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Transcript: Sen. Patrick Leahy on 'FNS'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from "FOX News Sunday," May 1, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: From the fight over judges to Social Security to the nomination of John Bolton: Is the Senate headed for gridlock? Here to discuss all this is Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. He joins us today from his home state of Vermont.

Senator, welcome. Good to talk with you again.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT.: Good to be with you. Also good to be home in Vermont.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Senator, what's your idea to fix Social Security?

LEAHY: Well, you know, I'd like to see the president being willing to really engage in a bipartisan debate. He has said, basically: This is my plan, take it or leave it. I said there is a problem. Of course, when he ran for the House of Representatives years ago, he said Social Security is about to go bankrupt in a few years. It didn't.

Here he said: I've defined a problem, where is the Democrats' answer? That's sort of like saying: The war in Iraq (inaudible) a problem, we've got weapons of mass destruction there, so we've got to go in.

WALLACE: Senator, if I may...

LEAHY: No, but if I could answer the question...

WALLACE: Well, I'm not sure you have, though, because I'm asking you for what your idea is.

LEAHY: My idea is to be able to have the president put everything on the table. He's said that he won't negotiate on any of his points. You know, that's sort of a nonstarter.

He's said he wants privatization and very large cuts for the working middle class. I think that's the wrong way to start off. And I think, if you say that's non-negotiable, well, he's got a Republican majority in the House, Republican majority in the Senate. He should go to them, but he's going to find that a lot of those key Republicans are also very worried that he's set it up as being non-negotiable.

I look it at -- when you have a problem with Social Security, I look at what happens when you do it in a bipartisan way. Remember when Senator Moynihan and Senator Dole sat down and said, let's work together, in a bipartisan way, when there was a problem in Social Security, and they fixed it. So, I mean, there's going to be plenty -- Social Security will be there for my children, your children...

WALLACE: Senator...

LEAHY: Later on, there won't be. That is the only...

WALLACE: Senator, can I get another question in here, please?

LEAHY: Sure.

WALLACE: Forgive me, but I do think, in fairness, that you're mischaracterizing what the president is saying. He's never said that any of his ideas are non-negotiable.

(CROSSTALK)

LEAHY: Oh yes, he has.

WALLACE: If I may, sir, ask my question, he certainly has said that he favors the personal accounts. As for the progressive indexing, he's said that it's an idea, and he in fact invited everybody to come to the table.

The question I have is: Can Democrats get through this entire question of Social Security without offering a single constructive idea of your own?

LEAHY: Well, (inaudible) the president has just fleshed out in his -- and I was glad to see him do it, in his press conference, more of the details of his idea. Beyond just the privatization, he's talked about the middle-class wage-earner benefit cuts. I think, you know, those are controversial, but at least he's fleshing out his ideas.

What I would urge him to do -- and he has said things like the privatization is non-negotiable. I've been in meetings where he has said that.

The fact is, it has to all be negotiable, in the same way that Senator Bob Dole and Senator Pat Moynihan sat down and said: OK, everything's on the table, it's all negotiable, we found a solution.

Otherwise, what the president has is a case where he says, OK, to the Republicans, you have the majority in the House and the Senate, give me a package. But he's going to find that's going to be difficult even...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: But, Senator, I still haven't heard a single idea of yours as to how to fix Social Security.

LEAHY: My idea is that we sit down and have a true bipartisan negotiation. The president seems unwilling to do that.

WALLACE: OK.

LEAHY: I hope he would one.

WALLACE: All right. Let's turn, if we can, to judges.

I want to put something up on the screen that you said back in June of 1998. You said, "I have stated over and over again that I would object and fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported, that I felt the Senate should do its duty." Then, in September 1999, you spoke again of filibusters: "I think that is unfair to the judiciary, it is unfair to the nominees, and, frankly, it demeans the Senate."

Question, why were filibusters so terrible back in 1999, but they're legitimate now?

LEAHY: Well, let me -- I can't see your screen, but I listened to what you said. And you said, I've stated over and over again -- and I imagine said -- dot, dot, dot -- that I object and fight against these filibusters. It's very convenient -- and I suspect you got this from the Republicans, that you left off what I said in there. What I said, I would refuse to put an anonymous hold on any judge. What I was talking about was the pocket filibusters in my quotes from The New York Times and the material I put in the Congressional Record at the time show very clearly, I was talking about the pocket filibusters, the anonymous holds the Republicans were doing.

You remember that they filibustered 61 of President Clinton's judges. If they had one, if they had even one Republican who opposed them, they would stay bottled up, they'd never have a hearing, they'd never have a vote. Those were pocket filibusters requiring 100 senators to get a judge through.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Senator.

LEAHY: And on the occasion we broke through and actually got someone on the floor, they still filibustered them.

LEAHY: In fact, Bill Frist voted to continue a filibuster.

I guess it makes a difference who was president.

WALLACE: Well, some people would say that's true for you too.

In fact, what you said -- and we did have the dot, dot, dot; talking about the anonymous holds. I guess I would make two points there.

First of all, under Bill Frist's new compromise, he would do away with the anonymous holds. He would guarantee that every nominee would get out of committee and get an up-or-down vote on the floor.

But in addition, you did say that you were against the anonymous holds and that you would object and fight against any filibuster on any judge.

WALLACE: You said that the Senate should do its duty and that there should be an up-or-down vote. Now my question is: Why did you feel that then but you don't feel it now?

LEAHY: I was talking about the committee. And you recall when I was chairman of the committee...

WALLACE: So you thought it was OK then to filibuster?

LEAHY: No, no. I was saying that we've always had the tool of the filibuster. But I said the anonymous holds, just one person can do it. Now, I'm perfectly willing to try to find a way out of this. People forget, in the 17 months that I was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though 61 of President Clinton's judges have been filibustered, I put through 100 of President Bush's judges in 17 months.

It took the same amount of time for the Republicans -- or took twice that amount of time for the Republicans when they were in charge to put through 100. So I think I cooperated more with the president even than they did.

But the point is, we put through 208 of President Bush's nominees. We've held back 10. That's a 95 percent success rate. That's more than just about any president. That's more than president George Washington.

WALLACE: Yes, but Senator Leahy, you can play -- as you well know, sir, you can play the numbers games both ways. When it comes to higher court nominees -- nominees to the court of appeals -- you, the Democrats, have allowed through 67 percent of this president's nominees, which is no better than the Republicans did with Bill Clinton.

Again, let me just ask you, as I just pointed out, Senator Frist has offered a compromise that would do away with all filibusters, all blue slips, all anonymous holds, all the ways in which senators can block nominees: Why not accept that?

LEAHY: We've also put through -- Senator Reid has put through a counter-offer that he's discussed with Senator Specter and myself. I think if it was left to Senator Specter and I, we could solve this very, very well. We've had the experience.

There are a lot of judges that should be there. The president hasn't nominated judges for a lot of the vacancies. I wish he'd follow the advice and consent thing where he would actually seek some advice. When that has been done, we've put these things through. They've been (inaudible) a unanimous vote, three or four unanimous votes on judges in the past two weeks alone.

WALLACE: So, Senator, what is the compromise that is out there that could avoid the nuclear option? The Democrats have made an offer; the Republicans refused. And the Republicans did the same; the Democrats refused. What's the compromise?

LEAHY: Well, you know, Senator Frist has made one offer. If he wants to change the rules to do that and follow the rules to change the rules, (inaudible) with what the Senate says. But what they're talking about, "the nuclear option," if they can just change the rules without following the normal procedure of the Senate, they could change the rules to say it takes only five senators to confirm somebody.

Or if you had one party in control of the Senate, a different party in control of the presidency following what Senator Frist has suggested, you could change the rules to say it's going to take 85 senators to confirm a judge. I think that's wrong.

I've been there 31 years. I've seen rules changes. But we follow the rules to change the rules. I think if we started with that as a premise, I think you could solve this whole thing.

WALLACE: And very briefly -- we've got about 30 seconds left -- do you believe, just counting votes, that the Republicans now have the 50 votes they need plus the vote of the vice president to pass their so-called "nuclear" or "constitutional option"?

LEAHY: Well, they may well have. I think it would be a mistake because they'd have to violate the Senate rules to do that. The nonpartisan parliamentarian would rule that they had broken the rules of the Senate and they had broken the checks and balances of the Senate. You know, the best thing about the United States Senate, throughout the course of our history is it's been a place of checks and balances. And that's benefited both Democratic and Republican presidents. But more importantly, it has benefited the country.

This is not a country where we say that just one party has a sole voice on everything. We've always believed in checks and balances. That's what makes our democracy so great. And we want to keep an independent judiciary. That is my basic concern.

WALLACE: Senator, we're going to have to leave there. Thank you so much for joining us, and we appreciate it.

LEAHY: Good to be with you. Thank you for making it possible to do it from Vermont.

WALLACE: And I was going to say, "Enjoy the rest of your weekend in Vermont.

LEAHY: Thank you, sir.

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