Return to Transcripts main page
Inside the Private World of the White House; Interview with Barney Frank. Aired 9:00-10a ET
Aired April 11, 2015 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.
The worst kept political secret is about to be revealed. Hillary Clinton is running for president and now we're learning more details about her plans to make it official. She'll jump into the race tomorrow with a video message on social media.
The video has already been shot and the first campaign stops, they're already planned. Clinton will be the first Democrat to officially declare candidacy. The pollsters have already been very busy.
Let's bring in CNN chief national correspondent and host of "INSIDE POLITICS," John King. John, it's early. But who among the GOP field is polling the strongest against Hillary Clinton?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's look at that question. And the answer is Rand Paul, Michael. Let me bring this up to show you. We asked this question last week. Rand Paul is polling the closest. But he is 11 points behind her. Now we always say in presidential politics ignore the national polls because we do state by state electoral college. But if a candidate has a 10, 11, 12-point lead then you do pay attention.
You're right, it's very early. But look at this for Republicans. Rand Paul is closest, he's down 11 points. She beats Marco Rubio by 13, Mike Huckabee by 14, Jeb Bush by 15, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Ben Carlson. So Hillary Clinton, interest is quite formidable. Very, very early but assuming she is the democratic nominee, the Republicans have some work to do. That's nationally.
I will show you just a couple of other quick polls. In Colorado at the moment though, recent Quinnipiac poll actually shows Rand Paul within the margin of error but he beats her there, and in the state of Iowa, another state that's gone blue in recent presidential elections. They're in a tie there. So at the moment, Rand Paul has some issues with the Republican field. One thing he can say is "I run the best against Hillary right now."
SMERCONISH: You know, John, part of me thinks we could run this race tomorrow and get the same result that we will ultimately get in November of 2016. Because there seemed to be so few undecideds when the subject matter is Secretary Clinton.
KING: Everybody thinks they know Hillary Clinton. Mike, that's part of the challenge for her campaign. Look, there's nobody close to her who is thinking about running for the Democratic nomination. We just showed you she's formidable, double-digit lead against any Republican right now. But that doesn't mean - look, the Republicans are going to spend a lot of money attacking her, they're going to run after her from the get go, they're going to go after her record as secretary of state, Benghazi, et cetera.
People do think they know her. The question is let's see in six months if Republicans can change her identity for the worst or if she can fortify her reputation for the better.
SMERCONISH: You've got my home state of Pennsylvania shaded blue as a result of what transpired in 2012. No Republican running for president has won the commonwealth of Pennsylvania since George Herbert Walker Bush did in '88 and yet every Republican candidate still thinks that, you know, he or she is the one who can win it. Your thoughts on P.A.?
KING: Let me bring up another map to talk about that. Look, I've covered - the Romney campaign - they early on thought they might win P.A. Let's switch the electoral map. This is what I call the blue wall. This is the last six presidential elections. Any state shaded in blue. Your home state of Pennsylvania is one of them in the last six presidential elections has voted for the Democrats. George W. Bush won in Pennsylvania bad twice. I remember it very closely, talking to him specific about why he thought he could win it. The Romney campaign thought he might win it. McCain tried for a little bit.
But for six presidential elections since the Dukakis campaign, this has gone blue. So have all these other states. That's the great Democratic/potentially Hillary Clinton advantage, Michael. 242 electoral votes in these states that are blue for six straight presidential elections. If the Republicans can't change any of the blue, all Hillary Clinton or any Democrat would have to do is just win Florida.
If you only win Florida that leaves Virginia on the board, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada. So the advantage used to be when I was starting in politics, the Republicans had an advantage in the electoral college. Right now, because of Pennsylvania and some other big blue states, the Democrats do.
SMERCONISH: All right. Final question, John King, it is election night. 2016. You're on that same set. You're there with Wolf Blitzer, you're there with Jake Tapper. If I play my cards right, I might be on the panel.
KING: You'll be right here.
SMERCONISH: Myself. What is the one state that John King would say tell me how it turns out and so will go the nation?
KING: Well, the easy answer is Ohio. Because Republicans have never won the presidency without Ohio. But I won't come to work that night unless they bring you down, Michael. That's my promise to you tonight. I will say this. I would say one of the states with the big Latino population. We could say Florida, Nevada or New Mexico. If Republicans cannot improve their standing among non-white voters - I know you asked for one. If it's a big state it would be Florida, if you want a smaller swing state it would be Nevada or New Mexico. If the Republicans forget who is running, forget whether it's Hillary Clinton or anyone else as the democratic nominee, Mickey Mouse is the democratic nominee will win unless the Republicans improve their standing among non-white voters. So I would watch one of the states with a growing Latino population.
SMERCONISH: John King, thank you as always.
KING: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Let's bring in one of the preeminent journalists of our time. Carl Bernstein wrote a book about Hillary Clinton a few years back called "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
I want to talk to you about her relationship with the media. I took note of staff that her chief of staff, John Podesta invited journalists into his home this week, cooked them a meal I think on Thursday night. Is that part of a typical roll out or does she have a problem?
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR "THE LIFE OF HILLARY": Of course she's got a problem. Look, she's going to be running against the press and the press is going to be running against her. The press is probably her biggest impediment.
SMERCONISH: Why do you say that?
BERNSTEIN: Because if she wins the nomination, she will have defeated those candidates. The press is still going to be there. The press is very cantankerous with her they can be thoughtless. Occasionally, they can be very thoughtful. There's been a lot of bad reporting on Hillary Clinton and there's been a lot of good reporting on Hillary Clinton. She has little respect for most of the, "mainstream media" and with some reason.
SMERCONISH: Conservatives right now are falling off their sofas, they're saying, "wait a minute, Carl Bernstein is saying they," as they would put it, "lame-stream media is going to go rough on her? She's their candidate."
BERNSTEIN: First of all, that's not true. Look everybody loves a good story. The problem about our politics and our political coverage is it doesn't go deep enough generally. It doesn't go deep enough into the issues, doesn't go deep enough into the real character of the candidates. I would hope that people would read, including fellow colleagues in the media, "A Woman in Charge" to learn about Hillary Clinton's whole life. Learn about her childhood. Learn about her father. Learn about her period as the wife of the governor of Arkansas. Learn about her time in the State Department. Really go into it, beyond Benghazi.
This is a woman with a full record that needs to be looked at and not through the lens of conventional Washington or journalistic wisdom.
SMERCONISH: If she doesn't have a primary opponent, does the role of the media change? Does it become incumbent?
BERNSTEIN: There is going to be a primary opponent. I would not dismiss anything because she is a lightning rod. Who knows what the hell is going to happen. Could O'Malley beat her? Who knows? Could Lincoln Chaffey beat her? They're long shots but the fact remains it's going to be interesting and they're going to be going after her.
The other thing is the real issue that she is going to try and race in this campaign are the Republicans. What do they represent? Most of the people in this country agree with her on most of the issues. And that includes in the key states where - that she needs to win.
Polls don't mean anything. They're just snapshots. We're still a long ways out. But she's got a lot going for her in terms of the general election and also the conduct of the Republicans over the last eight years. That's going to be a big issue that the Democrats, in particular Hillary Clinton, is going to make the centerpiece of her campaign.
SMERCONISH: In your book "A Woman in Charge" you said that she and President Clinton share a symbiotic relationship, that they make each other whole. Is that politically speaking, personally speaking or both?
BERNSTEIN: I think all together. I think despite everything that's happened, this is a lifetime love affair between two people. They have shared their aspirations, their dreams, their hopes. Look, theirs was a co-presidency.
The Clinton presidency was a co-presidency. She is the essential part of his process and he is the essential part of her process. If she wins this election, it will be, to some extent, another co-presidency. He is going to figure in it. And he is brilliant at many, many things, including policy.
So we have to factor him into the equation. This is a very unusual election in every regard, particularly if Jeb Bush were to become the nominee. And his conduct as governor and his brother as president become issues. So you end up with these two, "dynastic notions in opposition."
SMERCONISH: In your biography of her, you portrayed her as being funny, spontaneous and enthusiastic. That's not the version of Secretary Clinton that many watching will say they've seen on the campaign trail or while governing. Are we going to see a different, the type you wrote about, candidate in this cycle?
BERNSTEIN: I think that the way she is in private is very difficult for her to accomplish in public. She's never been able to do it. She's never been able to really project that comfort and warmth. We haven't seen it yet. Perhaps she'll be able to this time around. I don't know.
And many of her friends say if only she would be herself, and we would see her. The other real question about her candidacy is, as I put it at the end of "A Woman in Charge" her difficult relationship to the truth. And this is - SMERCONISH: What does that mean, her difficult relationship with the truth?
BERNSTEIN: Meaning the things that have been hammered at her about obfuscation, about being on the tarmac and facing unfriendly fire when she didn't, et cetera, et cetera, about the e-mails, et cetera. It's a question, though, that you also need to look at the viciousness of her opponents and why she might not want to open everything up.
So, again, I think that one of the things that we need to do in the press this election cycle is to really look deep. Let's really look at the whole life and why she acts the way she does. If you don't like the way she acts, fine. But look at the reasons behind it. Same with the other candidates. I think we've got to get beyond conventional reporting in this election cycle.
SMERCONISH: Are we going to be hearing about Whitewater again? Are we going to be hearing about Monica Lewinsky again, Travelgate?
BERNSTEIN: Look, first of all, let's look at Whitewater which the stupid thing that the Clintons did was, indeed - there was nothing there. There was absolutely nothing there.
SMERCONISH: Has there been a Watergate since Watergate?
SMERCONISH: Nothing that compares?
BERNSTEIN: Watergate was about a criminal president of the United States whose criminality began in the first days of his administration and extended until his resignation. You hear him on the tapes, President Nixon saying "I know this would be illegal, setting up an illegal mechanism for wiretapping and burglary, et cetera," in the first days of his presidency. But he goes ahead and does it until J. Edgar Hoover tells him he can't do it. That persisted, that illegality and criminality. There's never been anything like it. Hopefully, there won't be again.
SMERCONISH: Carl Bernstein, thank you so much for being here.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, dash cam video from the police shooting in South Carolina is raising even more questions about the events leading up to the fatal encounter. Including the question should officers be pulling people over for broken taillights?
I'll speak to the man joining forces with the White House to change policing in the minority communities.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back.
By now you've seen the tragic video of the white police officer shooting an unarmed black man in South Carolina. The cell phone video, no doubt, played a significant role in a decision by authorities to swiftly charge Officer Michael Slager with murder.
Now the release of the dash cam video has raised even more questions about exactly what happened before the fatal shooting.
Joining me now is Charles Ramsey. He is the Philadelphia police commissioner and co-chair of the task force the White House has created on community policing. Chief, all Americans are parsing those videos but we lack your training. What are you seeing as you go through each frame of the videotape?
CHARLES RAMSEY, PHILADEPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I mean, the initial stop, I didn't have a problem with. There was a brake light that was out. That was the initial stop. What surprised me was the demeanor of the officer when he approached the vehicle, looking at it from the end of the scenario which was the first tape we saw, the actual shooting.
You would think that perhaps the contact initially would have been more agitated, but it wasn't. It was very, very typical. Let me see your license. Do you have insurance? Do you have registration and so forth. It didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary at all.
SMERCONISH: With regard to that initial traffic stop, people are seeing it two different ways. I've heard some say "well, this is the broken windows strategy, sound strategy of good policing." Others say, "no, it preys on minorities and the economic less fortunate."
RAMSEY: Well, I don't agree with that. I mean, if you're going to drive a motor vehicle, it should be in good working order. That means your taillights, brake lights, headlights, all those things should be in good working order. That's for your protection and the protection of others on the roadway. So, if you're going to drive, you should have a car that actually is functional.
SMERCONISH: A police officer such as we see in that videotape, who shoots an unarmed man in the back as he's fleeing, is that a bad seed? Or is that bad training?
RAMSEY: It's just a bad shooting, period. I don't know of any department that trains that way. I mean, listen, I've read a lot of the accounts and seen the video. At the time the shots are fired, I didn't see any justification for the use of deadly force. This individual didn't appear to be armed. He didn't seem - he was not a threat to the officer. There was no immediate threat to anyone else in the neighborhood. It's a foot chase. Maybe radio and a description of the guy and catch him at a later time. But certainly deadly force was not appropriate.
SMERCONISH: But it seems like it's such horrible judgment. And that's even being kind. I'm wondering can you impart, can you teach sound judgment to an individual such as we're seeing on that videotape?
RAMSEY: Well, one of the things we addressed in the president's task force, we looked at this very issue. Reality-based training where we take officers and not just for target practice, which tends to be typically what happens in a lot of departments. But put them into scenarios where they actually have to exercise judgment. They have to use their deescalation skills. They have to use less than lethal weapons if the weapon is needed.
Those kinds of things, to make people think, to show whether or not they do exercise good judgment and if they don't, take the appropriate action, either retraining or perhaps it's just not a business they need to be in.
SMERCONISH: Is your presidential task force looking at the possibility that there's uneven policing in the country? Meaning that the recent incidents that we've been focused on - I'm thinking of Ferguson and now I'm thinking of this event - are not indicative of your major police forces such as your own in Philadelphia or New York or in L.A. but rather something has gone wrong when the departments are smaller? Perhaps they lack the training that you would have in Philly.
RAMSEY: Well, I think even the larger departments have to take a look at how they train. More importantly, the relationship that they have with communities. There are some communities in Philadelphia, in New York, you name the city where you're going to have tension between police and community. And that tends to be in your poor, more challenged communities in terms of crime.
We can't ignore that. A friend of mine, Ron Davis, the head of the Cops' office uses the phrase all the time that, you know, the truth hurts. But selective ignorance can be fatal. He's right. If we ignore this issue, if we don't do something aggressive to deal with it, then it's only going to get worse. It's not going to correct itself.
SMERCONISH: I know that you're a proponent of body cameras for law enforcement. How might this have changed this fact pattern in South Carolina?
RAMSEY: Well, it would have been helpful in terms of the investigation. What often happens - and you saw it with the first video that came out. Something occurs that draws an individual's attention. By the time they pull out their phone and begin to record, a lot of what led to that incident has already transpired. So you don't get the full picture. If you had a body camera, though, you would get it from start to finish.
And that would be a lot better from an investigative standpoint, to know exactly what led up to the situation that you are watching on the video as opposed to the shooting itself. You would have captured everything.
And finally, chief, where would we be in this case without the video? Some have suggested well the forensics would, nevertheless, have been very damning for the cop.
RAMSEY: Well, the forensics would have been damning but, quite frankly, there's no telling what the outcome would have been. That's one of the problems we have to tackle in our business, should we investigate our own when it comes to these serious incidents like this?
In our report, we came to the conclusion that an outside agency should really do it so that even if you're capable of doing it, it's the perception that the public has that it's going to be fair, it's going to be objective, you're going to let the cards fall where they may. I think that's very important.
Because when you've got just the word of a police officer, the suspect is dead so you don't have anyone else around to be a witness. Odds are it's going to go in the favor of the officer. So the more evidence we have, the better. And most cops do their job, do it very, very well even when they have to resort to deadly force, it is justified. But I think we've had enough incidents now where we do need to rethink how we go about investigating these cases
SMERCONISH: Chief, we're fortunate to have your expertise on a Saturday. Thank you so much, Charles Ramsey.
RAMSEY: Well, thank you.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, the shooting in South Carolina has sparked national outrage and debate. Tavis Smiley joins me next to weigh in.
Plus, he's one of the most prominent gay politicians in the country, Barney Frank is here to talk about his revealing new memoir.
And Harry Truman called the White House the great white jail. Michelle Obama calls it a really nice prison. What's life really like in the presidential palace? A new book takes us all inside.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back. PBS host Tavis Smiley is a radio and television pioneer. For more than two decades he has used those platforms to spark social and political change through his celebrated interviews with the likes of world leaders and Hollywood superstars.
He is also a best-selling author. In his new book "My Journey with Maya," he pays tribute to the late Maya Angelou, chronicling their nearly three decade long friendship.
Tavis Smiley joins me now. Congratulations on your new book. It's excellent. I will get to it in just a moment. First, Tavis, I want to ask you about this shooting incident in North Charleston. It occurs to me that there have been no protests. Is that as a result of there having been an instant arrest of the officer unlike, say, Ferguson?
TAVIS SMILEY, PBS HOST: As much as we are troubled and just disgusted, quite frankly, Michael, about what happened in South Carolina, I think everyone in the black community is in concert when we say that it is a unique development here, that the authorities in that town moved so swiftly to fire this officer, to charge him with murder.
I think you're absolutely right. We will see - I mean, being charged is not the same as being convicted. I think for the moment the reason why you're not seeing those kinds of protests is because it didn't take all that to get such quick action in this situation. Trayvon Martin would never have come to light if people hadn't been protesting, the same thing in Ferguson. I think This is an example to the nation of what happens when people see at least a quick moving toward some kind of justice.
SMERCONISH: Are you troubled by the car stop itself? The car stop meaning the two of the three brake lights were functioning. One was not. Within the parameters of the law, the officer pulled him over. But you know, some of my radio callers say, "Michael, if it were a guy who looked like you driving that Mercedes, he probably wouldn't have been pulled over."
SMILEY: Yes, I was brought to tears, Michael, when I first saw this videotape and heard this story. Because I am 50 years of age right now. I have been pulled over in my lifetime for a taillight that was out. I wondered - I think so many black men see these kinds of cases and wonder what might have happened to them, had they been in that situation at the same time.
Clearly, one cannot justify his getting out of the car and running away from the cop. But one can also not justify his being shot at in his back eight times. And one cannot understand how, as he is face down on the ground there's such a lack of respect for his humanity and for his dignity that after he's dead and not breathing, face down on the ground, you still feel the need to handcuff him. So the whole thing, beginning to end, is disturbing, to answer your question.
SMERCONISH: Some people say to me, well this is an example of the broken windows theory of policing. It is good police work because perhaps problems that begin with a tail light progressed to no insurance or progressed to
[09:30:00] a lack of state inspection, et cetera, et cetera. Others say no, this is preying on minorities and preying on the less economic fortunate. How does Tavis Smiley see it?
SMILEY: I see it as I said a moment ago, as a contestation of the humanity and dignity of certain fellow citizens. If your starting point is that this life has less value, or this person ought not to be respected, or don't run away from me, I'm the law -- as opposed to engaging in a foot chase -- I mean, officers, we hope, are in good enough shape to run down suspects who try to get away from you.
I mean, this brother wasn't Usain Bolt. He's not an Olympian. He wasn't running that fast with an officer in good shape could not have tracked him down. But to stand there -- it's sort of lazy policing, for me, Michael, to pull out your gun and shoot somebody eight times rather than even attempt to go in pursuit of him.
So, again, it's just sickening all the way around. But it begins and end with his me, whether or not as Americans in the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic nation ever, we will ever get to the point of not just respecting but reveling in the humanity of all fellow citizen.
SMERCONISH: Secretary Clinton makes it official this weekend. You have said a coronation is not in her best interest. And yet it seems like that's what she's headed for with regard to the nomination.
SMILEY: I've said and I stand by it. I love her. I respect her. I think she's going to be a formidable candidate.
But at the same time, I think this is an election. It's not an auction. We're going to see that this race will, in part, be about who raises the most money on either side.
So, I hate these auctions as opposed to elections and I hate coronations as opposed to elections. I think it's bad for the party. I think it's bad for the people. I think, ultimately, it's bad for her, the candidate. If she's tested the way Barack Obama was tested, she becomes a better candidate in the general, number one.
But then, secondly, Michael -- I don't know how you feel about this. But when there's nobody running for the nomination of the Democratic Party to the left or right of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, that means the media focus on her, which is already extremely intense, is going to be more intense, because there's nobody else to talk about, nobody else to look at, nothing else to dig into. So, from now, all the way to the White House, assuming gets there, the media scrutiny on her is going to be that much tougher because there's nobody else on the left to talk about.
SMERCONISH: It's 1993. You're 21 years old. She would regard you young Tavis Smiley.
SMERCONISH: Although, it seems like Maya Angelou never got tired of referring to you in that way.
How in the world did you get to carry her bags in Ghana?
SMILEY: It was one of the great jobs, great blessings of my life. And this book, if it's about anything, it's about how we model what it means to be a mentor. I had run for city council, Michael, and lost and while it seems laughable now that I could have thought my life was over, all I ever wanted to do was to be a public servant, to love and serve people. I'm glad I finally found my way of doing that through the platforms that I have now.
But in your 20s, when you run and lose, the one thing you thought you were born to do, the thing you were called to do, you feel like your life is crushed. In that moment, I get this invitation to go to Africa, basically, to carry the bags of Maya Angelou for two weeks. I jumped on the opportunity. And the lessons, and the conversations, and the love and the affirmation -- this life-altering, life-changing experience allowed me to find my voice.
I go back to the story we were just talking about. It means something to young black men in this country when somebody, particularly of Maya Angelou's stature, or anybody, quite frankly, says to them, you matter, your life matters, your opinion matters, your future matters. You've got to find your voice, and as Maya Angelou said to me, we find our path, Michael, by walking it. Tavis, I can't give you the answer. You have to walk your path.
I started doing that. But with her support, eventually, I have found my voice. I found my way.
SMERCONISH: When you came home from Ghana, by your count, three years went off the clock before you spoke again. She saw you on television being somewhat schooled by Russell Simmons and, all of a sudden, your phone rings.
SMILEY: It rings because Maya always seemed to show up, Michael, in those moments where my soul required repair. I don't know how it was, but something magical, mystical or spiritual -- whenever I needed her, she was there.
My very first night, I mean, I've been at this 20 years now. My very first night hosting my own show then on BET, long before PBS, Russell Simmons called me a house nigger on the air, not once but twice. He didn't like my questions and called me a house nigger two times. I was stunned. I was embarrassed.
I cut through a commercial break because he walked off the set. He didn't want to finish the conversation. So, he had put this stain on me, this Russell Simmons king of hip hop imprimatur on me that I couldn't get off me for two or three years. But the very first night, that's how my career starts.
I get back to the hotel here in Washington. While I was hosting that show, my phone ring, I heard my voice and I said, Dr. Angelou, how did you find me? And she said, Tavis, I have my sources.
But she was calling me to let me know it was going to be all right, to not let that shake me. But again, someone of her stature had no reason to take the time to embrace me, to love me, to engage me. She did that.
[09:35:00] And if we do that for young folk today, God knows what can come of these young people, if we love them and if we serve them properly.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Maya Angelou was a model for mentoring. That's what I took away from your book. Nice work with it. And thank you for being here, Tavis.
SMILEY: Appreciate you, Michael. Thank you, sir.
SMERCONISH: Hillary Clinton's big announcement could mean a return to the White House. So, what was the Clintons' life like at the presidential palace in the first go around? A new book is spilling all the secrets on America's version of "Downton Abbey." The author joins me next with the juicy details.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back.
With her impending announcement to run for president, Hillary Clinton could be making another return to the White House. Until now, little has been known about the Clintons' day to day life inside the White House, or that any other first family.
But in a fascinating new book, author Kate Anderson Brower peels back the curtain on life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Her book has it all, from the Gipper in his birthday suit, to Richard Nixon's Scotch- fuelled after-hours bowling with the kitchen staff.
[09:40:05] The book is called "The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House."
And Kate joins me now.
All right, Kate. So, Ivanez Silva (ph) is turning down the Reagan's bed one night and gets quite a surprise. What happens?
KATE ANDERSON BROWER, AUTHOR, "THE RESIDENCE": Right. The maids are in the private living quarters, and that's it, the inner sanctum on the second and third floor at the White House.
And she was up there at around 5:30 in the afternoon, and she went into the sitting room attached to the bedroom and President Reagan was sitting there naked, with a bunch of newspapers around him. And she blushed and ran out of the room. And then later on, she saw President Reagan and he said, "Who was that guy?", you know, as a joke.
BROWER: Yes, I mean, President Reagan was really funny with the staff. Some of them told me they would duck and go into rooms when they'd see him coming down the hallway because they didn't want to get trapped in a conversation for 20 minutes. He would chat them up constantly.
In fact, once he went into the can kitchen and told them that we were just going about to bomb Libya and Nancy Reagan had to go and take him away because she was always protective of him. And, actually, this butler said, "That's very nice, Mr. President, but when would you like dinner?"
They don't really get involved, these staffers, these butlers, maids, florists. They're not involved and they're not even interested in those issues. They're just there to serve the first family.
SMERCONISH: You tell the story of President Clinton running into a "bathroom door", quote/unquote, conveniently at the same time of the Lewinsky scandal coming to light. What happened?
BROWER: Well, as one of these staffers told me, when you're somebody's domestic, you know what's going on. They don't mind being called domestics. They take a lot of pride in that.
One of them was called up to the president and president and first lady's bedroom and they found blood on the bed and the president said he had walked into a door in the middle of the night. But they all, you know, thought that she had clocked him with a book. I mean, during the Lewinsky scandal, it was a rollercoaster of emotions in the White House.
Hillary Clinton was nowhere to be found when the florist would try to talk to her about floral arrangements. She obviously was going through a lot. She would call the pastry chef on particularly stressful days and ask for the pastry chef to make her favorite mocha cake that night, which is kind of a humanizing look into her as a real human being.
There's another story about her asking for some time alone by the swimming pool, that one of these staffers made happen for her. She just was very thankful to him that she let her have some time with a book by the swimming pool.
SMERCONISH: Richard Nixon bowling with the kitchen staff. What's that story?
BROWER: Well, I'm glad you're doing all of these. It does cover every administration since the Kennedys. There's a story about President Nixon after dinner one night going into the kitchen. And there was a guy there named Frankie Blair, who was a pot washer in the kitchen. And President Nixon asked him if he wanted to go bowling. He had a one-lane bowling alley installed in the White House.
And the two of them bowled until 2:00 in the morning that night. Frankie said, you know, my wife is never going to believe that I was bowling with you this late and the president said, walk with me. They went into the Oval Office and the president wrote a note, explaining to Frankie's wife that he was, indeed, bowling with him. Another colleague said, there may have been a bottle of scotch involved, too.
SMERCONISH: The Carter boys had a penchant for bongs?
BROWER: Well, one of the staffers told me -- and again, this was on the record. A lot of these people spoke on the record. That he would regularly have to move bongs in the White House on the third floor, the three Carter sons were staying there, you know, in the '70s. Again it just shows that they're really human beings.
SMERCONISH: I'm looking at a picture in the book. Tell me about doorman Wilson German (ph).
BROWER: He has been there since the 1960s and I mean, he even remembered hearing the sounds of the horses as they were leaving the White House with JFK casket. The incredible thing is that these people stay on from administration to administration. They see so much. And there's a photo in the book where he is there with the Obamas.
And he is funny because he told me -- he was very reticent about talking and he said he would tell his friend he worked at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and most of the time they had no idea what this was. These people don't brag about their jobs.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Kate, there's a particular fondness that those who work in a domestic capacity -- you said they're all comfortable with that word -- for the Obamas, for those who are African-American themselves, this was a proud moment. Not that they're Republicans more than -- not Democrats more than Republicans but this was a moment of pride when they saw that this first family come in the door.
BROWER: And a lot of them said they never thought they would see the day when that would happen. A butler who is still there who I interviewed for the book said that he's going to keep working as long as he can because they were there. He's an African-American butler. Most of them were just so proud.
And something that's interesting about the Obamas is Michelle Obama asked the florist to label all the flowers in the floral arrangements so that she and her daughters could learn the proper names.
[09:45:05] She asked another butler who is from Haiti, who spoke fluent French, to speak in French to help her daughters learn the language.
I think it shows that they come from more of a middle-class background. And I think they had a more difficult time dealing with having staff around. And it kind of makes you relate to them in a way that you wouldn't before.
SMERCONISH: There's a great deal I learned in the book, just about in the way that the White House functions. They really do have to pay -- I thought the first families didn't have to pay anything. And most importantly, Kate, you tell us that you can order out for pizza. It's a great book. And I thank you so much for being here.
BROWER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Kate Anderson Brower.
The White House is slamming a controversial therapy which is aimed at gay youth. Former Congressman Barney Frank has an opinion about it, and he'll join me to weigh in on that subject and a lot more, next.
[09:50:07] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.
This week President Obama called for an end to so-called conversion therapies that make baseless claims of curing gays by turning them straight. The move was in response to a transgender teen who committed suicide after religious therapists tried to convert her back to being a boy.
My next guest was the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out. Barney Frank spent more than three decades on Capitol Hill and he's written a book called "Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage."
Barney Frank is joining me now.
Hey, Congressman, I want to read aloud the first paragraph of your book. You say, "In 1954, I was a fairly normal 14-year-old enjoying sports, on healthy food and loud music. But even then I realized that there were two ways of which I was different from the other guys. I was attracted to the idea of serving in government and I was attracted to other guys." Not a bad way to begin the memoir.
What would have happened if someone offered you reparative therapy when you were 14?
BARNEY FRANK (D), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS CONGRESSMAN: Well, I would like to think that I would have been strongly rejecting it because I now know it would have been an absolute -- at best, it would have been a waste of time, and it might well have led to emotional damage.
But I have to be honest and say, in 1954, universal contempt for homosexuals, as we were then called, as we called ourselves, were so deep and my own self-hatred was such that I can't be confident in how I would have reacted.
I do know as I said from fairly soon as I lived my life that it would have been a disaster for me, but I'm not sure at 14 I would have known enough to resist it.
SMERCONISH: As you know, the president took a position on that issue this week, which is why I raise it with you. How would you feel about an adult, a man, a woman, they're 30, 40, 50, and they wish to seek out that kind of therapy, would you be OK with that? I know you're a libertarian?
FRANK: As I said, I am a libertarian and if an adult wants to try that, as long as he or she has not been given demonstrably false advertising, that's their money. I would take that back, if it is their money.
I would not at this point allow it to be paid for by public funds and I think insurance companies ought to say no to it. That is -- I do think the third-party payers have a right to say, hey, go, pal, you do what you want, but I'm not paying for that nonsense.
SMERCONISH: When you arrived in Washington on Ronald Reagan's watch you are out only to other lesbians, gays and transgenders, certainly not to the public or your colleagues. Do you think a significant number of your colleagues knew, nonetheless?
FRANK: A few did at first. What I did find, though, is I was protected by the stereotype. To be honest, I'm a nervous eater. I eat a lot during campaigns.
By the time I got to Washington, I did not cut the slim elegant figure that was prevalent in people's stereotypes. A reporter during my campaign said I was wearing an ill-fitting suit. I responded in defense of the tailor it was a well-fitting suit, I didn't happen to be the person it fit. I smoked cigars. So, literally, that protected me.
On the other hand, a lot of members of Congress had a large number of gay and lesbian staffers. Washington is a good place for younger gay people to go kind of and hide. More than people realize, Congress is a meritocracy. Members of Congress are smart enough to hire very good people to work for them down there because it's important to their own careers.
And so, increasingly, the word began to spread. So, by the time, I came out I was being approached by liberal friends, colleagues, certainly very supportive but were saying to me, please don't make it public. We hear you're thinking about it, because if you do you will diminish your ability to work with us on these issues, on economic fairness, on racial relations and foreign policy. And my answer was you may be right, I hope you're not, but I'm just driven by my own need to harmonize my life to go ahead with this.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Congressman, a final question. Secretary Clinton makes it official this weekend. We live in very tolerant times, but I'm wondering if you nevertheless are keeping a mental scorecard as to when people came out in support of gays and lesbians, their rights and same-sex relationships and I obviously have her on the brain when I ask that question?
FRANK: Oh, yes. And she scores very well.
Look, people running for president are, obviously, somewhat constrained and I say to some of my friends on the left, we're great supporters of democracy. We can't object when people running for office pay some attention. But let give you an example, when in 2004, when George Bush sponsored a constitutional amendment to revoke the same-sex marriage rights that we had then gotten in Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton voted against it.
[09:55:06] So, every time it has come to a vote, her vote has been on the sides of fair treatment and equal treatment for it. I remember marching in the gay pride parade with her when she was running for the Senate in 2000 in New York and I have never before or since seen a more enthusiastic reaction because she had been a friend and supporter and people knew that.
SMERCONISH: Congratulations on your memoir. I thought it was a terrific read.
FRANK: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: I'll be right back.
SMERCONISH: John King, Carl Bernstein, Charles Ramsey, Tavis Smiley, Kate Anderson Brower and Barney Frank, they were excellent. Thank you to my staff.
Thank you so much for joining me. And don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish. See you next week.