Transcript: Sens. McConnell, Schumer on 'FNS'
Monday, January 02, 2006
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" on Jan. 1, 2006:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: 2006 promises to be a contentious year on Capitol Hill leading to congressional elections in November. To preview the battles ahead, we're joined now by the number two Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who is in Florida, and Charles Schumer, head of the Democrat Senate Campaign Committee, who's in our New York studio.
Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday" and happy new year to both of you.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Happy New Year.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: Same to you, Chris.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, one of the first issues that the Senate is going to have to take on early this year is going to be this question of trying to draw the balance between presidential powers and protecting civil liberties of Americans in fighting the war on terror.
Senator McConnell, you've got renewal of the Patriot Act on your plate, also possible hearings into this domestic NSA spying program. Any chance that the Senate will put new limits on the president's powers?
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MCCONNELL: Well, we'll certainly take a look at that, but thank goodness the Justice Department is investigating to find out who has been endangering our national security by leaking this information so that our enemies now have a greater sense of what our techniques are in going after terrorists.
The overwhelming majority of the American people understand that we need new techniques in the wake of 9/11 in order to protect us. The president feels very, very strongly that he's acted constitutionally.
As you know, Chris, the leaders of Congress were briefed. They didn't choose to object or to raise the notion that there should be additional legislation. This needs to be investigated, because whoever leaked this information has done the U.S. and its national security a great disservice.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, we're in the middle of a war. We have an enemy that doesn't play by any rules. Do you really want to limit the president's ability to protect Americans?
SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is I think everyone, Democrats and Republicans, wants to give the president the tools that he needs to fight the war on terror. No question about it. But the way our country works is the balance between security and liberty is a very delicate one.
And obviously, in times of war, in times of terrorism, the balance shifts towards security, and it should. There are some on the doctrinaire left who say never change it. I don't agree with that. Almost no Democrat does.
But when you want to shift that balance, you have an open debate, you have some rules that are set, and then you have an independent arbiter look at those rules. That's been the tradition. That's worked for decades, whether it's wiretaps or the FISA law.
And the problem here is that the president thought there was a problem. That's legitimate. But instead of coming to people and saying okay, I need changes in the law, he just changed it on his own.
And today's revelations, as you mentioned, Chris - today's revelations really heighten the concerns about this. When John (sic) Comey, who was one of the premiere terrorism prosecutors in this country, said that he thought this program violated the law, when it's reported that people at the NSA - and none of these people are left- wing liberals - had real doubts about the program, it calls into question the way the president and vice president went about changing it.
You don't just change it because the president wants to change it. You have a debate. You go to Congress.
WALLACE: Well, let...
SCHUMER: In most cases, the president...
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, let me ask a specific question...
SCHUMER: ... in most cases the president gets the changes he wants.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, let me ask you a specific question on that. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of which you're a member, Arlen Specter, wants to hold hearings. Would you like to see hearings held on this? And specifically on this area, would you like to see the various people involved - you have the deputy attorney general, the attorney general, the White House chief of staff - would you like to see all of them called before that panel?
SCHUMER: Yeah, I'll be asking Senator Specter today to make sure that at these hearings former Attorney General Ashcroft, Attorney General Gonzales, Chief of Staff Card, Deputy Attorney Generals Comey and Thompson, who had doubts about - one had doubts about the program, one didn't know, are brought before us and answer questions thoroughly.
And one other thing. I hope the White House won't hide behind saying oh, executive privilege, we can't discuss this. That's the wrong attitude. A discussion, perhaps a change in the law - those are all legitimate.
Unilaterally changing the law because the vice president or president thinks it's wrong, without discussion or change - that's not the American way.
WALLACE: Let me bring in - Senator McConnell, let me ask you a specific question in this regard. As we said, Senator Specter wants to hold hearings before the Judiciary Committee. There's a report today the White House does not want that and would like to have them held in secret before the Intelligence Committee.
Is the Republican leadership in the Senate, of which, as we've mentioned, you're the number two man - are you going to do anything to try to block Senator Specter's holding hearings by the Judiciary Committee?
MCCONNELL: Well, look. Before getting to that, let's talk about the facts. The facts are that the president believes very, very strongly that he has the constitutional authority and that the resolution we passed in 2001 in the war on terror gives him the authority to do what he did.
Number two, the leaders of Congress, on a bipartisan basis - the leadership was briefed. Now, what really ought to be happening here is the Justice Department investigation going after those who breached our national security and endangered Americans in the war on terror.
There's nothing wrong with congressional oversight. My personal preference - we've not made a final decision yet - is that the Intelligence Committee could be would be a better place to do it. We're already talking about this entirely too much out in public as a result of these leaks, and the New York Times continuing to write about it, and it's endangering our efforts to make Americans more secure.
We're talking here about a very limited area, Chris, international calls. International calls. They're not listening to Americans talking to each other between Houston and Chicago - international calls to, for example, Baghdad.
The American people, I think, are not going to think very kindly of efforts to restrict this very, very narrow activity that's been a factor, I'm confident, in protecting us since 9/11. Who would have thought we wouldn't have been attacked again by now?
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, let me try to wrap this up, because there are other areas I want to move on to. The one other part of this which Senator McConnell has talked about is the Justice Department is going to have a criminal investigation to try to find out who leaked this information.
Now, the ACLU says that's cracking down on a courageous whistleblower. How do you feel about the idea of investigating and prosecuting the leaker in this case?
SCHUMER: I think that there should be an investigation. Whenever classified information comes forward, it should be looked at. You know, whenever classified information is leaked, there ought to be an investigation, because it could endanger our security.
Having said that, let's not prejudge. Was this somebody who had an ill purpose, trying to hurt the United States, or might it have been someone in the department who felt that this was wrong, legally wrong, that the law was being violated, went to the higher-ups, they did nothing - now it's clear that Mr. Comey and others, serious people who are hardly left-wing ideologues, had doubts about the program - and then, in exasperation, went to the media?
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, you're certainly not going to say exasperation is an excuse for leaking classified information.
SCHUMER: No, no, no. I am saying the type of punishment, the type of investigation - there are differences between felons and whistleblowers, and we ought to wait till the investigation occurs to decide what happened.
But I will say one other thing, Chris. To simply divert this whole thing to just looking at the leaker, and saying everything else was fine, is typical of this administration. Instead of examining a problem and saying maybe there's a problem, let's come together and reason on it, they try to divert attention and blame somebody. And that, while it should be pursued, is not the main issue here.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, I'll give you 30 seconds to respond to that.
MCCONNELL: Chris, can I just make one more quick point? I mean, this is selective outrage here. The Democrats, of course, were completely outraged in the Valerie Plame case that allegedly a classified matter was leaked. And here - you know, the national security was not endangered in that situation.
But here, where clearly we're talking about intercepts with people who are communicating internationally and potentially plotting another 9/11, they don't have apparently the same kind of outrage.
SCHUMER: Well, we have to...
MCCONNELL: This is a much more important investigation and should go forward. And I applaud the Justice Department for beginning it.
MCCONNELL: And the Congress, in engaging in its oversight...
WALLACE: Gentlemen, let me move on.
MCCONNELL: ... shouldn't do it in a way that further endangers national security.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, please let me move on to another subject if I can, because we've got another very important story, and that, of course, is the nomination hearings for Samuel Alito, which begin a week from tomorrow.
Senator Schumer, given this whole issue of the NSA and presidential powers, will the question of checks and balances now become the key issue in the Alito hearings?
SCHUMER: Well, it's certainly one of the issues, because the way the founding fathers set up our government, there's executive power, and then there have to be checks on executive power. And obviously, the revelation about the NSA leaks means that the Supreme Court is going to play a very important role.
Judge Alito is taking the place of Sandra Day O'Connor, often a swing vote. So these are going to be very, very serious questions that are asked of Judge Alito about executive power and when he thinks it should be checked.
Some of the more conservative justices are still for checking executive power. Justice Scalia often does that. And we'll see where Alito comes down, but certainly this is going to be one of the main arenas of questioning Judge Alito.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, give us your best read as the number two man in the Republican leadership - how tough a fight do you expect from Democrats on the Alito nomination?
MCCONNELL: Well, 54 percent of the American people support the Alito nomination. That's exactly where the Roberts nomination was at this point. He's an outstanding nominee. We expect him to do extremely well in the hearings.
I believe Chuck's on the committee. I believe he would agree with me that he will be given a respectful hearing, be treated appropriately, after which he will get an up or down vote, as has always been the case when a nominee enjoyed majority support. And I know Sam Alito enjoys majority support in the Senate.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, I want to go into one last subject. Of course, one of the big events in 2006 is going to be the congressional elections in November. You're from horse racing country in Kentucky. You'd have to lose six seats net to lose control of the Senate. What do you think are the odds of that happening?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think the odds are pretty long. We believe we'll still be in the majority after the November '06 election. There are a number of contested races. We have a number of Democratic seats that we have a good shot at. They have some Republican seats that they have a good shot at.
But we start out at 55. They start out at 45. I think there's a pretty good chance that the majority will still be Republican in the next Congress.
WALLACE: Ten to one, 50 to one, 100 to one?
MCCONNELL: I'm not going to put any odds on it, but I think clearly, most likely, we'll still have a Republican Senate in the next Congress.
WALLACE: And Senator Schumer, you're the head of the committee, the campaign committee for the Democrats, trying to reverse that and get - you'd have to have a net pickup of six. What are the odds of your doing that?
SCHUMER: Well, Chris, we are optimistic about the 2006 elections for one simple reason. The American people feel both domestically and in foreign policy the country is headed in the wrong direction, and the Republican majority just keeps following George Bush in whatever he does.
We are focusing on the meat and potato issues that affect Americans, whether it's jobs, or health care, or education, or the high cost of energy, while the present Congress seems to be focusing on issues that special interests like.
Senator Frist said the number one issue when people get back is asbestos. Now, whether you're for asbestos reform or against asbestos reform, I can't imagine John and Jill Smith sitting at their dinner table this new year's day saying gee, I hope the number one issue that the president addresses is asbestos reform.
WALLACE: Senator Schumer...
SCHUMER: So I think we're going to have a good chance of picking up a good number of seats in the Senate, and if the stars align right, who knows? We could get the majority back.
WALLACE: All right. We're going to have to leave it there, and it's obvious that both of you have come out of the box in fine form to begin 2006. Senator McConnell, Senator Schumer, we want to thank you so much both for interrupting your holiday to come talk with us, and happy new year to both of you.
SCHUMER: Same to you and your family, Chris.
MCCONNELL: Happy New Year to you. Thank you.
WALLACE: Thank you both.