Earlier this summer, GOP Rep. Trey Radel sat down with National Journal in his Capitol Hill office to talk about his time with the improv comedy school Second City, his Valentine’s Day dinner with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the new Daft Punk album. Oh, and he weighed in on immigration, bipartisanship, and press shield laws, too.
The interview with the 37-year-old Floridian has been edited for clarity and length.
NJ: You’re a freshman. Why should anyone read this interview?
Radel: I’m a freshman. I have no idea what I’m talking about. We’ll go ahead and wrap it up there. I think that this freshman class is markedly different from the waves that we’ve seen in the past. It’s a roughly even split between Democrats and Republicans and I think that you are seeing a move towards bipartisanship, at minimum, among the freshman class.
We also as a freshman class have signed on to a shared-values letter that we understand that our problems are not about anger or racism or hatred, that our problems are numbers, are mathematics. I came here to find solutions and get something done and to do that you have to work with people, period.
NJ: Why should anyone think that this class has the makings for a kinder, more cooperative House in the future?
Radel: The rhetoric in the media has somewhat been toned down. You don’t see a ton of the overheated statements and rhetoric about how terrible the other side is. I haven’t seen many of our freshman class members doing it. Two perfect examples of 2010 of what I saw as an outsider, Alan Grayson and Allen West.
I think personally they’re both good guys. I’d be happy to work with either one of them at any time. But I think that the American public is sick and tired of the name-calling and they want something done and I think that our freshman class in particular understands that.
I spent my first two weeks here in Congress reaching out to every Florida Democrat to go shake their hand and say: I’m not here to yell out you. I’m not here to name call. I’m here to work with you. And that ended up with a Valentine’s Day dinner with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
NJ: What did your spouses think of that?
Radel: My wife got a kick out of it.
NJ: You’re a former television reporter. How has that influenced how you think about your own press?
Radel: One thing that has been pretty surprising is how the Internet has become like 10-year-olds playing telephone. When you say something like, “I can appreciate the artistic side of hip-hop,” it gets changed into “Trey Radel thinks he identifies with Chuck D.” It goes to some liberal publication which then turns it into, “This guy who represents Naples, Florida, where there are golf courses and churches, thinks that he represents the message from Chuck D.” That’s not factual in any sense.
NJ: What do you think of the Justice Department secretly collecting telephone records of Associated Press and Fox News reporters?
Radel: It’s a political fishing expedition that scares me and should scare every American in this country. And that’s why I’ve introduced, with a liberal Democrat from Detroit, John Conyers, legislation called the Free Flow of Information Act.
NJ: What does it do?
Radel: Raises the bar for when the Department of Justice, or any federal law-enforcement agency, wants to pry into the personal or public life of a journalist.
NJ: Do you want to see immigration-reform passed, and if so what should it look like?
Radel: Right now, I’m open to everything. However, the Senate bill does not go far enough. I don’t even think it would have a shot in the House. [Republican Rep.] Mario Diaz-Balart, he’s my neighbor, he’s a longtime friend and mentor, is working with Democrats in the House right now and they’re just trying to shape up a policy that I think has a chance.
NJ: Who’s the most famous person you met at Second City?
Radel: Rachel Drech, she was on Saturday Night Live. I just took some classes there. I wasn’t a performer or anything.
NJ: Are you using your acting classes right now?
Radel: No, it was improv comedy, though some would look at Congress as pretty comical.
NJ: Rep. Paul Ryan endorsed your primary opponent. Have you spoken to him since? You guys boys now?
Radel: We absolutely talked. Paul had a personal relationship with a guy I ran against. Look, they’re friends, and I totally understand. And I talk with Paul Ryan almost everyday that I’m here in Washington. Paul Ryan is fantastic and part of the future of the party.
NJ: You refiled your financial disclosures after the election to include your trust funds. Does that mean you’re a trust-fund baby?
Radel: On a serious note, I had my grandma and my mom die very close to each other. My mom died at my wedding. And I’ve been put through hell in the past last few years. My mom literally died on my wedding reception floor, right after my wife and I were married. It was a freak accident; she choked. There was a paramedic in the room who couldn’t save her.
When I launched a campaign I was still dealing with my mom’s situation. And what we missed and screwed up on, and I take full responsibility as the candidate, was when my accountant filled out the [Federal Election Commission] reports, he didn’t know that stuff in probate, it was not settled, we didn’t know that had to be disclosed. It was just an honest mistake.
NJ: Tell me one interesting thing about you that folks don’t know.
Radel: I played guitar in a rock band, and I used to have hair down to here [points to his shoulders]. We did some classic rock; we did Cream, Neil Young. Pearl Jam, Nirvana. It was the ‘90s. I picked up a guitar when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I can still do those chords today.
NJ: You said you could ” kill it” in an old-school hip-hop matchup with Sen. Marco Rubio. So throw down the gauntlet right here in the pages of National Journal. When and where?
Radel: You name the time and place, we’ll let National Journal sponsor it. I don’t know how many readers are going to be interested in a hip-hop trivia contest between Marco Rubio and Trey Radel, but we can see what we can do.
NJ: You talk about mixing your own beats. Are you a DJ?
Radel: I like to produce music. I like to make hip-hop beats and house music. I am by no means good at it. I love it. I really enjoy it. And I just use my Mac at home. As disappointed as I am by their new album, I’m a huge Daft Punk fan.
NJ: Are you disappointed by that album? It’s no “Discovery,” but it’s good.
Radel: For me, though, I guess I still need to keep listening and I need to remove the pretense that I’m looking for beats. I think some of it is kind of clunky. When I think about what I like, I love the song with Pharrell. It is a jam. What I liked off “Discovery” is like “Face to Face“, which is kind of like the sound that they’ve got on this new album. But the new album is just still kind of like, I’m just looking for it to lift off somewhere.