Transcript: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript of the Oct. 14, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: Joining us now, the House majority leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer.

And welcome back to you as well, sir.

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER STENY HOYER: Thank you, Brit. Good to be here.

HUME: Let's talk SCHIP a little bit. You heard Congressman Boehner say well, that Republicans are open to a compromise, that the money really wasn't the issue, that safeguards were imposed that would keep the program from being, you know, a program for adults and people way, way over the poverty line, that something could be worked out.

HOYER: If I heard him say all that...

HUME: If that's the case — well, OK. If that's the case, why go forward with what appears to be a certain-to-fail veto override? Why not negotiate and try to get a bill that can be passed and signed?

HOYER: Well, we think this is a compromise. As a matter of fact, an overwhelming number of Republicans in both the House and the Senate voted for it.

And Senator Grassley, the former chairman of the Finance Committee, Republican leader; Senator Hatch; Senator Corker from Tennessee; Senator Roberts from Kansas — none of them for too much government spending, none of them for socialized medicine, all believe the president is wrong on this, as John Boehner is wrong on this.

In fact, what this program does is exactly what the president said he wanted to do when he was campaigning in 2004. He said he wanted to add millions of children currently eligible but not included under the child health insurance program to the program.

That's exactly what this bill does, and it's a compromise. This was not the House bill, as you know, Brit. The House bill was substantially more expansive, about 2.5 times as much.

We've cut it way back, focused on children. And he's wrong on adults. In fact, we've penalized states. They get less money for the inclusion of adults. This is focused on children of families who are not poor enough to be on Medicaid...

HUME: Right.

HOYER: ... and not wealthy enough to afford insurance.

We believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans want this legislation to pass, which is why we're moving forward on it.

HUME: Nonetheless, however, there's no evidence that we can see yet that you've moved any Republican votes, certainly not enough to give you the two-thirds you'd need to override the bill, send it to the Senate for a similar vote.

That being the case, right or wrong, doesn't the president now have some leverage with which to forge a further compromise with...

HOYER: Well, you know, leverage is a funny thing. We're in a democracy, and the American people ultimately are going to rule on this. Some 72 percent of Americans believe we ought to pass this program as it's now provided.

Sixty-one percent of Republicans think that's the case, and almost 70 percent of independents think that's the case.

HUME: Are you prepared to predict here and now that you will have the votes to override?

HOYER: No, I don't think I'm going to predict that now, because I think the Republicans are reflecting. This is a defining moment for the Republican Party, in my opinion.

They're going to say whether they are, in fact, a compassionate community or whether they're going to unthinkingly follow the dictates of their party and their president for a — against a program that the overwhelming majority of their constituents are for, to include children in America and access to affordable quality health care.

HUME: Well, if they do all those nefarious things you just described, and they vote to sustain the veto, as it now appears they will, what then? Does that mean that the program then dies, Republicans get the blame...

HOYER: Absolutely not.

HUME: ... Democrats get the issues? Or do you go back to the table and forge something different??

HOYER: This is not about assessing blame on Republicans. That would be not a bad thing perhaps, but irresponsible. This is about including four million additional children under health care coverage.

We think that's what we ought to do and, therefore...

HUME: So you don't think it will die if the veto is sustained.

HOYER: No, it's not going to die. We're going to go back and we're going to pass another bill.

HUME: All right.

HOYER: And we think we're going to pass it with equally strong Republican participation.

HUME: All right. So in the end, you think a compromise will be reached and the program will be reauthorized.

HOYER: In the end, I think we're going to add four million children to health care, as the president said he would do in 2004, and his veto did not keep that promise.

HUME: Let's talk about the renewal of the FISA authority that's got everybody stirred up this week and I just discussed with Congressman Boehner.


HUME: It appears there are two sticking points. One is the requirement for the warrants never before required even though they can be year-long warrants...

HOYER: Right.

HUME: ... for the interception of conversations or e-mails from overseas. Any give on that?

HOYER: Brit, we believe that this bill needs to accomplish two things. First of all, it needs to facilitate the intelligence community ability to intercept communications which may prove dangerous to our people and to our country.

We're absolutely committed to doing that. We believe that the legislation we're proposing does, in fact, accomplish that, and we believe that Admiral McConnell, who heads up our national intelligence directorate, shares that view.

Secondly, we have an obligation — we swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States — to defend the Constitution and protect our country.

We believe our bill also accomplishes the objective of protecting Americans' constitutional rights. We think both objectives are critically important for us to achieve and that we can do so and make them compatible.

So what happened here is the technology changed...

HUME: Right.

HOYER: ... as you know.

HUME: Right.

HOYER: And now foreign-to-foreign communication may well go through an American switch on American property.

HUME: Right.

HOYER: Therefore, the defense community, the intelligence community, said, "Well, maybe there's a problem on interception."

HUME: Right.

HOYER: Came to the Congress.

HUME: Congress acted last August.

HOYER: And we acted last August.

HUME: And the administration and the Republicans like the measure that you passed last August.

HOYER: Yes. Most Democrats voted against that measure because it did not protect the constitutional rights. What we said in...

HUME: Constitutional rights of who?

HOYER: Of Americans.

HUME: To avoid what, exactly?

HOYER: To avoid having their Fourth Amendment right to privacy undermined.

HUME: Well, how would the...

HOYER: Well, let me explain it to you.


HOYER: Foreign-to-foreign communications, not covered by our Constitution, ought not to be covered by our Constitution, under FISA was not covered. This...

HUME: But even if the communications were routed through the United States?

HOYER: Yes, even though they route it through — no, because it was routed through the United States, there was a question raised.

HUME: Right.

HOYER: So we fixed that problem. We fixed that problem and said blanket warrants...

HUME: Is that what the blanket warrants are addressed to?

HOYER: If you're going after Al Qaida, it's not one person. If you're going after Al Qaida, you have the ability to go after Al Qaida.

But it says if an American becomes a U.S. target, then you have to have a warrant, and we believe that's what FISA originally contemplated. That's what FISA ought to now contemplate.

Essentially, Brit, the argument is this. The administration does not want any oversight of the Congress or the courts. It does not want the courts involved in anything that it does.

That's all this is about, because as you know, they have 45...

HUME: Well, you're not going to get a strong argument on that.

HOYER: Well, I don't know. You've got 45 days to act here before you have to get the court. And all the courts' procedures review does is say whether or not the intelligence community is pursuing procedures that will, in fact, protect Americans while facilitating the interception of foreign communications.

We believe that a large number of scholars on both sides of this issue believe this bill does, in fact, what we should be doing.

HUME: What about this question of immunity from lawsuits and other legal actions for companies that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11...

HOYER: That's going to be...

HUME: ... helped the administration with its...

HOYER: That's going to be an issue for discussion. And I want to say that I've talked to Peter Hoekstra, who's the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, talked to Roy Blunt on this issue.

Obviously, we want to accomplish the objective of facilitating our intelligence-gathering and protecting America.

On immunity, you saw in today's paper or yesterday's paper the Qwest CEO saying his company was penalized because they weren't sure that what the administration was asking was legal.

HUME: I remember that, yes.

HOYER: So what we really need to do, Brit, is find out what we're talking about.

HUME: So you're open to...

HOYER: We're open to discussion.

HUME: ... adjustments on that measure possibly?

HOYER: Yes. We're open to discussions on that matter, but what we need to know is, from the administration, what did you do, what did you ask the companies to do, how did they respond.

We just can't give blind immunity for anything that was done. We need to know what was done, was it appropriate, consistent with our national security, and if it was, then certainly retrospective...

HUME: So you're going to have to have an investigation of these companies before you do that?

HOYER: Well, we certainly — I don't know that an investigation of the companies is what we're...

HUME: Are you going to turn Congressman Waxman loose on them?

HOYER: That would be a good thing to do in any event to make sure that they're doing what they're supposed to do.

But having said that, that's not what we're talking about. I've talked to Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate committee, talked to Mr. Reyes, who chairs the House committee.

What they want and they've asked the administration to do is give us the documentation of what you asked for and what was responded before we talk about immunity.

By the way, Brit, so you know, we are giving prospective immunity in this bill, which is to say if the companies follow the rules, they won't be subject to suit.

HUME: All right. Let's talk about this bill relating to the Turks, the Armenians and the word genocide.


HUME: The bill has been reported. It's not yet been acted on. Will it come to the floor, in your judgment?

HOYER: Yes. I schedule the bills, and I'm telling you it will come to the floor. It will come to the floor before November 16th.

HUME: And where do you think the votes are right now?

HOYER: I think we'll pass this. It passed out of committee 27- 21, closer than I think it would have been.

The administration has expressed to me and to others concerns because the Turks have indicated that it will have adverse effects.

HUME: Well, it already has. Just on the strength of the committee action, the Turks recalled their ambassador, which is a — you know, it's more than a mild form of protest about this.

If it's that sensitive at this moment, why do it now?

HOYER: OK, Brit. That's a good question. I've been in the Congress 26 years. I've been for this resolution for 25 years. I've talked to the Turkish ambassadors, Turkish government, Turkish parliamentarians, over a quarter of a century.

Never once in that quarter of a century has anybody in the Turkish government said to me, "OK, this is the right time." In other words, there would be no right time.

But the fact is our government is absolutely convinced a genocide was committed, not by the Erdogan government or the present Turkish people, but almost 100 years ago, 1950, during the course of the...

HUME: But why is it a good idea to say it now?

HOYER: Because if we forget what has happened, if we paper over what has happened, then we are at risk of letting it happen again. As a matter of fact, unfortunately, in Darfur...

HUME: I mean, do you think it's an urgent issue, something that happened between Turks and Armenians in World War I?

HOYER: Brit, do I think it's an urgent issue? I think the issue of genocide is a very urgent and present issue. It's happening in Darfur now. It happened in Bosnia not too long ago. And the world sat by and watched.

Yes, I think it's an urgent issue.

HUME: Well, but nobody's arguing that it wasn't a mass killing or even a massacre.

HOYER: No, it was a genocide. And I understand some people are arguing that well, let historians look at it. Historians have looked at it. Nobel writers have looked at it. And there is a conclusion that, in fact, this was a conscious effort to eliminate a race of people.

HUME: And I don't think anybody in the administration would dispute that that happened.

However, do you think it's worth making this expression of this at this time, all these years later, at the expense of souring relations with a country who has helped us, is vital in the Mideast and in Iraq in particular?

HOYER: Well, I think Turkey's help to us is vital. More vital is the United States' help to Turkey, Brit.

Over the last half a century, the relationship between the United States and Turkey has far more advantage to Turkey than it has the United States. Are we both advantageous to one another? We are.

Speaker Pelosi and I met with the Turkish ambassador just a few days ago and said to him, "We are friends. We are allies. We believe this is a historical observation. It is not about your government. It's not about the Turkish people. It is about a historical event that happened that we need to remember to preclude its happening again."

I hope the Turkish government will reflect upon this. Very frankly, as you well know from reading today's paper, the Turks, in my opinion, have a much more critical issue on their agenda, and that is what they perceive to be, the PKK, a group that...

HUME: Kurds.

HOYER: ... that the U.S. government adjudges to be a terrorist organization, that the PKK has sanctuary in Western Iraq and is attacking Turks and their military in Turkey.

I think that's a real concern to them. I think we need to work with them to preclude that from happening, very frankly. And I think that's a much greater concern.

You know, the Turks have a provision in their constitution that has resulted in writers being imprisoned, parliamentarians being imprisoned, anybody who would deign say that maybe the Turkish government 90 years ago made a mistake.

You know, we can't constrain ourselves by that, nor should we.

HUME: Congressman Hoyer, pleasure to have you.

HOYER: Good to be with you, Brit.

HUME: Thanks for spending part of your Sunday with us.

HOYER: Thank you.