We asked former U.S. Senate Majority Whip Alan Simpson 25 Questions about Politics, Service, and the Senate. Here are his answers.

We asked former U.S. Senate Majority Whip Alan Simpson 25 Questions about Politics, Service, and the Senate. Here are his answers.

U.S. Senate Majority Whip Alan Simpson, a Wyoming native and member of the Republican party, became a national leader at a time when members of Congress would frequently come together to discuss legislation. Partisan division still existed then, but Simpson and his Democratic colleagues could meet together for lunch, exchange opposing ideas, and negotiate on legislation—all without facing significant criticism or pushback.

Born into a politically active family, it was expected that Simpson would one day be a civil servant. From 1954 to 1956, Simpson served in the United States Army, touring in Germany with the 10th Infantry Regiment, Fifth Infantry Division, and 12th Armored Infantry Battalion, Second Armored Division. Later, Simpson was elected to the Wyoming State Legislature, where he spent more than ten years in the Wyoming House of Representatives before finally finding his calling: the United States Senate, where his father had served.

In 1979, Simpson was appointed to the Senate following the resignation of Senator Clifford Hansen. There, Simpson rose to power by chairing the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a number of subcommittees. His work in the Senate rewarded him kindly; from 1985 to 1995, Simpson rose the ranks, serving as Republican whip and eventually the Assistant Republican Leader in the Senate, with then Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

In the Senate, Simpson contributed to major legislation, such as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which made it illegal for American companies to employ undocumented immigrants. He chaired the Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee, the Social Security Subcommittee, and the Committee on Aging. After deciding not to seek re-election in 1996, Simpson taught at a number of universities and served as co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, under then President Barack Obama.

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To learn more about his service in the Senate, Eastside interviewed Senator Simpson—now 92 years old—covering topics ranging from his thoughts on the Ukraine-Russia War, border control and immigration, political division, government welfare programs, and his favorite ice cream flavor.

“Well [you can] ask anything you want, any pinpointed thing … I don’t believe in political correctness,” Simpson told Eastside.

During your time in the United States Congress, what was the partisan division like?

“I started out in the state legislature [of Wyoming], and I was in the minority. I learned my craft there. I couldn’t be an administrator, or governor, or someone like that. I loved how to legislate and I did the research, and I prepared my own bills for floor debate and conference committees. I tried to protect my bills from a veto from the governor.”

“Then I went to the U.S. Senate, and I went in with some very wonderful people. There were eleven Republicans and nine Democrats. We used to meet together for lunch.

And the Democrats would pick someone they favored on that day to address us and we would pick somebody of our party to do that as well. It was a different time, and it was a pleasant experience. It’s an embarrassment to me, as a former U.S. senator, to see the way today’s Congress handles their business. So tough to watch.”

“You can’t have six or eight people in a body of 435 people who are just stalling it out. It’s total obstruction. You can do that in the Senate. The rules of the Senate are to protect the minority. But they’re not to be misused as they do over in the House with what they’re doing with the Speaker by vacating the chair. I think the only chair they should vacate is Marjorie Greene.”

What do you think has led to the increase in partisan divide in recent years? 

“The House, for 40 years, was controlled by the Democrats. You can’t have a house with one party in a bicameral legislature because of the arrogance, the retribution, and the punishment that goes with that. If you’re a member of the minority for 40 years, you’ve never even got to be represented by a chairman.”

“So you go to the meetings, and you put in an amendment. It might be a good one. But you’re told you can just stuff it. I think they got tired of that over there. So they began to run for the Senate. Some of the abused members decided they wouldn’t be in the master-slave relationship for 40 years. So they came to the Senate and they brought the venom with them.”

“They’d come to the Senate and say, how come you’re talking to that guy over there with the Democrats? ‘Well, he’s a friend of mine, we have lunch.’ They were not used to that. That same bias and ideology [from the House] percolated through the Senate.”

Were there any times where your opinions changed about different policies?

“Well, surely you have to change [your ideas] by listening. And you have to be aware of what is happening to you when you enter into anything controversial. I was the assistant leader for ten years under Bob Dole. I chaired the Immigration and Refugee Committee, I chaired the Nuclear Regulation Committee, I chaired the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Social Security. Everything I dealt with had to do with emotions, fear, guilt, or racism. The only way you beat it back is to do your homework. And you can win by working your ass off. That’s how it works.”

You had a very long and impressive career in politics. What are you most proud of about your service to the country?

“I was in the military. I was in the Second Armored Division, the Hell on Wheels, in Germany at the end of World War Two. That is a proud thing. I wasn’t looking for the benefits. I just felt that it was the thing to do.”

“I think the proudest thing that I’ve done during the Senate and after, which I didn’t intend to have my name attached to, was the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill. Mazzoli was a Democrat in the House, and I was a Republican in the Senate. We decided to have joint hearings. We said, ‘Why should we have a hearing in the Senate covering the same things done in the House?’ So we went to the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, and said, ‘Why don’t we have joint hearings?’ He said, ‘Fine with me, I’d never even thought of it before.’ So anyway, I worked on that.”

“We worked on Nuclear Regulation and what to do with spent fuels. I put together bills that were of importance. The Montgomery Simpson G.I. Bill, I was part of that. You leave a little record behind. After I got out, President Obama appointed Erskine Bowles and me to the position of chair of the Committee of Responsible Budget, and we went to work and got a super majority.

“The committee consisted mostly of Republicans and Democrats. We had five Democrats, five Republicans, and one independent. We put out a publication called The Moment of Truth, which we’re still looking at. Everybody said it was great.  Now they’re talking about another report because the debt is consuming the assets of the United States.”

What do you remember from your time serving in the military in Germany?

“I served in the Second Armored Division called Hell on Wheels. We weren’t in combat, obviously. World War II had been over for 10 years. Our job was to protect the missile systems that were handed in to East Germany. At that point, the feeling was that the Russians would be coming down what was known as the Fulda Gap. So we were there to protect that area from attack or from disruption of the missile systems that we were protecting then. We weren’t in combat. The German people were very friendly. The Army was prepared and there were many of us over there in Germany at that time.”

What was your service like on the Nuclear Regulation Committee?

“On the Nuclear Regulation Committee, the question was what the hell can we do with spent fuel? You have maybe 30 reactors within 20 or 30 miles of the biggest cities in America and the spent fuel under 60 feet of demineralized water. If the water were to escape, or breach, that fuel would become really critical. It doesn’t mean it’s going to blow up, but it’ll begin to crackle. We had thought we would put it in Nevada. And they’ve already built that repository. And charging utility fees to build it for billions of bucks. And it’s just sitting there with all this sludge.”

What do you think about the Ukraine-Russia War?

“You’re playing with big time when almost every one of the NATO countries has some kind of nuclear capacity. It’s a dangerous time. But let’s talk about the issue of NATO and Russia. I mean, if anybody thinks that Putin is just gonna stop with Ukraine, have a drink on me. He’s gonna go for Poland. Yeah, he’s going to reconstitute as he said. I knew Gorbachev, I knew him very well. I have visited with Putin. Gorbachev did what he did to create peace in the world with Glasnost and Perestroika. That was when Putin really got his hair on the back of his neck. He said, that ‘[those policies] destroyed everything I’m trying to do to reconstitute the great days of Russia.’ He’ll do that by expanding out, invading all the countries and taking land… The world was asleep when Putin took over Crimea. He got away with that one, so he’ll keep expanding.”

What do you see as the role of the United States on the world stage?

“Well, you can’t be an isolationist. You can’t do that anymore. I mean, you got this nut in North Korea. I mean, this Kim Jong Un guy has his whole economy based on building weapons of mass destruction. His people are poor, church mice. They don’t have enough food or shelter. You got a whole nation in North Korea, a little guy who is playing Napoleon and he says ‘I can hit Yellowstone Park from here.’ If anybody pulls the trigger … if Putin does that if threatened, it will turn Russia into a nuclear sponge. Because NATO will say, ‘this guy ain’t kidding’ and let loose. And he’ll let his nuclear weapons loose. And there you have it. The Third World War will be fought with clubs.”

The United States Congress recently approved a bill to send a significant amount of money to some of our allies around the globe. What are your thoughts on that?

“It’s not something, you know, off the wall. The Senate approved it, the House approved it, and it went to Taiwan and went to Israel and it went to Ukraine. Putin’s a zealot. A zealot is a person who for the sake of his purpose will redouble his efforts. This guy makes Hitler look like his first cousin. I happen to remember Hitler. I’m that old. That’s what they said about Hitler. ‘Don’t bother Hitler. We shouldn’t be over in Germany. Well, he’s going to take over London, he’s going to take over England. Why should we get under that?’ Well, thank God the Americans came in and saved England through Churchill, and crushed Hitler, to a loss of 500,000 of our finest human beings and young men. You have to stay alert. There’s some pretty evil bastards in the world, and you better believe it. Among them is Kim Jong Un in North Korea, Putin, and then China. China has charged up and built on all those bases in the waters off Taiwan, and they’re not gonna stop if Taiwan could be right in their target. And they really say that America is not gonna do anything. We’ll take them out to Taiwan.”

“The Gaza situation is terrible. You know, the antisemitism, anti-Palestinian sentiment, it’s a terrible thing. But we don’t understand stuff like that too much in America. We’re gonna get used to it. If we’re going to go to tribalism, idealism, the far right, and the far left, we will pay our dues.”

What was your childhood like and how did it shape you? Were you interested in politics from a young age?

“Well, my father was a governor of Wyoming and my mother was the first lady of Wyoming. I thought ‘let’s see if that changes them.’ They were two beautiful people. He lived to be 93, and she lived to be 95. I had a brother who was 94, and I’m 92. You can’t love democracy and hate politics. Politics and democracy, our democracy are the same thing. My old man was tough, principled. He was not in favor of capital punishment. That was pretty rare in Wyoming, where they used to hang people in the trees quite frequently. So, it looked like an honorable profession to me. And then he later was defeated while running for reelection because of his stance on capital punishment. Then, he ran for the U.S. Senate and got elected. So I watched those two beautiful people handle all the ups and downs, the heartbreak, and the exhilaration of politics.”

Did you ever find your father’s signature in the halls of the U.S. Senate?

“I did. But I can’t remember who had the chair. I was #88 in the seniority, then I was elected to the assistant leadership, and I moved right down next to Bob Dole on the Republican side. So I moved from the original desk, down to the second in command right next to the podium. And I can’t remember, but I did sign my drawer. They even give you your chair.”

“I got paralyzed in that chair, it’s one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat in. Those are little things. There’s great tradition in the Senate. And there were some really remarkable people in both chambers. Robert Byrd is probably one of the finest parliamentarians that I’ve ever known. Ted Kennedy and I worked on a lot of stuff together, and he never broke his word with me. And nowadays, there’s no such thing as trust. Trust has disappeared. Trust was the coin of the realm. And that’s gone. That’s what makes the place turmoil.”

Looking back at your career, is there anything that you wish you had focused more on?

“Well, we did a bill called the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, and it was signed into law by then President Reagan. It had a more important name than that. It had to be bipartisan. I got it through the Senate with a vote of, I don’t know, 65 to 30, or something like that. And then it got to the House. And then came the raw emotion, because we had one sentence in that bill, which made it ineffective. It said, ‘we must have a more secure identifier.’”

“Well, they picked up on that. Grover Norquist from the right wingers and ACLU with the left wingers said, ‘you know what this is, don’t you? This is a national ID card.’ That was the end of that bill. Now, [Congress is] talking about retinal scans, and fingerprints for God’s sake. And now they’re talking about a Republican immigration bill. There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democrat immigration bill. It has to be dual quality. And now they’re using it as a club on each other: ‘build a wall or don’t build a wall’ or ‘don’t let them in’ or ‘don’t let them out.’ They’ve misused all the terms that we used when I worked on my bill.”

“There’s a hell of a lot of difference between an alien, or undocumented immigrant, and a refugee. They are totally two different things that you’ll see dovetailed in the same article. Refugees are pretty much fleeing their country based on race, religion, national origin, or a membership in an organization. That has nothing to do with an economic migrant.”

“You can’t fight stupidity. So you have to do your own homework, because other people are using some pretty wild things. I mean, if you ever go into politics just remember that an attack unanswered is an attack agreed to… Never let them distort who you are. You better tear him apart because you and the other people will believe it all.”

What do you see as the solution to immigration and coming together to create common sense legislation?

“Well, we called it legalization. The Democrats and Republicans who were doing the Simpson-Mazzoli called it legalization because if we used the word amnesty, then the red flag goes up just like with the national ID card. So you just have to get away from the flash words. ‘Or what are you gonna do with nuclear waste?’ Well, they might come back to life or it might eat through the bowels of the earth. ‘Or what are you going to do with veterans?’ There’s only 6% of us who were ever in combat. And hell, you see hundreds of thousands of veterans who never left camp Beetle Bailey … and they’re wearing caps like they were heroes of peace. And then we get in a lot of trouble with senior citizens. With Medicare, a guy could buy half of this town to get a heart operation for 250,000 bucks and never get a bill. What kind of crap is that? And you guys are going to pay the dues. And you will be called everything. You’ll be accused of hating seniors and wanting to blow up the world.”

What do you think are the top priorities facing the United States? Do you think that some of these issues are either blown out of proportion or are not focused on enough?

“They’re all blown out of proportion, because you’ve got congressmen of both parties, who will come back to their districts, whether left or right. Somebody will get up in the back and say, ‘what are you gonna do about Social Security? It’s gonna take a real cut in 2034.’ And the congressman will say, ‘oh well, we’re going to take care of that.’ [The person will respond,] ‘Well, thank you so much, we’re just so pleased to have you here today.’ Another person will say, ‘tell us what’ll happen to the Medicare Trust Fund in two years.’ And the congressman will answer, ‘well, we’re going to do a pretty good job.’ As long as people will believe that bullshit, the country’s in tough shape. Because they’re not talking about the biggest thing of all: the national debt, which will consume 125% of the gross profit of the United States and grow every year. It’s 40 trillion bucks. You can’t even count that. And so that’s the greatest threat to America. Not terrorism. It’s a form of bankruptcy. There’s so much truth to the fact that some have a lot and some don’t have anything. People who work two or three jobs on dope are turned alcoholic, they can’t make it with the inflation and hourly rate. Madness. It’s not science, it’s math.”

What do you think is the solution to preventing a total debt collapse? Do you think it would be cutting from some of the programs like Social Security and Medicare?

“Well, you don’t dare open that old box or then you’ll have your shorts torn off, you know. [Asking why we need to cut Social Security and Medicare] is like asking the guy that’s been arrested for bank robbery why he robbed a bank. He’ll say, ‘that’s where the money is.’”

“There’s a lot of creditors out there that are expecting to get paid. And they live in China, and they live all over the United States, and they want their money. You have to keep a sense of humor, because when the balloon goes up, and those two great systems, Medicare and Social Security, take their cuts, there’s nothing you could do about it. Because the Social Security system was set up so that if you can’t get the suggested benefit, you’re gonna get only the payable benefit.”

What do you think were the biggest personal challenges you faced during your time in Congress? 

“I’ve been married for seventy years on June 21. And wherever I went, my wife went. So I didn’t have to worry about those chicks running around, you know. Running around with a congressman. And that didn’t ever appeal to me. It does appeal to some, obviously. We have three wonderful children and they live here, and they’re successful as district judges, attorneys, and art gallery people and they’ve married beautiful people and we have grandchildren. We are totally blessed. I did a lot of divorce work when I practiced law and people would say ‘well, I love my wife, but I’ve got another love too. I love them both.’ I said, ‘Well, try it and see what happens.’ It didn’t work out very well.”

Are you hopeful about the future in our country? 

“Sure, because people are going to wake up. There are people out there of goodwill, who are really saying, when are we gonna get off of this kick that everybody with a ‘D’ behind their name is a woke bone and everybody with an ‘R’ behind their name is a neanderthal. As long as that goes on, and it will go on until people get damn sick of it, just decide to get out of the ruts on both sides and go right down the middle of the road.”

Are there any leaders throughout history that you look up to? 

“I worked with people who were very important. George H.W. Bush—I gave the eulogy at his service at the National Cathedral. Ronald Reagan, close friend. We’d go over to the White House and tell jokes at night. Those are good people. Jimmy Carter, still with us. Lovely man. I got along with Clinton and Obama. I don’t hate people. Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in. Mark that down. What you have now in one of these [presidential] candidates is a person who is filled with resentment, revenge, retribution, and hatred.”

You spoke about your relationships with former leaders. Do you still keep in contact with any of them?

“Oh, yes. I mean, with the Bushes. When my father left the U.S. Senate, he sold his home to a young man from Texas named George Herbert Walker Bush. I knew him all through the years. After we left the Senate, we traveled with him and had some wonderful times. Reagan was a special man and you know, this wasn’t just sitting around and loose talk. We had serious discussions about what we were going to do. The worst one for me were judicial appointments. I voted for a lot of them. It didn’t matter what party they were if they were competent attorneys. Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer, I didn’t have any trouble. Nowadays by God, you throw the Supreme Court judges out and the magpies go for the meat.”

What do you think about the upcoming election? 

“It’s gonna be wild. Throw in AI. Now, you can hook a guy’s head on a lizard and publish it in the paper, you know. I’m not electronically alert to all that stuff, but this is gonna be one sad son of a bitch. There will be a lot of bitterness, venom, lying, deception. Don’t think it’s going to be only one side. Once one side starts it, it’s never going to stop. And the American people are going to remain terribly confused.”

You served in the Senate with a young Joe Biden. What was that like?

“Joe was a great friend of mine. In fact, he conferred upon me the Presidential Medal of Freedom two years ago, and that was a great honor. I don’t know Trump at all. I never met him. I don’t care to vote for him. But the only time I saw him, I was in a cab in New York. He knew I was head of immigration. He recognized me and said, ‘Hey, Simpson, are you in that cab?’ and he said, ‘well get out, I’m gonna talk to you about immigration.’ He really wanted to know about it, because he had all those resorts and hotels. He wanted to know what we were going to do with non-citizens who were working there. And I said that we were going to legalize some of those people who were here in America before a certain date. And he was very interested in it. We were just talking on the street. But I knew what he was up to. He was just saying, ‘How do I protect myself?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got a national ID card. Put the maiden name of the mother on the back of the card. That’s pretty counterfeit proof.’”

We’d like to close things up here with a handful of fun questions. Do you have a favorite book?

“Oh, I love history. You know, that was what I always loved in Washington … People say, ‘a movie or a book changed my life.’ You will hear people say that. Remember what a bad one can do to your life too. It’s a two way street. But a history of Lincoln, I’m a powerful Lincoln devotee. I used to love the Lincoln day talks. You don’t even have those anymore. But you know books of my childhood, poetry, Robert Service, Mark Twain, and Will Rogers … But they’re not something you just tack on the wall of your locker; you live it. Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life, and no one has any humor anymore. If you’re humorous, you’ll say, ‘God, this must be a joke.’ And so humor has escaped us. It truly is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.”

We have one other question that we like to ask everyone we interview. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

“Well, if I told you, I was 170 pounds and looked like a spring bean, you’d say ‘what the hell is he eating ice cream for?” A little bit of Huckleberry ice cream. Or peach? That would be good. People don’t make that anymore. But no, I’m very fortunate. I sneak ice cream at night sometimes.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“Pay attention. Don’t fall into the trap of listening to emotions, fear, guilt or racism. Do not fall into that trap. Just say wait a minute now, ‘that’s not who I am.’ And when they distort who you are, fight back and fight with a fist.”

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