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MSNBC "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" - Transcript

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MSNBC "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" - Transcript

MSNBC "1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE" INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ) INTERVIEWER: DAVID SHUSTER

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MR. SHUSTER: Joining us now is Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Democratic member of the Senate Banking Committee.

And Senator, first let's talk about Judd Gregg's announcement. Were you surprised?

SEN. MENENDEZ: I was. You know, Senator Gregg was offered an opportunity, a very unique opportunity, to be in the president's Cabinet. He was offered an opportunity to promote bipartisanship. And he ultimately rejected it.

MR. SHUSTER: Do you think that he was putting politics ahead of national service, as a lot of people, for example, on the Web have been suggesting tonight?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, he certainly was taking a lot of hits from the extreme right wing of his party, and I guess to some degree he responded to that.

MR. SHUSTER: I want to turn real quickly to the bank bailout. What's the biggest problem in terms of the administration's effort in terms of this bank bailout that they've rolled out this week? Is it the lack of details? Is it the direction that they're going? Give us a sense what issues you have.

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, look, I give them enormous credit for opening up a system that's going to be very transparent, where everyone in our nation is going to be able to go to a website and clearly know who got access to this money, under what terms and conditions, and whether they're fulfilling those terms and conditions.

But the problem is, outside of that transparency, which is incredibly important, and accountability, which is also important, those measurements, we don't have any meat on the bones here. We don't quite know, outside of broad terms, what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. So we need to get a better sense of those two questions fully answered to understand that they're headed in the right direction.

I'm confident, when they produce that information, we're going to feel a lot better about this. But until we do, we're in somewhat of flux.

MR. SHUSTER: Were you disappointed, as some other Democrats said away from the cameras, that they felt that this was mishandled in the sense that the president's the one right now who's got so much sort of credibility and knowledge of these issues and seems so comfortable in front of the cameras, and yet a lot of Democrats have told us it felt like so much was being put on the shoulders of Tim Geithner, who's relatively new, and that didn't exactly help boost the confidence when he rolled out this proposal?

SEN. MENENDEZ: No, I think what happened here -- if I have a criticism, and it's a constructive one, is, you know, until you know what you're going to roll out, I would rather you wait. The reality is I think that the uncertainty of the marketplace showed, the uncertainty that those of us who want to be helpful here with the administration and move it in the right direction to create stability in the financial institutions to return consumer and investor confidence, to begin the credit rolling, we want to see that happen. And we believe that the administration will do this. However, if you just produced broad outlines, I think you would have been better suited to have waited till you had the details and then made a comprehensive presentation.

MR. SHUSTER: Senator, have you had an opportunity to share that constructive criticism with the White House? And if so, what's been their response?

SEN. MENENDEZ: I shared it with Secretary Geithner, and I said, you know, here's our challenge. And I understand that they feel the pressures to give a sense of what they're trying to accomplish, and he did, in broad outlines, talk about mortgage mitigation. He talked about capitalization of banks but with greater conditionality, particularly as it relates to lending. He talked about how we get rid of those bad assets in a way that doesn't put the taxpayer at risk but finally gets these institutions unfrozen.

But we know those are the things that have to be done. The question is how they're going to be done. And I think that's where they erred, and I would have erred on the side of waiting longer and having the details so that, in fact, it would have had a very powerful impact.

MR. SHUSTER: And finally, as far as the Commerce secretary position, is it your recommendation that the president now try to essentially nominate a Democrat instead of going back to the well with Republicans?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, I think the well -- having seen how our Republican colleagues have taken opposition to the president's economic recovery package and investment package, which will save three and a half million or create three and a half million jobs, that will ultimately put the nation back to work, that will give $230 billion in tax cuts to middle-class and working families, it seems to me that their almost unified opposition to it is a bet against economic recovery. In essence it's a bet against the American people.

And if that's their attitude -- which I don't think anyone should be betting against the nation, but that's what Republicans think they're accomplishing and hope to see political capital in 2010 -- I don't think that's a well you can draw from.

MR. SHUSTER: Strong words tonight. Senator Robert Menendez, we appreciate you sharing them with us, Democrat from New Jersey. Thanks again for coming on.

SEN. MENENDEZ: Good to be with you.

END.


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