Transcript: Partisan Debates in Washington

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "Fox News Sunday," April 24, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: In the U.S. Senate, the stakes couldn't be higher now or the level of partisanship. There's a fight over judges that threatens to shut down the Senate and another over President Bush's nominee for a U.N. Ambassador. We want to check in on all this with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who joins us from South Carolina, and the Democrats number two man in the Senate, Dick Durbin, who's in Chicago.

Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you both with us.



WALLACE: Let's start with the Bolton nomination. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has now put off a vote until May 12th. We'll get into the merits of this debate later. But Senator Graham, just as a matter of practical political reality, do you think this nomination can withstand three more weeks of scrutiny?

GRAHAM: Yes, I hope so for the good of the country. Republican Senators have wanted to hear more. I really do believe a man like John Bolton needs to go to the U.N. The U.N. has proven itself to be very ineffective regulating dictators. It's a place that seems to be fiscally out of control. We need the U.N. now more than ever but we need a fair, efficient body. And a guy like John Bolton, who's been hard, who's been critical, I think will do the country well if people believe he's qualified.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, is the Bolton nomination dead?

DURBIN: I think it's in trouble. He wants to be our top diplomat at the U.N. but his life has been something less than diplomatic. He wants to work with people around the world. And he couldn't work with people in his own office. And he's supposed to be open, as our man at the U.N., to ideas from other people. And he's been a real tyrant when it came to people he worked with, who disagreed with him. This man doesn't have the temperament for this job.

And I just have to tell you that in the last 48 to 72 hours, members of the committee are receiving more information about John Bolton's excesses that led up to this nomination.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, tyrant?

GRAHAM: Yes, really? You said it. Go prove it.

I think the president basically deserves to have his nominees treated respectfully and they need to be held to high standards. But this idea that somebody can accuse you 11 years ago of being rough and tough with you when it comes to an internal debate — and the accuser, by the way, is a very partisan agenda — I would hate for the people to go through the Senate with this standard. See how many of us would withstand the idea that we've got bad tempers on certain days. This guy's been nominated and confirmed by the Senate four times. I don't think a tyrant would have made it through four times.

WALLACE: Let me ask you both about some of the specific issues and the ones that most recently have come out about Bolton. Former Secretary of State Powell, in responding to requests from various Republican senators, told them that Bolton was very difficult to work with on policy and personnel. And Bolton's former chief of staff — rather, Powell's former chief of staff said that Bolton would make a, quote, "abysmal ambassador."

Senator Durbin, how seriously do you take that?

DURBIN: Well, I'll go back to Lindsey Graham's challenge: "I said it. Now prove it." Let's start at the top. Colin Powell and Armitage, the two top men who worked with John Bolton, say he's not ready for this job, he's not a good person for this job.

DURBIN: I think it's in trouble. He wants to be our top diplomat at for this job.

DURBIN: You know, Lindsey's been a very fair colleague of mine. He's taken an honest look at some hard issues. And I think, if you take an honest look at John Bolton, you have to say, he doesn't get close to matching the standards of John Danforth, the previous U.N. ambassador, who sailed through the Senate, because he was a real statesman. John Bolton is not of that same category.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, perhaps Senator Durbin is overstating when he says that Powell has said he is not ready for the job, but he certainly did not give him a vote of confidence, and apparently told these Republican senators that he was very difficult to work with. You've got to take that seriously, don't you?

GRAHAM: I think you need to take accusations seriously. Every other secretary of state, Republican and Democrat, support him.

The main thing is that the president has trust and confidence in him. The Senate has confirmed him four times.

These allegations are going to be looked at. Republicans on the committee want to know more. I think that's very appropriate.

But the idea that he's temperamental when it comes to the role of the U.N. in current politics to me seems to be sort of missing the point. The point, from an American point of view, is that the U.N., with the oil for food program, their ability to regulate dictators has been terrible over the last ten years. The body's out of control. We need to push the body to be better. I think John Bolton would do that.

WALLACE: Let me ask you both about another allegation. Former Bush ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard came out this week. He says that Bolton misled the committee when he said that the ambassador approved Bolton calling life in North Korea "a hellish nightmare." But, on the other hand, back in a 2003 letter, Secretary Powell said that Bolton's speech was fully cleared within the department, it was consistent with administration policy.

Senator Durbin, what do you make of Hubbard's allegations and the fact that in his letter Secretary Powell seemed to say that this was administration policy?

DURBIN: It's sure a conflict. I can't resolve the conflict, because I don't know what actually happened, I wasn't there.

I do have to go back to the point, though, that most people do respect Colin Powell for all that he's brought to this country, and for some reason he has serious reservations about John Bolton representing the United States at the United Nations.

Now, the president has said he stands behind John Bolton, but which of the two of them, Colin Powell or George W. Bush, has had the closest relationship with Bolton? I think you'd have to say it's Colin Powell, and he's decided that John Bolton should not be the — at least he hasn't given his — let's put it fairly: hasn't given his strongest endorsement of Bolton for this job.

WALLACE: Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, other secretary of states who have worked with him over the years have endorsed him. He's been confirmed by the Senate four times. I do not believe Secretary Powell has come out against his nominations.

Allegations have been made that are 11 years old by one woman...


WALLACE: But wait. If I may, Senator,...


GRAHAM: ... who seems to have a partisan agenda. So look at all of it,


WALLACE: Senator Graham, let me just ask you about the ambassador, Hubbard, because what he's saying is...

GRAHAM: Right.

WALLACE: ... that, back in 2003, that, when Bolton went to South Korea, that he made a speech, and he was asked about it by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton was, and he said that Hubbard approved the speech, thanked him for it.

GRAHAM: Right.

WALLACE: Hubbard said, no, I didn't, in fact I disagreed, and that Bolton misled the committee.

GRAHAM: Well, as you said before in your reporting of this, this was administration policy. Whether Hubbard agreed with it or not, the State Department agreed with it. He did call North Korea what I think is correct, a tyrannical dictatorship that is one of the most evil places on earth, and, if Mr. Hubbard has a problem with that, too bad. It's time to stand up and tell the truth about the U.N., about North Korea, about Iran, and quit playing this be-cute game. There's too much at stake. The U.N. needs to be reformed. It is a very effective body when it works well. It is not working well now.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, let me switch subjects on you, if I may.

As we said a little while ago, Senate Majority Leader Frist is appearing in a telecast tonight called "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith."

Senator Graham, how do you feel about what appears to be this injection of religion into politics?

GRAHAM: Well, let me tell you. Dick Durbin and I are probably polar opposites when it comes to politics, and he's a very good number two man. He can ratchet it up. But I've never questioned his motives. I never question the fact that he's a person of faith.

So, our nominees have been treated badly, in my opinion. Mr. Holmes (ph), who's being presented by the president, they took a letter that he and his wife wrote to his parish priest about a Christian marriage. They ran that through the committee, saying that it was intolerant to women, because he quoted the Apostle Paul's view of the Christian marriage. I said then, you're putting religion in an improper way, injecting it in an improper way. That started during the committee process.

I don't like the idea that we're going to question senators' motives, when it comes to their religion or why they're voting. I don't feel comfortable with that at all.

WALLACE: How do you feel then, Senator Graham, about your majority leader, Senator Frist, appearing on this program?

GRAHAM: Well, Senator Frist is going to go, and I think he's going to say the right things. He's going to say these people have been treated unfair. He's not going to question senators' motives. I think he's going to have a very balanced view of this, and not ratchet up the rhetoric.

But the groups that we're talking about have been friendly to me and other Republicans. I would call on them not to go down the road of saying that the Democratic senators are not people of faith or questioning their religious — that they're religious bigots. I don't think that helps the country, and I don't think that's fair.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, can't you make the argument, though, that faith is a big part of the debate over judges, whether it's abortion or prayer in schools or banning the Ten Commandments from public places or Terry Schiavo? Isn't one of the reasons that Democrats have opposed some of these judges, these nominees, because of their strong views on religion?

We seem to have lost the audio with Senator Durbin.


We'll try to fix that.

Senator Durbin, are you there?


GRAHAM: This is a magic moment in television.

WALLACE: No, he's not there. So let me ask you about that aspect of it, Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: People of faith should be involved in politics. The Family Research Council, other groups, should be involved.

The issues that we're talking about — abortion — have a religious component. I am all for people of faith fighting for these nominees.

What I do not want to do is cross the line and say that those who oppose these nominees are people who lack faith. I don't believe that. I don't think that's appropriate.

I think Senator Frist will have a common-sense approach, will not go over the line — at least I hope so — but let's don't let the debate get out of hand. Let's talk about fundamental fairness.

I've got a ream of statements from the 90's where Democrats were accusing Republicans of holding up nominees. They all urged up-or- down votes. Senator Kennedy said, "If you don't like them, vote against them." Now that's all changed because of the political moment.

This filibuster is destructive for the country. It's very bad for the Senate. It needs to end.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, I understand we've corrected our technical problem. We've got you back.

What about the question that I just asked you: Isn't faith part of this debate when you look at the fact that a number of these nominees are opposed on issues of faith?

DURBIN: Well, I can just tell you the Constitution is explicit. You cannot have a religious test for a person to be appointed to public office. That is exactly what it should be.

But many people have positions they've taken on political issues based on faith.

Now, where do you draw that line?

We need to ask about those issues because they're going to confront every judicial nominee, and there may be disagreement about their positions. But if their defense is always, "You can't ask me, you can't object to me if my particular political position is based on faith," then it's the end of the debate. There will be no investigation and no inquiry of nominees.

I think what's happening today with the Family Research Council is wrong. I think what this group has done has become unfortunately entirely too political.

I am a person of faith, my family, Senator Graham, so many others, and we believe that you can disagree and still have a Christian viewpoint, a Jewish viewpoint, whatever it happens to be. And I think they've gone way too far.

And I hope Senator Frist really thinks twice about appearing today or at least having his videotape before this group.

WALLACE: Let me finish. We've got about a couple of minutes left.

Senator Graham, the Senate Finance Committee is going to begin hearings on Tuesday. And Senator Grassley, the chairman of the committee, says because Democrats won't play, refuse to negotiate, until personal accounts are dropped, he's going to put together a Republican plan and then try to reach out to the other side. Good idea?

GRAHAM: Well, it's a good idea to go forward and press the Senate to take up this issue.

I really do believe it's now time for the president, after the 60-day tour, to come up with a complete plan. I think the president will dominate and guide this debate, and I'm glad to see Senator Grassley is moving forward. I'm looking for momentum.

But I would urge the president to put a complete proposal together, not just about accounts but about solvency, a comprehensive plan and allow us in the Senate and the House to look at it and give feedback and come up with our own ideas.

WALLACE: And Senator Durbin, very briefly, what about the fact, I know that you're opposed to the personal accounts, but why not engage with the Republicans on the long-term solvency issue that you acknowledge is a problem?

DURBIN: Well, I think we should talk about it. But privatization is not the best path.

Senator Graham, my colleague on this show with me, has been one of the few and one of the most courageous members of the Senate, standing up and honestly saying what it's going to cost if we go down this route toward solvency or toward privatization and personal accounts.

Let's have an honest and open and bipartisan debate. It worked back in 1983 with a bipartisan commission. We strengthened Social Security for 50-60 years. We can do it now if we move and move responsibly. But not with privatization.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, Senator Graham, I want to thank you both so much for joining us today.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

DURBIN: Thank you.