Democrats Defeat Bush Nominee

Following is a transcripted excerpt from Fox News Sunday, March 17, 2002.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Tempers flared in the Senate this week after the Judiciary Committee, on a predictable party-line vote, rejected the nomination of Charles Pickering to serve the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senator Minority Leader Trent Lott promised and delivered swift retribution, which we will discuss with our next guest, Senate Assistant Minority Leader Don Nickles of Oklahoma.

Also here with questions, Juan Williams of National Public Radio and Fox News.

Senator Nickles, a lot of people are saying that the folks most to blame for Judge Pickering's fate are not Democrats but Republicans who waited around and waited around and waited around and really didn't mount a very vigorous defense on his behalf until the 11th hour.

SEN. DON NICKLES, (R-OK): Well, I take issue with that. I know Senator Lott worked very hard. He was very personally involved. Judge Pickering was a friend of his, so I know he worked hard to get the nomination through.

And looking back, I still can't imagine that the Democrats did it. This is unheard of. I can't imagine that they would ever do this to Bob Dole or Howard Baker or that we would, conversely, that we would do this Tom Daschle or one of the Democrat leaders.

HUME: But didn't Orrin Hatch, if memory serves, didn't Orrin Hatch say of Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor, to Bill Clinton, "Don't even both nominating him" -- he was, I think, the interior secretary at the time, Bruce Babbitt was -- "to the Supreme Court, because we're not going to do anything with it"? So there is a certain kind of political precedent here.

NICKLES: Well, not really. No, there's no comparison whatsoever. This is unheard of. We haven't killed, in the Judiciary Committee, we haven't killed a nominee in 11 years. And the last time, I think, the Democrats did it in 1991. It's just not done.

And I think it's very unfair. Judge Pickering was confirmed unanimously in 1990, and then to have this happen, I think, it's because a lot of outside groups did a character assassination on him.

HUME: Well, Democrats are saying, look, yes, we did approve him in 1990. But on the other hand, we looked at the 12 years, we didn't like the record. They were trying to point at that record.

But let me raise a different objection that has been mentioned. A lot of people won't admit to it, but the fact is, Republicans during the last couple of years of Bill Clinton's presidency sat on a lot of judicial nominations, didn't even hold hearings, which is precisely what Democrats are doing in the Judiciary Committee now.

Isn't it true that the Republicans were guilty during the last years of the Clinton administration of precisely what you're complaining about with Democratic behavior now?

NICKLES: Well, usually, the tradition is that presidents and the new administration get their judges the first two or three years. The last year usually goes pretty slow because -- obviously, they may not be president next go around.

If you look at Ronald Reagan, if you looked at President Bush 41 or if you look at Bill Clinton, all of which got 90 percent of their judges in the first two years. This is not the case with President Bush now. President Bush, as far as circuit courts, falling at 24 percent -- seven out of 29 -- whereas, all the other presidents got 90-something percent of the Circuit Court nominees. There's never been the litmus test. There's never been this grilling that we've had. And I think -- unfortunately, I think the Democrats shot down a good judge in Judge Pickering.

SNOW: So Trent Lott now is taking action. He says we're going to retaliate. And there have been a couple of actions already. Number one, there is a Federal Communication Commission nominee, somebody who used to work for Tom Daschle, that's being held up. Number two, the Judiciary Committee has asked for $1.5 million to investigate things in the aftermath of September 11; he's killing that.

Are some of the other possible actions, would they include, for instance, insisting getting rid of unanimous consent, which is a device that's used on the Senate floor basically to keep the place operating, is that something you would contemplate, Republicans? Is that something -- I'm not going to ask you to make a decision on behalf of Trent Lott, but is that one of the options that would be under consideration?

NICKLES: Well, there's lots of options. We have to have some kind of comity. We have to get some kind of agreement that we're going to take up these judges, or else Republicans are going to do something to get the Democrats' attention. There's lots of different ways of getting their attention.

But to just say we're not going to take up circuit court nominees -- the president's nominated 29 and we've confirmed seven. Judge Pickering was just defeated. There's 20 that haven't even had hearings.

And some of these individuals are outstanding individuals. Miguel Estrada, for example, D.C. Circuit Court, Hispanic, has argued 16 cases before the Supreme Court, nominated in May, hasn't even had a hearing. And same thing with John Roberts...

SNOW: Well...

NICKLES: John Roberts has argued 35 cases before the Supreme Court and he hasn't had a hearing. So we're going to do something.

I've told this to Senator Daschle and Senator Reid. I said, you all need to cooperate with us and get the Judiciary Committee to have hearings and mark up circuit court nominees or we're going to start taking actions that will get your attention.

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: So then, Senator, what's the next step of the Republicans? Is it to nominate people to the judiciary who don't have a record, who don't have a track record, a paper trail?

NICKLES: No. President Bush has nominated some outstanding people. I just mentioned two. I could go over several others. And we just want these people to have a hearing. I think, once they have a hearing, you're going to find that the Democrats are not going to be able to oppose a Roberts or Estrada because they are outstanding nominees.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think some would say that Pickering had an undistinguished record, that, you know, maybe the Democrats overboard in their charges of racism, but not a very distinguished record and maybe most distinguished by the fact that he was a conservative. And so, what we're really looking at here is buildup toward nominees to the Supreme Court, and the Democrats are laying down a marker the Republicans.

NICKLES: Well, that's ridiculous. One, if you look at Judge Pickering, his age, he wouldn't be a Supreme Court nominee. This was a hatchet job by a bunch of liberal groups that spend a lot of money -- interesting, you had a segment on campaign finance -- these groups are spending all kinds of money trying to kill this nomination.

But this was unfortunate and it's unfair.

SNOW: Well, let me go...

NICKLES: What we're going to do, we're going to try to get the Democrats' attention, and we'll do whatever is necessary to get their attention to make sure that we're going to have good nominees have a chance to have a hearing.

NICKLES: Some of these people have been waiting a year, almost a year. They were nominated in May, and they haven't even had a hearing yet before the Judiciary Committee.

SNOW: I'll let Juan get back at you in a minute, but first I want you to take a look a quote from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. I mean, he knows that you're trying to pick a fight and he says, OK, bring it on. Here's the quote: "I don't know if they, Republicans, have given careful thought to the threat" -- blocking an FCC appointment. "I think that it could easily backfire in many ways."

He's running the place. He can shut down anything that you propose. How on earth is this a smart strategy for getting people to be nice to each other?

NICKLES: Well, we have to get their attention. And the Senate -- this is a real bad thing. I happen to love the Senate. I have been in the Senate for 22 years. And the way that the Democrats are running the Senate right now bothers me a lot -- and not just the Judiciary Committee. But, again, this is the first time this happened in 11 years. It shouldn't have happened.

Senator Breaux was right. They should have figured out a way. You don't kill the Republican leader's nominee. That is just not the way that things are supposed to do if you believe that this body is supposed to work.

But it is not working in other ways. I'm on the Energy Committee. We are debating the energy bill on the floor of the Senate. I have been on the committee for 22 years. We didn't mark up the bill in the committee. Why? Because Tom Daschle didn't want us to because he was afraid that we would put ANWR in the bill. So I didn't have a chance.

SNOW: ANWR is the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, drilling for oil in Alaska.

NICKLES: So, he comes up with an energy bill. It's this thick. It's over 600 pages thick. I haven't had a chance to amend it. I have been on that committee for all these years. So, Energy Committee, don't bring it up.

WILLIAMS: Let me switch to another topic, senator.

NICKLES: Taxes, just one other example. We want to taxesl it becomes partisan. A farm bill -- w've never had a partisan farm bill in my years in the Senate. All of a sudden we have a very partisan farm bill. The Judiciary Committee is not working. There are some real problems with the current leadership in the Senate.

WILLIAMS: Well, I'm wondering also if the Democrats in the Senate wouldn't point to the White House and say, in part, this is the Bush administration, especially this because they say it's very secretive and with specific reference to Tom Ridge and the refusal of the administration to allow Tom Ridge to testify before Senate and congressional committees. What do you think?

NICKLES: Well, Juan, I'm concerned, because originally, after 9/11, we heard the Democratic leader say, hey, we will work with the administration, frankly, on the war and on homeland security, but we're going to declare war on everything else. Remember, Tom Daschle's speech. We're going to fight you domestically on everything, but we will work with you on homeland defense and national security. And now it looks like they're trying to pick a fight over, hey, wait a minute, we have to have a presidential adviser up.

I think this thing should be defused. And hopefully Tom Ridge will meet. He's already indicated he's willing to meet with senators. But to have him go before each individual appropriation committee and so on, I think is ridiculous.

The president is entitled to have his advisers. We don't ask Condi Rice, the president's national security advisor, up to testify before Congress. We don't ask his chief of staff. I think that the president is right in saying, wait a minute, I need Tom Ridge to help fun this war on terrorism, and he shouldn't have to go around to each individual committee.

SNOW: Do you think there are enough votes to amend campaign finance on the floor? Or is the campaign finance reform bill that will get up for a vote, is that going to be the new law?

NICKLES: It's going to pass, and it will pass without amendments. I think there probably should be some amendments, but the votes aren't there. It's going to pass. It's going to pass very quickly. I think some of the opponents of it have exaggerated how bad it is, and I think some of the proponents have overexaggerated -- you know, it's going to change some things.

I'm bothered right now that the proponents of campaign finance are running ads in Colorado trying to beat up Senator Allard using soft money, saying vote for this bill. That bothers me. There's going to be a lot of groups. It's going to cut money to the parties, but a whole lot of other groups are going to become parties. And they're going to start running ads and they will run a lot of ads. But, you know, regardless, if you get the best candidate, you can win.

SNOW: And the networks won't go broke. OK. Don Nickles, thanks for joining us.

NICKLES: The networks won't go broke, but the newspapers are going to have a heyday. But, anyway, as long as we can get the best candidates, we can win. I happen to think we the best candidates running this year. And I think we'll have a change in the leadership in the Senate.

SNOW: All right. Senator Nickles, thanks.