From the time they enter school, Americans are told that their elected Congress passes laws, which go to their elected President’s desk for approval. Missing from that equation is the administrative state: a mass of dark money groups and powerful career bureaucrats which have tightened their grip over our country, our finances, and our future.
Former Utah Congressman and Fox News Contributor Jason Chaffetz is the latest guest on The Kevin Roberts Show, here to talk about his new and thought-provoking book: The Puppeteers: The People Who Control The People Who Control America.
Chaffetz also breaks down the complex world of the administrative state and how it takes control away from the American people, and places it in the hands of self-interested, unelected tyrants.
Jason Chaffetz: The Democratic machine has done an incredible job of making sure that they stay in power in perpetuity, no matter what happens with elections. Elections are important, don’t get me wrong, but even if the Democrats lose the elections, their power brokers are still in place.
Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. We have a special, very special bonus episode because this guest this week is someone probably all of you know, because he’s on Fox News a lot. He served the United States Congress for the better part of a decade from the great state of Utah, a very close friend of Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action, and someone who’s become a good friend of mine. It is such a pleasure. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz to have you here. Thank you.
Chaffetz: Oh Kevin, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Roberts: So we’re going to talk about a lot of things. You and I catch up often and in fact, I was on your podcast recently. We kind of covered the gamut, but with the time that we have Jason, we’re going to talk about something that’s very exciting to me. I know it’s got to be exciting to you and that’s a new book that you have out. And that book is extremely timely because... Well, let me just read the title for our audience, The Puppeteers, the People Who Control the People Who Control America.
This is a book that’s come out very recently in the last couple of days published by Broadside of Harper Collins. And the reason that I say that it’s timely is because you cover the waterfront regarding why America is in the shape that it’s in. And I know I can speak for you when I say that like me, you’re an optimist, but you’re also a realist. And when you were in Congress, Chair of the Oversight Committee, you probably saw the ugliest of the ugly. We’ll get to that. But let’s first talk about the book. Why the book?
Chaffetz: Well, the closer I got to how government actually works, the more scared I got. And then through the years I have just come to understand that the Democratic machine has done an incredible job of making sure that they stay in power in perpetuity, no matter what happens with elections. Elections are important, don’t get me wrong, but even if the Democrats lose the elections, their power brokers are still in place. And that’s what scares me. And you only have to look at this most recent debt ceiling fight. We were talking about less than 10% of the overall federal budget. That’s what was in play, because you have mandatory programmatic spending, you had defense spending and you had the money that we have to spend servicing the debt, the interest payments. And so what you’re left with is less than 10%.
And so you have this bureaucratic class that is running the show. You have outside, big dark money groups, that are pulling all the levers and it relegates the members of Congress and the House and the Senate, to dealing with a very, very small amount of money and a very, very small amount of the power. So if anybody thinks that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in there pulling all the strings, come on, he doesn’t have the cognitive capability to pull that off. But there are a lot of people behind the scenes that like him in that place because guess what? They can do what they want to do and they’re the ones implementing the policy, whether we like it or not, by these unelected people who really rule the roost.
Roberts: Well, that’s I think a real accurate and succinct summary of the problem. You travel the country a lot as I do, and you try to spend as much time with as I call them, everyday Americans. There are some everyday Americans in DC, but there are a lot more of them outside the swamp. But it leads me to the question that I got last week on one of the stops that I made in Texas, and it was, “Kevin, you think about historically, people like,” and this person just used examples of Democrat presidents, “Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, to some extent. They put their mark on the Democrat party and the power brokers of the Democrat Party.” In the case of Joe Biden, the opposite is true, that he has been shaped and fashioned and created very late in life by them. That’s a real problem. And it seems to me that your book is an explanation of how that could be so.
Chaffetz: Yeah, it’s because these power brokers have figured out how to fund the government without Congress ever touching it. For instance, the mandatory programmatic spending, which is 75% of our budget, it’s not just Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. There are hundreds of other programs that do that and Congress never even touches that. And then when the Democrats put their people in place, remember it’s something like north of 95 and in some cases, close to 100% of donations from these departments and agencies, go to the Democrats. It’s no wonder why they’re able to continue on in perpetuity with no pushback whatsoever.
Think about the Inflation Reduction Act. That was a bill where literally $374 billion was set aside in this green slush fund. That’s controlled by John Podesta. So who do you think holds more power and able to manipulate markets and do things with power brokers? John Podesta has a slush fund of $374 billion to hand out. And that’s just but one example in the book. And the book is, how do they fund it? Who are all the people and the players? Susan Rice is one of the most powerful people I know she’s just left government, but what she did while she was there, it’s very scary as we outlined in that puppeteer’s book.
Roberts: So one of two follow up questions at that point, another question I get often from friends around the country is, “Kevin, considering the cognitive decline of President Biden and,” well, I’ll be polite, “And Vice President Harris,” I won’t explain what I think, “Who’s running the country?” It seems as if the answer to that or some of the answers to that question are Susan Rice, John Podesta, these are people who’ve been around multiple administrations, right? They’re unfortunately excellent examples of the problem you’ve identified.
Chaffetz: Yeah, Brian Deese, Brian Deese worked for BlackRock. He’s a climate activist and then he was in charge of the economic council there for Biden. He worked for Obama before that. This guy was controlling more of what goes on and he’s toggling in and out of government and there’s just... Gary Gensler at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Their goal has everything to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion and the ESG rules. It’s not about maximizing shareholder value or helping the average Americans in their returns on their investments. It has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with control and with power. And these are the types of people that are the puppeteers behind the scenes and there’s big money behind those people.
Roberts: Yeah, there are many levels to this. So the second follow up question is, at what point did you realize the scope and scale of this problem? Was this recently? Was it in some particular moment during your service in Congress?
Chaffetz: I think it was while I was in Congress and my eyes were really opened because I had four principles when I ran, fiscal discipline, limited government, accountability and a strong national defense. And I figured if I got those four things right, we’d be moving in the right direction. But remember, when I was elected back in 2008, we were talking about an $8 trillion deficit or debt, I should say, and now we’re over 30. It just spins more and more out of control and nobody wants to touch it. And that’s where I started, look at all the money that is going out the door and with the money comes the control. And unless you starve the beast, these people, these puppeteers, get stronger and stronger.
Roberts: How do we starve the beast? You and I, on our minds, is the recent debt ceiling fight. We understand the limited leverage that the speaker had. As I mentioned to him, just purely from an ideas policy point of view, put the politics off to the side, best case scenario, just being polite, that’s not going to do much, to change the trajectory towards starving the beast. We don’t necessarily have to have a conversation about the debt ceiling, the recent debt ceiling issue. I’m just using that as an example that Washington seems incapable of correcting the problem itself.
Chaffetz: Yeah, I do believe that you have to starve the beast and if you don’t spend less, if you don’t have serious reforms on that mandatory programmatic spending that’s out there and start to peel those away, one of the stories in the book is they created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And I understand it’s been going through the courts here, but the Democrats funded that, not through Congress. They funded that through the Federal Reserve. So they were never subject to anything that was happening to Congress. They didn’t have to answer our subpoenas, they didn’t have to answer our testimony. It needs to come testify. And these people had regulatory control so they could start fining companies in organizations and then using those funds to actually give them to their select, not-for-profit, do good entities that they liked. You got to cut that off.
They literally have hundreds of billions of dollars, not just the CFPB, but others as well, that they use in these slush funds where there is no adjudication process. They literally hold these corporations ransom, take those funds, give them to their own organizations that they see fit, and then either sue the government or pursue their other avenues. As far as the solution, the book talks about this a lot because the states are really going to have to step up and do this. I really like what Glen Youngkin is doing and we talk about how he changed diversity, equity and inclusion to diversity opportunity. And when he changed that equity to opportunity, it was a really hard argument to fight against, but suddenly he started fighting for the unborn. What is their opportunities? And it’s been a game changer there in Virginia and I think others around the country should replicate that and do that. So it’s a complicated answer. That’s why it takes a book to do it, but you got to starve the beast.
Roberts: No, it’s good. I will just say from having reviewed the book in the last few days, that it’s an excellent, although troubling analysis of the problem, right? Troubling because the problem is really so deep as you mentioned. But you’re also mentioned some great solutions and certainly the top of the list is one that you and I agree vehemently about and that’s the role of the states. And just to inject some optimism into this realistic analysis, I would argue, Jason, tell me what you think, that in 2023, as we sit here about midway point of the year, this is the greatest year for conservative policy reform at the state level.
We can look at what Governor Youngkin has already done in Virginia, as a Virginia resident, I’m grateful. I think once he’s able to maybe rest control of the Senate from the other side, next year’s going to be even better in terms of policy. But look at what other states have done across the map on universal school choice, on confronting environmental social governance nonsense, on immigration, on spending. This whole concept of a conservative budget, is one that many states, more than a dozen states have adopted. So I respond to that because I don’t believe that my optimism there is hollow. In fact, we think at Heritage, that the states are really leading the way.
Chaffetz: It really is. I think they have the ability to sue people, to draw them into court. Those attorneys general have got to get out there and do their job. One of the most, I think revealing never seen before, stories that you’ll see in the puppeteer’s book, is about the state treasurers. Now, normally this is a very sleepy type of race, right? Who’s paying attention or can even name their state treasurer. But the Democratic state treasurers take a very different approach. They pour a lot of money into this and they literally have a document that we got our hands on. Nobody else has ever kind seen this before and is they had this corporate benefits package that they put out trying to entice these corporations to put in 50 or $100,000, and their pitch is state treasurers, democratic state treasurers, control over $1 trillion.
That in just California alone, they control about $750 billion and they use those proxy votes to go into these companies and force them to engage in this ESG and DEI types of activities. And so again, part of starving the beast is the idea that where is the money? The states are controlling trillions of dollars in retirement funds. You got to pay attention to that if you’re actually going to solve the problem and get rid of the very policies that cause so many of the problems.
Roberts: And it seems, again, continuing down this path of optimism, but also the real examples of the last few years of state officials taking great action, that if we can continue this trajectory, have more state treasurers for that matter, more attorneys general and governors, taking on this problem that you mentioned, that is the massive amount of public funds controlled by so many left of center statewide officials. If we can continue to make inroads there and the 2024 election cycle goes reasonably well, neither you nor I, making an endorsement by saying that, if it just goes well for conservatism, it seems as if, all eyes will be on Congress in January 2025.
Which leads me to the question, and I get this question too from a lot of people around the country, “Okay Kevin, we buy into your optimism, state policy’s going well, ‘24 cycle goes well, best case scenario, we’re back at the same problem, which is that Congress doesn’t have a lot of incentive to correct these problems.” What do you think will change that assessment, Jason, especially given your experience?
Chaffetz: You have to have a strong president who is willing to get rid of the bureaucratic class. I tell a story and it goes like this in the book, there’s a member of Congress, he wants to go meet with the cabinet secretary. He shows up at the meeting, guess what? Cabinet secretary is not there, but the senior staff is there and finally the member of Congress gets fairly upset and says, “Okay, I’m not meeting with the B team. I want to meet with the cabinet secretary and if I’m just going to meet with the B team, I’m leaving.”
And finally, one of the senior staff perks up and says, “You’re right. We are the B team. We be here before you, we be here after you and we be the ones to actually make the decisions around here.” And there’s a lot of truth to that, Kevin. If you don’t have a strong president who’s able to clear out all those political appointees, then you’re not going to solve the problem. I talked to a cabinet secretary who came in with Trump and he said, “The problem was, I got there and then I was the secretary, but my entire department and agency, was full of Hillary Clinton supporters. I couldn’t get anything done, because they could outweigh me.”
Roberts: Yeah, and as you know, because you’re involved in this, our Project 2025, the Presidential Transition Project, Heritage is facilitating for the conservative movement, 60 other organizations, 400 policy scholars involved. The most important part of that is that personnel database into which several thousand people will submit their resumes and their names because we can no longer as conservatives, afford the situation, where it’s just the secretary, maybe his or her couple of deputies who were right-minded, confronted by this permanent bureaucratic class.
Chaffetz: Yeah, there are literally thousands and thousands of appointments that a president gets to make. And again, you got to cut their budgets, you got to starve the beast. And look, we haven’t even really started to talk about something I know that’s dear to your heart, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you don’t revamp that, top to bottom and say, “All right, we got to start over here, these are some critical things that we have to do like counterintelligence, but they’re being used as political weapons.” But I’m telling you, and you know this Kevin, this same type of approach is happening in every department and agency. It’s not just the FBI, it’s not just the DOJ. It’s happening from Commerce to Interior to the SEC. You name it, it’s going on.
Roberts: No, it is. Heck, we could do an entire podcast episode just talking about the Department of Justice and FBI, maybe we’ll do that down the road. But actually it’s a really good segue, Jason, into a question I wanted to ask you both for the purposes of our audience, borrowing from your expertise in oversight, in both Capital Oversight, the Oversight Committee, but also oversight generally, but also it’s related to the book. And I can only presume that some of your experience as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, fueled your interest in writing the book. This is the question, what was the most troubling example that you discovered of overreach by the bureaucracy when you were chairman of that committee?
Chaffetz: Well, I got a long list.
Roberts: I know you do.
Chaffetz: I guess what was so frustrating is I saw the Democrats, they would issue a subpoena and they would get a rapid response in the Department of Justice. I had Hillary Clinton’s IT person, Brian Pagliano, who was at the State Department while she was at the State Department. And I subpoenaed his documents. He was there, working with the people on the seventh floor. And the response I got from the State Department was, this IT specialist, the entire time he was at the State Department, something like four years, he never sent, nor did he ever receive any emails. And I thought, “Wait, what?” He got immunity from the Department of Justice. So I wanted to call him before the committee. Twice, he didn’t show up, even though we served a subpoena to him by the US Marshals. And I went back to the Department of Justice to enforce that and they wouldn’t enforce it.
And until Congress actually enforces its own subpoenas, until it acts like a co-equal branch of government, the Department of Justice is going to run amok. I remember working with the Inspector General, dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times, he has made referrals to the Department of Justice where somebody has acted so inappropriately, there might be a criminal prosecution, but he can’t do that. And the Department of Justice won’t police itself. And you move forward to Kevin Clinesmith, who in dealing with Donald Trump, forged documents to put a FISA application before a court that was approved. Nothing happened. He was dismissed. He got probation, but he didn’t even lose his law license, for goodness sake. And the court didn’t stand up for itself. And it just really scares me how pervasive and how abusive and how political that organization has become.
Roberts: And so it leads me to the question about solutions. And I’m reminded of the last chapter of your book, How to Take On The Puppeteers and When. You’ve got this great paragraph, which I’ll just read here for the sake of our audience, “Given the Democrats overwhelming dominance of so many American institutions, it’s easy to feel like the Davids of the right will never defeat the Goliaths of the left. The task before us is not a simple one, but it’s also not an impossible one. There are David’s all over America whose slingshot’s aim true. There is much we can learn from them.” It leads to a question that I often ask guests, especially guests like you, who have served in Congress, what can individual Americans do to help their member of Congress, to be active locally, in a substantive way, that in each of our roles, each of our locales, can contribute to solving this problem?
Chaffetz: Yeah, I think that’s right. I hear the same question everywhere I go across the country, being involved and being engaged and understanding where we need to fight because sometimes we’re over here bickering about something that quite frankly ain’t going to make a hill of beans worth of difference. And people have to understand in their local races, that district attorney matters, that school board matters. The state treasurer, as I reveal in here, they’re controlling trillions of dollars, that actually matters. And your attorney general matters.
And certainly at the national level, yeah, we need to make sure that Congress has the backbone to actually go out and do what it needs to do. So that’s why I love Heritage. Heritage I think is by far the best, far and away, in terms of actual policy. But we need to know what we’re trying to fight for. And if we don’t starve the beast and implement people in there that are fair-minded, then we can’t get to the finish line and being involved and engaged and knowing where to fight, I think that’s a huge part of it. That’s my off the cuff reaction to your question, but it is the most salient question.
Roberts: No, it was a great answer. I appreciate that. I know our audience will as well because it’s top of mind for them. And I think that whether it’s someone who is just completely focused on local politics in Utah or Texas or Florida, wherever, or someone who will occasionally get up here to DC and visit with their member of Congress, maybe other members of Congress because they’re active on a particular issue. Everyone is saying this. Everyone on the political right is saying this, “Kevin, we understand that Heritage for example, works on all the policy issues and we need you to do that, but we need to know which policy priorities at the right time.” And that’s hard, right, in politics, because we don’t in policy, we don’t control all of the factors. In fact, very rarely do we control even most of the factors. I think you appreciate that more than most people.
Chaffetz: Yeah, there’s 600 departments and agencies out there, but you better darn well know what the government is doing and not doing. And you know what? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And I could tell you as a former member of Congress, when a constituent from your actual district shows up, you do listen to them, because members of Congress want to keep getting reelected. But being unified on what is really important, I’m telling you, I worry more about our budget. We’re paying more than $2 billion a day in interest on our national debt at this point, $2 billion a day. So we could talk about how we saved $1.9 billion by cutting this out of the IRS, that doesn’t even cover one day of our interest payment on their national debt.
Roberts: Yeah, and that’s the scale of it, and unfortunately, just hang on this for a moment, lost in the debt ceiling commentary regardless of where someone is on that particular issue. The fact is, that on January 1st, 2025, roughly the date that this deal will get us to, we’ll have $4 trillion more in debt. We’ll be well into the 30 trillions and as my economist colleagues at Heritage reminded me last night as I was talking to them, they said, “Kevin, that’s best case scenario. It may very well be even worse.” So on that happy note, Jason, we’re going to make a real sort of forceful segue into an optimistic question. I think you know that I’ve got the custom at the end of all of these interviews with people, even though we’ve talked about realism that I ask in spite of all those problems, in spite of all of those challenges, I know you well enough to know you woke up today, optimistic about the future of America, and why is that?
Chaffetz: It’s the greatest country on the face of the planet. It really is. I look at my loved ones, our youngest daughter, I told you just before we got on this podcast, I just said, “Our youngest daughter just got married,” and all three of our kids, we’re very blessed, they got married, they’re each now married. It’s such a life moment. I have four grandkids, I can’t even believe it. And I look at their optimism and their future and I think, “Wow, the world they’re going to grow up in so different than the world I grew up in.” But I still see that optimism and there’s something about America and the promise of America, but we got to pass that to the next generation. And I worry about it. I worry about artificial intelligence. I worry about our government. I worry about China on the march. There’s a lot that Grandpa, Papa, gets to worry about, but I still see that optimism and I just know that somehow, some way, every generation has figured it out, and we will figure it out as well.
Roberts: That optimism is inherent in Americans, it’s inherent in humans, it’s profound in Americans, and it’s so great to take that question in a very human and personal way as Dad and Grandfather. Well, Jason Chaffetz, I mean this, you know that I don’t do patronizing things. I mean it, from not just myself, but from all of us at Heritage. Thank you for being one of the great gentlemen and statesmen and patriots of our age. I encourage everyone in the audience to buy the book. That’s not something Jason’s forcing me to do, although I know he and his publisher appreciate that. Heritage would not say that if we didn’t believe that the book is really important, and thanks for making the time, Jason, to join us.
Chaffetz: Oh, thanks Kevin. A real pleasure. I appreciate it.
Roberts: And to those of you in the audience who make this show and all of our work at Heritage possible, thanks for joining this episode of the Kevin Roberts Show. We will be back next time with another patriot of our age. Take care.