Transcript: Sen. McConnell on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the May 17, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now is the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."


WALLACE: We now have a direct confrontation between the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Central Intelligence Agency over whether the CIA lied to Congress. How should we get to the bottom of this?

MCCONNELL: Well, we know there's a dispute about — between the speaker and the CIA over what she knew and when she knew it.

What we know also — what we know for sure is that the CIA and our armed forces have kept us safe since 9/11. They've done a great job. And I think we should be applauding not only their efforts but the efforts of the armed forces.

With regard to your direct question about how to get at it, we have intelligence committees in the House and the Senate. They are good at having these kinds of inquiries. My own view is what is the point in going back and trying to figure out who knew what when. I think we know a good deal about this already.

WALLACE: But don't you think when you've got the number three constitutional officer behind the president and the vice president accusing the CIA of lying to Congress, which is a crime — don't you think we need to find out whether — who's telling the truth?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think the intelligence committees can do that, and there's no question that you've got a dispute here between the speaker and the CIA.

You know, I've — the — I've got it here in my pocket. I know you want short answers, but the — the response of the — of the CIA director was pretty specific. "Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA employees briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing the enhanced techniques that had been employed."

I mean, we know what the CIA believes. And the speaker apparently disagrees with them. And I think the best way to resolve the dispute, if it's to be resolved, is through the intelligence committees.

WALLACE: If it turns out that Speaker Pelosi is wrong and has misled the country about what the CIA did in alleging that CIA lied to the Congress, should she step down?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not going to start answering a hypothetical like that. I think the speaker clearly has a problem here with the CIA, and at some point we'll find out what the truth is.

WALLACE: The Senate is taking up a spending bill this week, and one of the big issues for you, I know, is a Democratic proposal to provide $80 million to shut down the prison at Guantanamo, conditioned on the administration coming up with a plan on what to do with the detainees.

Will you support that provision?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think we ought to leave Guantanamo open. It's a $200 million state-of-the-art facility. No one has ever escaped from there. It has courtrooms for the military commissions trials which the president has now correctly, in my view, decided, you know, maybe that's a good way to try some of these terrorists after all.

My view is it's the perfect place for them. We know how Americans feel about them coming here. Two years ago, I offered an amendment on the floor of the Senate giving the Senate an opportunity to express itself on the question of whether or not terrorists should come to the United States. It was 94-3 against.

WALLACE: There are two specific issues here, assuming that you are going to close Guantanamo, as the president says that he wants to — first, whether detainees can be tried and imprisoned in the U.S. — we have done that in the case of a number of terrorists — secondly, whether any detainees should be released, set free, in the U.S.

And I want to have you listen to what Attorney General Holder said about that this week.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: In making determinations about the release, transfer, of the people at Guantanamo, the thing that's going to guide this administration more than anything is the safety of the American people.


WALLACE: Senator McConnell, don't you trust the attorney general?

MCCONNELL: Look, this whole thing has been about making us popular in Europe. We know how the American people feel about it. Correctly, they don't want them in their neighborhoods.

And you know, there's been a position stated by some in the administration that there's no problem incarcerating terrorists here. It is a problem.

Ask the mayor of Alexandria. They had the Moussaoui trial there a few years ago. It created significant disruptions. In addition to that, it makes whatever town that has the terrorist a potential target for terrorists.

There's no reason in the world to bring these people to the United States. I don't think there's a community in America that's going to be interested in taking them.

The president made a mistake by picking a date certain to close Guantanamo. He's changed his mind about a number of things. This is one, I think, that requires an adjustment in his position because I think he — Chris, he's going to have a very difficult time figuring out what to do with these terrorists.

WALLACE: We expect President Obama to announce a Supreme Court nominee in the next week or two. Are you prepared to commit right now that you will oppose a filibuster of his choice?

MCCONNELL: What I'm prepared to say to the president, as I said to him in a meeting the other day with Senator Sessions, is that what we are looking for, we meaning Republicans in the Senate are looking for, is a nominee who will apply the law without partiality.

Each federal judge takes an oath to apply the law to both the rich and the poor. Their personal views ought to be irrelevant. I think Chief Justice Roberts had it right during his confirmation hearings.

He said the — a judge ought to be like an umpire — call the balls and strikes but don't make the rules. That's the kind of individual we're looking for. We know it will be someone of the political left. But a number of leftist judges have been able to put aside their personal views and call it like they see it.

WALLACE: But are you ruling out a filibuster or are you leaving that possibility open?

MCCONNELL: Under the rules of the Senate, all things are possible.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, though, because back in 2005, when Democrats were blocking President Bush's nominees, you were prepared to impose the nuclear option which would block filibusters, and I want to put up what you said so eloquently at the time.


WALLACE: "Regardless of party, any president's judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote." So if filibusters were wrong under President Bush, shouldn't they be wrong under President Obama?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Senate rejected my advice, and the Senate is a place that frequently operates on precedent. So I think the Senate deliberately decided not to take a position one way or the other.

And as you know, we did have to have a cloture vote on Justice Alito, which the president, by the way, opposed. In other words, he opposed...

WALLACE: Shutting off debate.

MCCONNELL: ... shutting off debate on Justice Alito. So the president himself has indicated that all options are open.

But I think it is way premature, Chris, to be predicting what kind of procedural moves will be taken when we haven't even seen the nomination yet.

WALLACE: Yesterday, President Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, sent an e-mail to supporters that I want to put up called "Swiftboating Health Care," that says opponents are pumping millions into deceptive T.V. ads to, quote, "torpedo health care reforms before it sees the light of day by scaring the public and distorting the president's approach."

Senator, are we headed for another battle like the one over "Hillarycare" in 1994?

MCCONNELL: Well, health care is about 16 percent of our economy. It is a big issue. It's extremely important to everyone. All of us care about our own health. We know that health care needs to be made better in this country. There are changes that are needed.

As to whether or not we have a huge fight over this or come together, I think it will depend entirely on what the administration tries to do.

If they want to have a government plan that puts the government between you and your doctor, if they want to establish some kind of national rationing board that basically denies care and delays care, then I think we'll have a huge debate.

On the other hand, there are a whole — a big, serious debate of differences. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of other things that both sides want to get at — the problem of the uninsured, for example. I think everybody knows that we need to make progress on that.

So I think prejudging exactly how big a fight this is will depend upon what they try to do.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about what seems to be part of their plan, although I think we'd both agree that it's not very specific at this point. The president says that he wants a public health insurance option...

MCCONNELL: Yeah. WALLACE: ... to compete against private insurance options. Is there any public plan, as just one of a series of — on the menu, that you could support?

MCCONNELL: Well, that would mean a government plan that would inevitably put the government between you and your doctor, and there would be no more private insurance.


MCCONNELL: Because the private insurance people will not be able to compete with a government option.

I think the vast majority of Republicans and a number of Democrats will not support a government plan. I think that is exactly what we ought to avoid doing.

I think the president would be wise to put that aside and see if we can't come together on a whole lot of other issues that still avoid having a European-type single-payer system.

WALLACE: Well, just to press the point, Senator Schumer, a Democrat, says, "Look, you can put regulations in that would not allow the public plan to have an unfair advantage." It would have to be the same regulations, it would have to pay the same rates. Or maybe you don't have a single government federal plan, but you have state plans which wouldn't have this huge economy of scale.

Is there any provision there that you see where you say, "Yeah, as a series of options, I could accept a government plan?"

MCCONNELL: Now, that's a bait and switch. What he — what he really wants to do is create a government plan, and we all know where that leads. None of the private plans will be able to compete, and you'll soon have a single-payer European-type system. They may call it something else, but that's the game plan.

WALLACE: Now, there has been talk — and again, this is not something they're necessarily going to do, but they have passed a provision that would allow the health care plan to be passed under what's called reconciliation.

I don't want to get too far into the weeds, but very briefly, that's a budget plan that allows it to be passed by a simple majority, not by the super majority of 60 votes. Is that a nuclear option if they do that?

MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, they have that — they have that option. That's the good news for them. They could pass it with a simple majority, as you suggest.

The bad news is they're going to have to pay for it. And they're beginning to look at all the taxes they'd have to raise to raise the $600 billion or so to pay for this.

WALLACE: You're saying if they pass under reconciliation, they can't just pass the plan, they also, because it's a budget plan...

MCCONNELL: They have to pay for it, which means they're going to have massive tax increases across the board on a whole lot of people, and a lot of different entities are going to be affected by this, and so Americans are going to be looking and seeing how their taxes are going up to supply the revenue for a government-operated plan. I don't think that's a good path to take.

WALLACE: Finally — and we have a couple of minutes left — I want to talk a little politics with you. I guess we've sort of been talking politics all along here.

Do you have a problem with Dick Cheney stepping up so visibly in opposing President Obama's national security policies and, in a sense, becoming one of the leading voices, faces, of the Republican Party?

MCCONNELL: Well, these are serious issues. And I think it's noteworthy that in the last week the president himself has been adjusting his positions.

He's no longer decided to release additional photos from Abu Ghraib. He has revisited the issue of whether or not the military commissions that we passed a couple of years ago are an appropriate way to try terrorists.

We know he changed his mind in Iraq and decided to follow the advice of the military generals. And we also know that he's now ordered a surge in Afghanistan just like the one that was successful in Iraq.

So I think the administration has responded to the critique of the vice president and others that it might have had the — might be drifting off in the wrong direction on national security issues.

WALLACE: Do you see that as a vindication for the Bush policies, the fact that the president is adopting some of them?

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. I mean, it's no accident that we've been safe since 9/11. The policies of the Bush administration in the war on terror kept us safe since 9/11. It's not in dispute.

WALLACE: And you see what the president is doing as what?

MCCONNELL: I think he's adjusting his sails on all of these issues now that he is president and knows that his — one of his principal responsibilities is to keep the American people safe.

WALLACE: Finally, your fellow Republican senator from the state of Kentucky, Jim Bunning, is mad at you, I think it's fair to say. He says you don't want him to seek re-election and that while you've given money to other GOP incumbents, you've stiffed him.

You can put this all to rest right now, Senator. I'm going to give you the opportunity. Do you endorse Jim Bunning for re-election?

MCCONNELL: Well, what's happening in Kentucky, obviously, is the race has not yet formed. Senator Bunning has encouraged someone to file an exploratory committee. There are now two exploratory committees. And there's a Democratic primary on the other side. I think it's safe to say the Kentucky Senate race is unfolding.

WALLACE: I didn't hear an endorsement there. You usually endorse as the Senate...

MCCONNELL: Well, it's — it's just not clear exactly who the players are going to be in Kentucky.

WALLACE: So you're not endorsing him.

MCCONNELL: It's not clear who the players are going to be yet.

WALLACE: I tried.


WALLACE: Senator McConnell, thank you.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

WALLACE: Thanks for joining us. Please come back, sir.

MCCONNELL: Be glad to.

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