Transcript: Sen. Arlen Specter on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Sept. 3, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: With less than a month of work before Congress adjourns for the election, there are still a number of key issues to be resolved. For more, we turn to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter.

The president made comprehensive immigration reform one of his top legislative priorities, and yet Republicans in the House and Senate basically talked past each other all summer. What are the chances that you are going to get a compromise on immigration reform before the election? And if you don't, isn't that a serious failure?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: If we don't, it is a serious problem. And that's one of the factors which is going to push us to get comprehensive reform. I've talked to the president about it. We now have bills from both the House and the Senate.

We talked past each other, but that's not unusual. And now we're going to go into conference, and I think we can reconcile our differences.

WALLACE: So you're saying that there is going to be a conference between the House and the Senate on immigration reform this month.

SPECTER: Chris, it's not entirely up to me, but my first call on Tuesday morning is going to be to Chairman [F. James] Sensenbrenner, and I'm going to say to him Jim, let's sit down and talk. We've both got bills. Everybody agrees it's a gigantic problem. The president wants it done. The American people want it done. Let's do it.

WALLACE: Well, Senator, some of your Senate colleagues who oppose comprehensive reform have added an amendment to the defense spending bill which would pay for hundreds of miles of barriers along our southern border.

If that were to pass, wouldn't that mean that, in effect, we'd have enforcement only and that the guest worker program and the path to legalization would be dead?

SPECTER: No, not necessarily. That's one bill. That's one provision. But you can have fencing, you can have border security, and still move ahead to more comprehensive reform.

Look, Chris, we've got 11 million undocumented immigrants. We have to work out a plan e president and Speaker [Dennis] Hastert want a guest worker program. There's a lot to be done.

And you put the clue on the table with your initial question. Republicans control both houses and the White House. It's a major national problem. If we don't move toward solving it, we're not doing our job. And I think that's the paramount concern.

WALLACE: But just to follow up, Senator, you know that there are a lot of members of your own party in the Senate and there seems to be a majority in the House who think it's better politics not to pass a comprehensive package.

SPECTER: Well, sometimes politics has to battle policy. Sometimes politics has to battle good government. And my instinct is if we Republicans want to maintain control of the House for sure, you better move ahead on immigration reform.

And we have tight races in the Senate. If you want to show the American people we can govern, we better move ahead.

WALLACE: Senator, let me turn to judges, and I hope you'll be just as frank on this one. The president re-nominated five conservative choices for the federal appeals court. We've got them up on the screen there.

Is there a realistic chance that any of these five will be confirmed in the month before you adjourn, or is this really more about politics and firing up your conservative base?

SPECTER: Now, Chris, you asked me to be brief and responsive. Now you want me to be frank, too? I will be frank with you. I think it's tough, very candidly.

But the president has resubmitted those names, and I'm chairman, and we're going to handle them in regular order, and they're all going to be on the executive calendar for next Thursday. We're going to move — we're going to move right ahead.

Nominee Smith is embroiled in a controversy between a couple of states. I think we can get him ... back in line, but he's entitled to a hearing.

WALLACE: Let's put up his picture. This is Michael Brunson Wallace. I should say he's no relative. The American Bar Association found him to be unanimously not qualified.

Senator, again, being frank, doesn't he have a pretty steep climb to confirmation?

SPECTER: I think he may have a steep climb, but let me remind you about the Constitution, Chris. I know you're concerned about the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't say the American Bar Association confirms. The Constitution says the Senate confirms.

And we'll consider what the American Bar Association has to say. We'll consider what a lot of people have to say. And then we're going to consider him in committee. Is he a lock to be confirmed? Absolutely not.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about one other controversial nominee, and that is Judge Terrence Boyle. There have been allegations, as you know far better than I, of a conflict of interest, that he ruled in several cases involving companies in which his family held stock. Doesn't that nomination, Senator, have big problems?

SPECTER: Well, I think it does have big problems. When you have a judge who has ruled on cases where there was stock of his own involved, yeah. He has given an explanation, that they were minor, that they were oversights, but there are a number of them. But let's consider that.

Again, it's a matter of an evaluation and a matter of judgment, but I think that Judge Boyle ought to have an up or down vote in the Senate. Chances are, candidly, Chris, he'll be filibustered, but so far as I'm concerned, as chairman, I'm going to move them right along one at a time and let the full Senate make its judgment.

WALLACE: Sen. Specter, finally, you've been very critical about the president's NSA terrorist surveillance cases — the NSA eavesdrops on communications without going to the courts for a warrant.

As you well know, a federal judge recently last month ruled that unconstitutional. Are you going to pass legislation this month before you go home authorizing that NSA warrantless wiretap program to continue?

SPECTER: I think we have a pretty good chance, Chris, but it's a matter of getting it out of committee. And so far the debate has been very, very extended.

Listen, the tradition in America is to have judicial review before there are warrants. There's no doubt that the current program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the president says he has inherent power, and he may.

But we will not know that until it is before a court to weigh the seriousness of terrorism — and it is very, very serious — against the intrusion to privacy. And that, too, is serious.

The Detroit federal judge said it was unconstitutional, Chris, but this is a matter which is going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The legislation which I have proposed and the president has agreed to says not that we're going to bless the president's program and affirm it, but that it's going to be submitted to a court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for the traditional test as to whether it is constitutional.

WALLACE: Senator, finally, I assume that you have read about Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld's speech that he made this week that we've been talking about earlier in the program.

When you raise questions, as you do here, about the legality of some of the tools that the president is using to fight terror, have you failed to learn the lessons from the 1930s about appeasing terrorists?

SPECTER: Chris, I was after the terrorism issue since the '80s. I wrote the Terrorism Act of 1986. And on the Judiciary Committee, we've had tough oversight hearings as to terrorism. I believe it's a major problem.

I led the fight to bring back the Patriot Act, which gives the law enforcement officials real tools. But while I'm very much concerned about terrorism, I'm also concerned about constitutional rights. And there's no doubt that we can have a judicial determination.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the final word. And my bill will move this issue along the track to get that judicial determination. And if the court says the president's gone too far, we're going to have to modify the program.

We do not want a country which does not appropriately recognize civil rights and constitutional rights. And we can protect ourselves at the same time.

WALLACE: Sen. Specter, we have to leave it there. We want to thank you for being both frank and succinct today and sharing part of your holiday weekend with us.