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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - Debt and Budget

Interview

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BLITZER: It's one of the great things about the United States, an open invitation to American citizens to visit the most important building in the country. We're talking about the White House, but not anymore. The White House has now canceled all tours effective this weekend, saying those forced spending cuts left them no choice.

Still, it has a lot of people crying foul, including Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: What is wrong with saving taxpayer money by shutting those tours of the White House?

ROBERTS: Not a darn thing, except it isn't going to save any money.

It's the politics of perception. It lowers debate to a new lower level. I can tell you on the Senate floor, both Democrats and Republicans were shaking their heads saying, where does this end? We had the meat inspectors there for a while that were going to shut down all the packing plants and the sale barns and ranchers could not figure out when to sell their cows.

And we have at the same time with the Department of Agriculture two different conferences that could have been shut down. I would advise the president basically stay home for a while, don't go around the country campaigning. Don't go golfing with two big airplanes. I think then you could save enough money with the Secret Service detail.

And, by the way, when I go to the White House -- and I don't go often. Used to, but not now. But, any rate, when I go, a lot of Marines standing there. If you got Marines, you're fine in terms of security.

How does telling a Kansas high school group that they can't visit their White House -- this isn't the president's White House -- that they are going to close the doors for several months and they don't even know what the sequester is going to do to the Secret Service? I really question that. It's just the politics of perception.

We need serious debate on the debt and the crisis. This is not a good example. It's silly.

BLITZER: Because what they are saying is they really have no choice, this meat cleaver, across-the-board cuts forcing everyone in the government, the executive branch and legislative branch to make these types of tough decisions. And continuing those tours of the White House was not seen apparently by the White House as all that important. ROBERTS: Well, apparently not. I would remind the president again that it belongs to the people. I would also remind everybody that the Capitol is open and that's a pretty important place to tour. That's like a museum, as well as a working place for the Congress.

My doors are open. I told the Kansas people, no charge. You can come in. We'll give you a tour of the Capitol. I'm not really cutting back any person that's actually going to do that. That's just an extra duty that we do.

I really questioned whether the Secret Service is in that bad of shape and I questioned the furlough and I questioned the numbers. We are not even through the continuing resolution that has just passed the House. We intend to give the president some authority there so that he can make some decisions or the secretaries.

I would simply add: just a few more golf trips or a few less golf trips and the Secret Service would have enough to provide security in regards to -- you know, to the tours. It just doesn't make sense.

BLITZER: Virtually, the whole federal government was told here in Washington, in the D.C. area today, Senator, it's a snow day. You don't have to show up for work even though so far -- and I was just looking outside, it was snowing a little bit --

ROBERTS: We have rainy day with no snow.

BLITZER: It's snowing a little bit.

ROBERTS: Yes, I know you're from buffalo. I'm from Kansas.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I know. Where I come from, this is considered a nice day.

ROBERTS: Hey, we keep it open. Right, exactly.

BLITZER: This is not to bad.

But, obviously, it's going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Nobody is doing serious work today but they are staying home.

ROBERTS: Well, we are doing serious work. We have a live filibuster in regards to the --

BLITZER: Do you support that filibuster?

ROBERTS: I support the right of members to stand up who think that they have not got equal answer in regards to the intelligence committee. A lot of that, obviously, is classified. But, yes, Senator Paul has some serious questions to ask, more especially about drones. I think they have a right to voice their opinions and to try to influence opinions.

BLITZER: You know, often, we -- no filibusters in the past, they rarely speak. This is an old school, kind of "Mr. Smith Comes to Washington" kind of filibuster where they are actually filibustering. They are talking, Senator Wyden, Senator Paul and others.

You used to be a leader in the Intelligence Committee. I'm curious, do you think the president of the United States has the authority to order a drone strike to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil?

ROBERTS: Well, he sure as heck needs to clarify it as opposed to the attorney general making a general statement and the language of all that is very unclear. That's up to the intelligence committee. I won't get in to that, in any detail, at least from the standpoint of what I know.

But I do have a lot of respect and a lot of confidence in Senator Chambliss from Georgia and Senator Feinstein from California. They have pressed a he pressed and pressed to get the White House to get a clarifying statement on the use of drones.

Once they get that, I think we'll be in better shape.

BLITZER: I'm wondering if you agree with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day. He made it clear to me that in exchange for major entitlement reform -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- he would support what's called a grand bargain and include major tax reform that potentially could increase tax revenues, but you've got to have a big package deal. Would you go along with that?

ROBERTS: I don't know what the plan is. I don't know what the list is. I'm serving on the Finance Committee. All I want is to make sure that we get jurisdiction over any tax reform plan. We're having a hearing tomorrow.

Now, the president's on the air every other whipstitch blaming Republicans and say, we just want to eliminate these loopholes for the rich. Well, what are they? What are we talking about?

Now, he's been talking about on the campaign trail shutting down the oil and gas industry in Kansas, shutting down agriculture, shutting down lending institutions, et cetera, et cetera, all sorts of executive orders and, you know, regulations. In terms of tax reform and the loopholes, what are they? Where's the plan? Where's the list?

That's why --

BLITZER: Well, would you be willing to discuss -- would you be able to get into negotiations?

ROBERTS: I'm always ready to get into negotiations. I may have a very strong opinion on tax reform. I think you ought to have a light flashing at the back of the room and say, "do no harm." I know numbers are important but the policy is an important as well.

Yes, we want to do that. Max Baucus, the chairman, Orrin Hatch as the ranking member, give it to the committee that knows how to do this, instead of talking about it on the campaign trail and then coming up with no list or no plan.

And also, oh, by the way, we're going to shutter the doors to any high school group or any other group that wants to come to the White House. What's that all about? It just lowers the level of the debate that we must have to solve our debt and our -- well, debt and our deficit crisis.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts, thanks for coming back to THE SITUATION ROOM. Appreciate it.

ROBERTS: You bet. Ask me back.

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