Transcript: Sen. Arlen Specter on 'FNS'

Published April 09, 2006

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The following is a partial transcript of the April 9, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: On Friday, a Senate compromise on immigration fell apart, leaving in doubt, for now at least, whether passage of a bill that would resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants living here is possible.

Joining us now to discuss what's next is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, who comes to us from Cartagena, Colombia. He's on the first stop of a trip through South America to check, among other things, into the DEA's drug interdiction efforts.

Senator Specter, what happened on this? Why did this compromise, which seemed well on the way on Thursday evening, collapse on Friday?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: The compromise fell apart, Brit, as The Washington Post put it in an editorial yesterday, because the Democrats put political advantage over the national interest. And this morning's New York Times said that the motivation of the Democrats was less than pristine.

HUME: Well, what exactly...

SPECTER: So those are a couple of...

HUME: Well, what exactly did the Democrats do that makes you feel that it is their fault and not the fault of the Republicans, which is what the Democrats say?

SPECTER: Specifically, Brit, the Democrats refuse to allow Republicans to offer amendments. I think it was pretty well determined that the votes were there to pass the compromise, but in the Senate, because of our highly technical and arcane rules, the Democrats were in a position to stop us from offering any amendments.

And there were many Republicans who were reconciled to having a bill passed that they didn't really like, but at least they wanted the opportunity to offer amendments so that they could have a shot at it and tell their constituents they did everything they could.

And, Brit, the basis of what you do in the Senate in a legislative body is the committee reports a bill, it comes to the floor, and then any senator can offer amendments as to what he or she thinks will improve the bill, and the Democrats stopped it.

HUME: Well, as a matter of fact, of course, I think it is the case that the bill that your committee reported to the floor was to the liking of many Democrats who say they didn't want to see it changed, that they were worried that it would be changed in a way that would be objectionable to them, and that's why they blocked the amendment process. What do you say to that?

SPECTER: Well, the bill was to the liking of many Democrats and also to the liking of many Republicans. We had four Republicans on the committee for the bill. Senator Frist came around and so did many other Republicans.

And when the Democrats say the bill might be changed, that's the chance you have to take in a democracy. You consider amendments, and if there are 51 votes for it, then the amendments pass. But the Democrats did what we call a whip check. They knew where the votes were.

Now, they had a little different consideration when it goes to committee, because the House of Representatives has a significantly different bill.

Look here, Brit. Border security is indispensable. We all agree to that. And our national security is involved, and we want to control our borders, and we don't want terrorists or thugs coming across.

But we also have millions of undocumented aliens, and we have to find some way to deal with the undocumented aliens in a rational way, and I think the Senate compromise, while not perfect — I preferred the committee bill which came out of our Judiciary Committee.

But look here. Arlen Specter doesn't write the final bill. That's the will of the majority of the Senate, the will of the Senate. And when we get to the House, Speaker Hastert has signified his willingness to consider a guest worker program.

Chairman Sensenbrenner and our committee worked out complicated parts of the Patriot Act, and let's let the legislative process work its course. I think when we come back from recess, we'll get a bill.

HUME: Let me take you back to the compromise proposal and the attempt to amend the bill on the floor. Senators Kennedy and McCain, who worked, as you know, very hard on this measure and came out in the same place on it, have said that the votes were there to defeat the amendments that the Democrats were likely to find objectionable.

In your judgment, as one charged with managing the bill, were the votes there to put these amendments aside one at a time as they came up?

SPECTER: They were, Brit. That's what I had referred to earlier on a vote count, a so-called whip check. They knew where the votes were, and there were senators, mostly Republicans and some Democrats, too, who didn't like the bill. That always happens.

HUME: All right.

SPECTER: But they wanted an opportunity to present their amendments, and they were denied that. But those amendments would have been defeated.

HUME: Why are you optimistic that this — now that this has happened, that you'll be able to pull it back together and pass a bill after this two-week recess that you're now in?

SPECTER: Well, Brit, I'm optimistic for a couple of reasons. Number one, I'm always optimistic. And most fundamentally, as it goes to these issues, everybody agrees there's an enormous problem, and everybody agrees with the border security lines.

And there's general agreement that we have to craft a compromise, and we were very close on Thursday. And I think tempers will cool over a two-week period. And also, there are going to be some expressions by many people very unhappy with the Senate not passing a bill and very unhappy with the House bill.

And there's a real risk of significant political fallout here, and members of the Senate think about that, believe it or not, Brit.

HUME: Let me turn you to another subject, if I can, Senator. As you know, there was considerable excitement in Washington at the end of the week about a report or a statement by the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case, a filing he made that indicated that the president had authorized the disclosure of what had been classified information to bolster the case for going into Iraq.

Is it your view that what the president and the vice president, as well, did in that matter constituted a leak?

SPECTER: I don't know, because all of the facts aren't out, and I think that it is necessary for the president and the vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened.

Brit, I think too often we jump to conclusions before we know what all of the facts are, and I'm not about to condemn or criticize anybody, but I do say that there's been enough of a showing here with what's been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people.

HUME: About the release of this information or what?

SPECTER: Well, about exactly what he did. The president has the authority to declassify information. So in a technical sense, if he looked at it, he could say this is declassified, and make a disclosure of it.

There have been a number of reports, most recently — I heard just this morning — that the president didn't tell the vice president specifically what to do but just said get it out. And we don't know precisely what the vice president did.

And as usual, Brit, the devil is in the details. And I think that there has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said so that it can be evaluated.

The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made, but that it was not the right way to go about it, because we ought not to have leaks in government. We ought not to have them.

And the president has justifiably criticized the Congress for leaking and, of course, the White House has leaked. But we ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people.

HUME: All right. Senator Specter, thank you very much. We wish you safe travels.

SPECTER: Thank you.

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