TRANSCRIPT

Scott Pruitt on balancing environmental, economic priorities; Mitch McConnell on Gorsuch nomination, health care reform

'Fox News Sunday' exclusive interview with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency

 

This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," April 2, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I’m Chris Wallace.

Congress’s investigation into links between the Trump and Russia gets sidetracked by questions of whether a committee chair is working to help the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIFORNIA: There’s no question that there is a cloud over the investigation.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What occurred between Chairman Nunes and coming here was both routine and proper.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, R-UTAH: It's very mysterious to me, though, why all of a sudden, General Flynn is suddenly out there saying he wants immunity. I don't think Congress should give him immunity.

WALLACE: We’ll get the latest on what the president calls a witch hunt and what some Democrats are calling a cover-up when we sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Then, in the wake of the GOP's defeat on health care, President Trump moves ahead with the rest of his agenda, this week rolling back Obama climate change policies.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth.

WALLACE: We’ll discuss the president's move to revive the fossil fuel industry with Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. It's a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive.

Plus, President Trump attacks members of his own party, but the House Freedom Caucus fights back.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH, R-MICHIGAN: It may allow a child to get his way, but that's not how our government works.

WALLACE: We’ll ask our Sunday panel about the growing civil war inside the GOP.

And our "Power Player of the Week," going even deeper into space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This telescope is 100 times more sensitive than the Hubble.

WALLACE: All, right now, on "Fox News Sunday."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington.

The White House is fighting back against the investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign in Russia, claiming the press and Congress should focus instead on allegations the Obama administration conducted political surveillance of the Trump team.

In a moment, we’ll discuss the fallout with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But, first, let's bring in Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke with the latest from the White House -- Kevin.

KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, as is usually the case in Washington scandals, it's the cover-up and not the crime that usually ensnares. And there are legitimate questions about that with respect to the ongoing controversy over what House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes know about possible surveillance of Trump aides and how he came about getting that information, news you may recall claim to have such compelling information he needed to rush to the White House and tell the president himself. But he did that without sharing what he found with fellow members of the Intelligence Committee, which is highly unusual.

This as FOX News has confirmed that Nunes received key information from a pair of White House aides, calling into question not only his relationship with the administration, but his ability to be impartial. As this investigation unfolds, concerns further complicated by his decision to delay former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying about possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign, hearings that would have included former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan.

A "Washington Post" report you may have heard about suggested the Trump administration was behind that delay, something the White House strongly denies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I hope she testifies. I look forward to it. It was never -- let’s be honest, the hearing was never -- was actually never notified. If they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple. The report in "The Washington Post" is 100 percent false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CORKE: Chris, Speaker Paul Ryan said that Nunes told him his source has a whistleblower-type information. We’ll see what that means.

We don't know at this point, but what we certainly know is that Mike Flynn, the former national security advisor, had his rights violated in this saga. We’ll see if he’s able to testify with immunity. As time will tell, we will see how that all turns out -- Chris.

WALLACE: Kevin Corke reporting from the White House -- Kevin, thanks for that.

Joining me now from Kentucky to discuss this and much more, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning.

WALLACE: Let's start with Russia. You were, last month, briefed by FBI Director Comey as part of the so-called Gang of Eight congressional leaders.

Have you seen any evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or any evidence that the Obama administration did anything improper in surveilling the Trump team?

MCCONNELL: Well, Chris, as you know, I asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate all of these allegations. Senator Burr and Senator Warner are going forward on a very constructive bipartisan basis.

The only thing I asked them to do is to find out what happened. And once they found out what happened, hopefully, they will be able to a unanimous report and we'll all know what, if anything, went on based on these allegations.

WALLACE: Do you worry -- and, obviously, we don't know what went on -- do you worry, though, that this continuing controversy is interfering with the president's ability to push his agenda?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's certainly not helpful. The president's actual agenda has been really quite constructive. All the efforts to begin the deregulatory effort we need to get the economy moving again, a fabulous Supreme Court nominee that I know we'll be discussing later, moving it forward on tax reform.

This is just what the country needs to get the kind of growth rate that would produce jobs and opportunity for the next generation.

WALLACE: I want to ask you one last question about Russia, too, before we get to the Supreme Court justice.

Given all of the politics on all sides, the continuing controversy, why not appoint an independent, 9/11-style commission or have the Justice Department appoint a special counsel so you have a truly non-partisan, independent investigation that everybody can trust?

MCCONNELL: It's just not necessary, based on what we know now. We've got a bipartisan investigation underway. It's called the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Burr and Senator Warner had a joint press conference this week. I think they clearly laid out that they're going wherever the facts take them.

We don't need yet another investigation. We know the FBI is looking at it from their perspective. It's being handled appropriately and it will be handled well.

WALLACE: You have promised that the Senate will confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court by Friday.

Two questions. One, do you stand by that schedule, a Friday vote? And two, do you have the eight votes of Democrats so that you can beat a filibuster?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, Judge Gorsuch deserves to be confirmed. You know, unanimously well qualified by the American Bar Association. My counterpart, Senator Schumer, once called that the gold standard.

In the majority, 99 percent of the time. Ninety-seven percent of his rulings were unanimous. Only reversed one time in a case in which he participated by the Supreme Court. President Obama's former acting solicitor general said there's no principle reason to oppose him. That's why he will ultimately be confirmed.

Exactly how that happens, Chris, will be up to our Democratic colleagues. I think it is noteworthy that no Supreme Court justice has ever, in the history of our country, been stopped by a partisan filibuster, ever.

And, in fact, the business of filibustering judges is a fairly recent invention, ironically, of the now minority in the Senate, the Democrats.

WALLACE: (INAUDIBLE)

MCCONNELL: And in particular, Senator Schumer, who convinced his colleagues, after Bush 43 got elected, to start routinely filibustering judges.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, though, some specific questions. Will there be a confirmation vote by Friday?

MCCONNELL: Yes, we're going to confirm Judge Gorsuch this week.

WALLACE: Secondly, do you have the eight Democratic votes, as we sit here today, to avoid a filibuster?

MCCONNELL: Well, I don't think we know. There are Democrats who have not yet announced their position. I assume, Chris, during the course of the week, what you asked me will become revealed by announcements of Democrats who have not yet set out what they're going to do.

WALLACE: You say that he'll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can't stop a filibuster, that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?

MCCONNELL: Look, what I'm telling you is that Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority. And I think during the course of the week, we'll find out exactly how this will end.

But it will end with his confirmation.

WALLACE: Let me pick up on that. Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.

Here you are, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: You think this is in the best interests of the United States Senate and the American people to make advise and consent, in effect, mean nothing?

Obviously, you can break the rules to change the rules to achieve that. But some of us have been around here long enough to know the shoe is sometimes on the other foot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Now, you're prepared to do the same thing, break the rules -- change the rules to break the rules.

And the question I have is, I understand you want Neil Gorsuch on the court, but is it worth it?

Because what you're basically doing is destroying part of what makes the Senate special, the need to reach out to a bipartisan majority?

MCCONNELL: Well, the answer to your question is, of course, I was upset about their effort to break the rules in order to change the rules.

But the rest of the story is, when we came to the majority a year and a half later, we discussed whether or not we should change it back.

And I argued against that precisely because the way we ended up was the way the Senate had operated on confirmations for 230 years, down to 2000.

This business of filibustering judges and cabinet appointments is a recent phenomenon. Even though it was always possible, Chris, to filibuster executive branch appointments, it just wasn't done.

And the most conspicuous example of that was the Clarence Thomas nomination. He was confirmed for the Supreme Court 52-48. Just for your listeners to know, all it takes to get a filibuster in the Senate is for any one of the 100 senators to say you have to get 60 votes.

The most controversial Supreme Court nomination in history, not a single senator, not one, not Ted Kennedy, not Joe Biden, no one said you had to get 60 votes.

So even though I very much disliked the way the Senate Democrats did this in 2013, it, in fact, it restored the practice -- the practice and the custom of the Senate down to 2000.

WALLACE: The government runs out of money on April 28, which means we could have another government shutdown on the 29th, which just coincidentally, would be Donald Trump's 99th day in office.

How confident are you that you and Congress can avoid a government shutdown?

MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm very confident. The two appropriations committees are working on the bills on a bipartisan basis. We'll be talking to Senate Democrats. They will be relevant to this process. It will require 60 votes.

I'm confident Senate Democrats are not going to want to shut down the government. They used to use that against us all the time. And I think it worked pretty effectively for them.

And I can't imagine they would want to acquire the government shutdown label.

WALLACE: But, look, there's some argument, they'll say it's you, the Republicans, who could make the shutdown happen. There are a number of priorities that President Trump and other Republicans want that Democrats find unacceptable.

I want to go through a couple of them with you, Senator.

One and a half billion dollars to start building the wall with Mexico, a major defense spending increase and domestic spending cuts. And some House conservatives want defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Question, are you prepared to risk a government shutdown over any of those issues?

MCCONNELL: Look, we're going to negotiate all of those items in the context of this funding bill, which will fund the government through September 30. We'll be debating these issues again for next year's appropriations, we can start October 1.

But we'll be able to work all that out. Nobody wants a government shutdown. I think the Senate Democrats know that every time we've had a government shutdown situation, it's been the Congress that's been blamed, and not the president.

So I would advise President Trump, don't worry about them sticking that label on you. Congress owns the government shutdown brand. And there's no incentive, frankly, for either side to go to the brink. I think we're going to be able to work all this out later this month.

WALLACE: But just to push on one of them, because President Trump says he wants that $1.5 billion to start building the wall, you would not risk a government shutdown by insisting that be in a spending bill?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCONNELL: What I'm saying, Chris, is we're going to work all this out on a bipartisan basis. The Democrats will be fully involved in the discussion. So will the president. We'll work it out and avoid any kind of catastrophic event.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, that's a helpful note on which to end.

Thank you. Thanks for your time. It's always good to talk with you, sir.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, the man behind President Trump's sweeping effort to roll back Obama climate change policies, EPA chief, Scott Pruitt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: A look at Nationals Park, where Washington's finest have opening day tomorrow for the baseball season. But, there will be no presidential first pitch as the White House declined an invitation.

Mr. Trump, who once called global warming a hoax, signed a sweeping executive order this week calling for regulators to rewrite President Obama's climate change policies.

Joining me now from Oklahoma is Scott Pruitt, Mr. Trump's new administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Pruitt, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Good morning, Chris. How are you?

WALLACE: Good.

When the Obama EPA announced its Clean Power Plan, it said that the reduction in carbon pollution would have the following health benefits. I want to put them up on the screen.

By 2030, it said there would be 90,000 fewer asthma attacks a year, 300,000 fewer missed work and school days, and 3,600 fewer premature deaths a year.

Without the Clean Power Plan, how are you going to prevent those terrible things?

PRUITT: Well, Chris, I think what's important this past week is to recognize that the president is keeping his promise to the American people to rollback regulatory overreaches that have been occurring the last couple of years. And as you know, the Clean Power Plan is subject to a U.S. Supreme Court state. The steps have been taken by the EPA historically, they've equally been challenged several times with respective CO2 regulation. And each of those times the Supreme Court and courts have said that the power that has been used has been an overreach.

And so, the president is keeping his promise to deal with that overreach, Chris. It doesn't mean that clean air and clean water is not going to be the focus in the future. We're just going to do it right within the consistency of the framework that Congress has passed. Now, I think that's very important to recognize.

WALLACE: But, sir, you're giving me a regulatory answer, a political answer. You’re not giving me a health answer. I talked about 90,000 fewer asthma attacks, 300,000 fewer missed days in school and work.

The Obama Clean Power Plan called -- said that carbon pollution from the power sector would be reduced by 30 percent. It would be one-third lower than it was in 2005.

Here's what the American Lung Association says, "Half of all Americans now live in counties with unhealthy air." You talk about all the regulatory overreach, but the question is, there are 166 million people living in unclean air and you are going to remove some of the pollution restrictions, which will make the air even worse.

PRUITT: Well, Chris, a couple things, we are actually pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 footprint. So, this country is doing far better than most across the globe. As you know, also since 1980, we've got a 65 percent reduction in those key air pollutants, SOx and NOx and particulate matter and ozone, while at the same time growing our economy.

I think what's happened the last several years is that we've adapted to and adopted this previous administration's views that if your pro-jobs and pro-growth, you can’t be pro-environment. If you’re pro-environment, you can’t be pro-growth and pro-jobs. And that simply is not the way we’ve done business as a country.

WALLACE: But, sir --

PRUITT: Now, the EPA had --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: If I may, you are talking about these reductions, but even with those reductions, the fact is that according to the American Lung Association, which would have an interest in this, 166 million people are living in unsafe air. And if you do away with the Clean Power Plan and boost -- as the president promises -- coal production, then you’re going to make the air even worse. What about those 166 million people?

PRUITT: Chris, I think what you are referring to is, we have about 40 percent of the country in non-attainment right now, those key air pollutants under our ambient air quality standards, which are outside of the CO2 discussion. And I agree wholeheartedly that we need to focus our attention at making sure we make progress there. In fact, that's one of the key priorities of the administration, is to improve air quality to be on the 60 percent attainment that we see.

That's not been a focal point over the last several years as much as it should be. So, I think --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: And you think -- and let me just ask, and you think that rewriting, in effect, doing away with the Clean Power Plan is going to improve air quality which you say is a major goal?

PRUITT: Look -- look, Chris, I mean, I think what we have to keep in mind is that EPA only possesses authority that the Congress gets it. The EPA has tried twice to regulate CO2. One, with the tailoring rule, and the Supreme Court struck it down in the UR decision, and secondly, the Clean Power Plan that the president introduced in 2015, which is subject to a U.S. Supreme Court stay.

As much as we want to see progress made in clean air and clean water, with an understanding that we can also grow jobs, we had to do so within the framework of what Congress has passed. The tools have to be in a tool box.

The past administration just made it up. They re-imagined authority on a statute. There’s a commitment with the new administration to have a pro-growth, pro-environment approach to these issues, but also to respect rule of law.

You talked about many times, the regulatory overreach, about executive fiat that the previous administration engaged in. We can't continue that process because what happens, Chris, is clean air is not advanced because you have litigation such as the Clean Power Plan. You have stays of enforcement against that Clean Power Plan and there's no progress being made with clean air and we are also spending money on litigation. So --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: That goes both ways, sir, because the fact is, you are already in litigation on the attempt to reverse the Clean Power Plan. You are already getting sued on that. So, there’s litigation either way.

Let me -- let me pursue this issue, because President Trump is going to sit down this week with Chinese President Xi. And for years, American presidents have been pushing Chinese leaders to improve greenhouse gas emissions, to reverse them. Are you comfortable seeing the roles were reversed this week where it will now be the Chinese president pushing President Trump to cut down on pollution?

PRUITT: Look, I mean, Chris, it's quite -- when you look at what happened in Paris, at the Paris agreement and Paris accord, China and India weren't required to take any steps toward reduction of CO2 until the year 2030. That discussion, to think that China and India are more committed to the CO2 reduction in this country I think is quite -- quite false.

WALLACE: Well, can I --

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: As I indicated earlier, we are pre-1994 levels, and do you know why? Largely because of innovation and technology, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, because there's been a conversion to natural gas in the generation of electricity. And what's important, Chris, in my view is that utility companies across this country that are generating electricity, you ought not have the regulator in Washington, D.C., in this instances the EPA picking winners and lawyers, saying to the American people that we’re going to be anti-coal, anti-fossil fuel as we generate electricity. That's bad for America.

Fuel diversity is very important. We have shown leadership. As I’ve indicated, we've made great progress with air quality since 1980. We made progress in the CO2 reduction side as well, at the same time, growing jobs. And so --

WALLACE: If I may --

PRUITT: -- we have nothing to be apologetic about as a country. And the neither does the president (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Well -- I’m sorry, say that again?

PRUITT: We have nothing to be apologetic about as with respect to leadership that we’ve shown as a country with respect to these key issues. And the president doesn't either. He shown great leadership and pro-growth, pro-jobs, and pro-environment, and we can do both.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask a specific question on that. You talk about the Paris Accords, which do call for reductions by China and other countries by 2030. And, in fact, China has already begun reducing its carbon emissions from coal power plants as you well. President Xi in January said that the Paris Climate Accord should remain enforced.

As the chief environmental officer for the Trump administration, can you make the same commitment to the Paris climate accords?

PRUITT: Engagement internationally is very important. To demonstrate the leadership that we have shown on this issue with China and India and other nations is very important. Those discussions should ensue.

But what Paris represents is bad deal for this country. We frontloaded our costs. China and India backloaded theirs. That caused a contraction in our economy.

Look, we've shown leadership on this issue in the key way, Chris, and we’re going to continue that.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Sir, the point is that the president is more committed to Paris than the United States is.

PRUITT: But is he more committed in action and deed? And the answer is no.

We've demonstrated through the steps we’ve taken already, the pre-1994 levels, because of that technology. We can burn coal in clean fashion. We shouldn't have this commitment by the U.S. government to say that fossil fuels are bad. Renewables are good.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. government should not pick winners and losers, Chris. And that's what happened in the last several years.

WALLACE: You had a famous --

PRUITT: And we demonstrated that leadership.

WALLACE: I’m sorry to rush you along, but we do have limited time, sir. I say respectively.

You had a famous exchange a couple of months ago -- actually last month that I would like to play right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLI)

JOE KERNER, CNBC ANCHOR: Do you believe that it's been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

PRUITT: No, I would not agree that it's the primary contributor to the global warming that we’re seeing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Mr. Pruitt, there are all kinds of studies that contradict you. The U.N.’s panel on climate change says it is at least 95 percent likely that more than half the temperature increase since the mid-20th century is due to human activities. NOAA, that’s our own, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says there's more carbon dioxide now than in the last 400,000 years, and NOAA says 2015 and 2016 are the two hottest years on record.

Mr. Pruitt, are we supposed to believe that that's all a coincidence?

PRUITT: No, look, Chris, I said to the process -- in my confirmation process, individual senators as well, that there's a warming trend, the climate is changing. And human activity contributes to the change in some measure.

The real issue is how much we contribute to it and measuring that with precision. But then also, what is the process as far as response, what can we do about it, the tools in the toolbox to address the CO2 issue? And you can’t just simply, from the EPA perspective, make that up. You can't do with the president did previously with the Clean Power Plan, President Obama, and his administration, to simply re-imagine authority. That's why we have a U.S. Supreme Court stay against the Clean Power Plan. That's why President Trump is dealing with that regulatory overreach and charting a new path forward to deal with these issues within the framework of Clean Air Act.

WALLACE: But, sir, you are kind of sugarcoating what you said. You said there, I would not agree that carbon -- CO2 is a primary contributor to global warming. And the question I have is, what if you are wrong? What if, in fact, the earth is warming? What if it is causing dramatic climate change and that we as humans through carbon emissions are contributing to it?

Simple question, what if you’re wrong?

PRUITT: Look, let me say to you, CO2 contributes to greenhouse gas, it has a greenhouse gas effect and global warming, as methane does and other types of gases. The issue is, how much we contribute to it from the human activity perspective and what can be done about it from a process perspective, Chris.

WALLACE: But don't you think the fact that we have these coal power plants belching carbon emissions into the air, you don't think that had -- plays a role?

PRUITT: I think that we've done it better than anybody in the world at burning coal clean, in a clean fashion. The innovative and technological advances that we've seen along with natural gas production and generating electricity, it all contributed to a CO2 footprint that’s pre-1994.

Again, we have done better than anybody in the world, and growing our economy and also being a good steward of our environment. We have nothing to be apologetic about. We’re going to operate within the framework of the Clean Air Act to deal with these issues and make sure that we advance clean air, clean water, not just with this respect to CO2, but with those key air pollutants under the ambient air quality standard program that we have.

WALLACE: Let me ask you one -- let me ask you one's last question, and again I apologize, sir. Because it goes to the whole question of commitment to trying to improve the environment. Under the president's new budget, the EPA is cut 31 percent, that is more than any other agency.

And I want to put up some of the cuts that are included in the president's budget. Here are some of the 56 programs that would be scrapped: Great Lakes restoration, water runoff control for farmers, pesticide safety.

What does that say about the commitment of this administration and you to cleaning up the environment when you're making a 31 percent cut in your agency and cutting things like that, water runoffs for farmers?

PRUITT: Well, part of -- part of the issue, Chris, is that over the last several years, there has been a lack of commitment to state partnership. You know, we have state Departments of Environmental Quality across the country have the resources and the expertise to deal with clean water and clean air issues. And so, renewing that partnership --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Are you sure they are going to pick up the slack and might water safety, water runoff, and pesticide safety, and Great Lakes restoration, might that all just go by the wayside?

PRUITT: I’ve met with several governors, in fact within the first week of being on the job, I met with 20-plus governors. And those governors across the country are committed to pro-jobs and pro-environment. They have to serve their people in those states as well.

And I will tell you this, Chris, this attitude in Washington, D.C., that people in Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas and Colorado and the rest of the country don't care about the water they drink or the air they breathe and are not going to take care of the air and the water locally and states, I just don't believe that. That narrative is something we reject and we look forward to partnering with states across the country to achieve good outcomes.

WALLACE: Mr. Pruitt, thank you. Thanks for joining us. Please come back. It's an important conversation and we’d love to continue it with you, sir.

PRUITT: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: Up next we’ll bring in our Sunday group to discuss the growing Russia controversy. The Trump team says the real scandal is what the Obama administration did.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Coming up, the battle to confirm the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NY, MINORITY LEADER: If the nuclear option is involved, it's because our Republicans in the Senate chose to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: We’ll ask our panel about the threat of a Democratic filibuster, coming up on "Fox News Sunday."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: And it should be very concerned to people that an administration or people in an administration, people serving in government who are providing classified information, who are given clearance in the trust of the United States government, misused, mishandled, and potentially did some very, very bad things with classified information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: White House spokesman Sean Spicer pushing back on reporters’ questions about the Trump campaign and Russia, saying the real focus should be on the Obama administration's leak of classified information about the Trump transition.

And it’s time now for our Sunday group. Laura Ingraham, editor of Lizette and a Fox News political analyst, Gerald Seib from The Wall Street Journal, Julie Pace, who covers the White House for the Associated Press, and former national security council staffer Gillian Turner.

Well, Laura, the president and his team dug in deeper this week on this whole Russia scandal and their argument now is that the Obama administration surveilled the Trump team and then spread that classified information for political purposes. Is this helping or hurting the White House?

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they know that as long as this investigation goes on, the harder it is for them to push on a number of fronts their domestic agenda, foreign policy, because I think a lot of folks do believe that the Russia focus is meant in part to delegitimize the presidency of Donald Trump. So when Sean Spicer makes that point, I think he's right, if -- if Grassley’s letter that he sent -- Charles Grassley sent a letter a few days ago --

WALLACE: Senator Grassley.

INGRAHAM: Yes, Senator Grassley, who you don't want to tangle with. I mean when he -- when he -- he’s like a dog on a bone when he gets on an issue. He sent a letter to the FBI about Andrew McCabe, who’s the number two person at the FBI. Andrew McCabe’s wife received $700,000 in political contributions arranged and facilitated by none other than Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe. And his concern is that all documents that are -- be preserved, all communications better be turned over about what Andrew McCabe knew and when he knew it about the unmasking of individuals who were surveilled during the Trump transition, or during the Trump campaign. If it turns out, at the end of all of this, that the FBI and our intelligence agency have turned into partisan political operations with an agenda, then Republicans and Democrats should be very concerned. If it all turns out this is just a routine investigation, the Trump administration will have egg on its face. But I have a feeling that we’re going to find out a lot more about who was involved in the unmasking and who -- who had an agenda.

WALLACE: Well, speaking about finding out a lot more, Julie, with Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who indicated that he got information about surveillance and unmasking from an outsider. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-CALI., CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Sources and methods are -- are kept very confidential. We -- we invite whistleblowers to come forward.

QUESTION: What did you have to go to the White House to brief them? Shouldn’t they be (INAUDIBLE)? Shouldn’t the administration be briefing you?

NUNES: The administration, I don't think, is aware of this. So I want to make sure that I go over there and tell them what I know. Because it -- because it involves them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But as the week went on, it became clear that officials at the president's own National Security Council, inside the White House, were deeply involved in this, which raises the question, are to, are the president, and his team, and Devin Nunes all working together to protect Trump?

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: And I think it's important to note that even before Nunes came out and said he had received this new information, there were officials in the White House that were telling reporters, you should really be focused on the issue of improper unmasking. This is where we think the real story is. And then suddenly Devin Nunes shows up and says he's received information on exactly that topic.

Look, if there is on improper unmasking -- improper unmasking of Trump officials for political reasons --

WALLACE: You -- unmasking means identification. Basically that there was -- there was surveillance of -- of people -- it may have not even been an American. It may have been foreigners. In fact, that’s what it’s thought, and they’re talking about Americans and they’re supposed to say American person one American person two. If it becomes clear American person one is Donald Trump, you're not supposed to say that.

PACE: You’re not supposed to say that, though if you talk to intelligence professionals they say when you are talking about someone like the president, or the president’s national security advisor, their identity becomes almost impossible to reveal just based on the nature of the conversation. If there was improper handling of classified information, if it was spread improperly throughout the government, that’s a real concern. But the White House and Nunes aren't doing themselves any favors when they try to cover up how this information is getting into the House Intelligence chairman’s hands.

WALLACE: Gillian, as someone who worked in the National Security Council, both in the Bush 43 administration and in the Obama administration, how unusual for officials in the National Security Council to get involved in such a partisan -- actively partisan issue, and also for the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, to seek immunity from criminal prosecution in return for testifying? And -- and along those lines, I want to point out, here's what Mr. Flynn and Donald Trump said during the campaign about the fact that Clinton campaign officials got immunity in the e-mail investigation. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: When you are given immunity, that means that you probably committed a crime.

TRUMP: And if you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And now President Trump is supporting immunity for Michael Flynn.

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Which the whole situation, the whole scenario is highly unusual. But I would say this, that this story, especially with Nunes' involvement, it's like an onion where every day we’re peeling back more and more layers. And we could kind of go back and forth for infinity on who checked into the White House when and when they left and who talked to who. But at the core of the story remain two issues, two national security issues. One is the leaking of classified information to include the surveillance issue. The other is potential Russian attempted interference in the United States’ general election.

Now, both of these issues are very more important than the politics surrounding them, by which I mean they both have implications for American national defense. And, by the way, they both spanned two presidential administrations at this point. People will push back and say, but there's no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign team and Russia in the -- in the general election. And that's fine and that's true. But I actually argue that that makes an investigation, a really thorough investigation about Russian efforts, more important because it means that whatever they were able to -- wherever they were able to get to, anything that achieved, they did on their own. Isn't that more compelling?

WALLACE: Well, we don't know that. I mean that's one of the things and as -- as FBI Director Come said in the House hearing, he said that he -- they are currently investigating Russia and also the possibility of Trump campaign involvement.

Gerry, you and I have covered a lot of scandals, too many scandals in this town. What stands out for you about this one?

GERALD F. SEIB, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, never a scandal like this. I mean this is singular. I’ve never seen anything like this. I think what stands out is the fact that you have basic -- core intelligence issues being discussed so publicly and so openly either. I'm not sure that's in anybody's best interest. And I'm not sure it's in the White House interest to have it go on for infinity. I wonder if the White House wouldn’t be better served if the -- everybody could just turn down the volume and figure out how we’re going to get to the bottom of both of these questions, surveillance and Russian meddling.

And I think the one thing that happened this week was he got a glimpse that maybe there's one place where that can happen, and that's the Senate Intelligence Committee, where you had, you know, two senators, Senator Burr on the Republican side, and Senator Warner on the Democratic side --

WALLACE: The two chairs.

SEIB: The two chairs, the chair and the ranking member, come out, have a press conference and then an initial hearing in which they look like adults, responsible adults, an actual bipartisan effort that might answer some of these questions in a way that's credible and believable and that maybe will make this all go away eventually.

WALLACE: Eventually.

SEIB: Eventually.

WALLACE: The emphasis on the word "eventually."

All right, we have to take a break here. When we come back, we’ll discuss the president's war with the conservative Freedom Caucus following his defeat on Obamacare repeal and replace.

Plus, what would you like to ask the panel about the growing divide inside the GOP. Just go to Facebook or Twitter, @foxnewssunday and we may use your question on the air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed. It will be an opportunity for the Democrats to invoke closure. We’ll see where that ends.

SCHUMER: If Judge Gorsuch fails to garner 60 votes, the answer isn't to irrevocably change the rules of the Senate, the answer is to change the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer both showing no signs of blinking in the showdown over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

And we’re back now with the panel.

Well, Laura is our resident Supreme Court watcher and a former Supreme Court clerk under Clarence Thomas. And I'm not taking sides here, I’m just really asking, because it just gets worse and worse and worse, is there winning -- any way out for these just ever more partisan wars, and what do you think -- and I'm not saying this is the fault of one side or the other, about the fact that we’re -- it looks like this week we’re going to see a part of the institution of the Senate change and turning more into the House where it doesn't take a bipartisan majority of 60, 51 votes, a simple majority, can decide any nomination.

INGRAHAM: Yes, well, I think McConnell was right in his point, this is a 200 year Senate tradition that will be forever changed. And Chuck Schumer, I mean, I hate to say this during a Sunday during Lent but, he's absolutely fraudulent in the way he characterizes this. There has never been a partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. When my former boss was confirmed, during all of the controversy surrounding Clarence Thomas, there wasn't a filibuster. He was confirmed. And it wasn't the largest of margins, but he was confirmed. The vote went forward and he -- you know, he ended up sitting on the Supreme Court, much to the consternation of the left. But -- but this is just -- this is -- this is ridiculous at this point.

WALLACE: But you -- but, I mean, look, nobody comes into this with clean hands. I mean Republicans were filibustering lower court judges in the Bush administration -- not in the Bush administration, in the Clinton administration. I mean this has gone back and forth.

INGRAHAM: Well, but this -- the Supreme Court nomination process has never gotten to this point where there is a -- a threaten of a partisan filibuster. McConnell -- I mean McConnell is -- he knows this stuff inside and out and he’s completely right the way he characterizes it.

Now, I understand that the Democrats don't want Neil Gorsuch to be on the court. I got that. But he's going to be on the court. This, in the end, hurts Chuck Schumer, this hurts the Democrats because if -- if you get rid of, you know, this rule -- this -- this rule, now you will only be able to have 52 justices to -- to confirm the next nominee. That could be --

WALLACE: Fifty-one senators, yes.

INGRAHAM: Fifty-one senators. And it could be the next opening will come in June.

WALLACE: Well, that's what I want to pick up on with you, Gerry. As -- as explosive as this is, this is a conservative judge, Scalia, being replaced by another conservative judge, Gorsuch. There is a lot of talk, and it’s speculation, who knows, in June that Anthony Kennedy, the key swing vote in the Senate, might retire. And at that point Trump is -- is naming somebody who can shift the balance of the court for three decades.

SEIB: Right, and that's the argument that some Democrats even are using for not invoking -- letting the nuclear option be invoked this time. This is not an appointment that changes the ideological balance of the court. This preserves it. It’s a status quo shift. The next one probably won't be, or may not be. So maybe you ought to preserve your firepower until then.

I think the problem right now is there -- my colleague, Jess Bravin, wrote a good piece this week saying there are dueling narratives here. The Democratic narrative is, this is a stolen Supreme Court seat. This belonged to Merrick Garland. It was supposed to be filled by President Obama. Republicans stopped it. Republicans say there was a national referendum on who should be on the Supreme Court. It was called the presidential election. We won. This is basically a mandate. Those two can’t be reconciled.

WALLACE: No, that's right, and as -- as I say, there are no clean hands in this, and there’s perfect hypocrisy.

Let's turn to the Trump agenda in the wake of the health care defeat. And the first big issue, which I talked about with Senator McConnell, which is the real possibility of a government shutdown on April 28th.

Julie, the president has been attacking members of the House Freedom Caucus this week, at least they’re talking about reaching out to Senate Democrats and House Democrats. Do you have the sense that they have any legislative strategy going forward on this issue, the -- preventing a shutdown or anything else?

PACE: No.

WALLACE: OK, Gillian.

PACE: Moving on.

No, look, I mean they -- they talk about a government shutdown and feeling confident that they are going to be able to -- to avoid that. They talk about reaching out to Democrats. They talk about trying to put pressure on the House Freedom Caucus, but it's largely just talk at this point. And when you -- when you look at the Democrats, there is almost no indication that Democrats are ready to start working with this administration on even something like an infrastructure package, which in theory should have some bipartisan support.

And when it comes to the House Freedom Caucus, you -- you see these guys responding to these tweets from Trump. They are not feeling the pressure. They are not backing away. And this has always been a relationship that has been a little odd between Trump and the Freedom Caucus because they may all be outsiders, they may all want to shake up Washington, but the Freedom Caucus guys come in with a really clear ideology.

WALLACE: Quick -- quick, specific question that I also asked McConnell. Is the president, do you think, willing to shut down the government to insist that funding for the wall, $1.5 billion, be in the spending bill, which Democrats say will blow it up?

PACE: That is a great question. And that, I think, could be -- could be a real pressure point here. I mean if Trump is willing to go for the mat for the wall funding, it's going to be hard, I think, for him to get support on -- on both sides for that.

WALLACE: And I was going to say, you -- then his supporters will say, you promised us a wall and --

PACE: You promised us this. This is one of the clearest promises of that campaign.

WALLACE: We asked you for questions for the panel, and on the growing divide inside the GOP, we got this tweet from someone known as Frank The Tank who writes, "is it really" -- on the divide inside the GOP -- "is it really a divide, or are they just playing politics as usual at the expense of the people?"

Gillian, how do you answer Frank the Tank?

TURNER: I --

WALLACE: And I want you to address him by name as you answer.

TURNER: Mr. Tank, is that? Mr. Tank, this is for you. I think whether this started out, you know, as more politics as usual or is really grounded in ideological opposition is debatable, depending on what side of the aisle you sit on. But what’s clear to people like me, who sit somewhere in between, is that this has now become a very real divide. Maybe entrenched in the wake of the collapse of the health care bill. I think what we’re seeing in the last few days especially is, the White House digging in its heels. They’ve drawn up, as you mentioned, a kind of -- a hit list where they’re now targeting people individually, like representative --

WALLACE: By -- by name in tweets.

TURNER: By name. Representatives Amash, Meadows, Sanford, there’s a few others. And what we’re seeing on the side of the Freedom Caucus is, they’re now gearing up for their future. You know, what is -- what is our role going to look like in the tax reform debate? What are we going to -- how are we going to make inroads there. So I think, again, the -- the origins of this and what the original sin is, is kind of OBE at this point, but the battle lines have been drawn now and I don't see a way that this is going to improve over the next few --

WALLACE: And -- and -- and as I said to Julie, the question is, is there an end game here? Does the administration have a game if they’re going to alienate the House Freedom Caucus and not reach out to Democrats, there's a problem.

Thank you, panel. See you next Sunday.

Up next, our "Power Player of the Week," NASA's new eye on the universe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: For the past 27 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been providing answers to some of the mysteries of the universe. But now NASA is ready with a new and improved model with hopes to uncover much more. Here’s our "Power Player of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DURNING, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE PROJECT: Size matters when you're trying to collect, you know, light from a distant object.

WALLACE (voice-over): John Durning is talking about the James Webb Space Telescope, a project he's been working on for more than ten years. When it's launched in the fall of 2018, it will be vastly more powerful than the Hubble Telescope.

DURNING: This telescope will be 100 times more sensitive than the Hubble. And so we can see objects that are 100 times more faint than the Hubble can see, 100 times more distant than the Hubble can see.

WALLACE: And, yes, part of that is size.

DURNING: It's 21.5 feet across, where the Hubble was only 10 feet across. We’ve got seven times the collecting area that Hubble did.

WALLACE: As the Webb sits 1 million miles in space, it will also have five sun shields because heat distorts images.

DURNING: This is -- the area of a tennis court. We have five layers of the sun shield, and each layer is less than half the thickness of a piece of paper.

WALLACE (on camera): How warm is it on this side of the sun shield and how cold is it here?

DURNING: It’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the side where the spacecraft is and the sun is. And on this side it's minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun shield provides an SPF of 1 million to the telescope.

WALLACE (voice-over): We got a look at the Webb in a huge clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington. To get the huge mirror to fit in the spacecraft, they have to fold it up like a transformer. Then they shake it and expose it to deafening noise to make sure it will survive the violence of a rocket launch.

DURNING: They’re checking to make sure that the harder (ph) hasn't changed at all after being exposed to that environment.

WALLACE (on camera): What will the Webb allow us to see that we can't see now?

DURNING: Webb will allow us to see is the first stars being formed 13.4 billion years ago.

WALLACE (voice-over): What he means is, in the vast reaches of space, some of the light we see now was emitted from the first stars after the big bang.

WALLACE (on camera): So, in effect, you’ll be able to go back in time. You’ll see a light that is only now getting to us from 13 billion years ago.

DURNING: It’s very exciting. We think we know what we’ll see, but we are not positive.

WALLACE (voice-over): The Webb was supposed to launch in 2014 at a cost of $4 billion. Now it's scheduled for late 2018 at a cost of $8 billion. But the deputy project manager says it's worth it.

WALLACE (on camera): Is there one question that you hope the Webb will answer?

DURNING: Yes. I would love for them to answer that we’re not alone.

WALLACE: Life?

DURNING: Life, yes.

WALLACE (voice-over): For instance, Durning says, the Webb will give a much clearer answer, whether those seven planets that were recently discovered orbiting another star can support life. It's all part of what's being called our new eye on the universe.

DURNING: We have pushed the envelope in every area on this project, logistics, technology, science. Every day, you know, you wake up and say, what's going to hit my desk today, and we just tackle it as a team. It’s just a great experience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: The Webb Telescope is set to begin the first leg of its long journey later this month, leaving the Washington area under cover of darkness. It will be flown to Houston and then Los Angeles for assembly and finally ferried through the Panama Canal to French Guiana for launch late next year.

And that's it for today. Have a great week. And we’ll see you next "Fox News Sunday."

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