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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

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Here to break down the hot races and more, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

Let's start out, I was told the last time we talked, at least in this forum, was June. Starting with you, Senator Cornyn, what is different in the political landscape from June?

CORNYN: Well, the primaries are over. September the 14th we had our last contested Republican primary, and all of the enthusiasm you see is going to be directed toward turning out vote and providing checks and balances to government that many people see as out of control when it comes to spending and debt, and of course, high joblessness, and the administration seemingly -- seemingly confused about how to get America back to work.

So there's a lot of enthusiasm, and it's all directed toward the administration, the Democratic majority, and restoring those checks and balances that people feel are so necessary to their safety and security.

CROWLEY: Senator Menendez, can you look at anything in the economy or elsewhere that tells you that the dynamic that was there in June, which was running heavily against the Democrats, has changed?

MENENDEZ: Well, certainly, Candy, if we see the generic ballot, that's closing pretty dramatically. A host of our candidates that the national Republican Senatorial Committee has targeted...

CROWLEY: Why do you think it's closing, if I could just ask?

MENENDEZ: ... are doing far better. Well, I think that people are beginning in these last 30 days, which is when they really hone in on the election, looking at the differences. And I look at that "New York Times" poll that says that "who is more likely to fight for the middle class?" By a 55-33 margin, the answer is Democrats.

And so that middle class understands who got us into this economic mess, the Republicans and the eight years of the Bush economic policies; who's trying to turn it around; who fights for them, versus who fights for the special interests every day in the United States Senate. Our Republican colleagues have used the filibuster to stand up for big oil, big business, big insurance, and they understand that's not on their side.

CROWLEY: Let me tell you something, Senator Menendez about one of your colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle, Senator Jim DeMint has a PAC, a political action committee of his own with money in it. He's going to spend it running ads against Majority Leader Harry Reid, against Senator Bennett in Colorado, against Senator Feingold in Wisconsin. Do you have a problem with at all?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, you know, the bottom line is, he -- at least his money is disclosed. The real problem I have is with the $34 million of undisclosed, unknown, shadowy money being spent largely by corporate America, all on the Republican side, against those and other candidates, and they tip the scales rather dramatically to the Republican side.

So I understand why Republicans stand up for big oil, big business, big insurance, because it's paying off now in these millions of dollars of ads against Democrats.

CROWLEY: Senator Cornyn, I have a specific question for you. But go ahead and respond to that, as I'm sure you want to.

CORNYN: Well, if you like the way the country's going now, if you like -- if you live in Nevada, you like 14.4 percent unemployment, where 70 percent of the home mortgages are under water, then I guess the message from Majority Leader Reid and from Senator Menendez is stay the course.

But I think, instead of that, people say, "Well, we're willing to listen to Republicans and independents who are coming our way," two out of every three of them, because they want to provide checks and balances. They want us to stop the runway spending, the unsustainable debt. And they want to put America back to work. And they see the big-government American policies of the last year and a half being an impediment to job creation in America.

CROWLEY: So, getting back to the question I wanted to ask you, which is about Senator DeMint, it seems to me, if I were a betting person, that there may, when you return to Washington in January, be a kind of DeMint wing inside the Republican Party on the Senate side, sort of a party within a party.

So when you look at that, how is that going to work? Because you may get some candidates here who want to get rid or who want Social Security privatized. Some have said they want to lower the minimum wage, things like that. How is that going to work inside the party? Are those things you can sign on to?

CORNYN: Well, some of those are, of course, Democratic talking points, trying to scare people, and of course ,the candidates where those issues have been raises have explained themselves. And I'm not going to relitigate them here.

But let me just say that, I think, when it comes to restoring checks and balances, that's what we're going to see. And a lot of these candidates that Senator Menendez and Democrats have tried to scare people about are taking mainstream positions, and what they feel is that what's really extreme is what we see coming out of Washington, with almost double-digit unemployment, runaway spending and debt. And that's what they want us check...

CROWLEY: But do you think that...

CORNYN: ... and that's what we will do, and I think we'll be unified.

CROWLEY: Do you think that inside the Republican Party, this just sets up another wing that you're going to have to deal with, a division within the party?

CORNYN: Not at all. I think that by and large, the Tea Party movement has been constructive and helpful. It's helped reorient us to our limited government principles and one that believes in the free enterprise system rather than bigger and bigger government and higher and higher taxes and more regulation, which are job killers. So I think -- I think it's been constructive. But now that the primaries are over, we're all unified and focused on our Democratic friends on November the 2nd, and I think they're going to be surprised with the enthusiasm and intensity of the vote going into November 2.

MENENDEZ: I want to...

CROWLEY: Go ahead.

MENENDEZ: I don't think -- I don't think -- I'm not scaring anybody, unless when you use a candidate's own words, they may be scary. When Sharron Angle in Nevada says, "It's not my job as a U.S. senator to try to help create jobs in Nevada; when Ken Buck questions the constitutionality of Social Security and wants to end Medicare; when Ron Johnson in Wisconsin wants to drill in the Great Lakes, those aren't my words. Those are their words.

And when Christine O'Donnell, you know, has positions that are clearly out of the mainstream, which we didn't know about -- you know, in her interest in witchcraft, you know, until 30-something days ago -- those aren't my words. Those are their words.

So I think that these candidates, the problem for the Republicans is that these candidates are out of the mainstream of where their general electorate is at.

CROWLEY: Senator Menendez, Senator Cornyn, let me ask you both to stand by.

We do want to note that Christine O'Donnell was not interested in witchcraft until 30 days ago. It was something she said in high school. It did come out 30 days ago.

But hang on a second. We'll be right back. Much more with senators Corzine [SIC] and Menendez, including their predictions for November. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Republican Senator John Cornyn, not to be confused with former Senator Jon Corzine who's from New Jersey. So, my apologizes, Senator Cornyn. Also with us, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

I appreciate you both being here. Let me ask you, first, about a couple of things that you all have done or said over time. Senator Menendez, when you -- two days before you left town, you introduced major immigration reform, which Republicans immediately said, well, this is cynical. We're not going to pass it in two days, that this was sort of a blatant appeal for the -- the Latino vote. Why is it not that?

MENENDEZ: Well, first after all, Senator Hatch introduced legislation, a different type of legislation on immigration in the same time, and he's a Republican. I introduced it because if we're going to have any opportunity to, for example, consider the possibility of lame duck movement on it, where a lot of senators are retiring and might be willing to look at the issue, you need something to jump off from.

If we're going to go into it in the early part of the next Congress, you need something to have as a foundation. And what I introduced had a series of Republican initiatives in it, as an invitation to bring my Republican colleagues to the discussion and engage them on a critical issue of the country, both in its national security, it's national economy and how we deal with people in this country who are undocumented.

CROWLEY: And Senator Cornyn, you got a lot of attention recently for going and speaking to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay constituency in the -- in the Republican Party, also received an award there. Do you think that the Republican Party needs to be more welcoming to minorities, as well as to the gay and lesbian community?

CORNYN: Well, Candy, I'm a social and fiscal conservative, and my record on pro-family provisions or -- or issues is very clear. But I fell it was important to reach out to those who want to try to deal with this runaway administration and majority when it comes to spending and debt and high joblessness. That's something we can -- we can agree on.

But I would say to my friend, Senator Menendez, I -- I hope to work with Senator Menendez on immigration reform, but it's a much too important issue to be treated as a political football or try to jam through during a lame duck session. We know that there are impending tax increases from the expiration of the temporary tax provisions of 2001 that the Democratic Party was so divided on they didn't even put it up for a vote before the November the 2nd election.

That adds to the kind of uncertainty that job creators are feeling, which keeps them sitting on their capital and unfortunately keeps our high unemployment rates too high.

CROWLEY: In our final minute --

MENENDEZ: You held -- you held us hostage to the fact that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, wants a permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts, including the top tier, the wealthiest people. That's a $4 trillion expenditure -- fiscally irresponsible. So I don't think it's fair to say that Democrats didn't move forward on that issue when, in fact, you all said we wouldn't move forward on what we -- I thought we agreed on, which is at least the middle class tax cuts, unless you hold them hostage to the wealthiest. That's a $4 trillion expenditure. That's fiscally irresponsible.

CROWLEY: Let me -- let me turn you all to something else you wouldn't agree on, and you were together this week, both talking about the prospects for your party. And I want to play you something from both of you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORNYN: Some of the Republican primaries will lead to a tsunami on -- on November the 2nd.

MENENDEZ: I simply think that Democrats are going to have a lot more votes in the United States Senate than people think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Senator Cornyn, what's a -- what is a tsunami here? I mean, define the terms of that.

CORNYN: Well, I think there -- this is going to be a wave election, and it's going to be a referendum on the policies, the unpopular policies, coming out of Washington, D.C. during the last year and a half.

And, of course, we've seen where the president has chosen to lecture people and tell them he knows better than they do what's good for them, and Democratic leadership has gone along. And now, I think we're finding the American people pushing back very hard, and that's what I mean by a tsunami.

We've got 11, maybe as many as 12 Senate races in very close -- very close contests. None of our Republican incumbents are in any trouble. The only question is, how many seats we're going to pick up.

I think we're going to have a good day on November the 2nd, so I don't know how high or how wide that tsunami will be, but I think it will be significant.

CROWLEY: Senator Menendez, what does it say to you over the course of -- of last year that you lost Senator -- the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat, that he had held for decades, and that you are now seeing the seat of the late Robert Byrd in jeopardy in West Virginia? What does that say to you about the changing electorate?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, this is a volatile cycle, Candy. Who would have thought that Mitch McConnell's handpicked candidate in Kentucky would have lost? Who would have thought that in Delaware Mike Castle would not have been the Republican nominee? Who, 32 days ago before that election, would have been asking, who is Christine O'Donnell? So this is a very volatile reality. But, you know, when I hear this tsunami, the Republicans have been saying they're going to win the Triple Crown, which means as the president's seats in Illinois that was vacated, the vice president's seats in Delaware, and the majority leader in Nevada. They're not going to win any of that Triple Crown. We will be in the majority in the United States Senate on November the 3rd.

CROWLEY: But you will lose some seats. Would you concede that?

MENENDEZ: We're fighting for every seat across the country. With midterm election history, the president's party, going to back to the Civil War, it means the president's party loses seats.

But the difference between a tsunami and losing some seats is the suggestion that they can take over the majority. That will not happen.

CROWLEY: Senator Menendez, Senator Cornyn, thank you both for joining us. I have to leave it there, but I really appreciate your time.

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Candy.

CORNYN: Thanks, Candy.

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