Why Were Congressional Liberals Missing-in-Action on the Schiavo Vote?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Mar. 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight, why was every liberal senator missing-in-action on the Schiavo vote? Joining us now from Orlando is Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, who voted for the bill. And here in the studio, Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who did not cast a vote.

Aha. You didn't cast a vote. Why not?

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: That's correct. Well, I just didn't want to participate in that circus. I just thought it was unconscionable for the Congress to insert itself into this debate. We are particularly unqualified to make that decision and to intrude ourselves into the lives of this family.

O'REILLY: So your no vote was a protest?

ACKERMAN: My not voting was my commitment not to participate in this swamp.

O'REILLY: OK. Now all of the senators on the left, none of them showed up. Do you think that they have the same mindset as you? Is that what they're going to say?

ACKERMAN: Well, probably a lot of them were traveling. And I can't account for anybody else.

O'REILLY: No, they could have called in.

ACKERMAN: No, you can't call your vote in. You have to be there on the floor to vote.

O'REILLY: No, you — I understand any of these senators could have blocked that vote.

ACKERMAN: You had to be there to do it.

O'REILLY: Or have somebody in your stead, I believe.

ACKERMAN: No. It has to be a senator.

O'REILLY: All right, so somebody would have had to change their vacation plans to come back and make a statement.

ACKERMAN: Well, a lot of them weren't on vacation. They just didn't want to be there.

O'REILLY: But none of them we asked -- we issued -- we asked...Hillary Clinton...

ACKERMAN: I think...

O'REILLY: ...Schumer, all these people...

ACKERMAN: It was an agreement, Bill, between the parties...


ACKERMAN: ...both in the House and the Senate -- that everybody knew where the votes were...

O'REILLY: Right.

ACKERMAN: ...and rather than just bring everybody back, it was just agreed to by consent to let it happen that way...

O'REILLY: But they didn't even make a statement saying that — even Ted Kennedy issued a wishy-washy statement today. He didn't say it was the wrong thing to do. He just said, you know, he wants to look out for the family.

Mr. Feeney, how do you see it, sir?

REP. TOM FEENEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think that my friend Gary's wrong. Congress didn't insert itself into this fight. The constitution, which guarantees everybody due process before their life is taken away from them by government action, both in the Fifth Amendment to the constitution, and later also in the 14th Amendment, means that all we are asking is what every convicted felon, including heinous murderers and rapists who are on death row, have an absolute right to appeal to a federal court to determine whether their constitutional U.S. rights or statutory rights have been denied.

That's what this is about. As you have pointed out, this is not Congress deciding whether she lives or dies, whether she gets water or not. But before we actually have to watch as a nation this poor, innocent woman, whose family is begging to take care of her --die of thirst and starvation, we want to ensure that a federal judge reviews the facts in a de novo hearing and determines whether or not her due process will otherwise be violated.

O'REILLY: OK, so it's due process under the law. Take it out of the state. And I understand there was an undercurrent — we don't want these state activist judges deciding life and death. Was there an element of that in there?

FEENEY: Absolutely. Look, this judge not only has ignored Congress when we issued a subpoena, both the United States Senate, United States House, he's ignored Governor Bush here in Florida. He's ignored the state House of Representatives, the state Senate of Florida.

And the bottom line is that this judge has basically set himself up supporting only one person's testimony about her intent, while her mother, her father, her sister and brothers and others are pleading to allow them to take care of her for the rest of her life.

O'REILLY: Yes, you want to reply to that?

ACKERMAN: Yes, I want to reply to that. First, of all, we have set a very dangerous precedent. There is a system in place. And it's absolutely hypocritical for the political party that talks about states rights, to suddenly ignore states rights, that say that the federal government or federalism has no business in this kind of business.

For the party that says that they are in favor of less government, not intrusive federal government into the lives of people, get the government off our backs, these are the same people that pulled the feeding tubes out of tens of thousands of people who are on Medicare and Medicaid by not fully funding it.

This is absolutely absurd.

O'REILLY: I mean, I was with you until you took the Medicaid cheap shot. I'm...

ACKERMAN: Yes, well, it's a cheap shot, but...

O'REILLY: I was with you until then.

ACKERMAN: ...but it's true. The same people who talk about states rights...

O'REILLY: Yes, but wait, wait, look...

ACKERMAN: ...this is the process.

Bill, if two people get divorced, and they don't like the state court ruling...


ACKERMAN: ...as to who gets custody of the children, should they be able to go to their Congressman and let their Congressman decide?

O'REILLY: No, but this is life and death.

ACKERMAN: It's absurd.

O'REILLY: This is a bigger issue. Every American is supposed to have the right to be protected by the federal government, not the state government. That's the federal government's mandate. Go ahead.

FEENEY: Hey, Bill, I'd like you to ask my friend Gary whether he believes — I'm a big 10th Amendment advocate, big federalism fan, big states' rights fan. But I want you to ask him whether he believes that because I believe in federalism I have to say that individuals are not protected under the 5th and the 14th Amendments' due process clause. That would be an extraordinary thing for somebody as bright as Gary, although he doesn't actually like what the constitution says often, be an extraordinary thing for him to assert.

We absolutely believe in all the Bill of Rights in the constitution. And we believe that Ms. Schiavo has the right to have a federal judge determine whether the Fifth Amendment, or the 14th, or any other part of the constitution has been violated.

O'REILLY: And also her family also has protection under, I think, the federal constitution. But look...

ACKERMAN: But there's no way that even a federal judge, no matter — see, you don't like the venue that it's in. So you want to switch the venue. You don't like the decision of the court. And that's the system for the state to decide. So you want to switch which court it goes to.

It's basically venue shopping. This is a tragedy situation, no matter what happens and where this goes down. This poor woman and that family's suffering...

O'REILLY: Then why didn't the Democratic senators make a stronger statement? The Hillarys, the Schumers, the Boxers, the Feinsteins?

ACKERMAN: Because a lot of people, my opinion, Bill...

O'REILLY: Yes, I mean, they didn't make any statement at all.

ACKERMAN: My opinion is because politically, it's a no-win situation.

O'REILLY: That's right. That's right. Exactly right. All right.

ACKERMAN: And a Republican memo leaked from the Senate saying push this issue, because it will give us a political advantage.

O'REILLY: You're right. But they should...

ACKERMAN: The Democrats...

O'REILLY: ...put their beliefs above politics.

ACKERMAN: That's...

O'REILLY: Congressman Feeney, I got one more question for you.

ACKERMAN: ...(UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's not going to be asked this...

O'REILLY: Let me ask you one more question.


O'REILLY: Look, the federal judge is going to make his determination probably tomorrow on this. He's finished his hearings. He's going to think it over.

There's no doubt in my mind, looking at the medical records, this woman is not coming back. Taxpayer expense now, OK, $80,000 (at least) a month. Come on. You know? What are we doing here? We can't do this for every single American. Can't do it.

FEENEY: Well — no. And this is an extraordinary case. The bill itself, of course I was there and read the bill, it basically makes clear we are not setting precedent in any other case. Here we have a husband whose sole word about her intention has been taken by the court as gospel, even though her parents and her brothers and sisters...

O'REILLY: No, I got the — I got that. But what I think — I think the federal judges...

ACKERMAN: Don't you believe in the sanctity of marriage? What happened to the sanctity of marriage? They're still married!

O'REILLY: Well, that's a constitutional question, too. It will be soon.

FEENEY: Of course he now has a common-law wife as well, and two children.

O'REILLY: All right. All right, guys...

ACKERMAN: We can't step into every case in America that has this tragedy.

O'REILLY: We've got to bring the curtain down. But I will make a prediction that the federal judge will uphold the state. Gentlemen, thank you.

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