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Transcript:: Sen. Dick Durbin on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published June 10, 2007 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the June 10, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now to discuss the status of immigration reform and other issues is the Democrats' number two man in the Senate, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin.
And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
SENATE MAJORITY WHIP DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Thanks, Chris.
WALLACE: Where does immigration reform stand now? And what will it take for Senator Reid and the Democrats to agree to bring it back to the floor?
DURBIN: We need a breakthrough on the Republican side. We had two weeks of debate. We had a week of Memorial Day recess between, but two weeks of debate.
It reached a point, a real impasse, where we were offering to Republican senators a group of amendments that we would just call, four to eight amendments on the Republican side, and the Republican senators were objecting to calling their own amendments.
So it will take some leadership on the Republican side to agree on the number of amendments, to agree that we're not going to waste more time and procedural slowdowns, and really get to the heart of the issue.
WALLACE: Well, Ted Kennedy — I mean, you talk about it's the Republicans' fault. Ted Kennedy and other Democrats say that they pleaded with Senator Reid and with you to just give it some more time, just give it a couple of more days.
Here's what Senator Kennedy said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, D-MASS.: I personally believe that if we had taken more time, we would have had an opportunity of reaching a conclusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Why was it so urgent to pull the bill off the floor on Thursday, when you took Friday off and you're going to spend all day tomorrow, Monday, debating a non-binding resolution, a vote of no confidence in Alberto Gonzales?
DURBIN: Chris, we were prepared to stay Friday, Saturday, through the weekend, whatever it would take — aside from Senator Craig Thomas' funeral, which we were committed to, of course — to get this done.
But it had to be with some understanding that it was going to be a constructive debate. There are four or five members on the Republican side who don't want a bill. They want to continue to offer amendment after amendment after amendment, to the point where this was bogging down.
At this point in the debate, the last time we debated the immigration bill, we had had 30 roll call votes on amendments — 30 amendments, I should say. In this debate, we've had 42. There's been ample opportunity.
But we needed to have the Republican leadership say, "There is an end to this. There are only so many of these amendments which we will entertain." And that's what we were waiting for.
WALLACE: Now, you put it all on the Republicans, and Senator Reid says it's the Republicans' fault. But let's discuss the role the Democrats played.
Senator Reid gave Byron Dorgan three opportunities to enter amendments on this guest worker program, and you ended up voting for a measure to end the guest worker program after five years. It passed by a single vote that the Republicans viewed as a poison pill.
Aren't, in fact — I'm not saying it exclusively, but aren't your fingerprints and Harry Reid's fingerprints all over the collapse of this bill?
DURBIN: Forty Democratic senators supported Byron Dorgan's sunsetting of this temporary guest worker program both times that it was called for a vote on the floor.
So it's true. Our Democratic caucus believes that we really have to take a hard look. We don't want to sacrifice the future of American workers to provide jobs for those...
WALLACE: But three roll calls on the same issue?
DURBIN: There were two roll calls, two direct roll calls, on the Dorgan amendment. And I will just tell you that I don't think this was a poison pill, as they say.
To say at the end of five years we'll take a look and see if 400,000 new workers a year is right, or 200,000, or more or less — that's not unreasonable.
And so I think what we tried to do was to bring that issue forward, had an opportunity — with Republican support, I might add — to finally have it part of the bill.
Now, take a look at the other side. There were four or five senators who just kept offering similar amendments, one after the other, and each time they were offered, many of the folks who were designing this bill kept saying, "Well, we'll take this one, but it's not a deal killer." From our point of view, some of those were deal killers.
WALLACE: All right. You have been one of the strongest opponents of the president's Iraq war policy. I think you'd certainly agree with that.
But when you voted recently to keep funding the troops even though there was not going to be a timetable for withdrawal, you said this, and let's put it up on the screen. "Our soldiers should never be bargaining chips in this political debate."
Didn't Senators Clinton and Obama, who voted against funding the troops — didn't they, in fact, use the troops as a bargaining chip?
DURBIN: I don't believe in their minds that they did. Each of us had to make a very difficult conscience decision.
There were 23 of us who voted against giving the president the authority to start this war — one Republican, Lincoln Chafee, and 22 Democrats. And I have felt from the beginning this war was a terrible mistake.
Without adequate planning, with deception of the American people about the reasons for the war, with no plan to bring our troops home, we've seen this war now in its 4.5 years cost us over 3,500 American lives.
My feeling has always been I want this war to end. I want our troops to come home. I want to do it in a reasonable and orderly way. But I'm going to provide the money for our troops while there so that they will never be shortchanged when it comes to training and equipment, whatever is necessary...
WALLACE: Well, but if I may, Senator...
DURBIN: ... to come home safely.
WALLACE: ... that's precisely the point. Even though you are — you know, your bona fides are very clear — you oppose the war, you want a timetable for withdrawal — you were unwilling to let the money for the troops run out while they're still on the front lines.
How do you justify Obama and Clinton's votes to do exactly that?
DURBIN: I think you'll need to ask each of them. But I know when it comes to Senator Obama, he and I talked about this at length, and his feeling was that we had to send a clear message through this vote to the president this war must end.
Now, each of us can look at it from a different perspective. I'm sure we all have respect for the troops and want to support them. But let's get down to the bottom line here.
The bottom line is this president vetoed a timetable to bring these troops home in an orderly way, did it within hours of receiving it in the White House.
And now we have a situation where this war continues, escalated with more troops, more Americans being killed and no end in sight.
I hope you can understand the frustration of the American people as well as of the senators on both sides of the aisle that this president clearly does not have a plan.
Now look at the latest announcement about General Pace. This troubles me. General Pace is a man who's given his life to America. He deserves all of our gratitude for his commitment to military service.
And we are being told by the White House now that they will not renominate him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is a White House that is prepared to fight for Attorney General Gonzales but not fight for Marine Corps General Peter Pace.
WALLACE: But wait, wait, wait. Wait, wait. They say the reason was is because they went to Carl Levin, chairman of Senate Armed Services, and he said you're going to have a terrible problem getting Pace through.
Are you saying that the Democrats would have confirmed Pace?
DURBIN: Let me tell you this. Whoever, whether it's Peter Pace or Admiral Mullen who comes before us and wants to defend this president's policy — he's going to have some tough grilling on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle.
The same thing would happen if that nominee went before most of the American people, two-thirds of whom believe this war was a mistake.
So to suggest that tough sledding on Capitol Hill is a reason to pull the plug on General Pace's career I don't think is a good argument. If that's the argument, why are we standing behind Attorney General Gonzales?
Here's a man who's been through rough sledding, has said some things on Capitol Hill which he's had to recant, who's had staff people say well, things were being done in the Department of Justice that shouldn't be done, and the president's willing to stand by his man.
WALLACE: Would you have voted to reconfirm Peter Pace?
DURBIN: I would say at this point I probably would have. I don't hold him responsible for this situation. There are some things he said, incidentally, extraneous to the war in Iraq which troubled me, but by and large, I respect him very much.
Here's a man who's given 40 years of his life to this country. I don't believe it was his idea to go into this war.
This was the president's strategy. He had an inopportune moment in history when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had to basically implement a plan or come up with a plan for a president that hasn't worked very well.
WALLACE: The Democrats have been in control of Congress now for more than five months, and the only part of your agenda that you have passed and sent to the president and that he has signed is an increase in the minimum wage.
Don't you need to show that you can govern?
DURBIN: I think you missed one of the major things that we accomplished. When the Republicans left control of Congress, they had not passed their appropriation bills. They didn't get their homework done from the last session of Congress.
So the first thing we had to do was to do the work left over from the Republican leadership. It was a heavy lift. The continuing resolution was passed, sent to the president and signed.
We then sat down after a lot of hearings and a lot of consideration and gave this president, for the first time in 4.5 years, a real timetable to bring the troops home. On a bipartisan basis, we sent the bill to him, which he vetoed.
We have also passed 9/11 recommendations. We have passed stem cell research.
WALLACE: Well, wait, wait, wait, wait. Let's take a look, because we've actually compiled something on this. Let's put it up on the screen.
These are the major pieces of the Democratic agenda — you're getting out your list...
DURBIN: I've got my list.
WALLACE: ... of the Democratic agenda that the Democratic- controlled Congress hasn't passed.
Implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Separate versions have been passed, but the Congress has not passed it. It's not gone through a conference report. It is not on the president's desk.
Reducing the cost of student loans. Not on the president's desk. Making the government negotiate lower prescription drug prices. Not on the president's desk. Reducing subsidies for oil companies. Not on the president's desk.
Don't you run the risk, Senator, of being seen legitimately as a do-nothing Congress?
DURBIN: Not at all. It's five months. And just let me tell you. The American people understand there has been a more healthy debate about this war in Iraq during the five months of a Democratic Congress than in the previous four years.
For four years America was sleepwalking through this war in Iraq. Now hard questions are being asked. And now we have the kind of oversight that Congress has a responsibility to do under our constitution.
WALLACE: I understand, but you've made your point...
DURBIN: But let me point out...
WALLACE: ... you've made your point on that. Why not legislate?
DURBIN: It happens to be the biggest issue facing America. So I think the fact that we've dedicated so much time to it is what the American people believe is the right thing to do.
On the issues you went through — the 9/11 recommendations. The White House has told us they're going to veto them, but we're going to go ahead, finish the conference reports and send them to them anyway.
We also know that when it comes to the opposition to lowering student loan rates by the White House, we're still going to do that in the higher education bill. The prescription drug...
WALLACE: But you haven't.
DURBIN: Well, the reason we haven't on some can be demonstrated by the next one. Why weren't we able to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug costs for seniors? Well, because the Republicans mounted a filibuster successfully and stopped us in that effort in the Senate.
It is more difficult to get things through the Senate than the House. That's how it's built. But the fact of the matter is we have been more aggressive in dealing with the critical issues that America cares about in five months, and we will continue to be.
We leave here this week to go to the energy bill to make sure we have a national energy policy, then the defense authorization bill where we'll be back on Iraq. These are critical issues everybody understands.
WALLACE: Senator Durbin, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in today. And as you go through your agenda, please come back, sir.
DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.