CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" Transcript: Hagel Nomination

Interview

By:  John Barrasso
Date: Feb. 17, 2013
Location: Unknown

CROWLEY: Democrats vowing to stand by their man, even as Republicans delivered a sharp rebuke to fellow Republican Chuck Hagel this week in his bid to become Defense secretary.

Joining me now is Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming.

Senator, thanks for being here.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: I went -- something caught our eye that Senator McCain said in explaining the Republican -- part of the Republican resistance to Hagel, in which he said, "It goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because, when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam war, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people. People don't forget that."

Is this a revenge vote? I mean, this seems -- I understand that people, there are a lot of Republicans who personally don't like Chuck Hagel, but is that a reason to vote against him?

BARRASSO: No, that's not a reason, Candy. The reason is that if anyone saw his testimony, it was very unsettling. It was weak and it was wobbly, and, you know, you want competence and confidence in the person that is going to be Secretary of Defense. And what we saw was a lot of confusion by this nominee.

So what we're doing is just asking for some information, a little more time to get some more of the speeches that he's given, to see what he said, because he says one thing on one day when it's popular, and then, at another time, says another thing.

The Defense Department -- this is a very, very important job. This is the number one employer of the United States, and we need to have somebody there who can manage that, do it well and give confidence to our military.

CROWLEY: Do you worry that there is a line between being the loyal opposition and being labeled as obstructionist?

And you know that that's where Democrats are going now, saying they say no to everything. This is unprecedented, et cetera, et cetera.

Do you think holding up the Hagel vote was worth it?

And do you think it was -- you know, it puts another chink in the party image?

BARRASSO: Well, this is a nomination that's being rushed through by the Democrats. The hearings were only two weeks ago. The vote in the committee was just last week. There is -- really shouldn't be a rush in something of this importance.

All we've asked is for another week; we've asked a number of questions. They have continued to obstruct -- this president said we have the most transparent administration in the history of the country.

Then why are they trying to hide and not allow us to get some information so we can vote a week from now?

CROWLEY: You sound a little bit as though you'll vote against him.

BARRASSO: I have grave reservations. I think he's been wrong about Iran, wrong about Israel, wrong in Iraq, wrong with nuclear weapons; absolutely, I plan to vote against him.

CROWLEY: So do you think that the sort of discussion that has come up and the hold or whatever you want to call it that you've put on the Hagel nomination, which we still expect to pass, do you think that harms soon-to-be -- if you agree with that -- Secretary Hagel in his dealings with Congress?

Is he less -- rendered less effective by this process?

BARRASSO: Well, I think he's going to be less effective because of the fact that the president nominated him. There were a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill that don't believe he was the best choice, and I'm sure the White House is very disturbed with how poorly he did during his confirmation hearings.

So, you know, I think it is going to impact him as he tries to limp across the finish line to get confirmed. But you -- I don't believe this is obstructionist. John Kerry just got confirmed a week or two ago for secretary of state, 96 or 97 positive votes in his favor, but the Cabinet is in chaos right now because of so many resignations, and I think we have another seven or eight to confirm.

CROWLEY: What about John Brennan then, nominated to be head of the CIA? He's had his hearings.

BARRASSO: He's had his hearings. It's not yet come up for a vote. They want to do that because there are questions by both Democrats and Republicans, questions about drones, questions about Benghazi, lots of questions both sides of the aisle, so they are not making a, you know, a kind of a political statement on him because Democrats have legitimate questions that they want answers to.

CROWLEY: What is your state of mind when it comes to a confirmation vote on Brennan?

BARRASSO: Well, I still want to review the hearing. You know, they have classified hearings and then those that are not classified. I've seen the public. I want to read some of the other information.

CROWLEY: Are you leaning one way or the other?

BARRASSO: Not at this point.

CROWLEY: How about Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary?

BARRASSO: Jack Lew, again, a long history of public service, but they have to ask and answer questions regarding his time on Wall Street, the large bonus payment that he got not too long before the big bailout of the group that he was working for on Wall Street, his investments in the Cayman Islands, for which the president criticized Mitt Romney.

So we need an administration that doesn't say, you know, do as I say, not as I do. You know, Tim Geithner, the former Treasury secretary, I voted against him because he hadn't paid his taxes. So American people deserve answers to these questions because the Treasury secretary, Candy, works not for the president or for Congress, works for the American people.

CROWLEY: I don't know if you heard Senator Schumer at the top of the show. He was talking about sequestration.

CROWLEY: He expressed the belief either on the eve of or sometime in the first two or three weeks of sequestration, if it goes into effect, those big across-the-board budget cuts, that Republicans indeed will come to the middle and agree to essentially what the Democrats have proposed, which is some cuts in farm programs as well as closing the loopholes for oil and gas companies, as well as taxing more -- the so-called Buffett tax, that no millionaire should pay less than 30 percent.

He said that your current position, Republicans' current position is untenable, given what sequestration will do.

Do you think that Republicans will go ahead and agree to some kind of cuts, and perhaps an increase in revenue for those making $1 million or more?

BARRASSO: No. Let me be very clear, and I would say this to the president as I say it to you.

These spending cuts are going to go through on March 1st. The -- their taxes are off the table. I've read the Democrat proposal that even Chuck Schumer said is just a chess piece, so the American people need to know tax cuts are off the table, and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase.

CROWLEY: So you have heard all these dire warnings, so you think Republicans are willing to walk off this particular cliff and say, no, we are not going to raise taxes in order to stop these across-the- board cuts, which will dig deeply into the Defense budget, among other things?

BARRASSO: I think there are much better ways to do these budget cuts, and I welcome that sort of discussion with the president, but the cuts are going to occur.

We're talking about 2.5 percent of what we spend this year, and this is just the first year of 10 years of cuts, so you have to be realistic about this. Families all across the country, Candy, have had their budgets cut by larger than that as a result of the economic downturn.

CROWLEY: So you don't believe all these dire warnings that, you know, it's going to -- it's going to hollow out the military, that it's going to interfere with getting onto planes, it's going stop food inspection, you don't believe any of that? BARRASSO: Well, I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide where this -- how this works, and, yes, he can make it very uncomfortable, which I think would be a mistake on the part of the president. But when you take a look at the total dollars, there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you. The American Academy of Pediatrics has backed the idea that pediatricians certainly should or could ask their young patients' parents whether or not there's a gun in the house. The president, apparently in an executive order, said they certainly wouldn't bar that from happening.

What do you think about the general idea? You're a doctor. You've practiced -- of saying to a patient, do you have a gun in the house?

BARRASSO: Well, you know, this has been a position of the American Academy of Pediatrics for a long time. They have a number of things that they recommend, that most gun owners, responsible individuals, do in their own homes when there are children in the homes.

But there is no role, in my opinion, Candy, for the government to tell doctors what they should or should not ask the patients or the families, and I would really see a focus more if they worked on the mental health components of -- with the pediatricians than what they have to or cannot do in talking to their patients.

CROWLEY: Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, thanks for being in Washington this weekend.

BARRASSO: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Candy.