of his wife Ann and brother, Pete. Since he’s been, supposedly ,”retired”, look at his work supporting the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum, and to develop the Heart Mountain detention center, He is always working in many ways to save Wyoming’s history, as well as that of his own ancestors,. In the area where I live he has served for over 30 years as Advisor to the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association and spend hours recently working on family pictures and information of the Peter Kooi family in the Sheridan library’s “Wyoming Room”. collections.

    And…working both for the State, and the nation, he has played a leading role in the efforts to rid our political systems of “dark money’ which he describes as a “number one problem our nation faces.”. And this is all just a once-over lightly. ..the guy never gives up and just barely even slows down.

  7. My sentiments exactly. Early in Trumps time in office, I would contact our Wyoming elected officials and ask them to stand up for Wyoming values. Simple things like honesty, integrity, working for the higher good of all.

    It was wasted effort as I would receive inane, illogical responses thanking me for supporting some nutty legislation that I had not even mentioned.

    Our elected members won’t meet with constituents who either, (a) are not significant campaign donors or (b) of their exact political ilk and philosophy. Appearing in photo shoots standing so close to Mc Connell’s rump that one can smell what he had for lunch isn’t inspiring behavior either. If only another Mr. Simpson, someone with a strong compass and vision for our future would arise and lead!

    In the meantime, Wyoming is relegated to second string representation.