Policy Breakfast Past Events

06.2014 Maria Hinojosa


Maria HinojosaFor Maria Hinojosa, reforming our immigration system is a matter of both common sense and mutual benefit.

"Immigration reform has an effect on all of us, in terms of the economy, in terms of lost opportunities," Hinojosa said, in an interview with Robert Siegel during the most recent Public Agenda / CUNY Graduate Center Policy Breakfast.

Hinojosa spoke from her experiences as a Latina born in Mexico City and raised in Chicago who chose to become an American citizen after holding a Green Card for many years. Hinojosa, an award-winning journalist with NPR and PBS, also spends her days exploring the stories of native-born and immigrant Latinos around the country.

Hinojosa was both pragmatic and empathetic in expressing her view of immigration reform, pointing to the active recruitment of immigrant labor that existed historically and continues to this day. "The reality is that the actual history of this country has always depended on that cheap immigrant labor."

Before 2001, laborers - recruited or not - were able to pass back and forth between the border. The secure post-9/11 border, however, has forced an either/or choice on many and, Hinojosa said, "created this problem of having 11 million undocumented people... Not everyone wants to stay here; some people want to go home."

Many argue that a pathway to citizenship would effectively mean 11 million people get to cut the line. On this point, Hinojosa refers again to the active recruitment of immigrant labor, as well as her everyday experiences interviewing undocumented immigrants. "People don't want to live undocumented," Hinojosa said. "Every immigrant I know would be so happy if there was a line and a way to do this properly... It would be an enormously long line... but [at least] then we're resolving a problem."

Any solution for our broken immigration system will require an honest reckoning of both our country's future economic necessities and the persistent need for flexible flows of immigrant labor, Hinojosa said. "It behooves us as a country to have a conversation about who we are... how do we manage future flows, how do we deal with an American economy in which the only way it can grow is by opening up as opposed to closing down? What are the smart ways that we can talk about labor moving back and forth?"

You can watch the entire discussion between Maria Hinojosa and Robert Siegel here. Interested in attending a future Policy Breakfast? Let us know and we'll be sure to get you an invite. And if you'd like to learn more about immigration reform and some of the choices we face and should (hopefully sooner rather than later) work together to resolve, check out our Citizens' Solutions Guide on the topic.

Click here to watch the video of this event.

12.2013 Bill Bradley

Former United States Senator

Bill BradleyWhat is your vision for a future in which our national political leaders collaborate, in spite of their differences, and do the work their people want and need them to do? Can you even imagine it?

For former Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat who represented the people of New Jersey for 18 years, there are a few variations of such a future.

Senator Bradley joined us this week for the latest installment of our Policy Breakfast series. On a snowy, messy New York morning, Bradley addressed a full room at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, our partner in the series.

Adam Davidson, of NPR's Planet Money and The New York Times Magazine, spoke with the former Senator about the past, present and future of American politics.

Senator Bradley fondly recalled a time of personal relationships among members of Congress. "It was a time when there were personal relationships among members of Congress… People lived in Washington and socialized with each other. It made a big difference," he said.

He also shared an anecdote about working with Senator Alan Simpson, a conservative Republican from Wyoming who was charged with a 1986 immigration bill. "I had 22 questions about immigration on a yellow pad. I asked him the 22 questions and he answered them, no staff present. I agreed with 16 of them, I disagreed with 6 of them, and at the end of the meeting, I said, 'Well, you’ve got my support on the bill.' I didn’t even know if there was a Democratic position, because it was the relationship with someone you trusted who's competent substantively."

The current state of play in Congress is a vast departure from the Senator's days, and one he identifies as possibly dangerous for our future. "There are real opportunity costs to paralysis," he said. Historically, decisions and actions key to the health of our nation stemmed from compromise between opponents.

Instead of doom and gloom, the former Senator shared a few visions of a pathway forward. His most provocative included a third party – something many people believe will be key for any possibility of progress. For the Senator, realistically, this party would be a Congressional party, not a presidential one, and would gain a foothold in 2016.

The former Senator could see the party running 30 to 40 candidates, half of whom would be ex-military. This theoretical party would have four issues they would stand firmly for – infrastructure, for example, and deficit reduction. Most importantly, their proposals for addressing these issues would be very specific and resolute. "You have to have almost the draft law, then say, if you sign up, this is what you support," said the Senator. Candidates would commit to serving 6 years in Congress.

If 20 to 30 members of this third party were to succeed, "they're the fulcrum of power and suddenly Congress is turned into Parliaments around the world where third parties are indeed the deciders of what happens… You could easily see this agenda done and you could see the country saying, well, we moved forward."

During the remainder of the interview and the audience Q&A portion of the event, Senator Bradley addressed issues including U.S. history, globalization, the economy, education, the teaching profession and immigration. Video and audio of the full event will be available shortly. Interested in attending a future Policy Breakfast? Let us know.

Click here to watch the video of this event.

04.2012 David Remnick

Editor, The New Yorker

David Remnick It is no secret that the economic model for magazines, and for news media in general, has shifted dramatically in response to mass digitization and a dearth of advertising dollars. How, in the face of these potentially derailing challenges, have some news outlets managed to not only survive, but excel and serve the vital public purpose of informing and leavening the public dialogue?

In the latest installation of the Maxwell School/ Public Agenda Policy Breakfast series David Remnick explained why The New Yorker, for which he has been editor since 1998, has such good prospects. "People want what we do," he told Robert Siegel, moderator of the series. "People want depth, they want humor, they want what the best journalists in America do."

While digitization may provide unique opportunities for media-technological advances expand access to a new international audience, tools like Twitter allow readers to continue the discussion in the wake of an original piece-- Remnick worries what the lack of resources will do to local, investigative journalism, which he identifies as a key element to the health of our nation's democracy.

"If that factor of American democracy... dr[ies] up considerably, both in quantity or in number, and [is] not replaced or do[es] not revive [itself] through the use of the web," Remnick said, "we lose an enormous factor in the health of the American democracy and in civic life."

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this event

06.2011 Donald Gregg

Former U.S. Ambassador to Korea

Donald Gregg Sometimes, the world turns on one person in a room willing to buck the trend.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, several key advisers were pushing President John F. Kennedy to order air strikes to take out Soviet missile bases, said Ambassador Donald Gregg, former envoy to South Korea and speaker at the June 15 Public Agenda/Maxwell School Policy Breakfast. That is, until one general was candid enough to say he couldn't guarantee the strikes would work.

"Saying 'we can't complete the mission you want us to' is terribly, terribly important and very rare," Gregg said.

That kind of honesty is also critical as the United States faces critical decisions in places like Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula, he said in a conversation with Robert Siegal, the NPR journalist who moderates the breakfasts at the Ford Foundation.

Gregg started his career at the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951, serving in Burma, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea. Later, he became national security adviser to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, and was named ambassador to South Korea in 1989. He is also a former chairman of the Korea Society.

A general Gregg knew in Vietnam once told him there were two kinds of commanders: "butt-kickers"and "example setters." Overall, Gregg said, the risk is that the "butt-kicking" type of leader will end up stifling creative thinking among their subordinates.

"The butt-kickers don't get nearly as good advice as the example-setters," he said.

We can also deceive ourselves when we "demonize" our opponents, he said. In cases like Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, we ended up clouding our own judgment. That's all the more reason why it's important to speak up.

One of the proudest moments of his career, Gregg said, came when he was CIA station chief in Seoul during a South Korean crackdown on dissent. Gregg said he disobeyed orders to lodge a personal protest over the case of a professor who died while in the custody of the South Korean intelligence service. Shortly after, the head of the agency was replaced.

He tells that story when he speaks to CIA recruits.

"The ability to speak truth to power is terribly important to a society," Gregg said. "If it comes to the point where you have to break a rule or disobey orders or quit, do it."

You can read more about the event here, or watch the video .

04.2011 David Brooks

Columnist, The New York Times

David Brooks Are you a very important person?

In 1950, Gallup asked this of high school seniors. Twelve percent responded "yes." When asked the same question in 2005, 80% responded affirmatively. According to journalist David Brooks, this is symptomatic of a profound shift in emotion and culture in the United States, a shift that has turned us from a nation that celebrated citizenship at the expense of individualism to one that does the opposite, raising the individual above society.

Brooks, op-ed columnist at the New York Times and recent guest at the Maxwell School/ Public Agenda Policy Breakfast series, authored the book The Social Animal, in which he explores the interplay of emotion, reason and culture. Brooks sat down with fellow journalist Robert Siegel, senior host of All Things Considered on NPR, April 18th at the Ford Foundation, to discuss this interplay.

According to Brooks, while we often assume that human decision-making is based on rational calculations and incentives, research increasingly shows that emotion is in fact the foundation for reason in guiding behavior.

"What emotion does is it assigns value to things, it tells you what you want. When you look at something, you react to it, with a desire for it or an aversion to it, with an admiration for it or contempt to it. If you don't have that emotional repertoire, then you can't make rational decisions," said Brooks.

We have the power to educate our emotions and develop that repertoire, Brooks said.

"We have to educate our emotions, through poetry, music, sports. The more you make your emotional responses subtle and widen the repertoire of your emotions, the more rational you're going to be," he said.

Emotional education starts early and is intrinsically linked with personal relationships. In education, Brooks said, "the things that really matter are your ability to establish a connection with a teacher, your ability to control your impulses, your ability to establish social relationships with peers."

Brooks is "very optimistic" about education reform, with a caveat.

"My only concern is that as we cut, we're going to cut based on an old version of human capital, which says that the things we count are things we can measure, all other stuff is peripheral, and so we'll focus on the reading and math, which is important, but we'll cut the art and music, because we think that's peripheral, but if we pay attention, that's actually central," Brooks said. Things like poetry, sports and music also help keep kids in school.

For more of Brook's observations, click here to see video of this event.

10.2010 Dr. David Baltimore

Nobel Prize-Winning Biologist

David Baltimore What does science need to move forward toward unlocking the unknown about HIV, cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, cellular and genetic diseases, and more?

Dr. David Baltimore, who won the Nobel Prize 35 years ago for his research in virology and has had a profound influence on national science policy on such issues as HIV-AIDS and recombinant DNA research, is wary of predictions about exactly how long it will take to develop vaccines or new therapies. "We've always said, about an HIV vaccine, that we're at least 10 years off-and we've always been right," said Dr. Baltimore at the Oct. 21, 2010, Maxwell School/Public Agenda Policy Breakfast in New York. Dr. Baltimore was, however, quite clear on what he thinks it takes to give science the fuel it needs to get to those breakthrough moments: strong, steady commitments in policy and funding which allows researchers the freedom to follow whichever trails are the most promising-and not necessarily the ones that looked that way at the time a project was initially funded.

One thing that slowed early research into AIDS, says Dr. Baltimore, was a lack of commitment by the scientific establishment to investigating HIV. He reacted by calling on his colleagues to get involved, and then, getting involved himself. "Today, we understand the virus very well," he said, adding that while the search for a vaccine continues, there are also people looking at alternative approaches to the problem.

There are many challenges in research, from cancer-characterized by Dr. Baltimore as "very slippery," with a great ability to adapt and defeat a therapy-to stem cells, a field with funding especially but not uniquely vulnerable to political change. No matter what the area of research, however, scientists diving into what could be many years of study on a problem need to know: Will the financial support be there for me to continue my research? Can I make a stable career of this?

For more of Dr. Baltimore's observations, click here to see video of this event.

05.2010 Daniel Yankelovich

Chairman and Co-Founder of Public Agenda

Dan YankelovichIs the American public in the midst of a fundamental change of attitude, in which we are becoming so partisan that it is less and less likely that we can come together in dialogue on public policy problems and work together on solutions? Daniel Yankelovich, co-founder of Public Agenda and a pioneering social scientist whose work laid the foundation for much of the public opinion research that is done today, doesn't think so.

Speaking at the Maxwell School/Public Agenda Policy Breakfast lecture series, Yankelovich (click here to find out more about his latest theory, The Learning CurveTM, on how the public thinks and learns about difficult issues on its way to becoming ready to embrace solutions), says the public is currently in the midst of a huge wave of mistrust, frustration and anger that will pass - but likely not until fears about the economy recede. This isn't, however, the first time the public's been in such a bad frame of mind, said Yankelovich, looking back to the unease of the McCarthy era of the 1950s and the so-called "public malaise" of the late 1970s, when the U.S. was struggling with stagflation, gasoline shortages and the Iranian hostage crisis.

Click here to read more about this discussion and learn more about the implications for the public and policymakers as we wrestle with issues from health care and financial reform to green jobs and their potential to jumpstart the economy.

03.2010 Molly Corbett Broad

President, American Council on Education

Molly Corbett Broad How can higher education control costs? How can we better prepare teachers? How does America's education system measure up compared to the rest of the world? Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council of Education, touched on these questions and more during the March 22 Maxwell School/ Public Agenda Policy Breakfast entitled, "The Crisis in Higher Education: Financial and Global Challenges."

As the former University of North Carolina (UNC) President and having held leadership positions at a number of both public and private universities, Broad discussed issues in higher education that varied from the recently passed student loan bill to the NCAA championships and seemingly everything in between.

12.2009 Philip K. Howard

A leader of legal reform in America
Author, Life Without Lawyers
Founder, Common Good, a legal reform coalition

Philip K. Howard Will Washington make medicine any less defensive or expensive? That was the question posed to Philip K. Howard (http://www.philipkhoward.com), a leader of legal reform in America, who shared his perspective on the current healthcare debate as an adviser to national political leaders, including Vice President Al Gore, on legal and regulatory reform. Howard also serves as Vice-Chairman of the law firm Covington & Burling, LLP and is the founder of Common Good, a nonpartisan national coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America.

As the author of Life Without Lawyers (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), The Death of Common Sense (Random House, 1995) and The Collapse of the Common Good, Howard's incisive and often witty discussion offered a real wake-up call on our current healthcare crisis.

10.2009 Dr. Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Dr. Richard N. Haass As the Obama administration examines challenging choices in Afghanistan and beyond, Dr. Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, shared his views on President Obama's characterization of Afghanistan as "a war of necessity." Haass, who was a director of policy planning for the Department of State and a U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan, argued that in order to be a war of necessity, one must first ask if the war of vital national interest and if there no viable alternative.

As one of just a handful of individuals involved at a senior level of U.S. government decision making during both Iraq conflicts and as special assistant to President George H. W. Bush, Haass offered a uniquely insightful, personal and fair analysis of U.S. foreign policy today.

06.2009 David M. Walker

President & CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation
Former Controller General of the United States

David Walker As Congress began work on tackling health care reform, the Honorable David M. Walker, then-CEO and president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, shared his views on the urgent need to reduce the federal budget deficit. Walker, a former Comptroller of the United States, called for the convening of a Fiscal Future Commission to put all government spending on the table and engage the public to chart a course out of deficit spending and plans based on "bad math."

The challenge of health care reform, warned Walker, is not solely about money, as we spend more than other countries but still get below average results. "We're not looking for a nip and tuck here," he said, "We need radical reconstructive surgery, in installments, over time."

04.2009 Susan Schwab

Ambassador, United States Trade Representative, 2006-2009

Susan Schwab "What are your tools of soft power? Trade is a very, very significant tool. If you're going around poking your trading partners in the eye with "Buy American" provisions or not enacting the free-trade agreement with Korea or Colombia, do you really think that's going to contribute with your objectives to make nice with the rest of the world-- which is clearly a very fine objective of the new administration?"

Central to the global economy is the issue of trade. Ambassador Susan S. Schwab, former United States Trade Representative under the Bush administration, candidly discussed the role of free markets in economic well-being, commented on the impact of recent trade developments, and offered her analysis of trade policy and the Obama administration.

11.2008 William H. Donaldson

Former Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Former President of the New York Stock Exchange

WILLIAM H. DONALDSON "We're no longer isolated. We can address some of these regulatory changes and get our house in order, but it will be meaningless unless we have a global approach... An attempt to get the world coordinated is one of the big challenges going on in the world right now."

As the United States works to steady a floundering economy, William H. Donaldson, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, and a member of President-Elect Obama's transition team of economic advisors, offered his economic forecast on the crisis facing Wall Street and the global economy. Drawing on his experience at the S.E.C and Wall Street, Donaldson shared his misgivings and concerns about the current bailout strategy, the lack of regulation from federal agencies around securities and exotic financial instruments, and the future of the auto industry.

10.2008 Drew Altman

President and CEO, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Drew Altman "In the past, the big obstacles in health care reform were special interest groups and finding money. In recent times, the biggest obstacle is the fundamental ideological divide which will still be there no matter who wins the presidency. In my view, there needs to be a centrist compromise, or there can be no deal at all."

With the election weeks away and the economy facing a historic meltdown, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation president and renowned commentator on health care, Dr. Drew Altman, assessed the landscape of health care reform for the next administration. Altman discussed the obstacles to reforming health care, including the rigid ideological divide across party lines, and the necessity for policy makers to reframe the issue as one of economic security and affordability for Americans

04.2008 Paul Begala

Political Commentator, CNN

PAUL BEGALA"The center of the country has moved left. And so the center of the Democratic Party has as well. The majority of Democrats did not support the war, even though many of its prominent leaders did. And the revulsion against that has really helped move the country, not just the party, to the left. The percentage of Americans who say that the government has an obligation to help those who cannot help themselves---the classic question of liberalism---has gone up. Even among self-described conservatives over the last ten years."

Amidst the heat of the Presidential primary campaigns, Paul Begala, political commentator for CNN and former counselor to the Clinton Administration, shared his very candid and pointed views on the 2008 presidential election. Begala spoke with great humor and little reserve about the campaign strategies employed by the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the pitfalls associated with balancing the role of the popular vote with superdelegates in the Democratic Party nomination process, the importance of placing energy independence and security higher on the national agenda, and the candidates' position on the looming fiscal crisis.

02.2008 Rep. Charles Rangel

U.S. Congressman

CONGRESSMAN CHARLES RANGEL"We have to address Social Security. . . . Because each day, week, month that we do nothing about Social Security, about Medicare, and to a lesser extent the Alternative Minimum Tax, the more indebtedness that we're getting involved in."

With the presidential primary season heating up and the economy teetering on the brink of recession, Democratic Congressman and chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel offered his insights on the election and addressed issues related to the nation's tax code and tax reform. The outspoken Congressman also shared his views on hot-button issues such as trade policy, the federal budget, universal health care, and the philosophical policy differences between Democrats and Republicans.

12.2007 Admiral Bobby Inman

Former Director of the National Security Agency
Former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence

ADMIRAL BOBBY INMANPublic Agenda board member, retired U.S. Navy Admiral, Former Director of the National Security Agency and Former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Bobby R. Inman spoke officially off-record on some of the most pressing and difficult philosophical issues related to our nation's intelligence gathering and foreign policy. In a session titled "U.S. Intelligence: What Are the Prospects for the Future?" Inman talked candidly to the room of 100 about what motivates intelligence gathering heads, what are some of the common mistakes and how he believed the Department of Homeland Security ought to be operating. Inman is currently the LBJ Centennial Chair in National Policy at the University of Texas Austin and remains a key advisor to some of the nation's most prominent intelligence and international affairs leaders.

09.2007 Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU"When you are seeking to work for peace... sometimes we say 'We are ready to speak to you, but not to them.' But my understanding of the concept of negotiation is that it is not something that happens between friends usually. Negotiation happens between enemies. If you want peace you must speak to those who are most unacceptable in your view."

Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu was the sixth speaker in the policy breakfast series and he brought with him an international crowd of world leaders. Co-hosted by Ireland's Niall Mellon of the Mellon Township Trust, the session ranged over a host of international issues including housing development efforts for the poor, truth and reconciliation efforts post-apartheid, the role of the United States in world affairs as perceived by developing nations, the shortcomings of South African's present government, crime in South Africa, thoughts on Zimbabwe and Mugabe, and turning the tide on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

06.2007 Kenneth Mehlman

Former Republican National Committee Chairman

KENNETH MEHLMANFormer Republican National Committee Chairman and Campaign Chair of Bush/Cheney '04 Kenneth Mehlman put forth his predictions for the 2008 Presidential election just as things were starting to heat up in the race for primary positioning. With several members of the media in the room and breakfast attendees with some very pointed questions about how the 2004 election campaign was conducted, this session generated sparks. Mehlman not only talked about campaigning, but also the future of the Republican party and the influence of Evangelicals.

04.2007 Brent Scowcroft

National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush

BRENT SCOWCROFT"Strangely enough in this period of conflict and weak government ?no government on the Palestinian side, weak government in Israel ?there probably has never been a better chance to resolve the issue."

General Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, talked openly about his position on the Iraq war, what he told President George W. Bush before, during, and after the invasion and why he thinks things went so wrong. Scowcroft also discussed the new realities of our relationship with the European Union and the growing influence of China. This session was officially off-the-record.

12.2006 Ambassador John Bruton

Former European Union ambassador to the United States

AMBASSADOR JOHN BRUTON"Europeans would probably see 9/11 as a huge crime rather than a huge act of war-making."

John Bruton, former European Union ambassador to the United States, covered topics as varied as the integration of Muslims into western cultures; why Americans don't get it when it comes to global warming; common challenges for the U.S. and E.U. on aging populations; how or if to address Russia's threats to democratic functioning; and why America is no longer cool among young Europeans.

04.2006 Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Former Congressional Budget Office Director
Former Chief Economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisors

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN"We don't understand why healthcare costs per person have risen 2.5 percent faster every year than income per capita for the past four decades. . . . Until we diagnose it, we can't fix it very well."

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Congressional Budget Office director and former chief economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisors, covered a diverse array of topics ranging from tax policy to war funding, from global warming to the challenges that anyone elected president will face. Holtz-Eakin spoke unguardedly and humorously about some of the nation's thorniest issues.

11.2005 Paul Volcker

Former Federal Reserve Chairman

Paul Volker"The U.S. economy is doing very well. The question is how long it will last. Consumption is in general terms being financed by a lot of borrowing abroad."

In the series' inaugural breakfast, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker provided prescient thoughts on the American economy and the performance of leaders in Washington, as well as insider knowledge of his experiences as chairman of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme, which had recently released its final report detailing corruption and kickbacks.

Policy Breakfast Videos


Public Agenda knows what it takes to fuel progress on critical issues.
We need your support to keep things moving!

Join the Community


Take Action