Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) engaged students with a discussion of his lengthy career in Congress as well as the future of bipartisanship in an ideologically divided Congress Tuesday evening in Reiss.
The event, sponsored by the GU College Republicans and the International Relations Club, began after Hastert greeted many in the audience personally. The former speaker detailed his rise in politics from Illinois high school teacher to longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House, from 1999-2007.
“People in politics are just real people. I was a kid in the cornfields, I never expected ever to have a role in government, but I did. Everybody has an opportunity to do it,” Hastert said.
Hastert cited ideological differences between parties as the main source of heated policy battles in today’s government while emphasizing the need for trust and bipartisanship in politics.
“I would tell everybody who came in, whether Democrat or Republican, what the bill was, what the amendment was … I got to know everybody in the Congress, both sides,” Hastert said of his time as Chief Deputy Whip. “And there was this trust that you built up … If you’re not honest with someone, if your word’s not good, in politics trust is everything.”
Hastert spoke at length about immigration reform, about which he expressed regret for being unable to implement during his time as Speaker.
“We need to secure our borders. There’s a lot of drug stuff that has to be secured, but along with that, these people need to have some sort of legitimacy in our society and take a road to citizenship just like everybody else,” Hastert said. “A lot of immigrants are entrepreneurs, business people; they want to come here and improve their life and their economic value for their family. So support for those other diverse groups, too, that we need to bring in the party, and I think what we’ve done is kind of narrow down the party and be exclusionary.”
When asked his views on improving the Republican Party’s prospects for the 2016 presidential election and beyond, Hastert touted the need for inclusivity.
“It has to be a party of inclusion, not exclusion. And so I think we ought to open the doors and bring in as many people as possible, people who have philosophical agreement with us, people who are center-right … ” Hastert said.
Hastert’s informal approach and humble backstory garnered approval from student attendees across the aisle.
“I call myself a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to hearing a Republican … I come to Georgetown from a very similar place, from a farm community, and to have an opportunity to come to this school and to hear people like him speak is an amazing opportunity,” Tyler Bridge (COL ’17) said.
IRC Deputy Director of Outreach Sam Kleinman (COL ’16), was pleased with the event’s uniqueness.
“The IRC was just so excited to co-host an event with a group we don’t often get to interface with … And it’s incredibly important, not only for the IRC, but for the Georgetown community in general, to engender a wide-ranging discussion for every kind of viewpoint and every kind of opinion on campus, not just the ones we usually hear,” Kleinman said.