This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: President Obama has a headache tonight thanks to a Democratic senator. Senator Russ Feingold from the great state of Wisconsin held a hearing asking big questions about the president's czars.
The White apparently is not to happy, deciding not to send anyone to testify at the hearing. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the importance of the hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Today on the Hill there is a hearing being held to examining the history and legality of executive-branch czars. Your thoughts on that title for a hearing and any reaction to the hearing being held on that?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I do not know if Senator Feingold is calling Franklin Roosevelt to be a witness on the -- I forget the lofty scholarly heading of said hearing. I would assume that Congress and Senator Feingold would have more weighty topics to grapple with than something like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Republican Senator Tom Coburn was at the hearing went "On the Record." Senator Coburn is the ranking member of the judiciary subcommittee on the constitution.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, it is nice to see you, sir.
SEN. TOM COBURN, R - OKLA.: Good to see you.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's nice to be in your office, too. You're working hard?
COBURN: My stacks are high.
VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed they are. And today, hearings on czars
COBURN: We just had one and one I think this week with the Homeland security -- the judiciary constitutional committee led by Senator Feingold.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's sort of unusual that at least it appears to be that Sen. Feingold is a Democrat and would be leading this about czars, because the media is focused on what the president has done, he has so many czars.
COBURN: You know, you have to give senator Feingold credit. He cares about the Constitution more than probably anybody. And so he looks at it and says, look, there's a question, let's just look at it.
So there wasn't anything to worry in the hearing, understand, what's the legal fact, was to appointment clause say, who is a real officer, who can actually buy into the federal government, whether the position, and is anybody acting outside of what would generally fall under consent?
So this is the first opportunity we've had to look at it. The administration refused to send a witness. And I think that is unfortunate, because President Obama needs to build confidence in what he is doing, and so transparency is something that would be very beneficial on this.
Presidents have had advisers for a long time in all sorts of areas, and the question is, as he had more of them than what most people have had, and whether or not they are actually carrying out an executive function that often would relate to a cabinet secretary.
And do they have the authority to bind the government, because if they do, then in fact they should be confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate.
VAN SUSTEREN: The first objection from the Democratic Party, at least in this administration, goes back at least as far as I remember to Senator Byrd wrote a letter in February because he thought that it was usurping the power of advice and consent of the Senate. So he seemed to be a little bit of a trailblazer this go around on it.
Are there particular czars in this administration that you objected that this should have come to the Senate?
COBURN: Having studied the individual ones, there are supposedly 18 different that aren't statutory, and I think that remains to be seen. I don't think we can say that yet.
There are some concerning things, like the executive pay czar, the energy and environment czar. And, in fact, the testimony I had today, or at least the implication was that she negotiated the new auto standards based on the Supreme Court ruling. And that may be all fine as long as the secretary of EPA had the final say on it.
So I think we don't know, and I think the general, fair inquiry into what is going on without partisan sniping and to say what is really going on, is there any violation of the constitutional -- any intended violation of the constitutional prerogatives of the legislative branch over advice and consent. And I don't think we have the answer yet.
VAN SUSTEREN: And so today's hearing was about the constitutional question, whether it violates the advise and consent section of the Constitution.
There is another issue and maybe it is one that you aren't addressing with czars, but I'm curious about knowing the answer to -- the cost.
We have these cabinets, and, for instance we have the Secretary of State and we have all these envoys underneath them they get appointed to the Senate.
Do these people have offices, staffs? Are they building a bureaucracy within a bureaucracy for jobs that should -- that are historically done by...
COBURN: Assistant secretaries, for example.
VAN SUSTEREN: Right. Is that what's happening, because we have a lot of attention on money in this country these days.
COBURN: Your question is a good one. The fact is the federal government is entirely too large. And whether the intent on this is to downsize other positions because we have given these special advisers positions and staffed them up, are we downsizing something else.
And that is a big problem in Washington. We never downsize anything. We just continue to build.
So I think that's a legitimate question that in fact we are markedly expanding the size and scope of the executive branch's expenditures -- for good purpose sometimes, and from my political philosophy, for not very good purposes at other times. So I think that is a legitimate question.
But it gets to the bigger question, and the bigger question is we have a government we cannot afford now. We are not going to be able to afford it for a long time unless everybody, Democrats and Republicans, start making smart choices. And they refuse to do so.
VAN SUSTEREN: Many of these czars fall in categories, whether it's state or labor or housing, rather reduce.
Could you not call in the secretary, the cabinet officers, and say "Was this your idea? Do you need this help? Or could you have done this yourself?"
I'm trying to figure it out whether or not this is the White House usurping the power of his cabinet and try to grab more real estate or whether or not this is something the secretary general needs.
COBURN: There is a fine difference here. It is there are things that the Congress has created, and they give statutory authority to the cabinet secretary to follow the laws.
And the president has little ability to change that. In other words, very specific legislation.
The big problem is we are not very specific with most legislation, so it is wide open to interpretation, and not necessarily abused, but a rather liberal interpretation by any administration.
And this isn't just the Obama administration. The history we got today is this started a long time ago with Eisenhower actually and maybe even before him.
So I think the problem goes back is transparency solves this. If the ball ministry she comes through and says we have these advisers. They are not confirmed. We don't intend to get them confirmed. Here's a roll, here is what they do, here is their background, and here is the role in which they are going to function.
And I think that clears it all up.
VAN SUSTEREN: And the cost.
COBURN: And the cost, yes. Here's what we're spending and here is what we decrease somewhere else because we are spending this, and we think it's a good way to run.
Remember, you have an administration that doesn't have any real very much real-world business management experience in it. You have people that have political experience, but you don't have much management experience and his administration.
And so they may need a lot of help.
VAN SUSTEREN: So why didn't they send someone to the hearing? There is a profoundly important question. I realize other administrations have had czars before, but if there is a constitutional issue and an economic one, why not send someone up here?
COBURN: I do not know. I think that is the question you need to ask the White House.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did they just say no, we're busy.
COBURN: I didn't actually get to read the letter that was sent, but - -
VAN SUSTEREN: Or "I don't care," or "tough luck"?
COBURN: But Chairman Feingold says they refused to send a witness, and I didn't see the actual letter. I can probably get that for you, but I didn't see it.
But the fact is, look...
VAN SUSTEREN: That's disturbing as a taxpayer. You expect, and I don't know if the Senate is right or what position is, and I don't know how they will shake out, but you would expect at the very least come up and give your side.
COBURN: It relates to the fact that not very many people have confidence in the government in this country today, whether it is Congress or the executive branch. How do you build the confidence back up?
You build that confidence back up by being transparent to where people can see what you're doing. And I praise Senator Feingold for having the hearing because a lot of people in his position would not have it for purely partisan reasons.
And it just shows that he's really interested in the Constitution and not partisan things.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is this over, or is this going on?
COBURN: We have this other hearing. We will wait to see what goes on with it. I think the first time we start asking for some of them to come testify and they don't, I think it flares itself back up.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what about asking, my suggestion, asking the cabinet officers to come up and see what they need and whether they asked for it.
I think that is a good idea. But the point is the chairman of the committee is set to do that.
VAN SUSTEREN: And that of course would be the majority party.
COBURN: That's right, and so that probably is not going to happen.
VAN SUSTEREN: On another issue that is in the news today, Senator Ensign, there has been a question about his ethics, and of course spoke with him. Are you willing to testify before the ethics committee?
VAN SUSTEREN: You will testify from the ethics committee. What about testifying as to what he told you?
COBURN: I will try to answer honestly and openly anything that the committee needs to know to be able to resolve the issue.
VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Senator.
COBURN: You bet.
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