WASHINGTON – Outgoing Republican Rep. John Kline gives up his seat in three days when incoming Republican Jason Lewis gets sworn in on Capitol Hill to represent Minnesota’s Second Congressional District. Kline has finished 39 years of public service, 25 in the Marine Corps and another 14 on Capitol Hill, most recently as chairman of the Education Committee. We spent a little time with Kline as he was shutting down his D.C. office.
What are you going to do next?
We bought a pop-up camping trailer and a new truck to pull it. We want to do some international travel, Scotland, something like the Viking River Cruise, those kinds of things. We’re going to do retirement things.
What memory sticks out?
Replacing No Child Left Behind was a very, very big deal, and I’ll remember that process — getting an agreement, getting it passed, having the president sign it, having him call it a “Christmas miracle.” That was a big deal.
Do you think Congress should work more to get things done?
I have shared the frustration of my constituents that we couldn’t get things done. When Barack Obama came in, we had a unified government, that’s when they pushed through Obamacare, the stimulus package and Dodd Frank. The trouble with those things as law and policy is that they were purely partisan — no Republican support. That was a good lesson to learn. If you want your policy to stand, to last, you gotta get buy-in from both sides.
What do you think of the president-elect?
I voted for him. I think that he touched a mood that most of us didn’t see. When I talked to my friends and colleagues who attended his rallies across the country, they would come back and say, “John, I haven’t ever seen anything like this.” I want him to succeed and I think President Obama said it, we need him to succeed for America to succeed.
What would surprise people about your job?
I think there’s a lot that’s not known about the job. Most of my constituents think that I have a housing allowance. I don’t. Many of them think I’ve got a limo. I don’t. They think I’ve got a security detail. I don’t. So I think they would be surprised by a lot of things. The one rumor that my wife wishes really were true is that we can retire for full pay after the first day of work. That is not true.
Has Washington changed since you got here?
It used to be that we lived here, you went back to the states for August recess, Easter, things like that, but your work was here. Now you spend almost no leisure time out here. You get up, you start working, as soon as you cast the last vote, you’re heading to the airport. I think it’s a necessary thing, but I think it used to be easier to work across the aisle because [Democrats and Republicans] were going to picnics together on Saturday but then you lost contact with your district and your constituents. When I’m back there, I’m living the same snowstorm they are.