STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of the retiring Democrats is Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who decided seven terms is enough. She spoke with A Martinez.
A MARTINEZ, BYLINE: So why retire now?
JACKIE SPEIER: I'm 71. I have a husband who retired a year and a half ago. And he turned to me the other day and he said, you know, I'm tired of having a weekend wife. And he has supported me during the 20 years of our marriage in one elective office or another. And so I recognized it was, you know, my turn to give back, so to speak. And that's why I'm retiring.
MARTINEZ: So it's your husband. Your constituents can squarely blame your husband for this.
SPEIER: (Laughter) Right. I hope they will. But, you know, as I pointed out when I announced, I am coming home. So I'm coming home to the people I've always represented. And I hope to find ways to continue to contribute to the community.
MARTINEZ: What did Speaker Pelosi say to you - if she said anything to you when you when you told her that you were looking to retire?
SPEIER: She says I'm shocked. I'm shocked. She really was kind of stunned that I was leaving. And I was grateful that she recognized that I had contributed and had the opportunity to contribute some more. But no one's indispensable. It's time to transfer the torch to a new generation of leaders.
MARTINEZ: Now, I read that one of the things you would do to fix Congress is to have a mandatory retirement age at 75. You mentioned that you're 71, so you're almost following your plan if you were to institute it somehow. How do you think, though, that would change things in Congress for the better and for the American people?
SPEIER: Certainly, wisdom is important and experience is valuable. There are other ways of looking at issues. And I think generations of young people get squeezed out of ever participating because members stay there for a very long time.
MARTINEZ: So by this rationale, Speaker Pelosi would have been gone six years ago.
SPEIER: Except there's an exception to every rule, and she is the exception to every rule because there's no question that she will go down in history as the greatest speaker ever to have served in that office.
MARTINEZ: You're one of 10 House Democrats deciding not to run in 2022. Are you worried at all that this is all but guaranteeing a Republican takeover of the House?
SPEIER: No, because lots can happen in six months or eight months. And certainly once the money starts moving and the jobs start being created - I mean, there's going to be 2 million jobs created per year by this legislation. Kids are going to be able to go to pre-K now - 50% of whom are not enrolled in pre-K are going to be able to go to pre-K now immediately. You're going to have a child tax credit into people's pockets every year - or at least for the next year, I should say. So, you know, the Republicans will continue to demonize what we're doing, but the truth of the matter is we're making life a whole lot better for the middle class. And we're dealing with kitchen table issues.
MARTINEZ: Is there enough time for the benefits, say, from these two bills to soak in and help Democrats in 2022? Time is short there.
SPEIER: Well, time is short. Some of the money will start to flow immediately. And we've got to do a good job of messaging what's in everybody's future.
MARTINEZ: Is that the No. 1 thing the Democratic Party needs to do over the next year to stay in control of the House?
SPEIER: Without a doubt. We've got to message a whole lot better than we have. Most people don't even know what's in the bill. I mean, imagine hearing aids that cost $3,000 to $4,000 - all of a sudden, you're going to have them covered. How about your insulin that you pay $1,000 a month that now is only going to have a copay of $35? Or how about the costs of your drugs that are going to start to come down? Those are big issues. So many of these issues that we have put into this particular build back better legislation in and of themselves as one bill would have been monumental.
MARTINEZ: But even you mentioned how people don't know what's in the bill. I mean, who needed to make sure that that wasn't the case, that Americans knew exactly what was in it or as close to exactly as possible so that they wouldn't be in the dark, so that Democrats and President Biden wouldn't have to go out on the trail to try and sell this thing almost after the fact?
SPEIER: Well, as they say, you know, legislating is making sausage. And parts of these bills were not crystallized until later in the process. So there's a lot to be said for the fact that it took so long because we do have a very solid product. And if we do a good job of messaging what's in it, I think the American people are going to say, yeah, this is really good.
MARTINEZ: Because with the right seasoning, sausage tastes great. I mean, it tastes great. It just seems like the seasoning hasn't been added to this sausage for Democrats.
SPEIER: Well, we just need to, you know, fry it up really well and make it available on every street corner and it will be.
MARTINEZ: Now, you started serving in Congress in 2008. That's when President Obama came into office. How do you think the Democratic Party has changed for the better and worse in the last 13 years?
SPEIER: Well, I don't know that the party has changed as much as the vitriol and polarization has grown exponentially. In many respects, we've always been the big tent party, and we continue to be the big tent party. And we have a lot of young talented people who have entered the arena since 2008 that I have great confidence in. But I think what's happened has been something that has really threatened the democracy. We can't afford to take this democracy for granted. And I think that there's a scorched-earth mentality out there among some that could really bring this democracy down.
MARTINEZ: What's the biggest thing that you hope to achieve in your last year of Congress?
SPEIER: I am going to make every day count. I have lots more work I want to do to support our military families, to deal with sexual assault on college campuses, in the military. I want to make sure that we deal with revenge porn. I want to make sure that our kids have a future. And I think creating an environment where equality is embraced is really a very important component of that.
MARTINEZ: Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you very much for taking the time.
SPEIER: It's great to be with you.
(SOUNDBITE OF OMER KLEIN'S "THE FLOWER AND THE SEED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.