Episode 53: Exit Interview: Rep. Henry Waxman reflects on 40 years

Waxman was behind two hearings that led to major changes. Now he has decided it is time to leave.

On April 14, 1994, the top executives of America’s seven largest tobacco companies filed into the hearing room before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. Before speaking, the CEOs took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – as most witnesses before Congress do. Each man then proceeded to testify that cigarettes and nicotine are not addictive. It was a moment that would change America’s relationship with tobacco.

On March 17, 2005, six of the most important Major League Baseball players at the time sat side-by-side before the House Government Reform Committee: Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. With fans, kids, and reporters watching, most of the players refused to admit they were aware of the illegal use of steroids in baseball, or downplayed the breadth of the problem, until the question was posed to Jose Canseco. He told the assembled congressmen that a “large number of players” were using drugs, and that the trainers, managers and even team owners knew about it. It was a moment that would turn around Major League Baseball’s response to rampant drug use.

The work of one individual congressman was critical to both of these historic hearings: Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. In both cases it was Waxman’s vision of bringing together the most important people at a sweet-spot in history that led to major changes in American culture.

After a four-decade career in Congress, Waxman announced this year that this term would be his last. As part of DecodeDC’s “Exit Interviews” series, podcast host Andrea Seabrook talks to Waxman about his career – and about mastering the art of the congressional hearing.?

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