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EXCLUSIVE — Freshmen Round-Up: New members leading House UFO investigation but not in Senate
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EXCLUSIVE — Freshmen Round-Up: New members leading House UFO investigation but not in Senate

Ep. 127 – Sens. J.D. Vance, Peter Welch & Katie Britt (July 2023)
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Transcript

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In the House of Representatives, freshman lawmakers have brought new energy to investigating UAPs (formerly UFOs), but that’s not the case in the US Senate where freshman senators have been mostly mum on the issue.

Let’s start with the House. A full two-thirds of the Congressional UAP Caucus are first-term House members: Reps. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Eric Burlison (R-MO) and Andy Ogles (R-TN) and Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), a co-chair of the caucus.

Luna’s co-chair is Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) who’s on his third term, making him the elder of the group, even if he’s a pup in congressional terms. Last and never least is Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) who's on her second term in Congress, even though this is her first year on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), which has jurisdiction over national security issues in America’s skies.

While those members of the informal UAP Caucus continue pressing House leaders for more investigative power through granting them their own Select UAP Committee, in the Senate, many freshmen senators haven’t even spoken on the Senate floor yet.

The US Senate’s weird

The Senate’s its own universe. Over there, knowing their voters just gave them a six-year lease on their new legislative life, historically most new senators shut up and take in the chamber’s otherworldly procedures and protocols, along with noting senior senator’s pet peeves, if they’re wise.

Sketch artist draws former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the US Senate. Photo: Matt Laslo

The Senate’s just different. While they’ve been active in their various committees, speaking on the Senate floor is senatorially sacred, hence, by our C-SPAN-assisted count, Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH), John Fetterman (D-PA) and Katie Britt (R-AL) have yet to even rise on the Senate floor and speak to a cavernous and historic, if mostly empty, chamber.

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That’s roughly 40% of this year’s freshmen class in the Senate still wailing for their proverbial turn to speak. That’s not laziness. It’s calculated. Respectful. A power play even, at least to the wise who know their elder party leaders are always watching.

On special occasions, like the State of the Union address, photographers are allowed to click pictures in the House, but not in the Senate, even during historic impeachment trials. Senators also were only allowed water or milk during the trials, cause: The Senate... Photo: Matt Laslo

Freshmen senators don’t wear nametags — though their House counterparts typically do during their freshmen orientation — but they’re all marked.

Per tradition, on the day they swear their oath to the Constitution, each senator is assigned a number denoting their relative insignificance both historically and comparatively.

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Those numbers, assigned privately and with little fanfare, are a signal even to new senators who are already household names — think then-First Lady Hillary Clinton (D-NY) or former 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R-UT) who were both assigned dingy basement offices upon entering the Senate — that they’re at the back of the bus, or, in this case, at the end of the dais.

“First Congress: Senators of the United States, 1789–2000: A Chronological List of Senators from the First Congress to the 106th Congress.” Source: US Senate Historic Office

Sure, the House is fueled by a seniority system too, but its members face voters every two years so party leaders make sure there are plenty of opportunities for new members to look important to voters back home.

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Soaring incumbency & high turnover rates?

Historically, lawmaking was a temporary and part-time gig. Now it’s a lifestyle.

It wasn’t until the seventies that federal lawmakers beefed up their staffs — including the advent of press secretaries, which have evolved into full on PR teams within most “legislative” offices — and also started viewing their work in Washington as full-time jobs.

But in today’s Congress, senators on average have roughly three more years of seniority under their belts than most House members.

While the contemporary Congress surely has a bipartisan gerrymandering problem, party leaders have also woven incumbency protection into all the pageantry of Capitol Hill.

That’s why there’s America’s much-decried soaring incumbency rates. In last year’s midterm elections, 94.5% of incumbents won reelection to the House, according to Open Secrets.

At the same time, when the 118th Congress kicked off last January, the House welcomed 74 new members — or 16.8%, according to the Congressional Research Service — into a body of 435 lawmakers (along with 7 — or 7% — new senators).

Dig deeper and you’ll see, below the soaring high incumbency rate is a more nuanced story.

This year alone, 33 House members have announced they’re throwing in the towel and leaving Congress. Those retirement numbers rarely make it into our thinking on Congress’ soaring high incumbency rate, which has not looked good in recent years, 94.5% (2022) , 94.7% (2020) and 91% (2018). (for more see Matt Glassman’s House Turnover Rates Explained; July 24, 2018).

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UAP politics are different in the Senate

That’s the backdrop of today’s UAP reality on Capitol Hill, where there’s an active and vocal UAP Caucus in the House yet senatorial silence on the other side of the Capitol.

“Sen. Rubio, given his appointment [as Vice-Chair of Senate Intel], has better access than I do as a new senator,” Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) exclusively told Ask a Pol.

Fetterman’s bullish on UFOs.

“The fact that we're even still arguing about it is astonishing to me. This has been the largest discovery now and maybe perhaps ever,” Fetterman told us. “The American people deserve to know the truth on that.”

Still, Fetterman’s been staying in his senator’s only lane. He spent much of his freshman year focused on getting up to speed on his five, mostly domestically-focused committees, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Environment & Public Works; Joint Economic Committee; and the Special Committee on Aging.

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Freshmen not on key UAP committees

It’s much the same with the Senate’s other seven new members. No freshman senator serves on the Intelligence Committee. Three were appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, but two of them — Sens. Ted Budd (R-NC) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) — come to the Senate after serving in the House, which gives them added seniority.

But there’s something else dividing House freshmen from the Senate freshman class on UAPs: Besides Fetterman, the nation’s new senators don’t seem interested in UFOs.

Sure, House-alumni, like Mullin and Budd, have many friends on the other side of the Capitol, so they stay up on House gossip. So they’d heard whispers of UFO whistleblower David Grusch, but neither explored his allegations.

Another veteran of the US House, Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT), showed curiosity.

“Am I missing something?” Welch asked after we asked if he’d heard of Grusch. “No. I haven’t, but keep me posted.”

LISTEN: Laslo & Sen. Welch

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Besides Welch, the nation’s newest senators don’t seem too curious about Grusch’s claims.

Most of their freshmen classmates hadn’t even heard of Grusch when we spoke to them in July, even as he was scheduled to testify publicly in the House the following week.

The mere mention of “UFOs” drew some giggles.

“I wasn’t expecting that!” Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) laughed to Ask a Pol.

LISTEN: Laslo & Sen. Britt

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Freshman billionaire (well, his family, at least; he claims to only be worth some $50 million) Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) hadn’t heard of Grusch (“I have not,” he dryly replied to Ask a Pol). He left it at that, even as other senators have been whispering about Grusch’s allegations.

“Everyone’s fascinated by it,” Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) told us.

But have you looked into it?

“No, but I know there's a lot of talk about it,” Schmitt said.

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Is Senate indifference cultural?

Just as the House and the Senate are two altogether different and quirky worlds, some of the differences between the hot, if stunted, House UAP investigation and senator’s lackluster curiosity about UAPs could just be cultural.

By our tally, fewer than 10 senior US senators are investigating Grusch, so maybe the freshman are merely mimicking their upper class peers?

Ask a Pol’s original tally of SASC and Senate Intel members on Grusch. Source: Matt Laslo (request permission before republishing)

It should be noted, the Senate moves slowly. Last year Congress upended decades of indifference when both the House and Senate held their first UFO hearings in roughly a half century. Senate speed is real. And molasses-like.

The other thing is, UFOs aren’t the only hot topic before this conspiratorial Congress.

“In the grand scheme of conspiracies that I focus on, UFOs are on the bottom of the list,” freshman Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) exclusively told Ask a Pol. “Many conspiracies are true. I’m not saying it’s true or false. I’m just saying I haven’t actually looked into it.”

LISTEN: Laslo & Sen. J.D. Vance 

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ALREADY POSTED: Don’t miss Ask a Pol exclusives with Sens. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Ted Budd (R-NC), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE). 

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Matt Laslo’s a veteran congressional correspondent, new media prof. & founder of Ask a Pol — a new, people-powered press corps, asking your questions at the Capitol. @Ask_a_Pol (or @askpols).

Ask a Pol is a new, people-powered press corps, asking your lawmakers your questions at your US Capitol. Follow us on the socials @Ask_a_Pol (or @askpols on Insta).

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Below find a rough transcript of Ask a Pol’s interview with freshmen Sens. Katie Britt, J.D. Vance and Peter Welch, slightly edited for clarity.

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TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Katie Britt (7-20-2023)

Katie Britt: “Hey there!”

Matt Laslo: “Random question.”

KB: “Oh, goodness gracious!”

ML: “Have you heard of this UAP or UFO whistleblower David Grusch?”

KB: “I have not. You’re teaching me something new.”

ML: “He’s testifying in the House next week. Look into it, or you got a day job.”

Britt, aides and Laslo laugh.

KB: “That was a good one. I wasn’t expecting that!”

ML: “Have a good one, ma’am!”

TRANSCRIPT: J. D. Vance (7-18-2023) 

Below find a rough transcript of Ask a Pol’s interview with J. D. Vance, slightly edited for clarity.

Matt Laslo: “Hey, how are you, senator?”

J. D. Vance: “Good, how are you?”

ML: “One day at a time. I’m curious, have you — has this UAP-UFO whistleblower David Grusch come across your radar?”

Vance smirks. 

JDV: “It really hasn’t.”

ML: “I covered it for WIRED.”

JDV: “I read a couple of random stories about it. I am vaguely aware of it, but, unfortunately, no, it's just not something I've spent a lot of time on. In the grand scheme of conspiracies that I focus on, UFOs are on the bottom of the list.”

ML: “So you do classify it as a conspiracy?” *both chuckle*

JDV: “Well, I mean, many conspiracies are true. I’m not saying it’s true or false. I’m just saying I haven’t actually looked into it.”

ML: “You see, what I’m intrigued by is the Chinese spy balloon thing from the start of the year.”

JDV: “Yeah.”

ML: “Because the fact that America drops a trillion-ish and change each year, the fact they allowed a balloon to invade our airspace.”

JDV: “Yeah, I know. Unfortunately a lot of national security failures in the last couple of years, it’s really shocking that we have, theoretically, the most technologically advanced military in the world, invaded by a balloon. It’s pretty crazy.”

ML: “Right? Any updates on even the classified document stuff?”

JDV: “Related to the balloon or something else?” 

ML: “It kind of predated it, but it got melded together at one point.”

JDV: “Oh yeah, I have no idea.”

ML: “Me neither.”

JDV: “My sense is that we have a security apparatus that loves to over-classify things, and it’s not great for the American people. But I don’t really suspect we’re going to be voluntarily declassification any time soon.”

ML: “That’s all I got for ya.”

Camila Aponte and Noah Kolenda contributed to the production of this transcript.

TRANSCRIPT: Sen. Peter Welch (7-20-2023)

Matt Laslo: “I have a random one.”

Peter Welch: “A random one?”

ML: “Random question — has this UAP-UFO whistleblower David Grusch come across your radar?”

PW: “No.”

ML: “No? Interesting.”

PW: “Am I missing something?”

ML: “Meh. Intel. Committee and then [Sen. Kirsten] Gillibrand on Armed Services is looking into it.”

PW: “No. I haven’t, but keep me posted.”

ML: “Yep. Yes, sir. Will do. Preciate ya.”

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Ask a Pol
Listening to lawmakers with Laslo, UAPs
I cover Congress different. I listen. Learning daily. Even while throwing stones at all the glass houses. This will be a stream of my noteworthy interviews. They're conducted at the US Capitol, if not otherwise noted. Matt Laslo is a veteran congressional reporter, Johns Hopkins University lecturer, fmr. Vice News Tonight/HBO correspondent, etc.