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Jim Sensenbrenner reflects on over 40 years in Congress

Posted at 8:01 PM, Sep 05, 2019

MILWAUKEE — Longtime Republican lawmaker Jim Sensenbrenner is reflecting on his 40-plus years in Congress after deciding not to run for re-election next year.

Sensenbrenner talked with TODAY'S TMJ4's Charles Benson about his accomplishments plus an interesting phone call from the White House that his wife interrupted.

Retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has served under 7 different presidents. Who was his favorite?

The 76-year-old congressman seems ready for the next chapter of his life.

Sensenbrenner: I want to write a book and spend a little more time with my family. Benson: Was there some moment that came to you — was there a process in terms of thinking this through?

Sensenbrenner: I thought it through and prayed a lot.

Sensenbrenner lists the Patriot Act and later modifications to it among his accomplishments. The act gave law enforcement broad powers to deter terrorism after 9-11. Opponents say it infringed on First Amendment rights.

On big issues such as healthcare, Sensenbrenner believes both sides need to be on board but sees little hope of that happening now. "To make changes there's got to be consensus, and literally everybody's idea on what to do to fix healthcare is split into a thousand pieces."

Sensenbrenner also played a leadership role in impeaching President Bill Clinton. Benson: How do you view that? Sensenbrenner: We did the right thing.

House Democrats are now talking about impeaching President Donald Trump. "Only the House can determine if there is an impeachable offense," said Sensenbrenner. "I don't think the president has committed an impeachable offense."

He gives Trump high marks on policy issues.

Sensenbrenner: You look at the fact we have record unemployment, record employment and record-low minority unemployment. Benson: Are you concerned about his personal behavior or the way he leads? Sensenbrenner: Well, what I can say is — he does have a unique personality.

Sensenbrenner's favorite president is Ronald Reagan. They met in the 1960s. He remembers a call one Sunday night from the White House.

"There was a time he called me up about dinnertime and I was talking to him."

Sensenbrenner says he usually talked with his mother before dinnertime, which is why his wife, Chery,l jumped on the call and interrupted NOT knowing Jim was talking with the president.

"The president said, 'Well, Jim, you've got some domestic duties to attend to.' Cheryl said, 'Who is this?' The president responded, 'My name is Reagan. Maybe you've heard of me before.' When I got downstairs, she was on the floor hyperventilating."

Sensenbrenner also remembers a conversation with President George W. Bush on Air Force One after the president threw out the first pitch at the debut of Miller Park in 2001. It did not go as planned and Bush was telling Sensenbrenner why.

"You know I spent all last week practicing throwing the ball," the president told Sensenbrenner. "The Secret Service never told me I had to wear a bulletproof vest, so that's why the ball bounced twice."

Sensenbrenner responded, "Mr. President, you would be remembered even if the ball didn't bounce, but the 41,000 people who were there for the debut of Miller Park will always remember the two bounces."

Sensenbrenner's term will end in January 2021.