MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript
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MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Dr. Tom Coburn, welcome.
SEN. TOM COBURN, (R-OK): Thank you. Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: We're talking about the Supreme Court, the judicial philosophy, litmus test. Back in the campaign when you ran for the Senate in September of 2004, you said, "As a physician, I know partial birth abortion is a barbaric act that is never justified. As a senator, I will oppose the confirmation of any judicial nominee who thinks the people have no right to outlaw this atrocious act." Litmus test in effect.
And now you're saying, "Applying rigid litmus tests to this nominee would be unfair and inappropriate. The President and Senate have a solemn duty to nominate and approve judges who will reflect the Constitution and the Constitution alone, not any other standard--ideological or otherwise."
Isn't it true now that you could never vote for a candidate who came forward and said, "I believe in Roe v. Wade a candidate for Supreme Court. I believe that partial birth abortion is constitutional." You couldn't accept that just as Senator Kennedy said he couldn't accept someone who wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
SEN. COBURN: Oh, I think I could, Tim. I think if, in fact, they had a judicial philosophy that said-- you know, there's two camps out there. One wants to move the Supreme Court back hard to where it was pre-Roe v. Wade by becoming activists in terms of a conservative camp. There's another that says, "Let's go back to where we were before we moved this hard shift to the left and let's have judges that don't make law, that follow stare decisis and look at the times when stare decisis needs to be overturned and overturn it." That's happened 200 times in our history where the Supreme Court has overruled their own precedence. So the question is the philosophy: Do you march hard to the right or do you march back to the center and let the process take its course as it should?
You know, overturning Roe v. Wade isn't going to change our country significantly if we don't change hearts and minds of people. And part of our division in our country today has been led on those issues. And to reverse it abruptly in a fast way isn't going to solve our problems with abortion because it'll just move it to the state. What we need to do is we need to change people's hearts.
MR. RUSSERT: So if someone came forward, if there was a Democratic president and they put forward a candidate who said, "I believe in Roe v. Wade and we're not going to overturn it," you would consider voting for them?
SEN. COBURN: Absolutely. And I said that during the campaign as well.
MR. RUSSERT: Judge Alito--this is reported this week in the Los Angeles Times: "As a college senior at Princeton University, Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a report that recommended the repeal of laws that made sex between gays a crime and urged new antidiscrimination laws for gays in the workplace. He was writing as a chairman of the 16-member student conference that had been asked to examine the `boundaries of privacy in American society.'"
Will you ask him about that?
SEN. COBURN: Probably not. I probably won't ask him about anything that has to do with a decision. What I will do is look at his--the decisions he's made, look at the writings, and talk to him about foreign law and utilization of foreign law and making decisions in this country which I think totally violates their oath. I think they can come down on anywhere if they look at the Constitution. What I want is somebody to look at what the founders said, what the Constitution, the laws and the treaties say, and use that to make decisions, not use public opinion, not use political philosophy to make decisions. And I think that--you know, I think we've all said and been in positions that we would want or not want to defend at times, and I don't think that we have to make our decisions based on that. I think what we do is we look for an overall philosophy, as--What is the role of the court? And will he be a judge that will follow what the founders intended to be the role of the court, which is to interpret, not create and expand and make new law?
MR. RUSSERT: But voicing his opinion, as he did there on gay rights, you recall in the campaign back in Rogers County, when you made comments like this, telling a group of local Republicans that-- "[Coburn] told a meeting of local Republicans that `the gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power. They are the greatest threat, that agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom we face today.'"
SEN. COBURN: It's a threat to undermine the family. It does undermine the family. And if you look at the structural problems with our country today, what is happening to us at every level as a nation and in our culture? Our families are falling apart. If you look at how we spend money in the federal government, the increasing amounts that we're spending are to attack--attack--the very problems where the family is falling apart.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that because of gays?
SEN. COBURN: No. It's a symptom of it. There's--it's--there's not a cause and effect. But if we look at any problem that we're facing today in our nation, anything that detracts or undermines this very basic unit of culture is going to undermine our entire country.
MR. RUSSERT: So aren't Judge Alito's views on gay rights relevant to this discussion for you?
SEN. COBURN: I believe he can have views on gay rights very different than mine and still make a great Supreme Court justice.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about another decision. And the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence put this out last night. This is from Jim Brady, White House press secretary for Ronald Reagan who was shot in the assassination attempt: "Judge Samuel Alito's dissent in U.S. v. Rybar ...argued that federal restrictions on machine gun possession amounted to an unconstitutional of congressional power under the Commerce Clause. ...his opinion attempted to erect arbitrary hurdles to congressional efforts to reduce the availability of machine guns to the criminal element."
These aren't handguns or hunting rifles. These are machine guns. Do you believe that Congress has the right to restrict the sale and transfer of machine guns, or do you think that Judge Alito's correct that Congress should not be interfering in that?
SEN. COBURN: No, I think we probably have the right to do it. But I don't think a judge has the right to make that decision. I think Congress--and that brings us back to the whole point. Those aren't decisions judges should be making. Those are decisions that legislators should be making. And that's how we've gotten off on this track is, that we allow judges to start deciding the law, new law, rather than interpret the law that the Congress--what the--what should have happened in that case is this an area that's up for debate and needs to go back to Congress. If Congress decides that, then it should be there.
MR. RUSSERT: So Judge Alito was wrong?
SEN. COBURN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: And he was legislating.
SEN. COBURN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: So conservative jurists or strict constructionists can also legislate.
SEN. COBURN: Well, I'm not sure that's what he is yet. You've assumed that. I haven't made that decision on what he is or any...
MR. RUSSERT: I'm not making any judgment. I'm...
SEN. COBURN: Well, you just said, "A strict constructionist can legislate." I'm sure that we all can, and nobody's pure in any way. But I would hope that whatever judge is on the Supreme Court or on the circuit courts or on the appellate branches looks back at the base of what we need to be about, and that's interpreting law and not going beyond that. And it's OK to communicate with Congress, "We think we have an era here--area here that you ought to be working on rather than us working on."
MR. RUSSERT: In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court decision that decided the 2000 election, it was equal protection. Do you think the Supreme Court expanded equal protection doctrine? Was that an activist court?
SEN. COBURN: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask about something else, and this intrigued me when I watched you during the John Roberts confirmation hearing when you were explaining how you came to make a decision and you used your skills as a doctor. Let's watch.
(Videotape, September 14, 2005):
SEN. COBURN: I've tried to use my medical skills of observation of body language to ascertain your uncomfortableness and ill at ease with questions and responses. I will tell you that I am very pleased both in my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe as a physician you can tell whether a candidate for the Supreme Court is telling the truth?
SEN. COBURN: I think you can certainly tell when they're ill at ease with a subject and sometimes telling the truth or not. I think you can do that. I think you can do that--anybody can be trained to do that--by body language, respiratory avoidance responses. Yeah, I think you can.
MR. RUSSERT: And have you used those skills to make judgments like that?
SEN. COBURN: Mm-hm, I certainly have.
MR. RUSSERT: Has any--have you ever detected someone lying?
SEN. COBURN: Uh-huh, lots of times.
MR. RUSSERT: In your hearings.
SEN. COBURN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
SEN. COBURN: Well , I'm not going to say that. You know, I'm--in lots of hearings that I've had on federal financial management where we're looking at the $100 billion that we found wasted far this year from 2004, I found lots of times when people were not truthful. Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Based on your skills as a physician.
SEN. COBURN: Yeah. And then what you do is you go then look it up and see where the problem is and all of a sudden you find, wait, this isn't truthful.
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post today--I mentioned this to Senator Kennedy. The FBI's secret scrutiny, 30,000 letters being given to American citizens seeking information. Do you think the Patriot Act should be adjusted not to allow this?
SEN. COBURN: Absolutely. I think the Patriot Act--first of all, I wanted to sunset every portion of it. I lost that battle in the Judiciary Committee. We do have a sunset portion on two major segments of it on the the Senate's position.
I think we need to be very careful with the Patriot Act. We should not ever give up freedom on the basis of fear, and any freedom that we give up should be limited in time and limited in scope. And so therefore I believe the Patriot Act across all levels should be sunsetted just as I believe every other law we passed in terms of giving the government new powers or new programs should be sunsetted so that we come back and have to make a decision about it. The Patriot Act coming out of the House has no sunset provisions. And I believe it's important for Americans' rights that we sunset those and look at them again.
MR. RUSSERT: And the information gathered on American citizens, if it's not evidentiary towards...
SEN. COBURN: Should be destroyed immediately.
MR. RUSSERT: And you'll take steps to try to do that?
SEN. COBURN: I certainly will.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of prewar intelligence. Pat Roberts was on MEET THE PRESS July of 2004, chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I asked him about phase two of the investigation. Would he conduct it? Would we hear from him? This is July, 2004. Listen to what he said.
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, July 11, 2004):
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, (R-KS): Even as I'm speaking our staff is working on phase two and we will get it done.
MR. RUSSERT: That was July of 2004. He came back on April of 2005 and I asked him this question. Here was his response.
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, April 10, 2005):
MR. RUSSERT: When your report came out, there were many people who said that you were not going forward with phase two about exaggerations and shaping, that you didn't want to involve yourself, influence the election. You made a firm commitment to do just that.
SEN. ROBERTS: Tim, we're going to do that I will bring it here. We'll have the 50 statements. We'll have the intelligence.
MR. RUSSERT: Five months later...
SEN. COBURN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...still no report.
SEN. COBURN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Will the American people hear from the Senate Intelligence Committee as to their report on prewar intelligence?
SEN. COBURN: Oh, I think they will but they're not going hear anything new. It's been looked at by three or four commissions. You know, the statements that have been made, the commissions and studies that have looked at it, it is our information, even though it was poor and in error was the same that everybody else had in the world. The question is did somebody try to manipulate the intelligence to make a justification? That's the question that we want to--and I don't think that anybody's seen that and where it's been looked at. And so the danger here is do we make something a real partisan issue? You know, this ought to be a--totally exposed and the data there. And if there's a problem, then that is a whole different issue. But to create a problem for political gain, I think it's going to hurt our country.
MR. RUSSERT: But there's reports today, Senator, in the paper, al-Qaeda official who was apprehended and was debriefed and told mistruths, gave bum information.
SEN. COBURN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: That information was used even after some people in the administration knew it was untrue.
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think the article that you're referring to was in The Post today, and I believe that they said that there's not a connection, that somebody in the administration actually had that. Well, some of the national security staff might have it, but not that the administration directly did. I don't know the answer to that.
What I do know is we want truthfulness in government and that ought to be looked at and it should not be delayed and I don't believe that's the intent. And I believe that we ought to have a full hearing. But I also believe believe that if, in fact, what has been said up--the three studies that have looked at this so far, and said there is no, no, no any intention--and I think the other thing is remember the context that this was made in. The CIA underestimated Libya. The CIA underestimated North Korea. The CIA underestimated India in terms of their own nuclear. So you take three episodes of where they're underestimating and then you apply that. What if we had been wrong? What if it was totally the opposite way?
So I think looking at the context of that--we should get to the bottom of it. There's no question. But we shouldn't use it as a way to gain the political system. That's the biggest problem I see in Washington is gaming. And the gaming hurts our country in the long run although it might help one party or the other. And Republicans are just as guilty of it as Democrats.
MR. RUSSERT: Wouldn't it have been fair to the American people if that report came out in October of 2004, before the election?
SEN. COBURN: Sure. I don't have any disagreement with that.
MR. RUSSERT: One last question, and this is an interesting quote I read at a speech you gave to the University of College Republicans. "Republican politicians are the same as Democratic politicians in they like to spend money. Democrats want to raise taxes to pay for it, and Republicans allow the next generation to pay for it."
SEN. COBURN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: You believe that?
SEN. COBURN: I do. I believe the main reason to have Republicans is to limit the government, and if they're not going to do that, the advantage goes away. And I believe that overall, in the last--since 1997 in this country, politicians of both sides, of both ilks have spent our kids' future away.
MR. RUSSERT: There's been a Republican press president, a Republican House, a Republican Senate.
SEN. COBURN: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: You plead guilty?
SEN. COBURN: Sure. I don't plead guilty. I've been doing everything I can to trim spending from the day I got here and will continue do it.
MR. RUSSERT: But your party's guilty.
SEN. COBURN: Well, my party is guilty. They're less guilty than the $500 billion that's been offered this year on the Senate floor for increased spending. So are they better? Yes. But has spending grown too much? Absolutely. You know, we have added--and this is Democrats and Republicans alike, and they voted. If you look at any appropriation bill, the ones that are voting against it aren't the Democrats. It's the six to 12 or 10 conservative fiscal conservatives that are voting against it. But you know, we've added $2,000 to everybody's debt last year. And in face of Katrina, in face of the war, in face of the structural deficits we have, we can trim hundreds of billions of dollars from this government with that-- before we ever raise taxes. We may end up having to do that, but we shouldn't do that until such time as we trim spending. Everybody in the country knows it except Washington, and it's time Washington woke up.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, thanks for your views
SEN. COBURN: Thank you.
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