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CNN "The Situation Room" - Sen. Isakson on Immigration, Guns, Social Security and Medicare Reform

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BLITZER: President Obama's so-called charm offensive is not over by any means. And you can say he's planning another dinner date with Republican senators. While he's going out with the Republicans again in April, they aren't necessarily the ones he took out for a meal just a few weeks ago.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And joining us now, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's get right to this big dinner that you're going to have with the president April 10th.

Did he reach out to you and invite you to put together a group of Republicans that would meet with him for dinner?

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Yes, Wolf. It's good to be with you, too, by the way.

And Happy Easter to you and all the viewers today.

The president called me early last week. He said that his first meeting with 12 Republicans, he felt, had been productive in sharing common ideas and finding differences. And he wanted to reach out and meet with 12 more and asked if I would put together 12 Republicans to have dinner with him on April 10th. And I'm in the process of doing that now.

BLITZER: So you're coming up with a list, presumably, of people who didn't have dinner with him at the Jefferson Hotel here in Washington, other Republicans.

Who -- can you tell us who's on your list, who's already accepted?

ISAKSON: Well, until I get everybody on, I'd rather release it all at one time, when we know everybody that's accepted is coming. So I'm going to wait until the first of next week to do that.

BLITZER: So what's the -- what's on the agenda?

Did the president say it's an open agenda or is there specific items he'd like to talk to you guys about?

ISAKSON: Wolf, there's no set agenda and it's open, including letting me pick whoever I wanted to invite to come to the dinner. I think the president's experience coming to our conference about two weeks ago and the first dinner led him to believe there may be some areas where we're not as far apart as we might have thought, like on reforms in terms of entitlements, things of that nature.

So I think the discussion primarily will revolve around spending, around revenues and around entitlements, which, after all, spending and our debt and deficit are our two biggest problems.

BLITZER: Those are obviously critically important issues. Other issues coming before you, including comprehensive immigration reform.

How far apart do you think you are with the president on that?

ISAKSON: Well, until the group of eight in the Senate finally release all the points in their plan, rather than just the framework, I wouldn't hesitate to -- I wouldn't want to -- I would hesitate to make a prediction on how close we might be. But immigration reform is going to be a top of the agenda item in this session.

BLITZER: And presumably, it might be a top of the agenda item at the dinner, as well.

ISAKSON: It could be. Like I say, there are no parameters to the dinner. I mean everybody comes with their own thoughts, their own opinions and their own topics.

BLITZER: I know you have a very different view on guns, for example, gun control. He's got a -- a different view than you do.

Are you guys pretty far apart on that?

Do you expect that to be discussed?

ISAKSON: Wolf, my state of Georgia is very much a pro-Second Amendment state and believe in the right to bear arms and gun control, in terms of confiscating weapons or not allowing weapons to be bought, would not be a vote the people of Georgia would expect to have.

Background checks is another thing. I -- I did the instant background check with Georgia back when the Brady Bill passed in 1995. So identifying people who shouldn't be buying the weapons because of mental health or because of their record or criminal record or a felon or whatever, would be something that could be considered. I don't think you'll see any ban on cartridges and no ban on the purchase of weapons.

BLITZER: Can a dinner like this, Senator, really make a difference?

ISAKSON: Wolf, I sold houses for 33 years in my life. I never sold one to somebody I couldn't sit across the table and talk to. When you have to put two people together to come to a common agreement, you cannot do it unless you sit down at the same table, talk and find common ground. So I'm hopeful this will be a fruitful meeting. I'm hopeful at least if nothing else happens both sides will understand where each side is and where the middle might be.

BLITZER: I think there are what, 45 Republican senators. He reached out to you. Why you? Did he tell you why he called you and asked you to put this dinner together?

ISAKSON: No, he did not.

BLITZER: Do you have any inkling?

ISAKSON: I hope he felt like I had enough friends to get 12 people to come.

BLITZER: That's not going to be a problem though, right?

ISAKSON: No, it's not going to be a problem.

BLITZER: It's you and 11 other Republicans, right?

ISAKSON: Yes, sir. That's correct.

BLITZER: so, it'll be 12 Republicans. The president presumably will bring an aide or two. What's the most pressing question you have on your mind going into this dinner?

ISAKSON: Well, the thing I want to hopefully get across to the president is my feeling that we have a ripe opportunity to bring both sides together and fix the solvency of Social Security and Medicare for years to come.

Granted it's going to take us doing some tough decision buss we owe it to our children, grandchildren, and as far as Medicare is concerned we owe it to seniors of today, so my starting point would be, let's make a commitment that we're going to save Social Security and save Medicare and reform them and find the savings that will help us bring down our debt and deficit over time.

BLITZER: Yesterday, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash did an excellent report here in the situation room on the film "Argo" and your new initiative, a legislative initiative to try to finally get some compensation for those American diplomats and security personnel who were held hostage by the Iranians for 444 days. What are the prospects? What do you think the chances are that finally your piece of legislation will get through and they'll each get a few million dollars?

ISAKSON: Well, we were very close last year. We almost made it at the end of the session and failed. I think the popularity of "Argo" and the fact it won an academy award. And if you watch the movie the riveting depiction of the, what those hostages went through has raised the visibility of this. We have the Iranian sanctioned money flowing in now which we can assess or tap to see to it these people are paid for their suffering and for the terror they went through. I'm committed to doing it. I think the American people would back it up. And I think we've gained the support in Congress to do it.

BLITZER: Senator, good luck. Thanks so much for coming in.

ISAKSON: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

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