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Transcript: Sens. Schumer, Specter on 'FOX News Sunday'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published April 22, 2007 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the April 22, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now, two leading voices on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Arlen Specter, the top Republican, is in Philadelphia, and Democrat Charles Schumer joins us from New York.
Senator Specter, let's start with Virginia Tech. Does there need to be some adjustment in privacy and disability laws so that administrators can protect the larger community and can inform the parents of a troubled student?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: Chris, I think that one thing is obvious, and that is that the state law ought to be in conformity with national law.
There appeared to be enough information on Cho to put him in a national registry, and there is not coordination between the state and the federal government.
And had that information been in a national registry, then I think some action could have been taken in a preventive way.
WALLACE: Meaning, in other words, he wouldn't have been able to buy the guns in the first place?
SPECTER: That's exactly right. If there had been the information available on a national repository, and an appropriate records check had been taken, there is no doubt that current law prohibits giving a gun to a person who is a mentally defective who has a mental problem of the nature he had.
So there was a definite failure of communication, and that ought to be changed with federal legislation.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, you have been a long-time advocate of gun control. Will you propose anything to try to prevent this kind of an attack, this kind of event?
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Well, indeed, just along the lines of what Arlen had said. Congresswoman McCarthy in the House and I in the Senate have had legislation that would do just this, that would allow the states or require the states, in effect, to update their databases, so that there would be — if somebody was judged mentally defective so that they couldn't have a gun, it would be required to be on a federal database.
And we also give the states the money so that they can do it. Updating the records is harder than it seems. They're in all various different places. They're not automated. And we would do that.
The good news about this legislation, Chris, is that it has a real chance of passing in the House. Congressman Dingell, who has been an NRA advocate, has teamed up with Congresswoman McCarthy.
When we tried this legislation in the past, Senator Craig, an NRA advocate, teamed up with me.
And given the horror that happened at Virginia Tech, I think there's a real chance of passing this, so that if the next Mr. Cho walks into the gun shop, the gun owner can put it on the database and not allow him to get the gun.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, why not go further? Why not push, for instance, for renewal of the assault weapons ban which was on the books until it expired three years ago, and which would prevent the sale of some of these more dangerous weapons, as well as these big clips which have 20 or 30 rounds?
Some people suggest the reason that your party is not pushing that with control of both houses is because you've decided that gun control is a political loser.
SCHUMER: No, we just don't want to let, if you will, the perfect be the enemy of the good. That's something I've supported. I carried the assault weapons ban in the House when I was a House member.
But clearly, it doesn't have the 60 votes — it would engender a filibuster — that are needed, whereas smaller but really serious pieces of legislation, such as the one I mentioned, have a very, very good chance of passing.
And Congresswoman McCarthy in the House, me in the Senate — we are going to move this legislation in a little while. Obviously, we want to let the period of mourning at Virginia Tech complete itself. And we can do some real good.
WALLACE: All right.
Let's turn, if we can, gentlemen, to Attorney General Gonzales and his testimony this week before the committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee that you both sit on. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I don't recall everyone who was there. I don't recall remembering. I do not recall knowing in my mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GONZALES: I have no recollection about that, but I presume that that is true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Specter, it's been reported that after that testimony that you sent President Bush a letter giving your advice on how he should handle Attorney General Gonzales.
Gonzales aides say the fact that only one Republican senator, Senator Coburn, called for his dismissal, and specifically that you did not, is what they call a, quote, "positive barometer."
Should they, in fact, be celebrating that fact?
SPECTER: I don't think they should be celebrating that, because the attorney general's testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility.
It has been damaging to the administration, because without answers as to what really happened, there is a lot of speculation. And the charges are being made that the Department of Justice was the political arm of the White House.
Now there is no proof of that, but there is no proof of anything else either. Look, the president can discharge all 93 U.S. attorneys for no reason at all, but not for a bad reason.
And when there has been so much speculation raised, then it's in the interest of the Department of Justice and the president to have a clear statement made as to why these U.S. attorneys were asked to resign.
I urged the attorney general to do that in advance. He called me, said, "What should we do?" I said, "Lay out the facts as to why they were asked to resign."
I talked to him on Friday. He called me after his testimony was over. And I said, "Look, Al, do it now. Lay out the facts to try to end the speculation, which is harmful not only to the administration but harmful to the day-in and day-out operation of the Department of Justice."
WALLACE: That's what I want to pick up on with you, Senator Specter. You said after his testimony that his credibility — that he suffered a loss of credibility and that his ability to manage the Justice Department has been severely undercut.
Now, I know you don't — are not going to call for him to resign because you say that's a matter for him and the president to decide, and any advice you're going to give is going to be in private.
But as the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee — I don't have to tell you, a co-equal branch of the government — in your judgment, is it good or bad for the Justice Department for him to stay on?
SPECTER: Well, I think, no doubt, it is bad for the Department of Justice. It is harmful. There has been a very substantial decrease in morale. There's no doubt about that.
The other 93 U.S. attorneys don't know who is up next. There is a suspicion of improper motivation — no proof, but suspicion, and it's kindled every day.
But I believe in the final analysis, there are two people involved in the decision, and that is the attorney general to make it himself, and, if he decides to stay on, for the president.
I do not think that it is appropriate for me to call for his resignation. I don't challenge anybody else who wants to do it. But my own mindset is to leave it up to the attorney general and the president.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, it's been suggested that one reason that the president might not get rid of Gonzales is because you would hold up confirmation of any successor until you got testimony from Karl Rove.
As a way of breaking that logjam, are you willing to separate the question of Rove's testimony from the confirmation process for any successor to Alberto Gonzales?
SCHUMER: OK. Well, first, I do believe, Chris, that the testimony of Karl Rove — I believe the testimony of Karl Rove is extremely important.
When Attorney General Gonzales says he doesn't know what's going on, and his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, says he doesn't know what's going on, or at least he didn't compile the list, the deputy attorney general the same, and so do all the lower-level people who we've interviewed in private, the arrow seems to point at the White House more and more.
Someone had to come up with this scheme. And getting Karl Rove, getting Harriet Miers and other White House officials to testify is really essential. So we can't gainsay that.
On the other hand, obviously, I think, as Arlen Specter does, that Attorney General Gonzales should not be there.
All of America saw why so many of us had felt for so long that he shouldn't be attorney general. He was not in command of the facts. He contradicted himself. And he doesn't really appreciate the role of attorney general.
There is a lot of talk that within the White House. Most of the president's advisors are telling him that Gonzales should not stay. And the president is loyal to his friend.
But loyalty doesn't have to be the most transcendent value. And just as Brownie shouldn't have stayed at FEMA, Attorney General Gonzales, despite the fact that he's the president's friend, shouldn't stay A.G.
WALLACE: But if I may, Senator Schumer, to answer my specific question, it's conceivable that you're holding up his replacement because of your insistence on Rove.
I'm not asking you whether or not you are going to give up your push for Rove. The question I'm asking is would you agree to not let that block confirmation of a new attorney general.
SCHUMER: Let me say, if the president were to nominate somebody, albeit a conservative, but somebody who put the rule of law first, someone like a Larry Thompson, somebody like a Jim Comey, somebody like a Mike Mukasey, my guess is that they would get through the Senate very, very quickly.
And if we could workout an agreement as to how we bring the White House forward, the Gonzales testimony makes it all the more — and Senator Specter has put together a very good compromise that I'm supportive of.
You need a transcript. It doesn't have to be in public. The only people standing in the way of this are the White House. So I would not want to hold up the next attorney general nomination because we need to administer justice.
But at the same time, I think there's an imperative for the White House to help us interview people like Rove and Miers, because recent testimony, including Gonzales', more and more indicates that they may be — may be — at the nexus of this.
WALLACE: Finally, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, made some comments this week about the war in Iraq. And let's take a look at them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now, I believe myself that the secretary of state, the secretary of defense — and you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows — that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, do you agree that the war in Iraq is lost? And is that the consensus of Senate Democrats?
SCHUMER: OK. Well, what Harry Reid is saying is this war is lost — in other words, a war where we mainly spend our time policing a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis.
We are not going to solve that problem. And we could stay three months or three years, and as soon as we leave, the Sunnis and Shiites, who have had 100-year enmity against one another, would continue shooting.
The war is not lost. And Harry Reid believes this — we Democrats believe it — if we change our mission and focus it more narrowly on counterterrorism, going after an Al Qaida camp that might arise in Iraq. That would take many fewer troops out of harm's way. That's what we're pushing the president to do.
So the bottom line is if the war continues on this path, if we continue to try to police and settle a civil war that's been going on for hundreds of years in Iraq, we can't win.
But on the other hand, if we change the mission and have that mission focus on the more narrow goal of counterterrorism, we sure can win.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, we have less than a minute left. But I do want to ask you about one other issue. Those are comments that you and Senator Reid both made, not this week but the previous week.
Take a look at them, if you will. Senator Reid said this, "We are going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war." And you said this, "You look at the polling numbers of Republican senators, and the war in Iraq is a lead weight attached to their ankles."
Senator, is it appropriate to talk about political advantage — is it appropriate to talk about polling numbers when we're discussing a war?
SCHUMER: Well, we were asked that specific question. But the bottom line is this. Our motivation for changing the course of war in Iraq is because we believe it is so wrong now.
And there is nothing wrong, when the American people signaled on November 6th that they wanted a change in course, to work hard for that course.
Will those who continue to follow the president suffer political consequences? Of course. That's as plain as the nose on your face.
But that is not the motivation for fighting to change the course of the war in Iraq, and we'll continue to do that regardless of the political consequences.
WALLACE: Let me give Senator Specter a final word here.
Your thoughts about the appropriateness of discussing poll numbers and Senate seats being won or lost when we're talking about a war in which American men and women are fighting?
SPECTER: Well, I think it is inappropriate in the context that it's been done. I don't think they ought to be gloating about it. It's too serious a problem.
But I'm glad to see Senator Schumer back off from what Senator Reid has had to say about the war being lost. Senator Schumer says Senator Reid doesn't think the war's being lost. Well, that's not what Senator Reid said.
And I think it's very destructive to say the war is lost in the context of where we are. Certainly, the war is not being won. But there are still some efforts being made to turn it around. And whether they're successful or not, we won't know.
But for the men and women who are over in Iraq, to have somebody of Senator Reid's stature say that the war is lost, I think is just very, very demoralizing and not necessary. It doesn't advance the cause at all.
We're going to decide whether or not to have funding, and Congress will have a strong voice in perhaps withdrawal. But let's let the process work out, and let's not make inflammatory statements that are going to be very destructive, especially to the morale of our forces.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Senator Specter, Senator Schumer, we want thank you both. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us, and please come back.
SPECTER: Nice being with you, Chris. Thank you.
SCHUMER: Likewise. Have a good day.
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