Transcript: Senators Debate Stem Cell Research, Bolton


U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST (R-TN): I believe the president's policy should be modified.


'FOX NEWS SUNDAY' HOST CHRIS WALLACE: That was Senator Bill Frist (search) announcing a split with President Bush on the issue of stem-cell research, just one of the hot issues swirling around Washington as Congress leaves town for the August recess.

What better time to check in with two of the most important members of the Senate: Mitch McConnell, the number-two Republican who comes to us from Louisville; and Democrat Chris Dodd joins from us Hartford.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Good morning, Chris.


WALLACE: Let's start with stem cells.

Senator McConnell, as the number-two Republican in the Senate, do you go along with Senate Majority Leader Frist in his decision to split with the president on expanding stem-cell research?

MCCONNELL: Well, one thing for sure, Chris, when Dr. Frist, who had an incredible career in medicine before turning to the Senate, speaks on a health-care issue, we all listen very carefully.

I listened to his speech. It was very thoughtful, very well- delivered. And clearly this is something that he gave a lot of attention to before announcing his position.

For most of us who are not in that field, it is very complicated. We all know this is both a medical and an ethical issue, difficult to understand. And I'm among a number of members of the Senate who are still studying this. It'll be before the Senate this fall. And when the time comes to start voting, I will make my decision.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, one of your colleagues, Republican Senator Arlen Specter (search), who's been one of the prime promoters of expanding stem-cell research, called this a political earthquake.

Does that mean that the Senate will pass, in your opinion, this measure expanding the research this fall?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think the feeling was even before the majority leader decided to support the Castle bill, that the majority in the Senate probably would pass that measure.

We were working on what we call a consent agreement to have a number of different alternatives, a number of different approaches to either this issue or similar issues all voted on at the same time. And we're still working on that.

Senator Frist adopting this position probably will have an impact, but it was already, I think, the majority view in the Senate.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, even if the Senate passes this expansion of research, the White House still says the president will veto it. So how much practical effect will all this have?

DODD: Well, I think Mitch pretty well described the situation.

One, I would have hoped we would have dealt with this before the August break here. I wish Senator Frist had maybe made his announcement a few weeks earlier. We might have had a chance of actually having this on a laundry list of legislation that was adopted last week.

And there seems to be a growing support for the position Senator Frist has taken, and that was certainly the case in the House. I think it was a surprise to have such bipartisan support for the Castle bill. It's growing in the Senate.

I'm not all convinced that the president will be able to veto and have a successful veto of the stem-cell research bill.

Remember, this is a bill now that could make a huge difference for people with diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, a real live-saving effort here.

And I think what Dr. Frist, Senator Frist, said here is, "Let the science dictate here." It's an important -- there are ethical questions, clearly; I don't minimize those. But the science is really important.

I appreciate what Senator McConnell has just said as he evaluates this. This is a difficult call for some members because of the ethical questions here.

But my hope is we could get to this sooner rather than later. I wish we would have brought it up in July.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, it seems certain that this week the president is going to go around the Senate and make a recess appointment of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador.

What effect will that have, both in the Senate and at the U.N.?

DODD: Well, the U.N. -- my hope is the president would think a little longer about this. And I understand he feels a certain sense of loyalty, maybe, to Mr. Bolton (search). But he's got to be conscious of the fact this is a very important session coming up in September. We've got some major issues before the U.N., possibly Iran, possibly North Korea, certainly the meeting of the Security Council, the leaders coming together.

I just think Mr. Bolton's the bad choice here, and for all the reasons we've outlined earlier.

Remember, the most damaging evidence about Mr. Bolton came from 15 members of the Bush administration. You've got 102 former ambassadors, many of them Republicans, coming out of the Reagan and Bush years, that urged us not to confirm Mr. Bolton. This chief of staff of Colin Powell said he'd make a horrible ambassador for the United States.

WALLACE: But, Senator, that argument is kind of over. I guess the question is -- it looks like he's going to be there. What impact do you think that will have on...

DODD: Well, I think a negative one, and that's my point. And I would hope the president would think a little longer about this from his perspective.

WALLACE: Why negative to have Bolton there?

DODD: He's damaged goods. This is a person who lacks credibility.

This will be the first U.N. ambassador since 1948 that we've ever sent there under a recess appointment. That's not what you want to send up, a person that doesn't have the confidence of the Congress, and so many people who have urged that he not be sent up to do that job.

WALLACE: But, Senator Dodd, we've done some research into this and it turns out that President Clinton made some 140 recess appointments...

DODD: No, no, Chris...

WALLACE: May I finish, sir?

DODD: Certainly.

WALLACE: He made 140 recess appointments, including William Lann Lee as assistant attorney general; gay activist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg; and Roger Gregory as a federal judge.

Were they all damaged goods because they were recess appointees?

DODD: Well, some of them may have been. I mean, the recess appointment process is being abused by both Democrats and Republicans.

Remember, this was written into the Constitution to provide during these long periods when Congress was not going to be around at all, and you had to put people in place.

Now what presidents do, Democrats and Republicans, is wait for a week or two recess to come along and then slip someone in. I think it's an abuse of the process, whether Democrats or Republicans use it.

MCCONNELL: Senator McConnell, isn't a recess appointment of Bolton -- and as we've pointed out, it's been done by presidents of both sides -- but isn't it going make the atmosphere in the Senate even more poisonous?

MCCONNELL: No, I don't think so.

I mean, typically senators who are not of the party of the president don't like recess appointments. I think Chris and I would both stipulate that. But, look, Bolton's been sort of twisting in the wind since March.

Chris mentioned all of the important things that are going to be happening at the U.N. in September. It's important to get an ambassador up there. If the president would have dropped Bolton and sent somebody else, there'd be no chance of getting him in place by September.

Bolton's exactly what the U.N. needs at this point. The president's right on the mark in picking him.

I'll give you an example. This issue that several of my colleagues are working on, with regard to the overspending on renovation of the U.N. building. Donald Trump's come down and said he'd basically donate his service to do it for $700 million and they want to borrow $1.2 billion to do it. But these are the kinds of things that have been going on up there for years.

MCCONNELL: We've finally got somebody who will go up there and challenge the establishment up there at the U.N., bring about the kind of reform that is needed.

You know, if the president recess-appoints John Bolton, I can understand why, because he's been waiting a long time to get the person that he believes is best to represent his administration at the U.N.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, the White House has released literally thousands of pages of documents from John Roberts's work in the Reagan administration, both at the White House and also at the Reagan Justice Department.

From reading the documents, it's clear that he is a conservative. But is there anything that you see in those documents that shows him to be outside the mainstream?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Democrats think almost everybody's outside the mainstream. Their definition of "mainstream" is a little bit different from mine. My mainstream definition is what would be good in Louisville, Kentucky; theirs, I guess, on the east side of Manhattan.


Look, in terms of the documents, the administration, as you indicated, has turned over 70,000 pages. There are going to be additional requests for solicitors' papers.

But this administration views the letter signed in 2002 by six living former solicitors, a majority of whom were Democrats, that that would have a chilling effect on the young people who work there in the solicitor's office and make it less likely that they would express themselves openly, is the position they're going to take.

So I think the Senate clearly has enough information to make a decision on Judge Roberts, and I think they're going to confirm him.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, without getting into the question -- I know you would like to see more documents, but from the documents that you've seen so far -- and I think it's interesting because you can clearly see John Roberts (search) speaking in his own voice in a number of these documents -- have they made you more or less likely to vote for him as a Supreme Court justice?

DODD: Well, I haven't seen the documents myself. Obviously the committee will go through all of that. And my hope would be that these additional requests -- I think there are 20 of them out of some 300 when he was deputy solicitor general -- would be forthcoming. I think that's important that the Senate have that information.

This is a lifetime appointment. Judge Roberts is 50 years old. Lord willing, he'll be around on that bench maybe for 30, 35, 40 years. And certainly the American public, through their senators, rely on us to getting all the information that's necessary to make good decisions.

I think he's probably a pretty good choice. I've been reading the newspaper articles about him. He's a conservative choice but one that has a distinguished legal record, an academic record, certainly qualified on all of those grounds to be on the Supreme Court.

The open-ended question for us clearly is what are his views about some of the basic values, the equal protection clause, the privacy clause of the Constitution. These are things that members of the Congress through their -- and their representatives want to know about during the confirmation process.

This is a nomination, not a coronation. That's why we have a nomination process. I look forward to that process, and if he comes through it and answers those questions well, he'll have my vote.

WALLACE: All right, we've got about a minute left, so let's split it evenly between the two of you, Senators. I want to talk about one issue that hasn't really gotten very far in this Senate so far, this Congress, Social Security.

Senator McConnell first. Is the president's reform plan basically dead given the fact you can't even at this point get something through committee?

MCCONNELL: Well, very quickly, the legislative logjam is clearly broken. Lots of legislation has passed. This has been the most successful seven months of a Congress probably since the mid-'90s.

On the Social Security issue, you're right. I think the Democrats have dug in their heels. They don't want to have a bipartisan approach to it, at least yet.

But we haven't given up hope. This is early in the second Bush term, and we're still hoping that thoughtful Democrats will join us with to come up with a bipartisan solution to save this program for our children and our grandchildren.

WALLACE: And I give the distinguished senator from Connecticut 30 seconds. Is this plan dead? And are Democrats ever, ever going to come up with your own plan to fix Social Security?

DODD: Well, there's certainly need for retirement security plans here. There are almost as many Republicans opposed to this plan as Democrats.

The president goes out all across the country. He's got the lowest favorability ratings than any point in his presidency, down now below 44 percent.

This program doesn't have any chance to privatize Social Security. Retirement security we need. It's a solvency issue. We need to work on Medicare, Medicaid. Let's get the defense authorization bill up. How about one day in the Senate on health care, how about one day on education? We're not doing anything in those areas. So we need to do a lot of work. Retirement security is one of them.

But the president's plan I think is dead on arrival.

WALLACE: Senators, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you both, as always, for joining us. And enjoy your August.

DODD: Thank you very much, Chris.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.