Planetary Radio • Jan 15, 2021

Space Policy Edition: A Mob at the U.S. Capitol

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Jared Zambrano-Stout

Former congressional staffer and Chief of Staff of the National Space Council

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Casey Dreier

Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

This is not your normal episode of the Space Policy Edition, but these are not normal times. The centuries-old U.S. tradition of the peaceful transfer of power ended on 6 January 2021 as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building during the certification of the electoral college vote, leaving 5 dead. Hours later, more than one hundred members of Congress voted to object to the certified electoral results of Arizona and Pennsylvania. Jared Zambrano-Stout, former congressional staffer and chief of staff of the National Space Council, joins the show to help process these events. We’ll return to our usual space policy content in February.

Capitol stormed on 6 January 2021
Capitol stormed on 6 January 2021 Image: Flickr User Blink O'faneye


Mat Kaplan: Hello everyone, welcome to a delayed Space Policy Edition of Planetary radio. Better, late than never. We skipped the first week because of the holiday. We hope that all of you have had a happy and satisfying new year as much as possible. And then we skipped the second Friday in January because well, there was a lot going on in the capital of the United States, which of course is where most of our discussions are centered around here on the Space Policy Edition. Now we're ready to talk. We didn't want to delay it any further. So joining me as always is the Chief Advocate of the Planetary Society, our Senior Space Policy Advisor, also Casey Dreier, who is on the road. Casey, I hope you are somewhere safe and doing well.

Casey Dreier: I am Mat, thank you for asking and thanks for being flexible, all of our listeners for our delayed show this month.

Mat Kaplan: There is no getting around both the elephant and the donkey in the room, and that I think is what we will be able to tell from your guest today. I've just listened to you talk with him, a fascinating, sobering, but I think inspiring conversation. You want to just give us a preview of who's coming up in moments?

Casey Dreier: Let me start with what I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to talk about the fact that NASA has a new budget for 2021. And we had written about this online, if you're curious. I wanted to talk about the upcoming administration and what it could mean for NASA. And I wanted to talk about policy developments happening in space force and other things, but I don't feel like I can talk about that without acknowledging that we watched a riotous mob, a violent mob descend upon the US Capitol last week. We saw the most despicable, repugnant behavior disrupting what should have been a peaceful transfer of power. As a Patriot, as a citizen and as someone just committed to the ideas of democracy, this was a painful and infuriating scene to witness. This is not a normal episode of the Space Policy Edition, but at the same time, I don't feel like I could talk about space policy this month and pretend everything was fine, and the rest of politics in the United States.

Casey Dreier: And I want to emphasize that this isn't a partisan discussion. This is not Republicans versus Democrats. This isn't about scoring political points. We're working through something that we both saw together, and even though we have generally different political viewpoints, we can agree on basic commitments to peaceful transfers of power and the role or lack thereof of violence in a working democracy. If you want to hear about space policy, you can check in again next month and we'll go back to normal programming. But this episode I invited Jared Zambrano-Stout. He is the former chief of staff of the National Space Council. He worked in the committee staff under their majority Republican committee for the House Science Committee in the previous years. And he has worked on Capitol Hill and he has worked in the executive branch, and he understands and has been there working in the political system in the United States.

Casey Dreier: He was kind enough to join us, to share and help process with me what we saw last week at the US Capitol. And we do talk a little bit about space, so it's not completely focused on this, but it's kind of seen through that lens, but I hope that it's edifying that we kind of discussed how the process should work in Congress. That you hear that this is not normal, that this is not something to move on from necessarily, but something to take very seriously. And that you hear us just both earnestly trying to grapple with what we saw and having to seriously revise our mental working model of US democracy. Jared again, was very kind to join us at the last minute. And again, to work through this with me.

Mat Kaplan: I don't think I need to say anything else, except that we will be back after your conversation with Jared to close out today's show. And for those of you who do depart us, and we're only three weeks away now from the first Friday in February, February 5th, when we will be very much back to our regular discussion topics. And I hope that you will join us then, but for now here's Casey and his guest.

Casey Dreier: Hey, Jared. I want to thank you again for joining us today here on the Space Policy Edition. Before we get into the big topic of today, I thought it might be helpful for our audience just to hear a little bit about your background. So where are you coming from and what have you done kind of in the sphere of government and in working in Washington DC?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Thanks Casey for having me. I love having these types of discussions with folks just in general about space policy, but in particular, I think lots of folks that are interested in space policy don't necessarily know like, how am I supposed jumpstart my career? What types of things should I be looking at or what types of jobs should I looking at to get involved in space policy? So this for me is I think helpful for everybody that is interested in space. And I hope that other folks that are listening can learn a little bit from how I did it so that they can be a part of it too, because we always need good people to join the industry.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So I actually started my career working in state politics in Florida. I grew up in the Tampa area. I went to the University of Central Florida for undergrad in Orlando, and that's where I first got involved in politics. And I worked on some campaigns and ended up in Tallahassee working for the state legislature. The member I worked for was mostly interested in economic development and regulations and that sort of stuff. So I did that, but that's when I first kind of got introduced into space policy because I routinely would meet with the space Florida state folks who my members committee had jurisdiction over. That's how I first got involved in space policy.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And then I left the country for a little bit, to go to school overseas where I studied counter-terrorism and studied general government operation and international relations. When I came back to the United States, a friend of mine that was running for Congress asked me to join her campaign. And then that's how I ended up getting into the house of representatives. So I worked for her for about two years and she represented the space coast of Florida. And it was right at the end of the cancellation of the constellation program. I don't remember all the exact figures, but in our district after the constellation program was canceled and then the shuttle program was ramped down, I think we lost 18,000 jobs in our district and in one like six month period.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And so kind of everything that we did in that office for at least for my portfolio was very much related to space policy and what was going to come next and all those sorts of things. So after working for her for two years, I went to work for the House Science Space and Technology Committee, where I was a professional staff member. We're responsible for human exploration and operations, as well as the commercial space portfolio. After working there for a few years, I ended up at the FAA office of Commercial Space Transportation, where I had several jobs, but ended there as the deputy chief of staff and the acting chief of staff in that office, working for George Nield, that was right at the end of the Obama administration. And when president Trump won in 2016 and decided to stand up a National Space Council, the vice president's office hired me to be the chief of staff and deputy executive secretary under Scott Pace at the National Space Council.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So I spent, roughly 15, 16 months in the white house working for Scott Pace and vice president Pence in that role. Truly, it was one of the coolest jobs I've ever had just being kind of in the center of a national policymaking effort that hadn't really existed for nearly a quarter century was just a, it was a very cool experience. And I had a lot of fun and I should say, Scott Pace is probably one of the hardest working people in space policy. He might be the hardest working person I've ever met. And it was really a pleasure working for him. And the national space enterprise has really benefited from having him in that position of executive secretary for the space council. So since leaving the white house, I've been in private industry, doing some consulting and policy analysis and that sort of stuff. So that's what I've been doing.

Casey Dreier: That's a pretty decent, professional background.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Sorry, I think I was talking for a really long time. I hope people don't think that was too much. I just, I thought it's helpful for people to understand what the progression of a policy professionals career can look like. And that was over like a 10 year period.

Casey Dreier: One of the reasons I wanted to kind of have that background too, is to just say, what type of person comes and works for government. For the discussion we're having today, like I would prefer to talk about nothing else, but your work at the National Space Council, we will in a future discussion, but I'm keenly interested maybe as the predicate to our larger discussion about what we saw last week was what type of people come to work in government and the type of people that you know in the staff who come and work in for Congress and for the committees, and also the type who volunteer to work in the executive branch?

Casey Dreier: I mean, just like to say generally, from your perspective, you started working from a very local constituent perspective, appropriate perspective of dealing with jobs in the district of the member you were working for, but obviously it touched on something else and you were committing a lot of your life to advancing space policy. Is this a common kind of theme of like, what do you think draws people to work for government? Because it's certainly not the pay.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: No, it's definitely not the pay. And I would say it's even more not the pay when you're talking about congressional staff. There's actually been some really great reports that have been done over the course of the last, let's say like 10 years about Congress's ability to hire and retain a strong qualified staff, especially in those areas that require either technical expertise or some sort of professional degree, like an attorney or something like that, because Congress's budget for its own operations has been relatively flat for a long period of time. And so as the requirements just to live, for example, in the DC area have continued to grow, we've just had generalized inflation, the ability for salaries to keep pace with the demand in the market for a lot of these people has been difficult.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So first I think most of your listeners would be stunned at how many 20 somethings are running Congress. I'm just kind of shooting from the hip on this, but I would suggest that probably most staff assistants, so these are the folks that are at the very, very entry level in like a congressional office. Most of them are right out of college. They're 21, 22 years old. Most of them are probably making between 30 and $35,000 a year. And it's one of the most expensive cities in the country, and most of them have student loans. So there's kind of that area and those folks, the legislative assistants and the staff assistants, who are the folks that do the most work in most of these offices, those are the types of people that you're looking at. Folks that are very young, they're not making a ton of money, but they're there because they believe that either in their member or they believe in the institution and the process of legislating.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: When I was a young staffer, my main motivation for working in the house is I loved the legislative process. I'm a house guy. I love the house. I love the way it operates. I love the mechanics of it. I love how members go home and spend time with their constituents and hear from constituents regularly about things that are bugging them. I love that district offices have dedicated staff that are responsible for helping, for example, helping senior citizens fix problems with social security or helping that skin answers from the VA. Like those are the types of things that are the mechanics of democracy that make the house so special for how the Republic is actually supposed to operate.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I think that the people that go to work in these offices, they are there because they believe in the mission and they believe in what those offices are supposed to represent. Most young, 20 somethings don't have so much responsibility in their first job out of college. They don't have so much responsibility to help a member of Congress represent a constituency. Legislative assistants are oftentimes the people in some of these offices that end up writing legislation. If a member wants to file a bill on something, I was 25 years old when I was a legislative assistant. And I had a master's degree, but I certainly didn't have a master's degree in legislating. And I worked with attorneys in the legislative council's office to draft legislation for my boss. That is an awesome responsibility that I think most people would have a hard time just kind of jumping in and being a part of, but we have folks on the Hill that do it every single day.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And those folks, they're doing it because, as I said, they're doing it because they believe in it. And they believe in the process. When I think about who are the people that are really putting in a lot of ways, they're putting so much of their professional lives on hold, or perhaps they're putting their family lives on hold so that they can invest in the process, invest their own lives in the process. It's really kind of amazing that we have these people that are willing to do that, that are willing to take that time and invest that way. So really quite incredible. So for those listeners who call your member's office and you're very worked up about something and you start yelling at the poor person on the other end of the phone, remember they're very young and they're probably in their first job out of college, so be nice to them.

Casey Dreier: Always a good message to pass along. And Jared, feel free to decline this, but I wanted to say, do you mind sharing your political affiliation, just in general?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I've spent most of my career working for Republicans. I worked for the majority when I was on the house science committee, which at the time was Republicans. And I of course worked in the white house when vice president Pence and president Trump were there. But my political philosophy is generally more on the libertarian end of the spectrum. I have a more intellectual interest in political philosophy than any particular party, if that makes sense.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, it does. You had a turn of phrase there that I think takes on a really unfortunate new meaning now, when you said they're kind of putting their lives into this. Let's start talking about what we both witnessed last week, which was a dangerous mob basically overrunning the security at the Capitol building. We saw members of the house of representatives and the Senate, they all had to run and go into these secure locations in the Capitol building, but it wasn't just them, it was their staff. These are these underpaid, dedicated people, they're also, they're now literally apparently putting their lives on the line.

Casey Dreier: The two events, I think that I wanted to talk with you about this show is, that's one of them obviously is the mob. But then I think they're very closely intertwined, is the subsequent vote to de-certify or to object to the certification of Arizona electoral college and Pennsylvania electoral college. Writ large from your personal viewpoint, knowing the system, knowing who is there and you probably knew people in that building, what was your experience watching that happen last week?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Before we start this conversation, there's two things that I want to make really clear for your listeners, just so they know where I'm coming from and my perspective as we're situated in this session. So the first is that it is obvious to me that president-elect Biden, vice president-elect Harris won this election fair and square. Second, that the attack on the Capitol building on January six was an obvious attempt by a violent and seditious mob to stop the exercise of Congress's constitutional responsibility to ensure a peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. Those two things are important for just kind of calibrating where I'm coming from on this. Given those two things, I did have friends that were there, a lot of the pictures and videos that I have seen from that day, I've walked those halls many times, I've walked through those doors many times, I have been in many of those places for a decent portion of my career and I think it really should be just terribly heartbreaking for all of us to have seen what is truly the heartbeat of American democracy, being besieged that way.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: The Capitol police officers that I relied on while I was in the Capitol building or in the Capitol complex in the house office buildings, those folks that I relied on to keep me safe, they are really the heroes of this story in many ways. They are courageous. They are steadfast and they, every single day ensure the safety of our members and senators when they're doing their work and staff. When I was watching the day unfold, it was, I think probably like for most people, it was just this completely surreal experience. I just couldn't ... First of all, I cannot understand and identify with the people who did it because I hold that building to be so sacrosanct for our democracy. I just had this very difficult time. I remember seeing this video, I think it was probably CNN that was playing it over and over of the people, these people throwing barricades into the windows of the Capitol building. And I remember thinking like, who does that? Like what is going through your brain that you see this building and you think that's the way I'm going to treat it?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around what was the mindset of these people at the time. But for those of us that have dedicated significant portions of our lives to the support of the operations of Congress and the legislative branch, it was very difficult to watch. And I was very scared for my friends that are staffers there, and I was certainly very concerned for the members of both chambers. When I worked in the white house, I worked fairly closely with the vice president's staff and certainly with the vice president himself, and I was very proud of him for the way that he handled himself on that day. I certainly was very concerned for his safety and the safety of my friends in his office.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So obviously this all could have turned out much differently. And I think owing to the Capitol police, the Washington Metro police, and now the national guard, I think, it all could have ended up very differently. When I think about what happened that day and what was, as I was watching everything, I just, it's really, I think it's difficult to put into words the way that you process something like that and how it feels very different than anything that I had ever experienced in my time working in DC.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, I think when I first reached out to you to be totally honest with our listeners, like we're both processing this. Like we don't have hot takes in a sense. I kind of wanted to, in a sense, work through this with another person who has that, particularly with your experience being there. I mean, I've had a lot less time, but I've walked through those same halls. I've been in that building, our members at The Planetary Society have been there to meet with the speaker and others in the Capitol building during our day of action. And I will add to your feeling of sadness. I was furious, furious seeing that, that desecration as you said, the sacrament to our democracy.

Casey Dreier: That whole system that we had, that you so eloquently summed up about the dedicated people and particularly the house, like why they're there to do this type of work, our system is set up so if you lose, you have two years until you can try again. It can hurt, you can be really upset about it, but it's only two years and then all of the house of representatives is up for reelection. I think that the system is designed to allow these pressure valves to escape, but you have to believe in the system. And I think that's what was hard for me to watch, was so many people nihilistically or cynically, or just purely that anger driving them to ignore this really rare and precious system that we've spent hundreds of years developing, and to see that come crashing down so fast, that was hard for me.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Yeah. I don't have much to compare it to from an emotional intelligence perspective. Like there's not a ton of times in my life where I feel like I could, I have a difficult time identifying the feeling that I was having. It was like some sort of mixture of fury and sadness and being horrified. Like I'm not really sure that English has a way to describe that emotion. And I think for a decent portion of the country, we were probably a lot of us feeling that same way, especially I would think anybody that's ever worked in Congress or worked in the federal government in general would have that same feeling. I also think it's important for us to keep the perspective that we had one of the largest turnout elections in our history percentage wise and the number of people that reacted in the way that we saw on January 6th was very small by comparison to the number of people that believed in the system and used it to have their voice heard, no matter what side they were.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And so I try and keep this perspective in my mind that this was a very small group by comparison to the number of Americans that chose to go to the ballot box and make their voice heard and instead of attempting to take control of Congress. It's certainly important that we find those people that tried this, that we prosecute them, that they are paying for the crimes they committed. Those things are all very important and we need to do that, but I've been trying to think through the side of this that is not getting a ton of attention while we're thinking about January 6th, which is that there were so many people that did not react this way. And that gives me hope in remembering that there are lots of people that don't feel this way and don't want this to be the way that our electorate reacts.

Casey Dreier: To that point, the fact that they could, in a sense, rush the security and pour into the Capitol was almost a consequence of the fact that it was previously unimaginable that a group would. It's a relatively small group and there's an unprecedented behavior which allowed them to do that. So I think I can take some small comfort, I suppose, in that. And I just worry, I mean, kind of your whole discussing about this, how this process works, how the process of democracy work in like this nitty gritty scale that you've had so much experience in. I mean, it's anathema to the threat of violence. You cannot have a democracy, you cannot rationally make decisions or engage with your constituents if there is an over hanging threat of violence. And that's what we've been so good at rooting out of our system over the years.

Casey Dreier: But to see that return, I guess is very hard to watch. And the Congress itself, it's not designed to be a fortress, it's designed to be open. And that was always incredible to me and to our members who would come to the day of action, where we can just walk in. Wait, you go through a metal detector and you can go, but you can just walk into congressional offices and ask to meet with your representative or their staff. And there's no heavy security overhead to that. And it's hard to think about that changing because that was always such a beautiful aspect of the system that it was designed to be so open. How do you try to place this in terms of [inaudible 00:28:04]? Do you think this is going to be an aberration, or are you worried that this is going to lead to more behavior like this, that undermines the actual functioning of our democratic system?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I'll start by saying with what I hope, which is that I certainly hope that this is an aberration. It's important to understand the culture of the house and the Senate. There are certainly aspects to it, to Congress that are very secure and it's obvious that you're in a secure environment with some of those things, but there are certainly aspects to it that are very open. I remember the first time, like I had been in DC for maybe a month, the member that represented my parents' home in Florida at the time was Adam Putnam was walking across the street. I just walked up to him and I said, "Congressman and I work for another member, and I just wanted to say that you're my parents' representatives and we've always been very impressed with your representation and we appreciate what you do for us."

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And that was, it's characteristic of how the house operates is very open and members just walking around in the open. And I think most members appreciate that. That's how they want to live, that's how they want to be able to operate, is they want to be able to just roam around and walk from the Capitol buildings to their offices out in the open air or walk to lunch someplace nearby or whatever. And that's just kind of the culture. I don't think that the house is going to give up that culture very easily. I don't think that they're willing to give up that culture very easily. I would expect that there is probably going to be a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to ensure the security of members of the house and the Senate moving forward. I'm not sure where those conversations are going to lead, but the culture of the house, certainly, and I didn't work in the Senate, but I assume a lot of these apply there to.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: The culture of the house in the Senate is just not something that's going to be given up easily. There's going to be a lot of discussion in the coming year, probably, as Congress examines how the security breakdown occurred and how these people were able to overwhelm the security of the Capitol. And I think as they examine those things, there's probably going to be some sort of recommendations that will be adopted. And there's a lot that's going to have to be considered. This has already costs the jobs of the sergeant-at-arms for the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms for the house and for the chief of the Capitol police. I assume there will probably also be additional folks that are going to lose their jobs and probably a lot of reform associated with how the various entities charged with protecting the Capitol end up working together in the future. It's going to be tough work and the folks that are going to be responsible for that oversight, there's going to be a lot to consider, including, as I said, the cultural aspects of it.

Casey Dreier: I'd like to talk a little bit about the related and subsequent act of the objecting to the electoral college vote. I realized that this brings us into what is, unfortunately I think some of a partisan area, but I want to emphasize that I'm not ... This isn't trying to be a partisan point scoring here, but I think these are two very related aspects. Obviously the mob wouldn't have been there, absent to this ongoing denial of this election that we had. They wouldn't have just magically come to DC and storm the Capitol if they hadn't been told that the election had been stolen from them. I understand from a political standpoint, previous into the day, why a number of members were planning to vote to object to the electoral college votes of a number of States. I mean, I very much did not agree with it, but I could understand the political posturing and statement that they would be making, in terms of aligning with one factor or another.

Casey Dreier: What I could not understand was subsequent after the riot and after their lives are put at risk. And a number of people did change their votes. I say, particularly in the Senate, but I think something around a hundred and a hundred and thirties, almost two thirds of the Republican caucus in the house continued to object to both Arizona and Pennsylvania with no, not even no evidence. That's a complete evidence in the other direction. As you stated earlier, there's kind of no question about whether this was a fair election. That is something that I think I had a hard time subsequently seeing. I'm not saying you have special insight into members' minds here, but do you think there was a disconnect between their positions about what had just happened and their role in objecting to a free and fair election? Or do you think there was a shell shock related to the fact? I mean, to me, it seems like those two are very much related and you wouldn't have one without the other, in this case, I'm just tossing this out. How do you feel about that subsequent vote?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: As you said, not having any special insight into members' minds, the thing that I have been thinking about the most, not just with the vote itself, but the things that led up to the vote and then what has happened since then with the 25th amendment resolution and the impeachment charge is that the culture of the house in particular is very much meant to be and oftentimes is very responsive to the constituency. As you said a few minutes ago, the house is reelected every two years. One of the most interesting ways I've ever heard somebody say that, and I cannot remember where I heard this from, it's probably a TV show and I just can't remember where or a movie. But somebody that said, it's quite a thing that every two years we get the chance to overthrow our government. In many ways that can be very true, depending on what happens in some of these elections.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: But the house in particular was meant to be very close to its constituency. Members get elected every two years, conceivably actions that you take in January after you're sworn in could have implications to your election a year and a half later. I think that when we talk about the ways members vote on really anything, what we have to think about is the constituency that they're representing and the constituency that they believe they're being responsive to. When I look at, whether it was the electoral certification vote or it's an impeachment vote or whatever, I think about what is the motivation that's driving those members and what is it in the constituency that they're representing that drives them to believe that's the way their constituents want them to vote. Perhaps the way that we need to think about some of these things moving forward is less about how it is that individual members can do this thing or that thing.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And think more about what it is as a society, what are the things in our culture and our society that are leading us to places where we feel like the most important thing is to just beat the other side. That the most important thing is to win as opposed to being thoughtful as individual voters and as people, what it is that's most important to us and what those institutions mean to us, and what is it about our society and our culture that's led us to a point where we would even have these types of discussions in the first place.

Casey Dreier: I wonder how much of this is civics education. I've always kind of said that I have an online course about space advocacy, but I always kind of see that course as a secret civics course about just how government works, how Congress works. And the system is not meant to be efficient. By design it's a very inefficient system and that can feel frustrating, I think for people, but once they start to appreciate all the bits and pieces of it, you begin to appreciate how it works and understand that if you're losing an election, like you're not going to lose your country in two years, if there's another election coming right up. And there's only so much a majority can do, particularly a slim majority. And I wonder if we're losing a certain understanding of if the system has become so difficult to see that it leads to people thinking that the consequences of losing an election are so dire that it drives them to these extreme behaviors.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I had never really thought about this before, but it just hit me as you were talking that, so much of our society right now, it's like instant gratification. It used to be when you would order something from eBay, maybe it gets to you in like a week and a half or two weeks. And now we're down to like, if Amazon doesn't deliver it tomorrow, then like I'm going to call and complain. And the instant gratification nature of our culture and our society right now may also be playing into the idea that like, things really can be completely changed and you can lose your country in one election, because things are believed to be instantaneously affective or instantaneously necessary.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: This is actually the third time that I've had this conversation with somebody in the last few days about perhaps there is a deficit of education in our society on how the government actually works and how the various pieces of the constitution work together and what those various pieces of the constitution mean. For example, I've seen a ton of discussion recently for a variety of reasons about how the first amendment is being violated because people are being pushed off Twitter. Without any understanding it would seem for the notion that the very first words of the first amendment say, Congress shall make no law. The amendment applies specifically to the government, it does not apply to private actors.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I think that's just a civics deficit, perhaps there is something, maybe there is something to that. I was having a conversation with somebody yesterday and I mentioned that the first time that I ever read the constitution from top to bottom I was in 10th grade. I had never had an opportunity to examine or read any significant portion of the constitution prior to that time in my life. And that's probably a problem and probably something that we could fix if we spent a little bit of time thinking through the best way to do that.

Casey Dreier: It's one of these kind of long-term fixes. I mean, a big part of it to me, I always think is that the cost of information, of distributing information has basically gone to zero. And so that kind of allows anyone to take on an authoritative tropes of institutions without having to earn the authority and then also to distribute information and people can pick and choose kind of what they want or what they react to. And maybe in a sense that slowness of democracy in a sense means that there's kind of a lack of consequences at the same time. The knock on effects of these types of behaviors can be years away if ever, we're veering into fundamental solving. How do you solve these fundamental problems, which we're not going to solve. But again, I think seeing this as ... I think this is some sort of a wake up call in terms of how we approach what we do.

Casey Dreier: I want to veer us a little bit back towards the concept of space politics, which in some ways sounds kind of trite right now, but I just, the show that we're on. But I looked it up before this podcast this month and talking about this again, objecting to the electoral college, that was a really good point that you make. That members of the house, and this is, I think, why you saw such a disparity of that the house versus the Senate. Where, I think as many as 10 to 12 senators were going to vote to object and then about half of those people disappeared after the ... They flipped back to supporting the electoral college certification after the attack, that did not happen in the house, but because a lot of those senators, they're not for reelection for six years.

Casey Dreier: You can say, what does that say about the member? It's a very pragmatic approach as opposed to politics. But looking at those Republicans who objected, obviously Ted Cruz is one of the leading ones. He was the chair until the Senate flips of the Senate Space and Aviation Committee, five out of the six Republican members of the house space sub-committee voted to object and two out of the three Republicans on the house, commerce, justice, and science appropriations committee, with a third one having retired, haven't constituted the new CGS. But I think right as we were recording this, we saw that Robert Aderholt who did vote to object was renamed the ranking member, kind of the leadership position of that sub-committee.

Casey Dreier: I think just looking at the space committees in Congress, particularly on the house, they're objecting to the electoral college at a rate higher than the average, I guess, of the entire caucus. I racked my brain, I don't think there's any role intersection with space, but I'd be curious to see if there's any thoughts you had on that over representation beyond the fact that there's just a lot of NASA and military space centers in classically Republican districts.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I hadn't really thought about it quite that way. It's difficult to predict and I'm kind of putting on my analyst hat right now. It's difficult to predict what the long-term ramifications of some of this stuff is going to be for individual members. I think we've seen publicly many corporate packs, some of them associated with the defense contracting community and the aerospace community have announced ... Some of them have had freezes on PAC donations to Republicans that objected. Some of them have said, they're going to freeze pack donations for all members for six months or so. And so there's already sort of a financial price that's being paid for campaign donations for some of these members. But I think the atmosphere in Congress right now, it's very stressful. The relationships between Republicans and Democrats is, right now there is a lot of tension between the parties.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: And so I think just in general, what is going to be the practical effect of that on getting space legislation done. As you say, Senator Cruz objected to the electoral college vote. I think the real question is going to be, how does Senator Sinema as the potential incoming chair of that sub-committee or Senator Cantwell, who is the potential incoming chair of commerce, like how do they treat Senator Cruz as a result of his efforts? And then in the house kind of the same thing, like how is chairwoman Johnson going to treat Congressman Lucas or some of the other members of the committee that voted against the electoral college certification. I guess it remains to be seen, I guess we may not know for a little bit how those relationships may have changed or how they could change or what they may look like in the future.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: It's kind of difficult to know that to be for sure, but in the past the relationship between Republicans and Democrats on space legislation and space policy has been generally kind of outside of the bounds of the normal political atmosphere. I was interviewed for Politico recently and I made the comment that I would expect that even with the Senate flipping that space legislation is going to continue to be developed in a very bi-partisan way. And that Republicans and Democrats are going to continue to work together on these programs really well. I just don't see that changing, but the wild card could be whether or not some of these members relationships have been damaged. And I don't think we'll know that until we start to see them actually doing work together.

Casey Dreier: Right, that's a good ... And there may be a difference in degree between people like Ted Cruz and Mo Brooks who were both very out in front on objecting to the electoral college versus someone like Frank Lucas or Brian Babin who just kind of voted for it, but didn't make it a big part of their identity for awhile that may drive that. And I should note, the one Republican who did not vote to object was Michael Waltz, from Florida. He actually changed his mind after the attack. But one more thing just to kind of on the space thing. I was thinking about this just a bit and maybe this is over analyzing it, but it's interesting to me, again, seeing this over representation of people on the space committees going for the objecting to the vote, we should just emphasize again, not just a complete lack of evidence, but evidence for it was fair and it was fine. We've had 65 something court cases all tossed out. There's just nothing to show that this was fraud at that level.

Casey Dreier: But in space I was thinking about this. You would think that it would force a certain amount of empiricism or that there would be a certain amount of more empiricism by those members. You can't wish something to be true when you're exploring space because your ship will explode or your rocket will explode or something won't work. You can't wish away gravity. You can't want there to be an easier way to send people to the moon and then depend on that for that to work. Space is so unforgiving that you have to acknowledge reality. And it seems striking to me that there was this juxtaposition between having to be a reality focused approach to space policy with people who then could turn around and for whatever reasons, object to something that there is no evidence for. Again, that may be over thinking things a bit, but you would think people who had ... You worked in the house space or a science committee staff, the people who would come to that committee was there just a natural interest and respect for scientific thinking? I would have thought so, would you agree?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So I would say that oftentimes the process for getting on a specific committee can happen two different ways. It can either happen because a member is requesting that they be a part of that committee because they have a natural interest, or they may have a constituency interest. A minute ago we talked about the house being very responsive to the constituencies. So sometimes you have members that get onto the science committee because they represent a center and it's a big employer in their district, and so it's important for them to have a voice on NASA issues that are representative of their district. And sometimes members can be recruited onto a particular committee. So for example, chairman Lamar Smith, when he was chairman of the house science committee was very active in recruiting members, both Democrats and Republicans. Recruiting members onto the house science committee that he either thought had a natural fit or that he thought would just be good for the committee in general.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Most of the members that are on the committee, either they just have a natural interest in the subject matter or they have a constituent interest in the topic. It's important, I think for listeners to remember that members are certainly politicians, but they are people, they have their own personal interests in things. They have their own backgrounds and family lives and their own careers that inform their interests and their decisions and the way that they look at the world. And I think it's easy for us to think of members of Congress as this like monolithic, like well, they're just members, but they are individuals and people with their own backgrounds and their own special interests and that sort of thing. And so sometimes you have members of committees that just have an interest in a policy area, but maybe they don't have necessarily like a career or a background in it.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: So when chairman Smith is kind of a perfect example of this, he was chairman of the house science committee, but he was an attorney by trade. He just had a very intense interest in science and in astronomy and in math. He thought it was really important to invest in science and technology development and that sort of stuff. And so that's how he ended up being the chair. But it is, I think, important to remember that members are people. They bring with them to their position all kinds of backgrounds and interests and all sorts of stuff. I don't know if that's particularly helpful and explaining why they ended up on science committee, but that I think is just an important perspective for folks to keep in mind.

Casey Dreier: That's a good point. So just to kind of maybe wrap up this discussion, how are you moving forward thinking about this, or what are some thoughts, like if you wanted to just share your state of mind or talk about how you're revising your mental model of how politics works, what are you taking forward and what do you hope to see happen?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Well, good thing you asked an easy one to close.

Casey Dreier: Just a quick one, and 30 seconds, go.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: That's a really interesting question. I think for myself and probably for a lot of people the last four years have been in a lot of ways, like I don't think any of us could have predicted what these last four years would look like. I think it's probably an understatement to say that the last four years has been very stressful for our political environment. And the way that we operate just the machinery of government, how the machinery of government functions. I know that I personally have been spending an awful lot of time thinking about what happened on January 6th and the things that led up to January 6th means, just for me as an American, what it means for me as somebody who participates in the political process actively and what types of things I consider to be either cornerstones or bedrocks of my own political thought, and my own personal philosophy on how government should operate.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I'd like to think I'm not alone in that. And especially with folks that have spent time in the political process, but it's easy to forget for those of us that work the DC political world, that there is an entire country that is going through all of these things as well. There's an entire country of people, hundreds of millions of people that are going through the pandemic, that are going through and struggling with unemployment. That have family members that have died as a result of the pandemic and family members that have gotten sick and are still dealing with the scars of that sickness. We have folks that are just trying to get from day to day, not knowing what new thing am I going to have to deal with tomorrow. And because so much of what happens in DC is so focused on either the president or what he's doing or Congress and what it's doing, it's easy for us to forget that the decisions and the things that happen here affect real people with real families that have real concerns, that have nothing to do with DC and whatever drama is going on up here.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: I know for my part, I am going to try my best to do better, to think about what the ramifications are for people that are just trying to live their lives, that are just trying to make it to the next day, that are just trying to be successful and live the American dream. Like to be more focused on those folks and less focused on whatever drama is happening here and try and think about the things that happen here more holistically than perhaps I've been doing over the last well, really, I guess the last 10 years.

Casey Dreier: That's interesting and a good point. Can these institutions rebuild, in a sense, trust where clearly they have lost a lot of ground to lead to something like this, even though it was a small fraction of people and to have that connection, is it relevant? Is it doing good and is it doing an earnest effort to do well? And I'll add just to answer part of my own question, that something that I've taken out of this is an even deeper respect for the constitution that we do have, how well it was written and the power and respect that it has to see what the vice-president had to put up with to follow the constitution. But his respect for the constitution is what helped him through that period.

Casey Dreier: And also I'd say a profound respect for the idea of federalism and helping to establish faith and reliability in a broad electoral system. It's not run by the federal government, it's run by basically the County level. Thousands of places across the country, which actually makes it really hard to have a sustained effort to do sort of widespread fraud. Because there's so many different systems with different people involved in it. So the structure of the constitution and how it structured this country, I do come out with a deeper respect for even at the same time I remain worried about, I think our institutions themselves, if that makes sense.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Yeah, for sure. I think oftentimes when we talk about the institutions of American democracy, I think of ... We talk about things ... Or I think probably most people automatically assume that those things are tangible things. So like the actual legislative process or Congress as an institution or the presidency as an institution. But I think it's important to remember too, that a lot of the institutions in our country that are important to the health of our democracy are somewhat abstract and intangible. They're things like just general mutual respect, being able to have disagreements with folks without assuming that they're evil or have mal-intent. Those sorts of like normative things are also important structures of a functioning democracy. And we can all, all of us, every single one of us, we can contribute to the high functioning of those norms and behaviors.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Thinking about your neighbor who maybe has a Trump/Pence sign in their yard, or your neighbor who has a Biden/Harris sign in their yard, not as your enemy and not somebody to be hateful towards, but instead just somebody that maybe you disagree with and maybe it would be interesting to hear their perspective. I think every single one of us can take those norms of democratic behavior into our hands and contribute to their continued success and viability.

Casey Dreier: Great point to end on. Jared, I want to thank you again for joining the show and agreeing to talk about this and will you come back on at a future episode and let's talk about your time in the National Space Council. How does that sound?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Oh, sure. That'd be great.

Casey Dreier: We'll take that as a future one, because that's also just a great story, but I do appreciate your time today and very helpful insight. And do you want to let know how people can find you online, on Twitter?

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Oh, sure. Yeah. So my Twitter handle is just a Space_Jared, J-A-R-E-D. So just Space_Jared. Most of my tweets there are all space-related and either analysis or just kind of pass it along the news of the day in the space world. But every once in a while you get a little bit a dose of my perspective on what might be happening in the political world.

Casey Dreier: Thanks again, Jared, we will have you on in the future and hopefully for more fun discussions. But again, I appreciate your time. Thank you for being here.

Jared Zambrano-Stout: Sure thing. Thank you, Casey.

Mat Kaplan: Chief Advocate and Senior Space Policy Advisor, Casey Dreier of The Planetary Society, my colleague with his special guest for this January Space Policy Edition, Jared Zambrano-Stout. I said it up front Casey, and I'll stand by it, a sobering, but also inspiring conversation. I'm kind of sorry now that I forgot to tell Jared, thank you for your service. Maybe you can convey that to him or he'll listen to this and he'll hear it himself.

Casey Dreier: A good reminder about the people who choose to devote their and commit large portions of their lives to what is generally a relatively thankless job and should not be a job they literally risk their lives for.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, I look forward to getting off the planet with you next month.

Casey Dreier: Yes, thank you.

Mat Kaplan: That'd be the first Friday in February, is February 5th and we will be back with the Planetary Radio Space Policy Edition. We would love for you to in the meantime, visit us at and consider joining this organization that will continue to put Casey to work and our other staff in Washington DC, looking out for the interests of all of those who believe that a great democracy should have a great space program and we hope that you will join us in that effort. Casey, thanks. I'll see you next month.

Casey Dreier: Look forward to it, Mat, and look forward to talking about space policy.

Mat Kaplan: And I hope that the rest of you will also join us. Join me for the weekly Planetary Radio right now featuring it's a wonderful escapist conversation, talking to Amanda Lee Falkenberg, Nicole Stott, the astronaut and Linda Spilker, the project scientist for Cassini about Amanda Lee Falkenberg's, The Moon's Symphony. It's a wonderful discussion if you want to take your mind off for an hour or so, all of the other troubles around the world, it's a good one to do that with. And next week we'll talk about perseverance. Seven more minutes of terror, now only about a month away. Thanks again for joining us for Planetary Radio Space Policy Edition, take care.