I spent some time this morning watching the Senate confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of State, and it took me down a path to my past.
Sitting at the front table with Tillerson was Sam Nunn, former U.S. Senator (D-GA), and Bob Gates, former Secretary of Defense, head of the CIA and probably a lot of other National Intelligence entities I neglect to mention.
My knowledge of both those gentlemen (Nunn and Gates) dates back to the early 1990s when I was a research assistant on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I was a young, naive and politically passionate twenty something year old out to save the world. Senator Nunn was a member of the Intelligence Committee and served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was also a very close friend of my boss, David Boren,(D-OK), Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. They worked closely together as did their staff.
Let me just say, I have the utmost respect for Senator Nunn. Total class act. His wise words before the committee this morning reminded me of how much I loved working on that secret committee years ago. He always asked the best questions in the closed hearings of the Intelligence Committee, and with a gracious demeanor and subtle southern accent to boot.
I learned so very much about the world from these people, but also about how Washington and politics worked. Sure, there was political posturing and partisanship up on the Hill-even in those days. But when it came to the nation’s safety and security, they worked together to find the common ground.
My memories of Bob Gates are a little more specific. At the time, Gates was being confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee to head the CIA, and many conjured that his confirmation was going to be controversial. The Senate was controlled by the Democrats and Gates was a Republican – nominated by a Republican President (George H.W. Bush). You can imagine there would be hearings, not just to confirm, but to question his qualifications.
My boss, along with Senator Nunn, seemed to want no part in politicizing the process and both were resolute in their belief that Gates was more than qualified for the job, maybe even the best person for the job. As a young and admittedly partisan Senate staffer, I was skeptical.
I attended those hearings, taking notes, doing my job and watching those two men skillfully and briliantly navigate such an important national security confirmation process. I think my parents even have a tape somewhere in their basement of the CNN broadcast that showed me sitting behind the members in my role as a staffer. I should really try to find that sometime just for fun or, to show my children what a VHS tape looks like.
What I particularly remember was the loyalty I felt toward my boss, David Boren. He came under some fire for his desire to confirm Bob Gates for no other reason than they were on opposite sides of the political aisle. His most notable opposition came from the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Dave McCurdy, a fellow Democrat also from Oklahoma. In an attempt to derail the process, McCurdy wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post questioning Boren and his support of Gates. The inflammatory piece landed the day of the hearings.
Boren appeared to pay minimal attention, if any, to this back stabbing by a fellow Oklahoman and proceeded to chair the hearing with his concise and skilled leadership. I was so proud to be a member on his staff that day – never mind the life lessons I learned throughout the process.
Fast forward to 2014, I had a unique opportunity to meet Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, the same Corker who has been presiding over the Tillerson hearings today as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I was in town for a conference with American Mothers, and went to the Hill to have a photo op with the National Mother of the Year, (pictured in white below) who happened to be from Corker’s home state.
He is an impressive individual and possesses a great knowledge of world affairs. He also has some cool art in his Senate office.
We seized an opportunity to chat with him about his efforts and legislation to combat human trafficking, an area he is very engaged in, and how our organization has been involved with same. If you care about this issue – he’s your guy!
So, naturally when I turned on the TV this morning and saw all three of these men in one room talking about national security… it kind of felt like old home week on Hill. “Old” being the key word here. 🙂