Former congressmen share political insight with DMU students

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) welcomed two former US congressmen to its Hugh Aston Building to discuss partisan politics, the US Supreme Court and the 2022 midterm elections as part of the annual Congress to Campus event.

Each year, two former congressmen – one Republican and one Democrat – visit universities and colleges throughout the UK to share their insight into contemporary US politics with students.

On their second stop of their UK tour, Tim Hutchinson, who became the first directly elected Republican Senator from Arkansas in 1996, and former Democrat congressmen for Idaho, Larry LaRocco, joined Professor Philip Davies, Professor David Deverick and Professor Clodagh Harrington for four interactive sessions with students from DMU and schools across Leicestershire.

Tim Hutchinson and Larry LaRocco
Tim Hutchinson and Larry LaRocco

The pair addressed the first 10 months of Joe Biden’s presidency, how their respective parties will fare in the 2022 midterm elections and balancing the US Supreme Court before taking questions from students.

Tim Hutchinson said: “It’s refreshing to see so many young students taking an interest in politics. It affects every aspect of a person’s life, so it’s vital for our democracies that young people are not only educated but engaged in politics from an early age.

“Leicester is a really interesting city and you get a sense of the history as soon as you get off the train. The people are also really nice and helpful – my wife and I have really enjoyed it here.”

The session started with a look ahead to the upcoming 2022 midterm elections – a major insight into how the US public view President Biden’s administration. Every two years, one-third of congress (both the Senate and House of Representatives) is stood up for re-election. 

Currently, Biden’s Democrats party control the House of Representatives with a majority but have no majority in the Senate. This could change next November and history suggests that the incumbent party struggle in midterm elections as voters judge the president’s administration.

Larry LaRocco believed moving away from the national picture was key to any Democrats’ success but admitted it was hard to call what’s best to do.

He said: “A year in politics is an eternity and a lot of things can happen but history is not on the Democrats’ side. They need to sort out their messaging and keep things on a local level instead of focussing on the national picture.

“If they can use their big initiatives, including the Build Back Better programme, and localise that to address their districts needs, they may have a chance.”

Hutchinson stated that the people of the US voted for Biden because he is not Trump and now they are finding his stance, and how he’s conducting himself on domestic policy, is too left-leaning.

He predicts a big win for the Republican party in next year’s midterms, believing that inflation in the US  will deter people from voting for the Democrats.

After lunch, attention turned to the first 11 months of Biden’s Presidency. Since winning the 2020 election, President Biden has inherited a divided United States in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic, against a backdrop of insurrection. His first year in office has been dominated by four distinct issues – racism in the US, climate change, the economy and coronavirus.

In groups of four, students were asked to act as various pressure groups affected by the four main issues. Both Hutchinson and LaRocco were asked by students acting as a union for medical workers, if Biden’s decision to enforce all federal workers and contractors are vaccinated was fair or was turning more workers off getting jabbed.

Addressing the question, Hutchinson said: “During the time of the polio vaccinations, when the medical experts came out and said that you needed to get vaccinated, people accepted their advice without persistently questioning them or calling their practice into question.

“That can’t be further from the truth now and with misinformation coursing through the veins of social media, I doubt it will end any time soon.”

LaRocco echoed those sentiments of public mistrust in officials but praised Biden’s tenacity to continue the vaccine programme from the Trump administration.

“The US has a history of efficiently administering vaccines throughout the country,” said LaRocco. “Look at polio. The American people put their trust in the scientists then and now the disease is very rare in the states.

“Biden is just doing what his predecessors have done before him, but because there have been restrictions in place, some people in the US believe the government is interfering too much. But for me, vaccinations are the only way of putting our economy online and I have to admire Biden’s resolve on that.”

Third-year History student Anjali Kalyan and History and Politics student Josh Coyna were both in attendance on the day and were impressed with the congressmen’s relaxed and open approach to answering questions.

Anjali said: “I started to follow US politics during a gap year and one of my modules in this year’s course is about the US Presidency, so it seemed like too good an opportunity to turn down.

“It’s important for students to learn from people who have a first-hand account of what happens in these powerful positions. I found their insight really inspiring and think more students should take the opportunity to find out what’s happening in the world.”

Josh added: “It’s not every day you get to meet two former congressmen and I was really intrigued to hear about their careers. Their answers were honest and insightful, which is quite rare when it comes to politicians.

DMU is the only UK university to hold both Congress to Campus and European Parliament to Campus events, which see prominent political figures visit the university to enhance the student learning experience.

As part of the November Congress to Campus event, both Tim Hutchinson and Larry LaRocco took part in a live stream Q&A with DMU staff and members of the public. That can be viewed online here.

Posted on Wednesday 24th November 2021

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