Transcript: Sen. Angus King on "Face the Nation," Dec. 3, 2017

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a vocal opponent of the Republican tax bill, joined "Face the Nation" Sunday to offer his take on the proposed reforms. 

We also spoke to King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, about Michael Flynn as well as North Korea.

A transcript of the interview with King follows.


JOHN DICKERSON: Joining us now is Independent Maine Senator Angus King. Welcome, Senator. Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, says regular order was followed on this tax bill. What's your response? 

 ANGUS KING: If that was regular order, I'd hate to see something else. This is the bill, I brought it. This is the bill that we got at about 6:00 at night that we were going to vote on that night. There were no hearings. There were some general hearings about tax reform. There were zero hearings on the bill. And even the bill that was reported out by the Finance Committee was different than what we were handed that we had to vote on a few hours later.

And what worries me about this, I commandeered a staffer's desk right off the floor on Friday night and read it. All the way through. Now, I can't say I understood all of it. But you could do the things that we're talking about, reducing corporate tax rates, doubling the standard deduction, in maybe 50 pages. This is 477 pages, John. There's a lot of stuff in here that I don't think that I don't think anybody knows what it's all about. I just happened to pick up, I marked in the margin on page 409, "domestic oil and gas extraction income." What's that all about?

There's a later provision about income on oil and gas from foreign countries. What's that all about? The point is nobody knew what was going on here. And there was a moment when we could have fixed it. Chuck Schumer moved to recess Friday night about 9:00 until Monday. Give people a chance to go through this and dig through it. Party line vote, denied, we end up voting at 3:00 AM.

JOHN DICKERSON: Senator McConnell said Friday night, he said, you know, when you're complaining about the process, it means you're losing.

ANGUS KING: Well, I think there is a point there. Because I heard him complaining about the process a lot when I first arrived. But at some point, process matters. I mean the '86 tax bill, 33 hearings, ten months. The vote in the Senate, by the way, was 90 to ten. This was barely was dragged across the finish line on a party line vote.

JOHN DICKERSON: So what happens now?

ANGUS KING: Well, you know, there's a lot of talk about what the conference will be. I give it 50/50 there will be no conference. I think there's a chance. Because I don't think that either side, either the House or Senate, wants to bring this back to the floor.

The House just may take the Senate bill and send it to the president. So what happens now is we've now made a 30-year decision. This may be the most important vote any of us take in our career. Because this isn't the reauthorization of the F.A.A., or even the Farm Bill. This is something that's going to affect every American, every business, the whole economy, for decades. And what happens now is we're going to see-- well, I'll give you three predictions. I got three predictions.

JOHN DICKERSON: Alright, you've got 30 seconds.

ANGUS KING: One is you're going to see people put on their long, serious face, as Orrin Hatch did this morning, and say, "The deficit's really a problem, we can't do SNAP or Social Security or Medicare. We've got to restructure." That's number one. That's the first prediction.

Two, we're going to find some really stinky stuff in here that we didn't know. And three, anything good that happens in America in the next year, including good weather at the Super Bowl, is going to be attributed to this bill. Those are my predictions.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, we're going to come back and talk to you, Senator, on the other side of the commercial. We'll be back with Senator Angus King just after this break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to Face the Nation. We're back with Independent Maine Senator Angus King. Before I want to ask you about the Intelligence Committee. But first, on the question of spending, government spending at the end of the year, Democratic leaders didn't meet with the president this week. What's your sense of what happens when the government is running out of money?

ANGUS KING: Well, they're already talking about another short term, what they call a CR, continuing resolution, that would get us into January and escape this deadline of this week. I think it's really unfortunate. Generally, all the work of the appropriations committees have been done for a budget. We could pass a budget. We could have passed a budget two months ago. I don't sense - And nobody wants a shutdown. I don't sense that that's going to come unless it's through mutual misunderstanding between the two sides.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Michael Flynn. Given what you know as a member of the Intelligence Committee, how do you read this plea deal that he made?

ANGUS KING: Well, I think you can read it in one of two ways. One, you could say he plead to a fairly minor offense, and that's the end of it and it's not a big deal. The other, you could say he plead to a fairly minor offense, and that means he has a lot to deliver to the prosecutors.

I think one of the most significant developments, though, has been in the last 24 hours, where the president tweeted yesterday that he fired him because he had lied to the F.B.I. That's the first time the president has said that. And it was the next day, after he was fired, that the president allegedly said to Jim Comey, "Go easy on Flynn."

If he said to Comey "go easy on Flynn" knowing that he had lied to the F.B.I., that ups the ante on that particular part of this whole situation. And I think that may be one of the things Mr. Mueller's focusing upon.

JOHN DICKERSON: Does that change the shape of your investigation on the Intelligence Committee? Are you looking into obstruction of justice in the work you're doing?

ANGUS KING: No. And I think that's an important distinction to make. Mueller is a criminal investigation. He's a prosecutor. He's looking for criminal violations. We're looking for the facts. And our focus is on what did the Russians do? Will they do it again? What did they do in the states? And was there collusion between the Trump campaign.

My concern about all this, John, is that the latter issue, the hot political issue of Trump and the Russians in the campaign, is obscuring the larger issue, which is the Russians attacked our democracy, and they're going to do it again. And that's where the focus of our investigation is and on the collusion issue.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me quickly get your thoughts. You're on the Senate Armed Services Committee. You just heard Lindsay Graham talk about Americans preparing for preemptive action in North Korea. What's your take on that?

ANGUS KING: Well, part of diplomacy has to be the threat of military force in the background. And it makes your negotiations credible. But we've really got to lean on the Chinese. They have to be the solution to this. This is not a case, one of the worst terms ever to enter our lexicon is "surgical strike."

There's no such thing as a surgical strike. And the idea that we can go in and take out their nuclear capability just isn't so. Most of it's deep underground. So we would be talking about a major war on the Korean Peninsula, plus Seoul is only 35 miles from the North Korean border. Anything happens in North Korea, Seoul is history. That's 26 million people, including a couple hundred-thousand Americans. So that's -  I wouldn't say it's unthinkable. It's got to be credible. But we can't go there anytime soon.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Senator, thank you so much for being with us. And we'll be right back with White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.