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SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Senators, before we talk about issues that have gotten a lot of attention, I want to ask you about one that hasn't, and let me begin with you, Senator Kyl.
Will you vote this week for the 9/11 bill that would guarantee health care for the first responders who went to Ground Zero?
KYL: I don't know if that bill is going to come before us, but Dick tells me just a moment ago that he thinks that it will. First question is, is it amendable, or is it a take it or leave it proposition? The bill hasn't been through committee. There are problems with it.
And I think the first thing Republicans will ask is do we have a chance to fix any problems that may exist with it. And it's a lot of money, and so I -- my early response is that I am skeptical about that bill.
WALLACE: Senator Durbin, Republicans in addition to Senator Kyl say -- Republican critics say that you're creating a $7 billion entitlement, and that the way you pay for it is a corporate tax increase.
SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Chris, I can tell you that Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer have been working nonstop for the last several weeks with Republicans to try to find the best way to approach this. These first responders literally risked their lives when they went to Ground Zero. They came from all over the United States. And now many of them are struggling with health problems that are clearly directly related to that experience. To turn our backs on these brave people is the wrong thing to do.
Will it cost money? Yes. Is it the right thing to do? Yes. We've got to find a way to fund it that's acceptable to Republicans and Democrats.
WALLACE: Well, but let me ask you about that, Senator Durbin. If this 9/11 bill is so important, why is it that the Democratic- controlled Senate never held a vote on this bill until the lame duck session and that President Obama, the best we can tell, has never said a word about this bill in public?
DURBIN: I can't tell you where the White House stands. I hope they support it. I will just tell you this. This is like an airport that has a runway closed down. We have aircraft stacked up trying to land.We have bills stacked up over the Senate because of the nonstop filibusters that we faced this year.
I wish we could have done things more efficiently and more directly. But we've lurched from one 30-hour delay to another 30-hour delay to more Senate quorums. This Senate could be much more efficient. It should be. And it should be much more bipartisan than this.
WALLACE: Will this bill pass?
DURBIN: I think this bill will pass, and I do believe that Senators Gillibrand and Schumer are working night and day to make that happen.
WALLACE: Senator Kyl, one of your objections is -- he was blaming you for the filibusters. One of your objections is that Harry Reid put too many items on the agenda in this lame duck session.
I want to play what you said and then how one of the first responders who now has cancer reacted. Let's watch.
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KYL: It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without doing -- frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.
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(UNKNOWN): I'm here to say that you won't find a single New York City firefighter who considers it a sign of disrespect to work in a New York City fire house on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
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WALLACE: Senator, everyone -- everyone -- praises the first responders as heroes. You say you're skeptical about this bill. Why not find a way to give these heroes peace of mind when it comes to health care?
KYL: Well, first of all, they should have peace of mind when it comes to health care. The question is what and how.
And when you try to do it, as you said in your introduction, in a hurry, in the lame duck session, without a hearing, without understanding what the ramifications are and whether we can amend the bill, you're doing it in the worst way.
For example, there's already been a settlement for a lot of these people, a fund that has been set up for them to receive funding. Will the people that are supporting this legislation be able to participate in that fund? Nobody has been able to say. Why $7 billion? What will the requirements for qualification be for the money?
Nobody wants to deny care to people who -- and by the way, these are primarily people who helped to clean up the site in the aftermath of 9/11, and there weren't adequate precautions taken in some cases to deal with potential health issues. And to the extent that they've become ill, they do need to be taken care of.
It's one thing to make an emotional appeal, to say we need to care for somebody who did something good. It's another to do it in a sensible way. And that's all we're asking for. You bring it up in the lame duck session with no opportunity to amend it, and you're probably going to make bad legislation.
WALLACE: Let me move to...
KYL: All of this could have been done earlier, I might add.
WALLACE: Let me move to another subject. The Senate voted yesterday to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Senator Kyl, you voted against the measure. Do you really think that it is going to hurt the ability of the U.S. military to fight in the two wars they're -- we're currently involved in? And what's the difference between this and racial integration of the military 50 years ago?
KYL: Well, from a constitutional standpoint, this is not a constitutional right or a constitutional issue, as was the issue of racial segregation.
On the first question, I frankly have to follow the lead of people like the commandant of the Marine Corps, like my colleague John McCain, who say that when it comes especially to the small units who do the fighting on the ground -- the U.S. Marine Corps, the Army combat troops, who, according to the survey taken by the Pentagon, were 60 percent opposed to this -- it could disrupt unit cohesion and, as the commandant said, cost lives. That means a lot to me.
WALLACE: What about, though, on the issue of fairness? You point out the Constitution. But on the issue of fairness, what's the difference between this and racial integration? And Lord knows, back then in the '40s there was plenty of objection, and had been for decades, about what this was going to do to the military if you let black and whites serve in the same units.
KYL: Well, that may have been, and they were wrong, obviously. But the question of fairness is one which we would deal with in a school or in a community group or in some kind of organization that -- where fairness is a big issue.
With regard to the U.S. military, it's got one function, and that is to fight and to fight well and maybe to die. And the people who are responsible for that need to make the judgment about whether this will inhibit their ability to carry out that ultimate job that we ask them to do.
And as I said, I look at those who are on the -- who have been surveyed relating to the combat fighting, the units on the ground, not the guy sitting behind a desk here in Washington, but the guys on the ground, and they say this could cost lives.
WALLACE: Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: Each political generation has very few, but a few, opportunities to extend justice in America. That was our chance yesterday in repealing "don't ask, don't tell." And I am proud that my political party and eight really strong and courageous Republicans stood up and said, "We'll join you." This should be bipartisan.
It is beyond a question of fairness. These are men and women who are willing to risk their lives in defense of their country. And the fact that their orientation -- sexual orientation's been held against them is a blot on our nation's reputation.
And I'll tell you this, Chris. This administration, this president, went to great lengths before they moved to implement this. They surveyed and found that 70 percent of those military and families asked said they were prepared to accept this.
The number, incidentally, when those in the military were asked about integration some 60 years ago, was 20 percent. This shows me that America has come to a point where it understands that sexual orientation should not be used against you. And honesty in the service of our country is going to make us a stronger nation.
WALLACE: Meanwhile, let's talk about outstanding issues. The Senate will vote this week one way or another on the START arms control treaty with Russia.
Senator Durbin, do you have the 67 votes, the two-thirds majority in the Senate that you need, to ratify this treaty?
DURBIN: I think we do. We had 66 votes for those who wanted to move to this debate, and I think that we have had a debate now. We're in our fifth day. A couple of the days I will concede to Jon have been interrupted with other issues, like "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act.
But the fact is we've moved forward, and in the next several days it'll be one of the longest period of time that we've ever put on an important treaty. I think Jon has had -- Jon I respect very much on this issue -- has had ample opportunity to express himself, to file any amendments he thinks may be necessary.
As of today, on the fifth day of debate, we voted on one amendment.There'll be another raised this afternoon. I think we need to bring this to a vote.
WALLACE: Senator Kyl, President Obama sent a letter to the Senate yesterday saying that he pledges that he is -- you smile, but he says that he pledges that he will construct a full missile defense in Europe and will continue on missile defense as long as he's president. Is that enough for you?
KYL: Oh, absolutely. Look, tell it to the Russians. Send a letter to the Russians. In fact, change the preamble to the treaty, which would eliminate any doubt about this issue.
The problem here is that the United States in the past has kept missile defense off the table when talking about reducing strategic offensive weapons. That was the big issue at Reykjavik, Iceland when Gorbachev made what was a very enticing offer to President Reagan. President Reagan said, "No, I'm not going to give up U.S. missile defense for that." And we've kept it off the table in the meantime.
In the last arms control treaty with Russia in 2002 we absolutely separated the two issues. Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state who actually would otherwise support the treaty, said that we have to fix this problem in the ratification process. She calls it a worrisome issue, the reconnection of missile defense and strategic offense.That's in the preamble.
And the McCain amendment yesterday to just remove those words was defeated, Senator Kerry leading the effort on the Democratic side. "We will not permit an amendment to the treaty," he said.
Well, what are we going through this exercise, then, for? We're just a rubber stamp for the administration and the Russians, the administration that for the first time wasn't willing to stand up to the Russians and say, "You're not going to implicate our missile defenses."
That's why I say talk to the Russians. Don't send a letter to Mitch McConnell.
WALLACE: So briefly, because I want to move on to one other subject, are you saying that if there are no changes to the treaty itself, the preamble or the treaty -- are you saying, one, that you're going to vote against it? KYL: Absolutely, yes. This treaty needs to be fixed. And we are not going to have the time to do that in the bifurcated way or trifurcated way that we're dealing with it here, with other issues being parachuted in all the time.
WALLACE: Do you disagree with Senator Durbin that they don't -- whether or not they have the 67 votes to ratify?
KYL: I think whether there are the votes to ratify will depend upon how much the Senate is jammed on the issue -- that is to say, not able to deal with the requisite number of amendments that are needed to be dealt with.
WALLACE: And how long would that take? Could it -- can it be done in the lame duck?
KYL: Not in the way that we're doing it. As Dick alluded to, we keep parachuting other issues in -- the DREAM Act, the 9/11, the "don't ask, don't tell." We still have to do the resolution to fund the government. That was the one thing that the Congress had to do in the lame duck session, and we still haven't gotten around to doing that.
Now, fortunately, we stopped that omnibus appropriation bill, but that took up a lot of time, too, and that was after the tax legislation, which took a lot of our time.
So trying to do all of these things at once -- I predicted a couple of weeks ago that we would not have time to do this adequately, and I think my prediction's coming true.
WALLACE: Finally, I want to ask you about something -- about the next Congress, the 112th Congress.
Senator Durbin, there is talk that the Democrats are going to try to change the rules on the filibuster when you come back for the new Congress in January. I want to put up the record on the screen.
So far in this Congress, there have been 91 cloture votes to cut off filibusters. There were 112 votes in the last Congress. And prior to that the Senate record was 61 votes in the Congress of 2001 and '02.
Question: Will you change the rules? Will you vote in January when the new Senate starts to change the rules on the filibuster? And given the fact that Democrats are going to end up in the minority at some point again, how big a change are you considering?
DURBIN: Chris, there's been active bipartisan discussion about this rules change in the Rules Committee. I serve on it. We have had hearing after hearing to discuss how to make the Senate more effective and more constructive. The numbers you put up on the screen tell the story.
We just lurch from one quorum call to another, 30 hours of doing nothing to another 30 hours of doing nothing -- more filibusters then ever in the history of the Senate. It's a clear abuse of what was supposed to be a rare and rarely used procedural option.
Here's what I think. We ought to put an end to secret holds in the United States Senate. That is archaic. It's wrong. We need more transparency.
Second -- and I'm going to quote my friend Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. If you want to pursue a filibuster, I believe, and he does, too, you need to earn it and own it. Stand up and say, "I'm willing to stop the Senate from moving forward. I'm willing to take the floor and express myself and really be accountable for the fact that I've called for a filibuster."
WALLACE: Meaning that the 40 senators who are supporting a filibuster, the 41, would have to be there day and night?
DURBIN: That's not the requirement we're talking about, nor should it be. But we do believe that for someone to basically stop the business of the Senate and then head off to the Senate gym, back to their office, off for dinner, while the Senate just sits there idly by is wrong.
If you believe passionately that this issue is so important that you want to file a...
WALLACE: Meaning somebody has to stay on the Senate floor.
DURBIN: Well, certainly. The idea that I think should be pushed in the Senate is if it is important to you as a matter of principle, then have the courage to stand up and take ownership of this filibuster.
WALLACE: We have less than a minute left, Senator Kyl. I know Republicans hated it when you were in the majority and the Democrats were filibustering. Can you envision some change that you would sign onto?
KYL: Chris, the very first vote that I took as a senator -- I think the first one; if not, one of the first one or two -- was to join all Republicans -- I believe there were 55 of us -- to vote against a rule change at that point. That would have been to our advantage, because we could have just rammed through anything we wanted. We were unanimous in rejecting it because we understand the importance of preserving minority rights in the U.S. Senate.
The kinds of things that Dick talked about are the kinds of things we could talk about, because they don't need -- I mean, because that doesn't result in a fundamental change to the protection of the minority's rights. So as long as we don't get rid of that, I'm happy to visit with Dick and others about the other kind of changes...
WALLACE: And what about the possibility of reducing the number from 60...
KYL: No, that would be the fundamental change that the Senate dare not, I think, go to.
WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there.
Senator Kyl, Senator Durbin, we want to thank you both so much for coming in today. And we hope you get home for a very merry Christmas.
DURBIN: Thank you, Chris.
KYL: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Up next, the legal challenge to health care reform -- we'll talk with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell about his state's effort to take the fight to the Supreme Court.
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