Former senator and recently-ousted Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint announced on Monday that he is signing on as a senior adviser to the Convention of States project, which seeks to amend the Constitution through a convention of states under Article V. DeMint and Convention of States president Mark Meckler sat down with The Daily Caller on Tuesday to talk about why DeMint is joining the Article V movement, what President Trump thinks about it and how realistic they think a constitutional convention is in the near future.
Why Convention of the States? Why now?
JD: This is actually the perfect time as America becomes more and more disillusioned with Washington. Even with the hope that came in with Trump, Americans basically see he’s being stifled. Even though I think a lot of them think he’s trying to do the right thing and his supporters are pretty much still with him, the opinion of Congress keeps going down, people were expecting the repeal of Obamacare and tax reform and they see hearings about Russia. So there’s a huge frustration and a lot of the activists who cared about whats going on in Washington are very serious about the Constitution. When they hear the truth about Article V, that our founders knew this day would come, that they gave the states a way to propose amendments and to ratify them, that they actually restrict power and growth of federal government. But this is something America sees as the only way for what we’ve been trying to do for years.
As you know in 2010, not only the Tea Party, but most of America was sympathetic with reforms, if not some kind of rebellion, against all of the bailouts and everything. They didn’t see anything happen after there were changes up here. We can never give up on Washington, we’ve got to elect good people and support them, and I’m going to play a role there too, but I’m convinced that no matter what happens, no matter who we elect, Washington will keep spending until our country is bankrupt. We can slow it down, we can do some good things here, but unless the states step up, we’re going to come to a day — I don’t know if it’s a month from now, I don’t know if it’s a year or five years — but we have 20 trillion dollars in debt and we got enough historical evidence that once you get to a certain size beyond your GDP, things begin to fall apart. So we need to act and not only act but do it fairly quickly.
Our hope is after having 12 states that have adopted essentially the same call for an amendments convention, within the next two years maybe three, that we can actually have the 34 states we need to call for an amendments convention. I mentioned an amendments convention, there’s a distinction that a lot of people don’t make, we’re not talking about a constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution. Article V doesn’t have anything to do with that. Article V gives the states an opportunity to, just like Congress, propose amendments. And that’s what were talking about, amendments in three subject areas.
What are those three subject areas?
JD: One is to propose an amendment to place fiscal restraints on the federal government — things like balance the budget, restricting level of taxes, restricting spending and level of debt. The other is just the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. Basically the federal government has overrun the Tenth Amendment with regulation, with controlling education, controlling healthcare, all of these things. We need to have amendments to restrict the federal government to its constitutional prerogatives. Third is to place term limits on federal officials, senators, congressmen, perhaps even judges. Those are things that can be debated at the convention: actually what the term limits would be, what the fiscal constraints would be and where are the limits on authority.
The check and balance, the assurance for me is 34 states have to call the convention and it essentially has to be the same subject matter. But then 38 states have to ratify the specific amendments. I feel much more security with the 38 states protecting my rights than the Supreme Court and so those three areas are actually the way they do it. With the Convention of the States project, it is different from any others that have done it over the years. All the other calls before this have tried to write the particular amendment first, it’s just like with term limits. I’ve been working on term limits for years, I can get a room full of people who are passionate about term limits but we’ll fight all night about whether it’s six years or eight years or twelve years and never come to an agreement. But what we can do is say, “okay lets call a convention and select the delegates to restrict the terms of the federal officials.” Then they have the debates, they decide on what is most reasonable and then the states have to decide yay or nay. It’s a pretty good control system in my mind.
You often hear concerns of a potential convention being hijacked instead of it being focused on a few specific amendments and it turns into everyone’s pet projects…
JD: I think we can refute that fairly easily, because first of all the risk of a federal judge hijacking our rights, one federal judge, we’ve seen that. We also can see Congress hijacked by special interests basically being insulated but for a convention of the states, first of all, if someone came and proposed an amendment that was not within the subject matter of the call, I cannot imagine those states even considering it. And we’ve done a simulated convention, which basically stayed right in the parameters of this thing, but what if they did, what if they did pass some crazy amendment? Well then 38 states have to ratify it and if someone, for instance, tried to take away our Second Amendment rights, or some restrictions, the chances of 38 states doing that is slim to none, but the chances are very real that the Supreme Court could drastically restrict our Second Amendment rights.
MM: And Jim, on the 38 states, I flip it on its head and say it takes only 13 states to stop it and so this is what you have to believe if you believe in a runaway convention, and I make people eat this if they’re runaway people — this is in your head whether you say it out loud or not — you believe that West Virginia and the Carolinas and Texas and Florida and Alabama and Nebraska are going to take away your guns.
JD: I almost laugh at when people ask me the question about a runaway convention because we have a runaway Congress. We’ve got runaway courts. I mean there isn’t any question there. There’s no risk there, it’s a certainty. These guys are going to continue to take our rights away, to spend our money to outage our future. There’s really no risk in my mind that 13 states will not stop some ridiculous amendment that comes up. If New York and California had more votes than other states maybe, but they don’t — every state has one vote. So the security is much better, if we don’t do anything there’s a certainty of calamity. We can turn this whole argument on its head, this whole idea of a risk from of a state-run amendments convention is almost ridiculous.
Like you said, there are only 12 states so far that have signed onto this, you’re roughly one-third of the way there but what is your strategy to get other states to hop on board?
JD: I’m actually amazed that after, really less than four years that they’ve gotten 12 states. Some things have been worked on for decades, folks who just wanted a balanced budget — the problem is that balancing the budget won’t solve the problem alone. Every state has balanced budget requirements I think except maybe one and they’ll just work around it, they’ll raise taxes or they’ll just buy bonds. So you’ve got to be much more pragmatic about how this is done.
MM: To answer the strategy question, because Jim is new to the organization, the strategy is the same as it was day one, which is grassroots. Which means that the only way you get something like this done is to build a grassroots army. The reason that the balanced budget amendment folks have never gotten to a convention is if you go to a state legislative hearing or a balanced budget hearing, you will see zero grassroots people testify. Nobody cares, nobody believes that it will solve the problems that ail the country. It’s not a solution, is the problem. What motivates the grassroots activists is a big fight. Jim said something earlier that “they wanna see you fight” and they want to fight, this is what the grassroots loves, this is what I’ve been doing for years and so they want to know, what we’re doing when we say is you have the opportunity to restrain the scope, the power and the jurisdiction of the federal government. You don’t need the president’s permission, you don’t need the court’s permission, you don’t need Congress’ permission, go there, kick the tables over. So the strategy is, build the grassroots army big enough to get that done. They’re out there and they’re looking for solutions. And this is the thing, they’re frustrated, like Jim said, they see what’s going on here, what is going on here? We’re talking about Russia, and we’ve got problems here. They’re really frustrated and they want to know what the solution is.
So eight years ago, we had the Tea Party started, the beginning of that was legitimate. We felt all this energy and all this stuff and people got elected and then nothing, and people want to see something and actually what they really want to see is a plan. This movement is much broader than the Tea Party movement because it’s an actual hard plan. So what we’re seeing is, yeah there are Tea Party activists like myself and Jim involved, but there are CEOs and doctors and engineers and owners of huge companies because they’re business people and they wanted to see a business plan. They want to know how much the budget costs, how many people do you need, how many years, what’s the plan in each of the states and we have that plan. And so we’re seeing the victories rack up, but the strategic plan really involves building grassroots in every single state legislative district; and we track that. I know how many activists district by district, we’re the only organization in the country that organizes that way. We built a proprietary computer system that organizes the country literally state by state legislature.
What would be the biggest obstacle then, you know you gave the two-to-three year timeline, what would be the biggest thing standing in the way?
JD: It’s really misinformation. It’s this idea that, okay, let’s don’t mess with the Constitution and of course we’ve got a lot of amendments to the Constitution since the country was formed. But it’s the misinformation that if we have a constitutional convention we could risk losing our Constitution and we’ve got to clear that up. I think everyone I’ve had a chance to talk to they’re going to smile just like you did, we know we have a runaway Congress, a runaway court, runaway spending, runaway debt, the chances of having a runaway convention under Article V are really nill and once you talk through it, people understand it, but you’ve had some groups out there that just traditionally, have said, lets not do this and 10 years ago if you would’ve asked me about this, I would’ve said hey let’s wait and see if we can do it in Washington. I’ve waited, I’ve worked hard, we can’t do it in Washington, it’s genetically impossible to do it in Washington. We can’t get any money to protect our country now without giving an equal amount for new domestic spending, and everybody’s conceded to that point – Republicans and Democrats. If we’re going to rebuild our military, we have to spend the same amount on domestic even though we’ve got 20 trillion in debt. So it’s no longer even within the realm of possibility that we would have amendments proposed by congress that would restrict the ability of the federal government to spend as much money as they want.
MM: I also want to add that there’s something that has not been written about much, where the runaway convention argument actually comes from. If you look at American history that doesn’t even enter until the early 60’s and 70’s. and where it actually comes from the radically left. It’s amazing because it’s used against us from the people on the right and the left. Here’s where it comes from: in ’73 you get Roe v. Wade, a bunch of states start passing Article V applications to overturn Roe v. Wade. The country is a lot more conservative socially back then, which is what they should do if they don’t like what the Supreme Court does, that’s what the founders told us, right? And so they start doing this and literally a group of people on the left say that “we have to stop people on the right from doing this.” Because we have built the ultimate administrative state, this is the 70’s, it’s the era of huge government, nobody’s complaining about it and they realize that this is the weapon that the Founders gave us. And this actually starts with Chief Justice Warren Burger, the guy that gives us Roe v. Wade. Phyllis Schlafly, who is the founder of Eagle Forum asks him a question, which was what do you think about a convention? She’s talking about specifically overturning Roe v. Wade so of course he doesn’t say “that’s a fantastic idea,” he says “we could lose our beloved Constitution.” This is intentional, this is not a mistake. This is a campaign of propaganda for the last 40 years.
[To DeMint]: Some people might look at you moving on after being ousted from Heritage to the Convention of States as just another career move. How would you respond to that?
JD: Well it’s not really new for me, people mostly know me from going outside of Washington and the Senate Conservatives Fund and trying to get grassroots to elect new people. A lot of my work at Heritage was working with the states and I’ve always seen that it’s a two-front battle is you have to be involved with both to hope for any success. So I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing in the Senate and at Heritage. I’m going to try to equip and unify conservatives on the hill — we’ve got a new organization now that will do that — but also continue to work with the grassroots but with a focused mission. You know it’s one thing go out to say come on let’s all get together and go and take Washington, take our country back, but to have a real plan and focus energy, people are ready for that because all of them are sitting at home getting mail every day from Washington organizations saying “send us money and we’re going to get Congress to balance the budget and repeal Obamacare.” It’s just been going on for years and they’re tired of it they’re disillusioned, so for me it’s just right in the same pattern I’ve been working on, recognizing you have to do everything you can in Washington but the solutions are going to come from outside Washington this is a focused constitutional way to restrain Washington. It’s the only tool we have left and Washington is not going to use it, we have to.”
MM: And I’d like to address that too. If it was a career move, we wouldn’t have brought him on and you notice the two senators that we work with [Demint and former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn] are the two freedom fighters that are known for that, right, that stood when everybody was mad at them for standing up and did things like the Senate Conservatives Fund which did not endear Jim to the leadership in any way shape or form. So for us, we’re a grassroots organization we could not afford to associate ourself with somebody who wasn’t and I can promise you he doesn’t have as nice of an office as he had at Heritage so if he was looking for a swank headquarters we don’t have a headquarters so it’s really what it is, is Jim’s been on this path all his career in politics and the same was true for Tom Coburn. It really came as a surprise to us that Jim was interested and the same thing was true of Tom Coburn, we got a call and he said he was interested and it was shocking because we’re working in the grassroots kinda heading down to the grassroots so it takes a special guy to go from senator to Heritage to pure straight on grassroots.
TD: One of the things that attracts me to this is it’s got a term limit component. The thing that always helped me here is knowing I didn’t have a career anyway. Because I said when I walked into the House and said no more than six years and I’m gonna go do something else and in the Senate I said no more than two [terms] and that just gave you a certain amount of freedom. Coburn did the same thing. They can take your committee away and they can get mad at you and anything but I was leaving anyway and you can fight and while — there’s no really fantasy or perfect solution.
The combination of the three subject areas they’ve got will do more to fundamentally change our government system than anything else. Because if you don’t have fiscal restraint you never set priorities, you’re always adding and eventually you’re going to collapse the country. If you don’t stop the centralization of power you’re going to create so much dysfunction, inefficiencies and waste but also disharmony. The divisions in our country are more because somebody’s making decisions for them. I have great relationships with very liberal, progressive people and we laugh at each other’s politics but if one of us ever said “OK you’re going to live the way I want,” then the friendship is over. And that’s what we’re doing to our country right now, we’re saying to California and South Carolina they have to have the same education system, same healthcare system, you have to have the same type of cars or regulations and people get mad at that. So, I think there’s a lot of things built into this beyond just one political strategy that America can begin to see why America was such a special place in the first place.
[To DeMint] While you were at Heritage, you worked closely with the Trump transition team. Do you know Trump’s position on a potential convention of states?
JD: I don’t know where those folks are. I imagine they’re so involved with other things right now, they wouldn’t want to think about something like this but I’m pretty sure that if you had Trump privately after dealing with this federal government for a couple of months, he would say the only way to save this place is convention of the states. He may not say that publicly now, but I think that if a personality like Donald Trump with a Republican majority in the House and Senate, can not move beyond the Russia investigation, everybody’s gotta see that we’ve got some problems that are pretty serious.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity