Transcript: Schiavo Case on 'FNS'

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The following is a transcribed excerpt from "FOX News Sunday," March 27, 2005.

BRIT HUME, GUEST HOST: Members of Congress (search), in the midst of a holiday recess, have confronted the Terri Schiavo (search) case and are holding town hall meetings on the future of Social Security reform.

To discuss a wide range of topics facing Congress, we welcome Senator Mitch McConnell (search), the majority whip, who comes to us this morning from Louisville.

Hello again, Senator. Happy Easter.

U.S. SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: Good morning, Brit. A pleasure to be with you.

HUME: And congratulations on the home team down there's overtime victory in the NCAA basketball tournament last night. I take it you were an avid watcher of that game?

MCCONNELL: I was indeed. It was a heck of a comeback.

HUME: Well, I guess now, does that mean a trip for you in the future? That's the Final Four they've made, correct?

MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm going to St. Louis Saturday to see them hopefully march on to the final the next Monday night.

HUME: Well, good luck to you and to them.

I want to take you first into this question of the Terri Schiavo case. I want to look at a couple of poll numbers that are fresh. They are not inconsistent with other polls on this issue.

Time magazine has done some polling on the politics of the Schiavo case. Seventy-five percent in the Time poll say wrong for Congress to intervene. Seventy percent similarly say wrong for the president to intervene, although I guess his intervention consisted mostly of a signature and some statements from the White House.

Your sense of this issue and how it is playing politically?

MCCONNELL: Look, this is a tragic case and, based on the report you and I just heard, will soon come to a conclusion.

What Congress did, it seems to me, was not all that extraordinary. What we simply did — and, by the way, in the Senate, it was completely bipartisan. It passed on a voice vote, which meant no one dissented.

What we simply did was grant to the courts an opportunity to review the case, something they do in habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases all the time. It's not unusual for a death decision. And in effect, that's what's happening here.

A decision to let Ms. Schiavo die would be reviewed in the courts. That's all Congress did. The courts took a look at it, decided not to review it. And this tragic matter obviously is soon going to come to an end.

HUME: Why is this action by Congress and by the president seemingly so unpopular?

MCCONNELL: I'm not sure that all of the American people understand exactly what the facts are. For example, I think most Americans believe that she's been on life supports for 15 years. My understanding of the facts are that she's not been on life support, she's been being fed for 15 years. So her condition — there's some confusion about her condition.

And also, the reason this ended up becoming such a national case is you had the family in disagreement. I assume that in most of these cases the family comes to an agreement about what is appropriate.

Here you had a husband who obviously had decided to move on with his life, who had a girlfriend and a couple of children by her, who would like for it to be over, and two parents that wanted to continue to care for the daughter.

It's a shame they couldn't have worked this out among themselves and let the husband go on with his life and the parents care for the daughter.

HUME: Well, it seems to me that we had some extraordinary statements on all sides, Senator. I mean, for example, we had I guess the father saying — or the lawyer for the family suggesting that she had made some sort of sign or utterance indicating that she wanted to live.

Do you believe that that's possibly true?

MCCONNELL: I don't know. These are findings of fact that presumably the court, had it looked at it de novo from the beginning, which is what we granted the federal courts the authority to do, could have taken into account.

The courts obviously decided not to do that, and this tragic is obviously going to come to an end sometime shortly.

HUME: I'm puzzled by the idea that the public doesn't understand the facts of the case. I've been outside the — sort of the hothouse atmosphere of Washington over the past week, and from the distance of a vacation spot, it seemed to me that this was not only the major story of the week, but the only story.


HUME: And every time I checked in on the news, it was the top of the news, it was the top and the heart of all the discussions of the week.

It seems to me striking that people would misunderstand this. Can you really believe that's the case?

MCCONNELL: Well, I don't know.

Look, it's a matter of life and death. The Congress made a decision to give the courts an opportunity to look at it again. They looked at it again, and they chose not to act.

HUME: All right.

MCCONNELL: It's going to come to an end.

HUME: All right. Let me just ask one further final question.

There's been some suggestion in some of the media that there is a division among Republicans about this, with conservatives and particularly evangelical Christians feeling one way about it, more libertarian Republicans or conservatives feeling another, and that this spells potential political trouble at the polls.

What about that?

MCCONNELL: In the Senate, there were no divisions at all. Not only were there no divisions among Republicans, there were no divisions with the Democrats. It passed in the Senate on a unanimous voice vote.

So any divisions would have come about more recently.

HUME: Let me ask you about this other question that's sort of in the background but always present, and that is the issue of the judges, of the judicial nominations that the president has made, the continuing filibusters that have blocked a number of the appellate judge candidates from being acted on by the Senate, and the potential rules change that the Senate could do by a simple majority which would disable the filibuster for the purposes of voting on potential judges.

You've been involved in the discussions of this, as one of the leaders. Where does this matter stand, in terms of negotiating a solution short of taking what has been called the "nuclear option"?

MCCONNELL: Well, I had hoped, with a new Democratic leader and a new Congress, that there might be some willingness on the other side to take a look at the tactics that were employed in the previous Congress for the first time in history.

But Senator Reid, the Democratic leader, has made it clear both to Senator Frist, our majority leader, and to myself privately — and he's said this publicly — that there will be no discussions, no deals. Every judge who was filibustered in the previous Congress will be filibustered again. It's clear that they don't want to discuss working this out.

And there is on the table what could best be describes as the "Byrd option," because when Senator Byrd was majority leader of the Senate, he, too, had several occasions upon which there were rulings from the chair that changed precedents that had seeped into common use in the Senate that he thought should be reversed, and a majority of the Senate decided to do that.

HUME: But it wasn't this precise rule...

MCCONNELL: No, not this...

HUME: ... not the filibuster rule.

MCCONNELL: Oh, yes, with regard to the motion to proceed.

I don't want to get too technical here, but the point is, what Senator Frist is considering doing is not unprecedented. It was done by Senator Byrd when he was majority leader.

What is unprecedented is the fact that the Senate, for the first time in 200 years, last Congress chose to filibuster judges for the purpose of defeating them. That had never been done before in the history of the Senate. That's what's new.

MCCONNELL: What Senate Republicans are contemplating doing and what I think they should do is to get us back to the precedents that were established prior to the last Congressm, in which judicial appointments were given an up-or-down — that is, a majority — vote.

HUME: Well, it didn't always happen, of course. Some nominations fell by the wayside for lack of consideration, actual full Senate consideration.

But the key question here, though, Senator, is, if you're prepared to do this — you believe that Senator Frist should go ahead and do this — first of all, do you have the votes?

There was a story in the paper this week that suggested that one reason you might not be doing it is because you don't have the votes to sustain it, that you couldn't pull it off. What about that?

MCCONNELL: Well, obviously, you would need 51 votes to do it. I'm confident that we would have 51 votes if the majority leader decides to do it.

I believe it should be done if we cannot get some accommodation from the Democrats. All indications are...

HUME: Well, when?

MCCONNELL: All indications are they're not going to have any accommodation with us, that absolutely nothing has changed from last Congress.

I think that's unfortunate. I think we need to get back to operating the Senate the way it was operated for 200 years on a consideration of executive branch appointments to the judiciary.

HUME: All right now, but, Senator, when? The question then becomes, when do you think this should happen? And is it, in your view, going to happen?

MCCONNELL: Well, that's a decision obviously for the majority leader to make, in terms of timing.

I know there have been threats on the other side to stop the work of the Senate. I don't believe that. I don't think they'll shut down the Senate. We have important work to do. Shutting down the Senate in a pique because the majority was simply trying to return the Senate to the way it had operated for 200 years prior to the last Congress, it seems to me, is not a very good position to be in.


MCCONNELL: When we need to pass a highway bill, an energy bill, an Iraq war supplemental, a whole lot of things. I can't imagine the Democrats would want to shut down the Senate.

HUME: I noticed you didn't mention Social Security reform among that list of things to do.

And I want to refer you to a couple of comments made this week by Republican colleagues of yours.

One from Senator Grassley, who said, regarding a Social Security measure, quote, "I think it's very difficult for me to say that we'll present a bill to the president." That, of course, from the chairman of the Finance Committee, the committee would have to move the legislation.

Secondly, from Senator Judd Gregg, a fellow colleague of yours in the leadership, about the White House's tactics on this measure: "They chose to run the thing up the flag pole, then stuff it down the throats of the Democrats."

Those are a couple of pretty negative comments from Republicans in the Senate about the prospects for this legislation. Your view now of whether a Social Security bill can be brought to the floor and passed?

MCCONNELL: Look, the debate is really just beginning. The first thing the president had to do is to convince the public, and he's clearly done that. A recent Pew poll said 73 percent of the public thinks we ought to do something about this, either this year or next year or in the very near future.

What we do know is that, if we don't act, it's costing us $600 billion a year. The failure to act costs us that much down the road. Delay is not an option.

HUME: Well, what about it, Senator? I mean, you say it's not an option, but you got your colleagues there on the Republican side making it sound as if it's not going to happen. What about it?

MCCONNELL: What they're engaging in is handicapping the likelihood of success. I think it's a little bit early...

HUME: Well, what's your view of that?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me just say, I think it's a little bit early in the debate. I mean, here we are in the third month of the current Congress. And we're just getting started with this Congress, which will go on for two years.

The president is out on the road, talking to the American people about the need to change. There's a lot of debate about what might be on the table. The president said he thinks everything ought to be on the table. I think everything ought to be on the table.

The Democrats want to concentrate on personal retirement accounts because they think that's not very popular. Frankly, I think it is popular. The only people who would have the option to do that would be younger people.

But what we need to do is to sit down and put all the ideas on the table in the Senate, deal with it on a bipartisan basis, rather than to continue to kick the can down the road.

HUME: One last question, Senator. I hear you talking about a session of Congress that lasted a couple of years or a Congress that lasted a couple years. Are you suggesting that action may not be taken on this issue this year and perhaps would have to wait until next year, an election year?

MCCONNELL: I think action should be taken this year...

HUME: Will it?

MCCONNELL: ... but obviously, you can't enact something in the Senate, given the filibuster rule, without Democratic support.

What we are asking our Democratic friends in the Senate to do — and some of them are indicating a willingness to do that — is to sit down, put all the ideas on the table, and let's see if we can't do something for our children and our grandchildren that's extremely important.

HUME: Senator, thanks for being here today. It was good to have you.

MCCONNELL Thank you, Brit.