In a testy interview on Tuesday's NBC Today, fill-in co-host Savannah Guthrie avoided asking retiring Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank about his role in the collapse of the housing market and yet the liberal Democrat still complained: "You've managed to ask all sort of negative questions.....you're four for four in managing to find a negative approach."
Guthrie began the segment by fretting that the Democrats could lose Frank's House seat: "...you said that your district has been redrawn in a way that would make it more difficult for you to win re-election. My question is, are you leaving your fellow Democrats in the lurch? It won't be any easier for any other Democrat to win this seat, right?"
After Frank asserted that he was confident he could have won reelection, Guthrie followed up: "And sir, for those who think that maybe this is a signal that you don't think the Democrats are going to win back control of the House in 2012, your response would be what?" Frank lamented: "That I wish we could talk substance sometimes in the media. I know that's against, kind of apparently, the rules. And I'd like to talk about public policy. I regret that we can't."
Guthrie certainly could have obliged by asking Frank about the housing crisis he helped cause but instead she simply asked him about the "tone in Washington" and Congress's low approval rating. Again, Frank whined: "Well, you exemplify what I think is a change in the tone.... It's gotcha this and gotcha that, it's gotcha journalism, it's gotcha politics, and it does lessen our chances to get things done."
Guthrie at least challenged Frank on his own negative tone: "...you certainly are known for your sharp and acerbic at times tongue. Do you feel any responsibility for your own role in kind of that tone that we do see in Washington, whether it be the media or members of Congress?" Frank offered his "congratulations" to Guthrie for supposedly asking all hostile questions.
On Monday night, all three network evening newscasts steered cleared of mentioning Frank's role in bursting the housing bubble.
Here is a full transcript of the November 29 interview:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Now to another big political story. After more than three decades in Congress, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank has announced his plans to retire at the end of his current term. And Congressman Frank is with us this morning exclusively. Congressman, good morning to you.
BARNEY FRANK: Good morning.
GUTHRIE: Well, you were characteristically frank, so to speak, when you talked about why you are retiring, you said that your district has been redrawn in a way that would make it more difficult for you to win re-election. My question is, are you leaving your fellow Democrats in the lurch? It won't be any easier for any other Democrat to win this seat, right?
BARNEY FRANK: Right, but that's not exactly what I said. I didn't say I wasn't running because I was afraid I couldn't win. What I said was that I had decided over a year ago that I was going to retire. I'll be 72 in a couple of months and I didn't think staying there until I was almost 75 was ideal. But I then, when the Republicans took over the House, felt that I should be here, and not as a lame duck, to fight to defend financial reform, which the right wing's trying to undermine, and to make sure that military spending reductions of an appropriate sort are part of deficit reduction. And so that's what I planned to do. When I saw the new district, there were two responses. One, that I think I win, but two, because it's 325,000 new people, it would mean almost full-time campaigning, including raising a couple of million dollars. So-
GUTHRIE: And sir, for those who think that maybe this is a signal that you don't think the Democrats are going to win back control of the House in 2012, your response would be what?
FRANK: That I wish we could talk substance sometimes in the media. I know that's against, kind of apparently, the rules. And I'd like to talk about public policy. I regret that we can't. No, I am making a personal decision here. I was going to retire. I changed my mind because I felt I could spend this two years most effectively if I was a candidate for re-election fighting to protect financial reform and reduce excessive overseas military spending. Now that I would have to spend most of the year in campaigning, fundraising, et cetera, those reasons are no longer valid.
So, no, this doesn't mean that we're not going to take back the House. And in fact, I think we're likely to win – win this seat. Again, I don't know, did you think I would serve until I was 106? I mean, I'm 71 years old. The question is I have decided not to serve until three months before my 75th birthday. I guess I don't understand why that is so hard for people to grasp.
GUTHRIE: You've talked about the tone in Washington among the media but also members of Congress. You have served in this institution for 30 years and during that time, I don't have to tell you, Congress's approval has gone down to the single digits. How does that make you feel about your life's work?
FRANK: Well, you exemplify what I think is a change in the tone. You've managed to ask all sort of negative questions. I understand that's the media's current conception of its role. It didn't used to be that way. And that's part of the reason for the low approval. It's gotcha this and gotcha that, it's gotcha journalism, it's gotcha politics, and it does lessen our chances to get things done.
My life's work is – I'm not Congress as a whole, I may have a big ego but I've never identified myself as the entire Congress. I'm very proud of the financial reform bill and proud of the progress we've made, for example, in protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against prejudiced environments. I'm proud of the role I played, frankly, in helping frustrated the impeachment of Bill Clinton, one of the great anti-democratic moves of all time that Newt Gingrich tried to pull off. So I'm prepared to talk about my own role. The fact that institutions in America today are less popular, the media is less popular, Congress is less popular, I don't take that personally.
GUTHRIE: Back to the tone, I mean you do make a fair point about the media, on the other hand, you certainly are known for your sharp and acerbic at times tongue. Do you feel any responsibility for your own role in kind of that tone that we do see in Washington, whether it be the media or members of Congress?
FRANK: Well, congratulations, you're four for four in managing to find a negative approach. No, and I will say this. In 1981, when I got to Congress, I was very cooperative in a bipartisan way. Newt Gingrich actually boasted about the extent to which he changed things. He forced out the minority leader at the time, Bob Michael, and said, "No, we have to challenge the Democrats as our enemies."
And look, there was a poll taken a couple of years ago, 2010, I believe, or 2009, and people were asked who was the most partisan member of Congress and who was the most bipartisan and they asked the Republicans to rate Democrats and Democrats to rate Republicans. I very proud of a paradox. I was rated by the Republicans as both the most partisan and the most bipartisan, because I think that's what's appropriate. Where you have areas of disagreement, you ought to articulate those and let the electorate make choices. Where you have areas of agreement, and there are many of those, you ought to work constructively together. So I think I've been able to do both, be sharp where there were differences, which is appropriate in a democracy, but reach out and be cooperative on those areas where we can work together.
GUTHRIE: Well, Congressman Barney Frank, congratulations on your retirement. Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.
FRANK: You're welcome.
MATT LAUER: How's the rest of your day going?
GUTHRIE: I don't think I'll be invited to the retirement party.