<i>FTN</i> Transcript - Jan. 14

face the nation logo, 2009 CBS

Bob Schieffer, CBS
News Chief Washington Correspondent:
Joining us from Phoenix, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, a very strong supporter of John Ashcroft, and from New York City, Senator Charles Schumer, who has some questions about this nomination.

Senator Schumer, it appears that John Ashcroft is going to be confirmed. Trent Lott says he has all 50 Republicans lined up behind him. We hear there maybe as many as ten Democrats who have privately given their support. Is he going to be confirmed?

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.): Well, I think it's really too early to tell, Bob. You know, people have leanings, but I've heard a very few who have publicly committed one way or the other. And I think all eyes are going to be on the hearings.

I think there's a general view in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans alike, that you want to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But on a nominee like John Ashcroft, whose views, it seems to me, are not just mainstream conservative, but he would be one of the one or two most conservative senators in the entire Senate on issues that the attorney general has jurisdiction over.

Schieffer: Well, let me just ask you on that very point. The question that his opponents seem to be raising is that because he has these very strong views on things like abortion, on things like gun control, would he enforce the laws that he would be charged with enforcing?
Having said that, I will ask you, he's been in government 25 years, 18 of those years in enforcement capacities. Do you know of a single incident where he has not enforced the laws he was charged with enforcing?

Schumer: Well, I think the issue here is - I don't, you know, I guess then that would come about not as Senator but as attorney general and as governor.

And it seems to me, for instance, if you believe that abortion is murder, a view that I know that Senator Ashcroft has, but, you know, I respect it, vehemently disagree with it, how then are you going to protect clinics where, at least according to his beliefs, murder is going on? He's never had that challenge before.

Or, if you are so strongly against gun control laws, when the president or one of the Cabinet ministers says to you, enforce something that you think is so - you're so vehemently opposed to, do you put the emphasis then? And sure, if you ask the words, he'll say he'll enforce the law. But this takes really hard-nosed, day-to-day dedicated enforcement, and when one has such strong ideological beliefs, you wonder whether the law will be fully enforced.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Senator Kyl, let's talk a little bit about those strong beliefs, because during the consideration of Bill Lann Lee to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, John Ashcroft was opposed to him. He said he was unqualified because he, quote, and let me read you this, "brings an intensity that belongs to advocacy, but ot the kind of balance that belongs to administration.''

Couldn't that be said about John Ashcroft himself?

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): No, but it certainly could be said about Bill Lann Lee. If you'd been at the hearings, if you'd heard him testify...

Borger: But why could that not be said...

Kyl: Would you let me finish, Gloria, please. I'm saying that it is something that could easily be said about Bill Lann Lee, but cannot be properly said about John Ashcroft. Here is an example. When my friend Chuck Schumer says the question is will he enforce the law, he has always said that he would enforce the law with respect to violence at abortion clinics. He supported an amendment of my colleague Senator Schumer relating to the non-dischargeability of bankruptcy debts as a result of violence at clinics.

Kyl: As attorney general of Missouri, taking the two specific examples that Chuck Schumer just mentioned, he enforced Missouri's Brady Bill, it's gun registration bill, even though he was not crazy about the law.

And with respect to abortion, he rendered opinions as attorney general that were contrary to his personal beliefs, but which upheld Missouri law and were in accord with, in effect, the pro-choice position at that time, because it was the law. Yes, he will enforce the law as he is required to do.

Borger: Let me read you another quote from Senator Ashcroft, who said that "there are voices in the Republican party who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise; I stand here today to reject those deceptions.'' Is that the kind of balance that we would need in an attorney general?

Kyl: First of all, the role of a legislator is to propose, to debate, to argue, to try to get your point of view accepted by the majority. And that is a different role than the role of attorney general. You are an officer of the court. You are obliged to defend the Constitution and to apply it appropriately.

I think when people accuse John Ashcroft on the one hand of being very committed to his principles, as you just point out, and very religious as a matter of fact, on the one hand, and then on the other hand, question whether when he puts his hand on the Bible and swears that he will uphold the Constitution, that maybe suddenly he will lose those principles, that there is a disconnect there. John Ashcroft is a man of great integrity. He will do what the law requires.

Schieffer: Senator Schumer, the supporters of Senator Ashcroft say that you and others who have criticized John Ashcroft are really just trying to smear him, that this is the politics of personal destruction. How do you respond to that?

Schumer: I resent that very much. The founding fathers did not give the president the unmitigated right to choose Cabinet officers. Advise and consent is not a blank check. And when you have an office that has such sensitivity, perhps the most sensitive Cabinet position, and when you have somebody that is regarded as the most extreme on these issues, that's the place where advise and consent is very careful. It is not just our right to ask questions; it's our obligation.

This is a very important position, very sensitive to minorities, to immigrants, to women, where Senator Ashcroft has shown extreme views. He is not simply a mainstream conservative. The John Birch Society said he was their second favorite senator, you know, even more than Jesse Helms.

You know, if there had been a Democratic president and he had chosen an extreme dove for secretary of defense, you could be sure people on the right would be asking lots of questions, as they should.

Schieffer: Well, what about these charges that this man, who is very religious, is being persecuted because of his religious views? People say look, these liberal Democrats didn't say anything when Joe Lieberman was out there talking about his religion. Why all of a sudden is it a big crime for John Ashcroft to be talking about his religion?

Schumer: I think that's a straw man. John Ashcroft is a person of faith. I think that's a gift. I greatly respect it. But let's not forget, when the Founding Fathers set up the Constitution, they separated church and state. And the religious beliefs that one professes, that's great. God bless America for that. But that should not interfere in any way with the enforcement of the law.

And it's easy for somebody to get up there and say I'll enforce the law, but when the secretary of HEW calls the attorney general and asks an opinion about whether something is constitutional; when in the middle of the night the president calls up and says, well, we have a choice of whether to spend money, for instance, to protect gun control or on something else, what kind of decisions is that attorney general going to make? These are legitimate and important questions that we should probe thoroughly before making a decision.

Schieffer: Now, let me ask Senator Kyl the other side of that story. How should, Senator Kyl, those of the Jewish faith take it when John Ashcroft says, as he did in that speech we heard so much about down at Bob Jones University, "we have no king but Jesus in this country''? How should they take that?

Kyl: Well, they should take it as a Christian speaking to a group of Christians talking about what they have in common. That is the Christian belief, and it was one of the battle cries of the revolution of the founding of this country, which enables all of us, Christian, Jew, Muslim and everyone else, to enjoy the freedoms that we have.

Schieffer: And let me just stop you right there, because I want to ask Senator Schumer. Do you...

Schumer: I have no problem with him saying that. I just don't want his religious beliefs, Joe Lieberman's religious beliefs, or anyone's religious beliefs to then cross oer the line and dictate the way they govern. That's what separation of church and state is all about.

Borger: Senator...

Kyl: Bob, could I get in a word in edgewise?

Schieffer: Yes, go ahead, go ahead sir; continue, I just wanted to get Senator Schumer's response.

Kyl: Thanks, I appreciate that. The point - I just want to make two quick points here. Joe Lieberman, I thought, advanced this debate significantly when he continued to say, look, my religion informs my civic beliefs. That is proper. We're not telling other people what they have to do, but I must tell you that part of what I believe as a U.S. Senator and what I would believe as vice president is informed and influenced by my religious beliefs. That's what John Ashcroft says.

Secondly, when you say he's got to assure us that he'll enforce the law: You are asking him in effect to prove a negative. And what I tried to point out before is that on the two specific examples that my colleague, Senator Schumer, brought up, abortion and gun control, John Ashcroft has a record as attorney general of Missouri of enforcing the law.

So it's very hard to keep asking him to prove something when he continues to say, look, I will enforce the law. My record shows that I've enforced the law. What is it that suggests that I haven't done that in the past?

(CROSSTALK)

Schumer: I would say at the hearings that's the kind of detailed questions that we intend to ask Senator Ashcroft in terms of enforcement of the law.

But also remember, Senator Ashcroft, as was mentioned, did apply an ideological standard when he rejected Bill Lann Lee, when he rejected the surgeon general on the grounds that this man believed in pro-choice, and if we were to use those same standards, the Senate would have a rough time approving John Ashcroft.

Borger: Senator, let me ask Senator Kyl this about another part of Senator Ashcroft's record, which is on the question of race. He has been charged with being racially insensitive, not only because he blocked the nomination of Judge Ronnie White as a federal judge, but also because he opposed a court-ordered school desegregation in St. Louis.

Senator Kyl, how do you respond to the charges that Senator Ashcroft is racially insensitive?

Kyl: Well, a lot of good Democrats have laid that one to rest, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who isn't influenced by these special interest groups, the retiring senator from New York, says that John Ashcroft will make a superb attorney general.

With respect to these charges of racism, I think it's really an ugly, ugly charge to make, because no one that I know of in any responsible position has ever suggested that any decision that John Ashcroft made was racially-based. And I hope that during the course of these hearings, that when those questions are raised, people will listen very careully to John Ashcroft's responses.

Schieffer: But Senator Kyl, there is sort of a chain of things. For instance, as governor, he twice vetoed bills which would have allowed groups like the League of Women Voters to conduct voter registration in places like St. Louis. His opponents said the reason that he vetoed that is because you have a heavy black vote in St. Louis, and the effort was there to keep down the black vote. What is the response to that?

Kyl: O.K., well his opponent may well have said that. That's precisely the kind of question that can be asked of Senator Ashcroft in the hearings and that he can answer.

Kyl: I'll respond on the matter of the desegregation case. Every attorney general in Missouri since 1980 took the same position that John Ashcroft did. As a matter of fact, his Republican successor, William Webster, and his Democrat successor, Jay Nixon, attorney generals of Missouri, took precisely the same position. So it was a position on behalf of the people of the state of Missouri. It wasn't a position unique to John Ashcroft.

Schieffer: All right, and I'm sorry we have to end it there. There will be two days of confirmation hearings. We had only about 12 minutes this morning. When we come back, we're going to talk to Senator John McCain about some of the other things coming up in Congress, in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Schieffer: With us now from Cottonwood, Arizona, Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome to you. We want to talk a little bit about where you think this whole business of campaign finance reform legislation stands.

But, as I was thinking about that, it occurred to me, sources tell me that Senator Ashcroft, about whom we were just speaking, believes that McCain-Feingold may actually be unconstitutional.
Are you going to support him?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): Yes, I support him, and on the basis that he has given me the ironclad assurance that he will enforce the laws, rather than test their constitutionality.
John Ashcroft was an opponent, and an outspoken opponent, of McCain-Feingold. I respect that, but I think he'll enforce the law, and I have every confidence that he will.

Borger: Senator, is there anything about the Ashcroft nomination that does worry you?

McCain: Well, I'm not sure that it would have been my nominee, if I'd have been president of the United States. But the fact is that I have said clearly, especially under President Clinton's administration, that a president of the United States has - should have enormous latitude in who he names to his Cabinet, and unless there is a strong reason for not confirming that person, then it should happen, and I - but I am confident that John Ashcroft will enforce existing law, and that is his record as attorney general and governor of the state of Missouri.

Schieffer: You talked to Senator Lott, the Republican leader, I know, last eek.

McCain: Yes.

Schieffer: Did he give you any assurance that he's going to set a time to bring up your campaign finance reform bill?

McCain: No, but I think we're making progress in our conversations on it. We'll be talking again this week, and I'm hopeful; I'm guardedly optimistic that we will reach an agreement for a very early time.

Senator Lott is a realist, and he recognizes that we have to take up and dispense with this legislation, and I'm confident - guardedly confident that we can reach an agreement on that some time very soon.

Schieffer: If you don't get an agreement, do you intend to attach it to the first bill that comes to the floor for a vote, as an amendment?

McCain: I think we have to exercise all of our options. I'm not eager to do that. I think most people know that--at least that work in Washington - that the first few weeks of any incoming administration is taken up with confirmation nominations. I think that would be a very good time to take up this issue. We could get it done in a couple of weeks, I'm sure, and then it would not impede President-elect Bush's legislative agenda. But I'm willing to discuss and am continuing to discuss with Senator Lott a good time to do this.

Borger: You scored a bit of a coup when Senator Cochran came on board, a Republican, a conservative Republican. Do you have any more Republicans who have told you privately that yes, they would be willing to sign on to McCain-Feingold?

McCain: I have several - a number of Republican senators who have told me privately that they would vote for cloture to end the debate, and they've also said they want to support campaign finance reform, although they may have some different views on the specifics.

That's what a legislative process is supposed to be all about. I thank them for being in support of reform. We ought to consider their amendments, and we ought to vote on them, and I think we can come out with a pretty good package, over time.

I'm not wedded to the exact details of McCain-Feingold, nor is Russ. We recognize that compromises have to be made. But the fundamental problems of soft money and independent campaigns are what is really corrupting our system.

Borger: But you wouldn't take anything less than the complete elimination of this so-called "soft money," this unregulated large amounts of money, is that true?

McCain: I don't see how you can accept a little of it, but, at the same time, I think what you're getting around to is Chuck Hagel's proposal, which has a lot of good aspects of it. Chuck Hagel, I am pleased that he is involved in this process, and I think we can reach an agreement, and, most importantly, people like Chuck Hagel and Thad Cochran and so many others, who voted against any consideration in the past, have now agreed to an open legislative process.

Kyl: I'll respond on the matter of the dsegregation case. Every attorney general in Missouri since 1980 took the same position that John Ashcroft did. As a matter of fact, his Republican successor, William Webster, and his Democrat successor, Jay Nixon, attorney generals of Missouri, took precisely the same position. So it was a position on behalf of the people of the state of Missouri. It wasn't a position unique to John Ashcroft.

Schieffer: All right, and I'm sorry we have to end it there. There will be two days of confirmation hearings. We had only about 12 minutes this morning. When we come back, we're going to talk to Senator John McCain about some of the other things coming up in Congress, in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Schieffer: With us now from Cottonwood, Arizona, Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome to you. We want to talk a little bit about where you think this whole business of campaign finance reform legislation stands.

But, as I was thinking about that, it occurred to me, sources tell me that Senator Ashcroft, about whom we were just speaking, believes that McCain-Feingold may actually be unconstitutional.
Are you going to support him?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): Yes, I support him, and on the basis that he has given me the ironclad assurance that he will enforce the laws, rather than test their constitutionality.
John Ashcroft was an opponent, and an outspoken opponent, of McCain-Feingold. I respect that, but I think he'll enforce the law, and I have every confidence that he will.

Borger: Senator, is there anything about the Ashcroft nomination that does worry you?

McCain: Well, I'm not sure that it would have been my nominee, if I'd have been president of the United States. But the fact is that I have said clearly, especially under President Clinton's administration, that a president of the United States has - should have enormous latitude in who he names to his Cabinet, and unless there is a strong reason for not confirming that person, then it should happen, and I - but I am confident that John Ashcroft will enforce existing law, and that is his record as attorney general and governor of the state of Missouri.

Schieffer: You talked to Senator Lott, the Republican leader, I know, last week.

McCain: Yes.

Schieffer: Did he give you any assurance that he's going to set a time to bring up your campaign finance reform bill?

McCain: No, but I think we're making progress in our conversations on it. We'll be talking again this week, and I'm hopeful; I'm guardedly optimistic that we will reach an agreement for a very early time.

Senator Lott is a realist, and he recognizes that we have to take up and dispense with this legislation, and I'm confident - guardedly confident that we can reach an agreement on that some time very soon.

Schieffer: If you don't get an agreement, do you intend to attach it to the first bill that comes to th floor for a vote, as an amendment?

McCain: I think we have to exercise all of our options. I'm not eager to do that. I think most people know that--at least that work in Washington - that the first few weeks of any incoming administration is taken up with confirmation nominations. I think that would be a very good time to take up this issue. We could get it done in a couple of weeks, I'm sure, and then it would not impede President-elect Bush's legislative agenda. But I'm willing to discuss and am continuing to discuss with Senator Lott a good time to do this.

Borger: You scored a bit of a coup when Senator Cochran came on board, a Republican, a conservative Republican. Do you have any more Republicans who have told you privately that yes, they would be willing to sign on to McCain-Feingold?

McCain: I have several - a number of Republican senators who have told me privately that they would vote for cloture to end the debate, and they've also said they want to support campaign finance reform, although they may have some different views on the specifics.

That's what a legislative process is supposed to be all about. I thank them for being in support of reform. We ought to consider their amendments, and we ought to vote on them, and I think we can come out with a pretty good package, over time.

I'm not wedded to the exact details of McCain-Feingold, nor is Russ. We recognize that compromises have to be made. But the fundamental problems of soft money and independent campaigns are what is really corrupting our system.

Borger: But you wouldn't take anything less than the complete elimination of this so-called "soft money," this unregulated large amounts of money, is that true?

McCain: I don't see how you can accept a little of it, but, at the same time, I think what you're getting around to is Chuck Hagel's proposal, which has a lot of good aspects of it. Chuck Hagel, I am pleased that he is involved in this process, and I think we can reach an agreement, and, most importantly, people like Chuck Hagel and Thad Cochran and so many others, who voted against any consideration in the past, have now agreed to an open legislative process.

Schieffer: Senator, let's talk about taxes a little bit.

McCain: Yes, could I mention one other item if I could?

Schieffer: Sure.

McCain: I had a very good conversation with President-elect Bush yesterday. He wants to get this issue resolved. He knows that he and I have some disagreements, but we are, again, in agreement that we ought to take up and address this issue. And I look forward to continued conversations with President-elect Bush on this issue.

Schieffer: Well, did he say he is signing on to your bill, or he wants some major changes?

McCain: No, but he wants - he recognizes that there is a serious problem. He wants to us work together. As you know, one of the area he is very concerned about is the so-called paycheck protection for the union members. He also agrees with me that stockholders need to have their permission--give their permission before their money is used by corporations that they invest in.

I think we can work together on this. We may end up in disagreement, but President-elect Bush has certainly shown a willingness twice now to sit down and discuss and try to work out this issue, and he recognizes we need to fix it.

Borger: Well, one quick question: Did he ask to you hold off?

McCain: No, he did not. In fact, I think he would like to see Senator Lott and I work this issue out, and I think that's appropriate since Senator Lott is...

Schieffer: Did the two of you talk about tax cuts, because I know during the campaign you thought that the tax cuts that he proposed were simply too broad? Do you still feel that way, and did you talk about that?

McCain: We talked about a number of issues, including some foreign policy issues, and things, but no, we didn't talk about that.

But apparently, according to the Speaker and others, there is a sentiment here to sort of go step by step here, maybe a marriage penalty, death taxes, and other cuts, sort of in a progressive fashion, and I think that would be fine.

I also recognize that with the economy less robust than it has been in the past, it's an argument for more tax cuts. But I still don't agree with the size of the proposal, but I think we can, again, I think we can work something out.

Borger: The president-elect has also said that he would be happy, apparently, to have his tax cut retroactive to January 1. Is that something that you would be able to support?

McCain: I'd love to see the marriage penalty and at least some reduction in the estate taxes, and perhaps increase in the 15 percent tax bracket retroactive. I would be glad to see that. The quicker we can eliminate the marriage penalty, I think the better off we are.

Schieffer: Senator, what do you think of Bill Clinton's recent comments that Al Gore really won the election, or would have won had they not stopped counting votes in Florida?

McCain: I think President Clinton is obviously finding it very difficult to give up the presidency; the frenzied activities and travel have indicated that, and I'm sympathetic to that to some degree.

But I don't think he should have said that. And I think it's a tradition in this country to just say, look, I support my successor, and most ex-presidents have remained very quiet, at least for the first few years after they've left office.

Schieffer: All right. John McCain, we are going to end it right there.

McCain: Thank you.

Schieffer: Be back with a final word in just a minute. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Schieffer: Finally, what do you say about a president who amused, bemused, and sometmes disgusted us as he presided over an economic boom?

Well, goodbye won't do. He's not going anywhere. He'll be living right here in Washington, the first president since Woodrow Wilson to do so. Better to say see you around. When Bill Clinton leaves the presidency Saturday, he'll be just the age Ronald Reagan was when he ran for governor of California. He'll be around all right.

But what of his legacy? These were good times; give him credit for that. Yet it is hard to say he moved the country much in any direction. Great presidents have always challenged us to be better than we were. He did not or could not. His expertise was along the margins, small changes that required little sacrifice.

So there were few grand initiatives which would have been difficult, Monica or no Monica. Building consensus for change is always harder in good times. The leaky roof is never a problem until it rains.

But in a strange way, the gridlock he never really broke became his greatest blessing. When the economy boomed, Republicans had the votes to block Democrats from spending the unexpected revenues, and Democrats had the votes to block Republican tax cuts. So the money piled up, deficits became surpluses, and the country grew fat, happy, and rather pleased with divided government.

The question is, did all this somehow create an impression that the country was so strong it didn't matter who was in the White House? Let's hope not. If that's the Clinton legacy, we'll come to regret it.

One program note: President Clinton, in his last week in office, has agreed to answer some questions from you, our CBS News audience, online. Get all the details at cbs.com. See you next week.

END

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Face on Twitter