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Interview With Mitch McConnell

Location: Unknown

May 10, 2003 Saturday

HEADLINE: Interview With Mitch McConnell



As we've been saying, President Bush is turning his full attention to domestic matters, especially his top priorities, tax cuts and judicial nominees.

Our next guest is critical to getting the president's agenda through the Senate. He's majority whip Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of the smartest and most resourceful senators.

Welcome back, senator.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY WHIP: Thank you, Fred. I appreciate the nice introduction.

BARNES: Senator, you attended that event at the White House Friday where the president said he wanted a fresh start in the Senate confirmation process for judges. Now, can there be any fresh start unless the president agrees to give up on the two nominees that are being filibustered by Democrats, Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen, and a third one, Charles Pickering, who Democrats will probably filibuster?

MCCONNELL: Well, candidly, it's—we're not likely to get a fresh start. There's been a lot of back and forth over the years about, you know, who's at fault when judges don't make it through.

Let me just give you a couple of statistics that I think really sum it up. President Reagan was the all-time champ. He got 382 federal judges through in his eight years, and he was lucky. Six of those eight years his party controlled the Senate.

President Clinton got only five fewer, and he only had control of the Senate with his party for two of his eight years.

So enough about Republicans mistreating Democratic judges.

What's new this year? What's new is that the filibuster is being used for the first time in history to defeat circuit court nominees. So we've taken it to a new level.

And that's the reason that there are plans being bandied about now, one that I support, which would lower the threshold for doing what we call invoking cloture, that is, cutting off debate over a period of time, so that you could finally get what the Constitution envisions, which is an up- or-down simple majority vote on a judge nominated by the president.

BARNES: Well, that, that plan, though, is one that Democrats could filibuster, can't they? I mean, I, I see no...


BARNES: ... way that that plan can be implemented.

MCCONNELL: No, it's not going to happen. But, you know, others are thinking about going to court, and, of course, some think judges wouldn't intervene in this dispute between the executive and the legislative branch. But it is interesting to note that the advising and consenting, as the Constitution puts it, to judicial nominations is mentioned in the same part of the Constitution that advising and consenting to treaties.

And the Constitution says a supermajority is required to approve a treaty, two-thirds. And it does not mention a supermajority with regard to advising and consenting to nomination, the implication being, clearly, that these nominees were to receive a majority vote, not be subjected to a greater number than a simple majority.

KONDRACKE: So senator, so what, how, what is the way out of this, this impasse? I mean, here you've got these two, three judge—judicial nominees that the, the Democrats are not going to stop filibustering. Is the president going to, going to withdraw them? Is the president going to fight for them? I mean, you had one event down at the White House, but he has, he barely mentioned them on the stump.

I mean, what, what's the plan here?

MCCONNELL: Well, he is mentioning them around the country, and he's certainly going to mention them in states like Arkansas, where the incumbent Democratic senator is up next year and has opposed both Estrada and Owen. I think it will be a big issue in races for the Senate next year with those who are standing for reelection who've simply said, We won't even give the president's nominee an up-or-down vote.

KONDRACKE: So, so, in other words, is there, are these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) nominations going to be kept pending and be used (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as campaign material, is that, is that the point?

MCCONNELL: Yes, yes, I think so. I think we will not, I think the president will not withdraw these nominees. He has no reason to. Both Estrada and Owen were given a unanimous well-qualified for the ABA. The ABA is a very liberal organization. It is extremely hard. That's the highest rating you can get, a unanimous well-qualified. Both these nominees have that.

I think it's indefensible...


MCCONNELL: ... that you're not willing to give them an up-or-down vote.

BARNES: Senator, let me ask you about the tax cut.


BARNES: The president is not going to get the one he proposed, but he likes the one that the House is about to pass, the one by Congressman Thomas. But in the Senate, he doesn't like the one that's coming out of the Senate Finance Committee, it, it has, has $20 billion of handouts for the states, and it, it doesn't have any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a dividend tax reduction that he would like.

How can you get—what's your formula for getting a tax cut out of the Senate that the White House will accept?

MCCONNELL: Well, we hope to make it better on the floor, and active discussions are under way with a couple of Democrats who seem to be open to improving the package that came out of the Senate Finance Committee.

BARNES: Well, I can think of Senator Nelson, who's of Nebraska. Who's the other one?

MCCONNELL: Well, Senator Lincoln of Arkansas did vote for the—was the only Democrat who voted for the Republican package in committee. Whether that means she'd be open to improving it or not, I don't know. But we intend to talk to her as well.

The dividend section is the one that's generated the most controversy. A lot of us feel that in order to have a significant boost in the stock market, you've got to have a dividend exclusion that means something. Unfortunately, the dividend exclusion in the, in the Senate Finance Committee bill is capped out at such a low level, it's probably not—certainly not going to do anything for the market.

We'd be better off to have a bigger exclusion over a shorter period of time.

KONDRACKE: OK, thanks very much, senator.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

KONDRACKE: When we come back, Fred and I will have all the latest buzz.

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