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Sen. Barbara Boxer On Staying Tough In Washington

June 23, 2016 1:34 p.m.

Sen. Barbara Boxer On Staying Tough in Washington


Sen. Barbara Boxer, author, "The Art of Tough"

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

A woman who has become a California political institution is retiring. And among the things she is leaving to posterity is her own advice on how to get important things done. Them a critic Senator member is called "The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life". It chronicles her journey from girlhood in Brooklyn to activist in Marin County to becoming one of the most powerful Senators in Washington, DC. Senator boxer joins us now. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.
You tell several stories in the book the Art of tough about the kind of bullying that takes place within the Senate, including a story of what happened when you were critical of Senator Bob Packwood who is accused of sexual harassment. And you felt the wrath after that of Mitch McConnell.
I felt the wrath of Abdul, Mitch McConnell, and all I wanted was to have a fair hearing. So that the women more than 20 of them could come before -- come forward and get on the record and explain what Bob Packwood had done to them. And I wouldn't give up, and I will tell you something, again, the art of tough kick in. People will shot -- try to shut you down. Mitch McConnell sent a message to my colleague and said if I continued, he was going to go after my colleagues on the Democratic side. I went up to him and I just said are you threatening me? And he said now, I am promising you. And it was pretty tough. And Bob Dole to to the floor and excoriated me and said I was a partisan. I wasn't being a partisan. I was trained to find justice for these women and I had luckily for me some wind at my back because a lot of my colleagues agreed with me, and so did the New York Times. They wrote a terrific editorial, and eventually Bob Packwood stepped down.
You are right, Mitch McConnell didn't talk to for 20 years?
We didn't talk to each other except for hi how are you goodbye. We did not work together for 20 years. I couldn't work with him because of what he had done in terms of threatening me, and he was so mad at me. So we really had no relationship until 2015. Just a year ago. When we are in a very strange circumstance. We were the only two people essentially who could rescue the Highway trust fund and keep the transportation programs going. And was 60,000 bridges structurally deficient and 50% of our roads not in good order, I think both of us decided to if you will forgive and come together. And we did. And it was the most miraculous thing. We got a great five-year bill done, and we made up and went out to dinner and I bought him a tie that had bridges all over it and he bought me a Kentucky slugger baseball bat. And it was a fascinating end of a relationship.
There is another instance where you talk about Bill Clinton giving you the big chill for a few years because there is a misunderstanding about then candidate rock Obama appearing at a fundraiser for you when Hillary Clinton was running for President as well. Did he speak to you for several years? Is that homeless people take take out their frustration Washington? They just refused to talk to each other?
In this case it wasn't refusing to talk to each other. It was just not really having a relationship for a couple of years because what happened was when Hillary and Barack ran against each other, she was like a sister to me. And he was like a son. And he couldn't choose so I stayed neutral. ]-right-square-bracket-right bracket promised to come to an event for my campaign. And I'm sure that Bill Clinton thought oh my goodness, I was helping brought really he was helping me. In that case. But look, I know he got really mad and he thought I was hurting Hillary. And I understand that because my husband still remembers the people that didn't support me in 1972. I am not kidding. Spouses take it really hard. And then after a while, we made up.
You said you're not leaving because you are frustrated with progress in the Senate but why are you leaving the Senate?
I want to come home to California. I want to work out of California. I will be working. I am not leaving the scene. I won't be running for office but I will be helping a lot of other people get elected. I will be giving advice when asked, I will be giving speeches and hope to work very much to empower young women and men who want a career in politics. Teach them what I've learned over all these years. The nine rules of the out of -- art of tough. So I am leaving with a full heart. In the knowledge that a strong Democratic women -- woman will replace me in the United States Senate. Excited about that. And also knowing that there are summoning wonderful Senators that care about the issues that lie deep in my heart. Like a clean and healthy environment. Making sure we can reduce the ravages of climate change. Working for peace in the world, for women's equality against income inequality and for an increase in the minimum wage. I leave people here who are really dedicated to that.
Senator, a couple of quick questions if I may. Will you be endorsing either of those two strong women who are going to be taking your Senate seat? Pamela Harris or Loretta Sanchez?
At this point I have decided not to take a stand. They are both my good friends. They have helped me throw my career. But I have stated if anyone gets out there and starts to come out with views that were run counter to a progressive vision for our great state and our people, I will get involved. But at this point I am standing back.
Lastly, one of the art of tough guidelines you have in your book is to sing. What does that do for you?
What I point out is in the world in which most of us live which is full of tension and difficulty and aggravation, as well as occasional joy, you have to have a sense of humor and mine plays out through my interest in writing lyrics to songs. Or writing little limericks. I actually have used to alter the years I've been in Congress. They are not only the book but a lot of them are. You can see a history of our country and I use it as a way to get rid of some frustration and I actually had one great outcome where when I got to the house of Representatives in the 80s, the women couldn't use the gym and so I wrote a song, can everybody used to her gym to the tune of five for two Isa blue and I got to female colleagues to sing it with me and to make a long story short we sang it for the caucus, and they let us use the gym. That was one great story. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to end wars or address climate change, no matter how me words I wrote. But that one was successful.
Thank you. I've been speaking with US Senator Barbara boxer. Her memoir is called the art of tough. Fearlessly facing politics in life. "The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life". She will be in San Diego at the Sherwood auditorium in La Jolla. Thank you so much.
That's for having me on.
You can listen to our full interview with more on how she stood up to verbal abuse online at KPBS .org.