Introduction by Fr. Frank: Is the Church getting tougher on pro-abortion
politicians? And are you? Join us now for this and more on Defending Life.
Fr. Frank: Hello, I'm Fr. Frank Pavone from Priests for Life and welcome
once again to our Defending Life Program. I'm joined today by Connie Marshner,
president of the American Catholic Council. I've worked with Connie for the past
10 years in Washington, DC on various pro-life efforts. Connie, welcome to the
Connie Marshner: Thank you, it's great to be here.
FF: We have a lot of viewers out there who are pretty frustrated with the
political and legislative process and of course we ourselves often talk about
how those that we put in office have betrayed the very purpose of government
when they fail to defend the most innocent and vulnerable human lives.
What we want to talk about today is to give people a sense of what
politics is. What the legislative process is like. To step back a little bit and
say let's understand this process better so that understanding it better, we can
be more encouraged about how we can make a difference. So tell us what is
politics all about?
CM: I'll tell you what politics is all about. Politics is all about power.
It's not about persuasion although that's a step toward it. It's about power.
Pro-lifers sometimes think if their Congressman or State Senator returns their
phone call or gives them an appointment to see them that they've got it made.
That's not power. That's access. It's easily confused. Power is when they've had
the visit with the Congressman, with the Legislator and they leave and they
exchange pleasantries and after they've walked out the door the Politician sits
there and says "I better do what they want me to because otherwise they could
get me unelected." That's power.
Politicians...you have the saints and you have the sinners. This is not good
theology this is good politics. You've got the people who are always going to do
the right things for the right reasons. Paragons of virtue. Jessie Helms comes
to mind, Rick Santorum, Senator Brownback. They're always going to vote pro-life
no matter what. And you've got the opposite number, the real sinners. Hillary
Clinton comes to mind, Senator Schumer. They're always going to do the wrong
thing. But most of any elected body are in the mushy middle and they really
don't have convictions and they can be persuaded to vote this way and they can
be persuaded to vote that way.
So the question is, what persuades them? It's very easy. Politicians
understand pleasure and pain and there's one thing that every politician has in
common and when the pro-life movement can figure out how to connect our issue to
their concerns, we'll start winning. And their interests are very simple:
re-election, re-election and re-election. When we can link the pro-life issue
with the re-elections chances of a politician then they will take us seriously.
We haven't succeeded in doing that.
We are still so naive that pro-lifers go into a Legislator and they talk
about the humanity of the unborn and they give pages and pages of documentation
and medical evidence and scientific evidence. All that's great but you know
what, it's naive to think that's going to control how they vote. Very few of
them vote on principle. When you're sitting there giving them all this
information, they're sitting there thinking, "click, click, click, click, how
many votes do they control? How many people do they control back home who can
turn out and unelect me next time around?"
FF: They could be sitting there and saying, "yes this person is right and
all these facts are fact but that's not what's relevant to me at this point."
CM: That's exactly it.
FF: "Who can these people influence? Who can they get to the poles, who
can they not get to the polls?"
CM: How do we communicate that to a legislator? Very simply. When there's a
vote coming up - if they get one phone call from our side and they get ten phone
calls from the Planned Parenthood side, it's an easy choice. After all, we're
talking about the mushy middle here. Put their finger in the wind. Which way is
the wind blowing? That's the way I'll go." Well, we're not matching them. We are
not matching them. When these judicial nominations are coming up, when
legislative matters come up, when pro-life bills are up, they sit and they wait.
They wait for the phone to ring. They wait for the e-mails to come. They wait
for the US mail to come. They wait for the home office to call in its daily
report of what's going on in the district. And what do they hear from the
pro-life side? Silence. Far, far too many districts, far too many cases they
hear silence because our people are not organized, our people are not turning
out, they're not activated. They're convicted. Pro-lifers believe intensely. But
we're not out there doing the things that we have to do in a representative
government to get your voice heard.
FF: It's almost like we're so focused on the issue and necessarily so. It
consumes us. It's crystal clear to us and we become more and more immersed in
the issue and how to articulate it and you're saying we have to broaden the
scope here of what we're looking at. There are other dynamics in place here
aside from the truth of the issue and the power of the people.
CM: Absolutely, absolutely. We have to put ourselves in the position of the
politicians and say, "What are they concerned about? How can we link our issue
to their future?"
FF: What are some of the ways of thinking now, on the grassroots level,
that people that are watching us now that want to make the difference need to
start change? We have to change the fabric of our own thinking. What are some of
the specific ways?
CM: Well, let me challenge everyone who is watching us to a question. When
was the last time you picked up the telephone and called an elected
representative to lobby them on anything? When was the last time you wrote a
letter to a Legislator? Do you even know the names of your State Legislators and
of your Federal Legislators? I've had people tell me, "Oh yeah, he's from that
county and we elected him and he's a Congressman. He's in the State Capital."
That's not a Congressman, that's a State Representative. Most states have
a House and a Senate - upper chamber and lower chamber. The Senate is the upper
chamber. That means that most people have a State Legislator, a State
Representative and a State Senator. Then everybody has a US Congressman. He goes
to Washington. Everybody has two US Senators. They go to Washington. Right
there, that's five people. You should have their names, their addresses, their
e-mails, their phone numbers on your refrigerator for easy reference.
FF: How would they find that out if they don't have that information?
CM: You can go to the public library and get it. You can go to the web and
get it. They probably are sending you stuff periodically in the mail because
they want your vote. That stuff is public information, it is no secret. You
should have it and you should call. You pay their salaries so you have a right
to communicate with them.
FF: I think the next question a lot of people would have is - if I have
these people's phone numbers on my refrigerator how do I know when I need to
contact them and how do I know what I need to tell them to do?
CM: That depends on the issue. Watching EWTN you probably hear when there is
a big vote coming up or a big piece of legislation. Most everybody is on
somebody's e-mail list who's an activist - who is watching our show here today.
They're an activist of some kind. They get e-mail lists, they get newsletters,
they're subscribed to different things. There are so many good groups out there
that are giving the information in a timely fashion. Listen to talk radio,
reading the newspaper. When you hear that there is a fight in the US Senate over
a nomination of so and so to such and such judgeship and the Senate is going to
have to vote on it, don't just say "Oh, isn't that interesting." Say, "I wonder
how my Senators are going to vote on that nominee? Do I like that nominee? I do.
Well, I don't want to leave it up to chance whether or not my Senator is going
to vote for that confirmation, for that appointment. I'm going to call my
Senators and tell them how I want them to vote."
You know there's a rule on Capital Hill, Father. For every single phone call
they get in a large Senate office they assume there were 100 people who felt the
same way but didn't call. So when people say, " Oh it doesn't make any
difference, I just get the receptionist." Yes, of course you get the
receptionist but you know what? She's sitting there with a log book and she's
writing down your name and your zip code because they want to make sure you vote
for them. What you say, they do keep track of it. "Oh it doesn't do any good, I
just get a form letter back." Yeah, you get a form letter but guess what? If you
got the form letter that means you got logged into the computer, you were a
constituent contact and your contact was logged and they know. And when the vote
comes up the Legislator is going to say to his staff, "check the log for me."
"Tell me what the mail is on this." There is a person in the office whose job it
is to keep track of all that and say "well we had 275 for and 350 against." And
they'll say "well, my constituents want me to vote against this so let's push it
in that direction." We are winning nothing at that level. We are losing that
fight. Because time after time after time the constituent contacts are coming
from the other side.
A word if I may about effective contact. Pre-printed postcards are the least
effective constituent contact. Everybody knows that it's easy to sign a post
card. Oh, they're not the least effective. The least effective is a signed
petition. What's effective: a personal visit. Ask for a personal visit is
the most effective.
The next most effective is contacting by phone or in person the local office.
Every politician in Washington has a local office. You live in a Congressional
District. The Congressional District may have one or may have several offices.
They all have staff. That staff usually does nothing except handle social
security questions and veterans benefits and things like that. If a constituent
shows up on their front door and says, "I want to talk about this pro-life bill
in Congress," the staff thinks the sky is falling. And they think, " Oh my gosh,
people are really concerned about this." And they get on the phone to Washington
and they say, "You better decide what you're going to do about this because the
constituents are really upset." And then action happens.
So visiting the local office if you can't visit Washington, telephone calls,
e-mails. For Washington, e-mails now a days are better than US mail because they
still are having to do the disinfecting of the mail and all that and that's
going to go on for probably a long time. So e-mails really are read in
Washington. So that's the effective contact.
Don't expect to have a long conversation, don't expect to change their mind,
don't expect to give them a philosophical lesson, a biological lesson. You just
say, "I vote for you, I'm a registered voter, I live in your district and I want
you to vote this way."
FF: Yes, I think sometimes what holds back a lot of people from calling
their representatives and saying "Please vote for this bill" is that they feel
they don't know enough about the bill, about the reasons for it, the reasons
against it. You're saying they don't have to enter into that whole argument or
explanation. They just have to say.... it's like raising your hand - "I'm here,
CM: Very well said. Very well said. You are not writing a dissertation.
You're just connecting your issue and their future. It's a numbers game. Enough
contact from our side is what they're needing.
FF: A brief lesson about how a bill comes up in the first place, how it
comes into law. I think if people go back - this is like going back to eighth
grade social studies - but it's important for us to remind ourselves of this
otherwise we forget how much of a role we can play..
CM: Absolutely. The sixth grade civic text books are still pretty good but
there is a lot that they don't tell you. In order to get a bill.... before it
comes for a vote, you have usually a two-year process that begins with a vision.
The vision can be that of a elected representative or it can be a vision of his
constituents who goes to him and says "Senator, I'll support you in your
election next fall if you promise me that after you're elected you will
introduce this bill." Many things come about because a constituent at the
campaign level, before the guy is even in office gets a pledge that "I'll take
that bill under my wing." That's the first step. You get somebody willing to
carry the bill.
Then, he gets elected, you come back to him, knock on the door, "I helped you
get elected, remember you promised me you'd introduce this. Here it is." Now
they've got to draft the bill. That's a very delicate process because you've got
a legislative counsel and lawyers who want to tinker with it and it's got to fit
somewhere at the federal level into the federal code, the US code and at the
state level, into the state code. You need your own lawyer who can advise you on
whether the way they are writing this proposal is what you really want. That can
be tricky and time consuming.
Your go through that hurdle. You get the bill written. Then your sponsor
takes it to the floor and says, "I'm introducing this bill today." That's called
"putting it in the hopper."
Now what happens then? It gets referred to a committee. Depending on what the
bill has in it it can be referred to a committee that's going to kill it or
that's going to want to pass it.. That's where politics comes in. Politics has
been in it all along but there is another level of politics here because what
committee it gets referred to. You should know what committee you want it
referred to. You should know that based upon what the content is. If it's got
anything that can be connected to education and depending on whose on the
In Washington there are sub-committees. Umpteen different subcommittees.
Which subcommittee do you want it to go to? If you've got a friend who's a
chairman on this subcommittee maybe that's where you want the bill to be sent
even though content wise you could make a case it should go to this
subcommittee. You want to go where your friends are so you get it referred to
the right subcommittee. The right subcommittee can pass it to the committee.
They have to meet and discuss it and say "OK, we'll vote this out to the full
committee." Then the full committee has to meet. Then the full committee says
either, "we'll pass it out or we'll kill it" or they may just never get around
to it. That's where the staff is important. Because the staff basically gives
orders to the politician. "We want to pass this, we want to kill this, here's
the information you need. Here's what you want to have in the hearing." The
staff does all the work.
If you know people who have college age kids who are looking for careers urge
them to be staffers on Capitol Hill because there is such a crying need for
pro-life, godly staffers. It's a great career beginning. Many people go from
there to well paid positions in lots of fields. It's an important thing to do.
Make friends with the staff.
FF: People feel, " Oh I just talk with staffers so they think that's not
CM: On the contrary. It probably is better than talking to the elected
representative. Because the elected representative has 10,000 things on their
mind. The staffer has only 2,000 things on their mind. So if you talk to the
staff it's more likely to have consequences.
So, subcommittee level, committee level then the committee assuming they pass
it of course. All this can take a long time and every step of the way there is
room for influence. Hearing - you have to trot out your best witnesses. Phone
calls of persuasion. Letters of persuasion. You can lobby an elected
representative to vote a bill out of committee. That's perfectly legitimate. So
finally the Committee votes to send it to the floor and the floor will schedule
it for some point in the future or maybe they won't schedule it.
FF: So the floor, now you are talking about the whole House of
Representatives and the whole Senate voting on that.
CM: Right, or comparable bodies at the state level. And then they vote on it.
Again it may take months to vote on it. It may be part of a deal. There is a lot
of horse-trading. "Well, I really want this bill on dams." "Well, I really want
this pro-life bill passed." "Well, I'll tell you what, if you vote for my dam,
I'll vote for your pro-life bill."
FF: A lot of that goes on, and connected with that, tell us a little bit
about the idea of how sometimes a particular provision can be passed because
it's attached to a bill which is talking about something completely different.
CM: And that happens. Suppose I'm the politician whose got the constituency
who are saying "get this pro-life bill out. Get this pro-life bill out. We want
this pro-life bill. We want this pro-life bill." Now I'm a politician who has to
work on this bill. I have constituents and I have to make them happy. You're
trying to get the dam passed. Now I would forget about that pro-life bill except
that I keep being reminded by my constituents. That's the first place we fail.
We don't keep reminding them. So you're working on your dam and you come to me
and say, "Listen, I really need your vote on my dam." If I am on top of things
I'll say "I don't have any objection to that dam but I really need some help
from you in return. I want to add this provision giving these grants to these
crisis pregnancy centers, will you help me out on that? Maybe your bill has a
section that has some - because after all you're going to be acquiring new land
to build your dam - so maybe there is some little welfare provision and my plan
here for helping CPC's would help reduce unemployment. That's a connection to
welfare. So you have that welfare clause in your bill so how about if we just
attach this to your bill and then you and I make a deal. We agree to attach it.
You go to your committee. I go to my committee. At the floor we both say, yes,
I'll support that motion."
That's how stuff happens. There's nothing dirty about that. There's nothing
shameful about that. There's nothing secretive about it except that people don't
talk about it. They don't ask the right questions. That's the nature of the
business. It's a perfectly honest and honorable way of doing business. The
framers of our Constitution in the Federalist Papers wrote about this process
because that's how it's supposed to work. The people are supposed to communicate
their needs to their elected representatives. That's all we're doing.
FF: To summarize what you're saying here - if we don't communicate with
our elected officials, we have abandoned our own opportunity to govern
CM: And then we have no right to complain when they don't do what we want
them to do -- if we didn't tell them what we wanted them to do in a way that
they would understand. It's like everybody says, how can my kids rebel, don't
they know I love them? Well, actually no, they don't know you love them. The
same things with politicians. "How can they do this, don't they know how we
care?" No, they don't because you can't over communicate with politicians and
right now the pro-life movement desperately under communicates.
FF: Well I want to thank you for everything that you have done to alert
people - really across the country - to this opportunity they have, this
obligation they have. The Church has written about this, the Church has taught
about this actually for centuries. That when we have a representative form of
government our faith itself impels us to be involved. One of my favorite lines
from what our own Bishops have written says, "we are not a sect fleeing the
world but rather a community of faith called to renew the earth." It's our
prayer that our reflections here will help many of our viewers to take on that
Thanks very much Connie. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for joining us. God