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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript
Sunday, November 6, 2005


MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the vice president's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, is arraigned in federal court.


MR. THEODORE WELLS: He has declared that he wants to clear his good name.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: President Bush tries again with the Supreme Court replacing Harriet Miers with Samuel Alito; all this as the president's approval rating continues to decline. What now? With us, for the Democrats, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts; for the Republicans, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Kennedy and Coburn, a liberal and a conservative, with very different views. Then insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, David Gregory of NBC News and Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio.

But, first, the senior senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, is back on MEET THE PRESS.


SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D-MA): Good morning.

MR. RUSSERT: Samuel Alito, the president's new nominee--let me take you back when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit. Here's Ted Kennedy. "Well, I just join in the commendation. You have obviously had a very distinguished record, and I certainly commend you for long service in the public interest. I think it is a very commendable career and I am sure you will have a successful one as a judge. ...We are glad to have you here and we will look forward to supporting you and voting for you."

So I assume based on that, you'll support him for the Supreme Court.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, it's possible, but let me just point out that that was for a lower court and some 15 years ago. And since that time, he's had 15 years of decisions on the circuit court. Those are thousands of decisions that he's been participating in. First of all, I'm rather distressed and troubled and I'm sure the American people are on how we arrived at this particular nominee. We went through Harriet Miers' situation which the right wing had a litmus test that Harriet Miers didn't meet, and then they sort of knocked her down. Now, we have a new nominee. So it's--and the people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic for this nominee. We have to find out: Why are they so enthusiastic this time and what do they know that we don't know?

Now, he has had an important career. There are some important areas that I'm concerned about, his decision about the strip-searching of a 10-year-old girl that was basically rejected by the court, his decision on the Family and Medical Leave which is so important to workers who are trying to make a judgment between the child that they love and the job that they need--that position was over turned by the Supreme Court--and also decisions with regards to disabilities rights where a young person needed a chair to be able to participate in a class and he rejected those rights. So we'll have a full hearing. Looking forward to it. It's an important decision. I'm open-minded. And we'll look forward to the hearing.

MR. RUSSERT: It's interesting, Senator, though, the way the Senate has changed and I think maybe you have changed in the way you approach Supreme Court nominees. When you first came to the Senate, you said this. "I want to state that it is our responsibility as members of the committee advising and consenting, that we are challenged to ascertain the qualifications and the training and the experience and the judgment of a nominee, and that it is not our responsibility to test out the nominee's particular philosophy; whether we agree or disagree ..."

You don't question Judge Alito's competence...


MR. RUSSERT: ...or integrity...


MR. RUSSERT: ...but you questioned his philosophy.

SEN. KENNEDY: Judicial philosophy is something that Judge Rehnquist thought was very important for members of the Judiciary Committee to consider. Judge Scalia feels the same way. And that's what we ought to--how is a nominee going to view the Constitution? How are they going to be able to interpret it...

MR. RUSSERT: But that's different than the way you felt in '67.

SEN. KENNEDY: ...because we have seen--I think, at the arrival of Judge Bork, we have seen where a nominee was appointed solely really--not only was he a smart person but he was appointed primarily because of his judicial philosophy and that I think opened up the whole process to be able to kind of consider. And I think Democrats and Republicans, if you read the Republican statements about Miers, you would say the whole list of Republicans said, "We want to make sure we get into the whole issue of judicial philosophy." I think that that's fair. American people ought to understand that we aren't going to be something more than a rubber stamp.

MR. RUSSERT: When Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court, Ted Kennedy said, "It's offensive to suggest that a potential Justice of the Supreme Court must pass some presumed test of judicial philosophy. It is even more offensive to suggest that a potential Justice must pass the litmus test of any single-issue interest group."

And yet if someone came before you as a nominee to the Supreme Court and they said they wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, you'd vote against them.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, if someone came before us and said, "Look, I want--my intention is to overturn Roe v. Wade," that's bringing an ideology to the court. That's bringing a judicial philosophy that is not just a review about how you're going to look at the Constitution, but that's an ideological decision that they want to go to on court for a specific purpose.

MR. RUSSERT: But that's a...

SEN. KENNEDY: Wait a second.

MR. RUSSERT: But that's a single-issue litmus test.

SEN. KENNEDY: Now, wait a second. I am opposed to any litmus test for any nominee. That's been my position. But let me continue. Anyone that would just have a position to overturn Roe v. Wade is going to also have a position of questioning issues on privacy and the liberty clause of the Constitution of the United States. I've sat through 22 Supreme Court nominations. You're never going to get someone that is just going to have one view about a particular kind of issue. If they have a particular issue, that position with regards to one position, they're going to undermine the whole issues of privacy, which is basically the reason that the Constitution was written, is because we are a country that want to preserve our--preserve our privacy and our individual rights and liberties. So the answer is, yes, I would--I couldn't support someone that had that, not just because of the Roe v. Wade, which I basically support, but because they would--if they had that view, they'd have a view about privacy that carried across the other important areas.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you this: When there was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And at that time, "In her confirmation hearings, [Ginsburg] promised not to bring an ideological bias to the court but expressed opinions on several issues that put her at odds with some of her conservative colleagues. She acknowledged support for a woman's right to choose, praised the failed equal rights amendment and criticized discrimination against homosexuals."

And yet look at the vote. Ginsburg on August 3, 1993, passed 96-to-3. Stephen Breyer, who worked for you, approved 87-to-9. Liberal jurists, liberal judicial philosophy, and yet Republicans overwhelmingly said, "We know their views disagree with ours, but a Democratic candidate won the presidency, and he has a right to put those people on the court." Why won't you give President Bush the same courtesy?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, I think he is entitled, obviously, for the selection. And he's going to nominate a conservative. The issue isn't so much are they--do they have a conservative view about the Constitution, but whether they bring an ideology to it, whether they have something that they are committed to that they want to alter and change. And I think any review of Ginsburg and Breyer's decision would find that they are basically--have moved on through with different kinds of coalitions. I think that is really the question that's really the test. That's what we're going to find out about this nominee.

I have voted for six Republican Supreme Court justices over the time I've been in the United States Senate. So I'm prepared to certainly vote for them, but we have to find that out. That's what the--that's what the hearings are going to be about, and we'll make our judgment at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you troubled by Judge Alito's decision to allow a creche and a menorah and other holiday decorations to be on the lawn in front of City Hall?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, if the--you know, this is a complicated--because you have the courts going two different ways on something that are very closely related to it. The general holding, as I understand, of the courts is if the creche and the menorah are a part of other kind of symbols, rather than being the sole symbol, which is a reflection of a particular religion, it satisfies the constitutional requirements. That seemed to me to make, you know, some sense, that they're a part of a total kind of reflection. If it's trying to represent a particular kind of religion, then it probably tips the other way. I think that's about where the court; is I'd agree with that decision.

MR. RUSSERT: That's where Alito was with that distinction.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I'd agree with that distinction.

MR. RUSSERT: Filibuster: Do you think the Democrats will mount a filibuster?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, this is like the Buffalo Bills giving their playbook to the New England Patriots, if you think we're going to give away our playbook prior to the time of a nomination. It's too early, too early in the game. It's too early in the process. And I think there--I don't hear that talk outside of the press, quite frankly, from the members in the--on our committee or in the Senate. I think people want to give them a full opportunity to appear before the committee, make any judgment at that time. That's a long ways down. People are concentrating on the hearings. I don't hear, really that talk, but you don't eliminate any option at this time in the process.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me refer you to today's Washington Post headline. "The FBI secret scrutiny." Thirty thousand letters being sent out to American citizens asking for information about them being held in FBI files, as a result of the Patriot Act.

SEN. KENNEDY: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you regret having voted for the Patriot Act, in light of this kind of...

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I--it was the principal reason at that time that we had a sunset for the Patriot Act. And with the--because there were such extraordinary powers that were being given at a very extraordinary time, after 9/11. And many of those kinds of violations that have been listed in the paper this morning have been addressed in our Judiciary Committee, the idea that you'd be going through library records, other kinds of private records, and not have the kind of review--not have the kind of requirement for court-ordered approval for those kinds of activities, in the Senate bill have effectively been remedied. But this is a clear--should be a matter of clear concern. This is why Americans are so concerned about their own privacy issues. Privacy involves a variety of issues. And what has been illustrated in the abuses which have been illustrated clearly show why.

MR. RUSSERT: Should the information gathered on citizens that does not result in the charging or useful in any investigation, or no wrongdoing, should the information then be destroyed?

SEN. KENNEDY: Of course it ought to be destroyed. I mean, we had under the foreign intelligence wiretap process that was really legislation that took place after the whole Watergate and after the Nixon period, of time, very careful protections that were put into that. Many of those were waived temporarily in the Patriot Act. A number of those protections were reinstated in the Senate bill, not in the House Bill. What happened--what you're reading there in The Washington Post today could happen again tomorrow if the House bill were to be successful in the conference between the House and Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: The White House has also asked some of its top officials to take an ethics course on how to handle classified information. What's your sense of that, and do you think there should be changes in the White House senior staff?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, I think ethics has to be more than a class, doesn't it? This starts at a very important part of your life. I don't think that you can just expect that Harriet Miers, who's conducting this class, is going to be able to bring people up to speed in a very short period of time. It's not going to work. Ethics has to be a more basic and fundamental issue, but clearly there has to be a cleaning of the White House.

The American people are not going to have their confidence restored in their government when we have a--basically a democracy in disarray. We have a damaged presidency and a tarnished White House. We have the West Wing has really been taken over by the right wing at a time when America should be reflecting its vision of both where we want to stand in the world, what we want to do here at home. We are being subsumed by scandal after scandal, whether it's Libby and the vice president's office, whether it's the investigations of Karl Rove, or whether it's the disaster over in Iraq or the failure of Katrina. And American people think that there should be an absolute cleaning of the house. And it isn't just the clearing of the house and getting new people in there. It's a commitment and dedication about the openness and truthfulness of government. That is what that has to...

MR. RUSSERT: Who should leave? Who should leave?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, certainly Karl Rove ought to leave. He should...

MR. RUSSERT: He's not been charged with any crime.

SEN. KENNEDY: He should leave, though. He's being investigated at this present time. We're not assuming either guilty or innocence on any of these individuals. We're talking about getting a White House back on track. We're talking about national leadership having a new team together with a strong commitment in terms of openness, truthfulness, and willing to work with the institutions of government.

MR. RUSSERT: You talked about Iraq. There's a big debate now about whether or not the data, the intelligence data, was misleading and manipulated in order to encourage public opinion support for the war. Let me give you a statement that was talked about during the war. "We know [Iraq is] developing unmanned vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents...all U.S. intelligence experts agree they are seek nuclear weapons. There's little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop them. ... In the wake of September 11th, who among us can say with any certainty to anybody that those weapons might not be used against our troops, against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater--a nuclear weapon. ..."

Are those the statements that you're concerned about?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I am concerned about it, and that's why I believe that the actions that were taken by Harry Reid in the Senate last week when effectively he said that we are going to get to the bottom of this investigation, this had been kicked along by the Intelligence Committee, by Pat Roberts for over two years. And Harry Reid did more in two hours than that Intelligence Committee has done in two years. And the American people are going get this information.

And it's important that they get this information about how intelligence was misused because of the current situation. It's important to know where we've been, but it's important to know where we are today, because we're facing serious challenges over in Iran. We're facing serious challenges in North Korea. And we cannot have a government which is going to manipulate intelligence information. We've got to get to the bottom of it, and that is what the Democrats stood for on the floor of the United States Senate last week. That was a bold stroke, one that has the overwhelming support of the American people. It's about time they get the facts on it. They haven't got the facts to date. They deserve them, and they'll get them.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, what the Democrats stood for on the floor of the Senate in 2002--let me show you who said what I just read: John Kerry, your candidate for president. He was talking about a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein. Hillary Clinton voted for the war. John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry. Democrats said the same things about Saddam Hussein. You, yourself, said, "Saddam is dangerous. He's got dangerous weapons." It wasn't just the Bush White House.

SEN. KENNEDY: The fact is--and I voted against the war, because every military--I'm in the Armed Services Committee, and every military leader highly decorated, military leader, said that it was foolish to have a military intervention at that. General Hoar, with the Marines--General Hoar, who has more Silver Stars than you could possibly count said if we go into Baghdad, it'll look like the last five minutes of "Private Ryan," so we know we had enough information to vote against it, I believe.

But the point about this is, we have the 9/11 that talked about the intelligence agencies. The failure of the FBI to talk to the CIA and the rest of it, but they also recommended that we find out how intelligence was manipulated. Now, we are--we had that committee set up under Pat Roberts. It has done virtually nothing. It has done--it's been dismissive. But Harry Reid is going to get them to tell the truth, and the American people will understand it. And then hopefully when we get a clean house in the White House and we get individuals that are going to help this president lead for an openness in government, we can avoid any kind of activity like that in the future.

MR. RUSSERT: What happens if the Iraqi troops aren't in a combat-ready position? They're not capable of defending their country from an insurrection inside or the borders? Do you still advocate withdrawing U.S. troops, leaving Iraq to become even more a haven for terrorists?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, it is a haven for terrorists today. I made the speech a year ago talking about a whole series of steps that could have been taken and should have been taken and I believe still can be taken in order to have a successful withdrawal. I think those steps should have been taken and still can be taken. I think it still is possible when we have the completion of the process, which is a constitutional election, Iraqis have to find that they have a nation worth fighting for, worth fighting for. We lost 25 brave Americans last week--25, over 90 this last month. And these Iraqis have to have a nation worth fighting for. After they have this next election, it's worth fighting for, and the continuation of training.

I think there is a way. There is policy. If you did have the changing, I think there's obvious we can see substantial withdrawal of troops. You know, General Casey has appeared before the Armed Services Committee and indicated that there could be a significant withdrawing of troops next year. The ambassador to Iraq has said the same thing, interview after interview before the committees on it. Mel Laird has said the footprint by American forces is contributing to the insurgency. We have seen General Abizaid say the same thing before the Armed Services Committee.

It is time now to--we are going--the end of this year, Tim, we find that our mandate has expired in the United Nations. The president has to go back to the United Nations for a new mandate. This is a new opportunity for new leadership and a new way to make Iraq for the Iraqis and to speed up that training and start the withdrawal of the American troops.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Ted Kennedy, thank you for your views.

SEN. KENNEDY: Great time. Thank you.


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