MSNBC Hardball - Transcript
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The fear of terrorism, the smell of corruption-what gets to you? What drives your vote? The Republicans bet it's terrorism; the Democrats are counting on corruption.
It's State of the Union time and the battle lines are drawn.
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Let's play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews.
Welcome to HARDBALL.
A week before the president's State of the Union address, Republicans and Democrats are laying out their political battle lines. The Bush administration has launched a major P.R. blitz, focusing on the president's anti-terrorism policies, while the Democrats are speaking out on political corruption, betting Americans care more about ethics in Washington.
So here's what it boils down to: Do Americans care more about the war on terror or corruption in Congress?
But first, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted today on a party line vote to advance Judge Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate.
Republican Senator Sam Brownback is from Kansas. He's on the committee.
And Democratic Senator Ken Salazar is a member of what we call the Gang of 14 who work somewhere in the middle politically.
Let me go to Senator Brownback.
Did it surprise you it was straight party today?
BROWNBACK: It didn't surprise me today.
It did make me uncomfortable, because I don't think these things should be on a party line vote. It wasn't a party line vote on John Roberts and yet very similar answers to questions from Judge Roberts as there has been from Judge Alito.
So it appears as if Judge Alito is being put through a different set of standards than what John Roberts was given two or three months ago and I think that's unfortunate. I think it's a political set of standards.
MATTHEWS: What are the standards? Why do you say they're different?
BROWNBACK: Well, I don't know why they are putting him through a different set of standards.
You ask on key questions, on executive powers and they both answer virtually the same way. You ask questions on tough things like Roe v. Wade, they both answer virtually the same way.
I don't know why, but this one has been deemed to be a political vote and the other one, no, this is more about the Supreme Court. I think that's very unfortunate. And I think it's going to cause people in the future to say, "Well, I guess when we vote on judges, we should be voting politically, not how we look at them judicially."
Let's go to Senator Salazar from Colorado.
Senator Salazar, do you agree there was some kind of different standard for Alito?
SALAZAR: I don't think there's a different standard for Alito.
You know, I voted for Judge Roberts. I voted for 25 of 29 of the president's nominees to the courts in our country.
I think the problem with Judge Alito is that there is a strong body of records that really show that he is very far to the right.
And from my point of view, I don't want a judicial activist on the bench. I want somebody that's going to check their political and personal ideology at the door and come in and be a fair and impartial judge.
In the case of Judge Roberts, I think that's the case. In the case of Judge Alito, it isn't the case.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe, Senator Salazar, that Judge Alito left a window open to repeal Roe v. Wade?
SALAZAR: Yes. I think that he gave a lot of non-answers to many of the questions, including the questions that were asked to him about civil rights and the power of the executive branch.
You know, it was Judge Alito who has been one of the great advocates of the unitary power of the executive branch of government.
And I think when we're dealing with the kinds of times that we're dealing with today, the issues of torture, issues of spying on Americans, it's really important that we have appropriate checks and balances in our country and that means that this whole theory of unitary executive is something which I think is fatally flawed, because it wasn't the kind of checks and balances that our founders intended when they put together our government.
MATTHEWS: Senator Brownback, do you believe that Judge Alito left a window open to repealing Roe v. Wade?
BROWNBACK: I think he left it undecided the same way John Roberts did.
He said there's stare decisis on Roe v. Wade, which means that it's a precedent, it should be honored as a precedent. But that doesn't mean it can't be overruled the same as Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the sort of separate and equal system-was overruled eventually. And some 200 cases have been overruled.
And this notion on the unitary executive-the unitary executive is simply about a policy that says that there's only one president. It isn't some sort of, the president is overall and overpowering and over the courts and over the legislative branch. That's not the case. It just says there's only one president at a time, which I think everybody basically agrees on.
MATTHEWS: Would you, Senator, like Judge Alito to be part of a court majority that overruled Roe v. Wade?
BROWNBACK: I would like to see that take place, but I don't know that he is going to rule that way.
I don't-there's indications that he could go either way. He is undecided and not-has not indicated which way he will go on this.
I'm pro-life and I believe strongly in the right to life. But we don't know how he's going to rule on this case.
MATTHEWS: Well, why do you like him if you don't know how he's going to rule?
If you're for getting rid of Roe v. Wade and getting rid of a constitutional guarantee of a right to abortion, why do you want a guy who you don't know where he stands on that issue? Why are you so enthusiastic for him?
BROWNBACK: I wouldn't say I'm so enthusiastic for him based on that issue.
What I'm enthusiastic about is I think you see a person here of a good judicial philosophy that's ruled on a number of cases that you've been able to look at on a number of different areas and I think he shows a good judicial temperament and a willingness to have judicial restraint where it's not the court taking over every issue, but more mindful of the role of the court in the society. That's what more has me enthusiastic about him than anything about Roe v. Wade.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Senator Salazar.
Is the Democratic Party a-according to the numbers in the polling, it's a pro-choice party; in other words, a party that support abortion rights. Is that the way you see your party?
SALAZAR: Chris, I do not.
You know, I think there are many people in our party who are so-called pro-choice, but I also think there are many people in our party who aren't.
I think our party is one of the big tent, you know.
I don't believe that the 25 judges that I voted to confirm share-you know, many of them share the views of NARAL or other pro-choice groups, but I don't think that's the issue here.
I think that the issue here is whether or not we are going to have a justice on the Supreme Court who is going to uphold settled law.
You know, in the case of Judge Roberts, when he was asked about Roe v. Wade, he went into some detail on other cases, including the Casey case and other cases, that give us a sense that he is going to have great respect for the precedence of the court.
I'm not so sure that we got those same kinds of answers from Judge Alito. In fact, when I reviewed those portions of the transcript, I thought that there were a lot of non-answers.
Now, I happen to be one who in many cases will support, even in the political spectrum, pro-life candidates. I think that's fine. But I also believe that it's important for whoever we put on the Supreme Court to recognize precedent and the concept of stare decisis in an unequivocal way, in the way that I think Judge Roberts articulated it in the hearings. I didn't hear that same kind of language coming from Judge Alito.
MATTHEWS: Well, I'm having a hard time reconciling what you both are saying and what your parties are saying.
Clearly, Senator Brownback, the Republican Party is pro-life these days. It's been ever since, I believe, Reagan. And the Democratic Party has been pro-choice in its platform.
But let's look here, because there's something going on here about the big fog machine here. Here's Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, on HARDBALL talking about the abortion issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Your party is a pro-choice party?
HOWARD DEAN, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: No. My party respects everybody's views, but my party firmly believes that the government should stay out of people's personal lives.
MATTHEWS: But you're a pro-choice party? Are you not?
MATTHEWS: You sound like you're against them for being pro-life; are you pro-choice?
DEAN: I'm not against people for being pro-life.
I actually was the first chairman who met for a long time with pro-life Democrats...
MATTHEWS: The people believe the Republican Party, because of its record, supports the pro-life position. Does your party support the pro-choice position?
DEAN: The position we support is a woman has a right and a family has a right to make up their own mind about their health care without government interference.
MATTHEWS: That's pro-choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Salazar, why is the Democratic Party, which has supported the woman's right to choose an abortion for years now, now getting tongue tied and unable to actually say it.
You're going to vote as a party against Judge Alito, maybe it will be one guy, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, but your whole party is going to vote against Alito apparently on the issue of abortion rights and yet you won't say it.
SALAZAR: I disagree with that characterization, Chris.
I don't think they're going to vote against Judge Alito because of his position on abortion. I think they're going to vote against Judge Alito because of the fact that they view him as an activist judge very much to the right wing of America.
And for me, the issues of civil rights and equal opportunity are those issues that are very important, which I think the Supreme Court has been at the vanguard of leading those issues.
I wanted to see someone on the Supreme Court like Sandra Day O'Connor, someone appointed by Ronald Reagan, a Republican, somebody who is moderate and mainstream. That's what I was hoping this president would give us to respect (ph) her replacement, yet we got somebody who's further to the right.
You know, on the issue of abortion, you know, the fact of the matter is that I think that both wings of this debate are too polarized.
I think the so-called pro-choice and pro-life party have failed to come up with a common ground on how we can get to a point where we have less abortions. You know, I think we can do that if we were to have a civilized dialogue on this very contentious issue of the 21st century here in America and yet we have failed to do that because people seem to get polarized into different camps.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator Brownback.
How is this-these hearings on Judge Alito helped your cause of basically getting rid of abortion in this country?
In other words, it was a long debate, everybody has talked around it, and yet it seems like there's an amazing coincidence between Democrats who are going to vote against this nomination and Republicans who are going to vote for it. And the coincidence is that if you poll Republicans, they're pro-life generally. You poll Democrats, they're pro-choice generally. Their parties are voting the way the people at home want them to vote, generally, and yet nobody wants to admit it.
BROWNBACK: Yes. I think you're accurate on him being voted against because he may rule a different way on Roe vs. Wade than support it. We don't know how he's going to rule on Roe vs. Wade.
When Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed, she was a Goldwater Republican, a conservative, and she votes pro-life the first couple of years and then moves and shifts. Byron White was appointed by John Kennedy, a liberal Democratic president and votes against Roe vs. Wade.
You don't know when people get on the bench, and what I see taking place right now is a partisan litmus test that the Democrats are putting on Judge Alito that they didn't do on John Roberts and it seems to be more setting up for future election cycles than really looking at what the guy said, which is very similar to what Judge Roberts said.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Senator Salazar. Do you know any Democrats besides Ben Nelson who are going to vote for this fellow for the Supreme Court?
SALAZAR: I have not heard of anyone voting for him but I have not had conversations with most of my colleagues on those positions relative to this point.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me if somebody came from Mars right now and tried to figure out this vote later this week, the simple answer would be abortion rights.
Anyway, thank you Sam Brownback of Kansas, Senator Ken Salazar, one of the gang of 14 in the political middle on this issue from Colorado.
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