Thune: Divide over Cabinet picks is 'all about politics'

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," February 8, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST:  So, this protocol, this decency, how you treat people, talk about people, was anything broken here?  And is it a case of pot calling the kettle black?  You know the drill.  

So South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune.

I have never heard him say anything remotely disparaging or mean-spirited, but I will get him to do so.

Senator, very good to have you.  


CAVUTO:  Is this much ado about really just politics?  In other words, it's not going to change votes, move votes, but it's going to distract.  And I'm wondering if that's what this is all about.  

THUNE:  Well, I don't think there's any question, Neil, that this is all about politics.  

And for, of course, Elizabeth Warren, it's about November of 2020.  I think that's her motivation in a lot of this.  But I just think that the fog of the election is still hanging over this place.  And the Democrats have not gotten over the fact that Donald Trump won.  He's naming people to his Cabinet.  They're trying to drag that process out.  

And so I hope at some point this normalizes.  But right now what we're seeing is just a lot of obstruct and delay on behalf of the Democrats in the United States Senate.  At some point, I think you have to say enough already.  And obviously last night it got a little bit spirited.  

But, look, this is -- these are United States senators.  We expect to come here and debate the issues.  And I hope that going forward we will be able to get into a constructive discussion about the issues and about these nominees and their records and not make personal attacks.  

I don't think that is what the Senate is about.  

CAVUTO:  All right, now, again, personal attacks can be in the eye of the beholder.  I know that Hillary Clinton had more or less emboldened this in, I think, quasi-praising Elizabeth Warren, what she did.

Is it fair to say, Senator, that Elizabeth Warren knew that and was given a heads-up that if she attempted to quote this entire Coretta Scott King letter, that she would be censored, or whatever you call it?  

THUNE:  I think she knew going in that she was skirting that line.  

And I think too, Neil, that the Kennedy letter, which actually was the letter that got the stronger reaction.  It wasn't the Coretta Scott...

CAVUTO:  You're talking about the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who had also significant doubts about the judgeship that Mr. Sessions was up for.  

THUNE:  Correct.  Right.  

And so she was reading from that also over 30 years ago.  And I think there were more direct attacks in that particular letter than there were in the other one.  But, nevertheless, I think these were violations.  They were clear violations of Rule 19.  

The question of whether or not you invoke Rule 19 is a judgment call.  


CAVUTO:  Would you have invoked it, Senator, in that if it did Elizabeth Warren's fund-raising, if it did galvanize liberals and if it did galvanize those who think the Democrats should go right back at Republicans?  

You mentioned the bitterness since the election.  It has not eased.  Would you have pushed this point?  

THUNE:  I don't know that I would have.  

But the point is, Senator McConnell, I think, was defending a member of the Senate who was being attacked on the floor, and in violation of the rules. And so this was -- and I think the important thing here to remember, too, Neil, is, this wasn't a one-off incident.  

This is something that Senator Warren has been warned about repeatedly multiple times.  And most senators, when they get a warning, adhere to that, heed that and sort of change their behavior accordingly.  

I think a lot of this -- like I said, I think she's running for president. That's her prerogative.  And she can use the Senate floor, if she wants to, I suppose, as a campaign pulpit.

But the truth is, we have things to get done.  And I hope that we can get back to a more normal atmosphere in the Senate, consistent with our tradition and hopefully, you know, discuss these issues in a constructive way that will lead to the results for the American people.  I think that's what they want to see.

And all this infighting and posturing that goes on in the Senate right now really isn't constructive and conducive to anything that I think the American people want to see happen from their elected officials.  

CAVUTO:  Now, Sean Spicer mentioned Coretta Scott King today and said that, if she were alive today, "I hope that she would be supporting Jeff Sessions."

Do you think she would?  

THUNE:  I think there are a lot of people who have different opinions about Jeff Sessions than they did back then.

Arlen Specter in his book said that was the thing he regretted most, that he voted against Jeff Sessions for that federal judgeship back in 1986. Jeff Sessions is somebody who has been elected not once, not twice, but three times in the United States Senate.  He served as his state's attorney general, a U.S. attorney.  

This is somebody who has a very distinguished record of service to their state and their country and deserves fair consideration and I think deserves to be respected by their colleagues.  And the language that is used in discussing his record on the floor of the Senate, which is perfectly appropriate and legitimate, needs to be respectful.  

And, you know, this is a colleague.  And the Senate is built upon collegiality.  It's is built upon a set of rules.  That's what makes it different than any other legislative body in the world.  And if you don't at some point say, OK, look, when somebody violates these rules, it needs to be pointed out, then we will continue to see the place deteriorate and it will end up like other places around the world, where we don't have the same opportunity to debate in a civil way.  

CAVUTO:  Do you worry, though, that this is taking attention away from things that I'm sure you want to do and see?  

Matt Drudge, the Internet sensation conservative fellow, I think it's fair to say, said that Republicans should be sued for fraud over inaction on some of these things that people elected them on, tax cuts, Obamacare.  

Now, it might reflect some exasperation or impatience, given the environment, with getting this stuff done.  But it's been reflected in the markets as well, frustration that maybe this all this other stuff is distracting from your message and what you want to get done.  

THUNE:  Well, of course it's a distraction.  That's what the Democrats want to happen.  That's why they're dragging these nominations out.  This is the slowest-moving...

CAVUTO:  And you feed the beast by -- not you, Senator, but Republicans getting stuck on parliamentary order and all this other stuff, and going after Elizabeth Warren, when you're just helping her fund-raising efforts.

THUNE:  Well, it's helping her become the face of the Democrat Party.  And, frankly, I'm OK with that, because if she becomes the face of the Democrat Party, I think she's going to -- it's not going to represent where the majority of Americans are.  


CAVUTO:  What about Matt Drudge's worry and other worries like that, sir, that Republicans are getting their eye off the ball?  

THUNE:  There's no question that we need to stay focused, Neil.

And we need to focus on the agenda.  And that is repealing and replacing Obamacare, lessening the regulatory burden on businesses in this country, growing the economy, creating better-paying jobs through tax reform that lower rates and makes us more competitive on the global marketplace, getting a Supreme Court justice on the bench.  

Those are things that we're very focused on.  Those are legislative priorities.  And you're right.  We shouldn't get easily distracted.  But it's a little hard when you have the process the number of nominations that we do, and you're getting absolutely no cooperation from the Democrats, who still are not over the November election.  

And so they're going to continue to try and create distractions.  And we just have to do our best to manage that.  

CAVUTO:  Senator Thune, good talking to you.  I appreciate it.

THUNE:  Thanks, Neil.    


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