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Transcript: Sens. Specter, Biden on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published May 07, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the May 7, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now to discuss the CIA shake-up and other hot topics from immigration to judges are two key senators, Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Both come to us from their home states.
And, Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: Thank you.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, D-DEL.: Thanks for having us.
WALLACE: First of all, I'd like to get your reactions to the resignation of CIA director Goss and the apparent nomination of General Michael Hayden.
Senator Biden, why don't you start?
BIDEN: Well, think — I was surprised by Porter's resignation. It's not surprising that there's a lot of turmoil at CIA. He was not the most popular figure there. I won't comment on whether it was justified or not, but I was surprised.
And I think the chairman of the House Committee made a pretty strong statement about the concerns of the agency and whether or not they're about to be, quite frankly, just gobbled up by the Defense Department, and whether Hayden would, in fact, be that agent or not remains to be seen, but the fact is that's the concern.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about another element of this story, Senator Biden. There are some reports this morning that White House officials wouldn't mind a fight over the NSA warrantless wiretap program, which General Hayden ran when he used to be head of NSA, because they think it would show Democrats as being soft on terrorism. Your reaction to that.
BIDEN: Well, I think it's ludicrous, but I think that — I will obviously not speak for Senator Specter, but Senator Specter and I, with his lead, have been trying to figure out what Hayden has actually been doing in those wiretaps, and it may give us an opportunity to figure out what the program actually is.
WALLACE: Let me bring you in on that subject, Senator Specter. Given your clear concerns about the NSA wiretap program, you even have talked about — not supported, but talked about — the possibility of cutting off funding until Congress is fully briefed.
Do you have concerns about General Hayden taking over the CIA?
SPECTER: I believe that his nomination will give us an opportunity to try to find out about what the program is. Chris, Congress has relatively limited leverage on the White House on exercising our constitutional authority for oversight. We have confirmations, and we have the budget.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it's my responsibility, our committee's responsibility, to oversee, to see that what is going on is constitutional. And we haven't been able to do that.
The president claims Article II powers. He may have them, but that's a balancing act as to the nature of the program. Listen, there's no doubt there's an enormous threat from terrorism. But the president does not have a blank check.
Now, with General Hayden up for confirmation, this will give us an opportunity to try to find out. If the Senate has a mind to assert its constitutional prerogatives here, then we could use this for leverage to find out, and I think people do want to know what's going on to protect civil liberties.
WALLACE: Well, I just want to ask you, when you say the word "leverage," are you suggesting that if he is nominated that you will move to hold up his nomination until the administration provides more information on the NSA program?
SPECTER: I'm not making any predictions. I've got a lot of questions. And if General Hayden is the nominee, he'll be making courtesy calls. It's going to be up to the Intelligence Committee to have the hearings. I wish it were Judiciary, but it's not.
But I have some very pointed questions. I want to know what the program is. We cannot judge its constitutionality without knowing what the program is. And I'm going to see what he has to say and how it goes. I'm not going to take any — I'm not going to draw any lines in the sand until I see how the facts evolve.
WALLACE: All right.
Senator Biden, Democrats blocked a vote recently on comprehensive immigration reform because of concern that the compromise would be watered down, would be changed, either by amendment in the Senate or in conference with the House.
Are Democrats now ready to allow a vote up or down on immigration reform in the Senate?
BIDEN: Well, I think we are. What we want to know is — we've been stiffed by the House many times where they go over in a conference, and there ends up a conference that the very thing that the Senate passed, that the Democrats signed on to, ends up being shelved but we didn't get a say in it.
But I have a lot more confidence now because of Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter has been the lead horse in this compromise. It's referred to as the McCain-Kennedy bill that I support, but it really came out of Arlen's committee. And Arlen led the fight.
The administration didn't think we'd get a bill out. I, quite frankly, think the leadership didn't want a bill, and Arlen got it out. And so I have confidence in Arlen's leadership. And I'm not laying this all on Arlen. I mean that sincerely.
But I have confidence in his leadership and I have more confidence that if he were, in fact, one of the conferrees, that we would not get rolled by the House that really doesn't want to do anything constructive, in my view, in this area.
WALLACE: Senator Specter, when are Republicans going to bring up immigration reform again, bring it to the floor for a vote? And what assurances can you give Senator Biden and other Democrats that they're not going to get stiffed, as he put it, by the House?
SPECTER: Well, I expect the bill to come up, Chris, a week from tomorrow. I've talked to the majority leader, Senator Frist, and I expect to be on the conference committee. I'm the chairman of the committee.
By the way, I also expect Senator Biden to be on the conference committee. And when Joe Biden's on a conference, you have a very, very strong voice. We're not going to be stiffed. We're going to try to work it out.
Here again, I don't think it's useful to draw any lines in the sand. We worked with Chairman Sensenbrenner on the Patriot Act and on other matters, and we have a bicameral system. We have to go to conference with the House, and we'll get it worked out.
The speaker has said he's for a guest worker program. That's what the president wants. We've got 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. We're not going to grant amnesty. They're going to have to pay a fine. They're going to have to pay back taxes. They're going to have to learn English. They're going to have to work for six years. And then they go to the end of the line. And we're going to get it worked out.
WALLACE: Let's turn, gentlemen, if we can, to judges, which are becoming a hot issue again. Your Judiciary Committee is going to hold a hearing Tuesday on the long-delayed nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Court of Appeals, and the appointment of Terrence Boyle is also being pushed.
Senator Biden, are Democrats prepared to filibuster either of these nominations?
BIDEN: Well, on Kavanaugh, this is the second hearing we pushed for. The chairman has agreed to have a second hearing. And I'm holding my judgment, to use Arlen's phrase. I have no line in the sand with Kavanaugh. I want to know more. I haven't made my judgment whether I'm for or against him, and I don't think we'd be part of a filibuster there.
With regard to Boyle, Boyle is universally — this is one of the rare guys who the first responders, the cops, my strongest advocates, and the firefighters are universally opposed to him because of his rulings, where he has been reversed over — I think it's 165 times, twice as much as anyone else in this conference, and where there's now been serious questions about conflict of interest where he bought stock in companies in cases before him and then ruled in favor of those companies.
There's a lot more to know about that. I am unalterably opposed to Boyle because of the first responders, and I think Boyle will not go forward, and I would consider joining an effort to prevent his vote.
WALLACE: When you say "join an effort to prevent his vote," do you mean a filibuster?
BIDEN: Well, I mean a filibuster. A filibuster. I would consider that. It depends on the facts as they roll out. But I am unalterably opposed to Boyle. He should not, should not, should not be confirmed in this (inaudible)...
WALLACE: Senator Specter, what do you feel about these two nominations, especially the Boyle nomination? And is the Senate headed for another showdown over the so-called nuclear option to change the rules on filibusters?
SPECTER: Chris, my job is to get these men out of committee and to the Senate floor so they can have an up or down vote. The Senate came very, very close to a violent train wreck last year with the Democrats filibustering on one side and the Republicans threatening the constitution or nuclear option on the other side.
And I agreed to a second hearing for Mr. Kavanaugh because I want to eliminate any excuse or any reason for the Democrats to filibuster. I want to defuse the situation. And if it takes another hearing for a few hours and a few more days' delay, that's what I want to get accomplished.
And we did work through two Supreme Court nominations over some very rough terrain to avoid controversy and conflict and have a dignified, professional hearing. And I think we can accomplish that with Kavanaugh.
Now, as to Judge Boyle, I think as to his rulings, I wouldn't agree with Senator Biden. I think that's the president's choice. And I think on his rulings, he's within the ambit.
But Joe raises a serious issue which has already been in the media about potential conflict of interest. And that's something I'm studying very, very closely. And if those issues on conflict of interest materialize and are dominant, then there may be a line in the sand which would be justified by the Democrats. But that's a big if. And we haven't found that out yet.
WALLACE: At this point, though, you're not willing to say — I guess the term of art is extraordinary circumstances that the gang of 14 set up for allowing a filibuster of a judicial nomination.
Are you willing to say at this point whether you think that Judge Boyle approaches extraordinary circumstances?
SPECTER: Well, extraordinary circumstances really goes to an amalgam of a lot of factors, really, on judicial approach. I think if you have a conflict of interest on ruling on cases where you have a financial interest, it's a disqualifier. I don't think that really gets involved in extraordinary circumstances. And that's what we're looking at.
I think as to Kavanaugh, I don't think there's any realistic chance of extraordinary circumstances, but I don't want to — I don't want to run the risk of having another confrontation which could undermine a very important institutional prerogative of the Senate, which is the filibuster.
WALLACE: Senator Biden, finally — we've got a couple of minutes left, and I want to talk to you about quite a stir you caused here in Washington, and perhaps around the world, with a plan that you announced this week for Iraq.
You're calling for a weaker central government and free autonomous regions for the Sunnis, the Kurds and the Shiites. Critics have raised several concerns.
First of all, both the White House and some of the politicians in Iraq say — and some Democratic leaders, in fact, in Congress say that it shouldn't be the position of the U.S. or anyone in the U.S. to dictate a solution that Iraqi politicians have shown little appetite for.
BIDEN: Well, we have dictated so far, Chris. As you know, on your program, you had the secretary of state and secretary of defense going over to Iraq and saying Jaafari has to go. That's what I call dictation.
This is not dictation. This is called for within their present constitution. Any of the 18 governing provinces can get together and form a province. That's already in their constitution.
Number two, what has happened since the December 15th election, Chris, is the sectarian genie is out of the bottle. Speaking with General Casey, the greatest concern now is sectarian violence leading to a civil war.
The vote on December 15th was straight along sectarian lines. Ninety percent of the people who voted, voted for a sectarian candidate. So the question is how do you hold this country together.
And it seems to me you've got to give each of these groups some breathing room in terms of their local autonomy with a central government controlling all the revenue and controlling all the revenue, and controlling all the foreign policy and controlling the borders.
That's what we did in Dayton. That's what we did back over 200 years ago in the United States with the Article of Confederation leading to a Philadelphia moment. And so that's the bottom line here. How do you keep this country together?
BIDEN: And by the way, we surveyed...
WALLACE: Senator, we've got about 30 seconds left, and I want to slip in one other question, because there's another major criticism, and that is that in the Sunni region, that if the insurgents, if the dead-enders, were able to take over in that autonomous region, that you could end up with a mini terrorist state.
BIDEN: Well, they won't be able to take over, number one. We're going to keep 30,000 troops there over the horizon. We're going to keep most of these troops there until 2008.
And in addition to that, when the Sunni leadership has access to revenues which I'm proposing under their constitution, then you'll see them turn on the dead-enders. They have an investment. They have an investment in the outcome.
And here's the parting question I'd ask, Chris. Who has another plan? Who offers a plan? A lot of people support this plan. Everyone from Kissinger says it should be looked at closely, to Broder's column, to a number of generals. So I think you're going to see a lot more discussion here. But the question is who has an alternative plan.
WALLACE: Senator Biden, I want to thank you for your answers and for your questions.
BIDEN: Thank you.
WALLACE: Senator Specter, always a pleasure to talk with you.
SPECTER: Thanks very much, Chris.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, both of you, please come back.
SPECTER: Thank you.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
This week: We'll have an exclusive interview with Sen James Lankford (R-OK), member of the Appropriations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.