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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MR. MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton was confirmed this afternoon as secretary of State. Two Republicans voted against her -- Louisiana's David Vitter and South Carolina's Jim DeMint.

Joining me right now are Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Senator Isakson, where are you on the issue of what standard should be applied to former President Bill Clinton's fund-raising globally? What standard do you like?

SEN. ISAKSON: Well, in the hearing I said openly I supported what Ranking Member Dick Lugar from Indiana said, and that is if a contribution of greater than $50,000 was given that it ought to be reported at the moment it was given. If a pledge of $50,000 came in, it should be (pointed ?) at the time it was pledged and given; and then, lastly, if an individual made a gift of $50,000 or more, that it be reviewed by an ethics group in the State Department just like country contributions are.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, that's -- let's go to Senator Stabenow.

What's your view about that? Is that too high a standard?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, Chris, first of all, I should say that we're thrilled that she was approved with only two no votes and only one no vote in committee. It's really terrific for the country.

But as far as I'm concerned, the agreement that they came up with, which was well beyond what was required under ethics rules or legally, really meets the test. They have gone the extra mile -- President Clinton, our now-Secretary of State Clinton and the president. And I think they've vowed to have every transaction transparent.

MR. MATTHEWS: But not transparent immediately; only reportable at the end of a year. Is that right?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, that's my understanding. But I think that --

MR. MATTHEWS: And that's good enough?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, as far as I'm concerned. I think having those reported -- I have very great trust in both our new secretary of State as well as the president and the administration and President Clinton. So I'm sure that they're going to be well above what is required.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let's take a look at some other voices. Here's Senator Jim DeMint. He's a Republican today. He was one of the two senators who actually voted against the confirmation of Senator Clinton as secretary of State. Here he is today on the Senate floor.

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): (From videotape.) If there is suspicion that certain nations or international players are gaining advantage by virtue of contributions to the Clinton Foundation or its initiatives, that will compromise our new secretary's effectiveness.

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator Isakson, is that your view? Are you that strong on this that you believe it compromises the effectiveness of Secretary of State Clinton?

SEN. ISAKSON: I voted for her confirmation because she's unquestionably qualified. She did a brilliant performance at the hearing. My concern is that a donation to the Clinton Foundation, unreported, discovered late at the end of a year, could retroactively cause her difficulty. And she does not need to be compromised in any way. Transparency works for Debbie and I. We have to report every quarter the contributions that we receive. Timely reporting is a good guarantee that you're not going to have anything go wrong.

SEN. STABENOW: You know, Chris, I'm hopeful and completely confident that we're going to see the kinds of transparency and the kinds of actions that we all want coming regarding this issue. But I'm also hopeful that we're going to focus on the fact that we have now a new secretary of State that is extraordinary.

She brings a wealth of experience, both from first lady as well as here in the Senate, on Armed Services Committee. I'll never forget being in Beijing in 1995 when she spoke out as first lady on behalf of women's rights against the Chinese government. It was an extraordinary time to be an American. And I'm very proud of her.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let's hear one more voice here in opposition. It's Senator John Cornyn, who's chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee. His job, by the way, is to increase the number of Republican senators in the United States Senate. But here he is, talking about Senator Clinton and her nomination, which was effectively confirmed today overwhelmingly by the Senate. Here he is opposing it.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): I argued to Senator Clinton yesterday -- or I didn't argue to her, but I explained to her my position that I thought greater transparency would make it better for her as she enters this new job as secretary of State, because any cloud or question that remains because of the lack of transparency or lack of disclosure really, I think, hurts her and hurts the Obama administration at a time when we want to see it succeed.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Cornyn voted for Senator Clinton even though he questioned the standard that she had accepted. He thinks it should be higher.

Let me ask you both about a hot issue, which is, of course, charming the tabloids; you first, because you're a Democrat, Senator Stabenow. The likelihood, it seems now, that one of your new colleagues will be Senator Clinton's replacement in New York, and it could well be a Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy. How would you like to see her join the Senate as an appointed member?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, I think Caroline Kennedy is absolutely terrific. The most important thing is that this is the governor's decision from New York. But I think she certainly would meet every test.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, whose decision would it be if it's not the governor's? That's what somebody else said the other -- I'm always wondering, when people say, "Well, it's the governor's decision," what did you mean by that? We know that, but why would that be important to say that again?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, I think it's important because I can have my view. Other members of the Senate can have their view --


SEN. STABENOW: -- and certainly do. But it's the governor's decision.

Ultimately, in two years, whoever runs, the people of New York will either reaffirm or deny that decision. So they -- the people of New York and the governor ultimately have to decide. But she's certainly someone that I believe could serve in a very competent way.

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator Isakson, what do you think of Jack Kennedy's daughter, surviving daughter, as the next senator from New York?

SEN. ISAKSON: Well, you know, I think both what happened in Illinois and the controversy over this bears out the fact that we probably ought to have special elections to replace senators rather than gubernatorial appointees.

You know, we changed the Constitution. Governors used to appoint all members of the Senate. And then the Constitution was changed to have a popular election of the people. I think a popular election of the people makes sure the people have spoken. Speaking through a governor, sometimes you end up having a controversy, which, quite frankly, may even be unfair to the appointee themselves, as in the case of the appointment in Illinois.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, actually, governors didn't pick senators in the past. State legislatures did.

SEN. ISAKSON: State legislatures. I'm sorry -- state legislatures.

MR. MATTHEWS: But you think --

SEN. ISAKSON: Popular election was changed by the Constitution.

MR. MATTHEWS: Right. But you think you should have it like in the House. You can't replace a House member without an election. You can't be an appointed member of the House. You'd like to see that applied to the Senate.

SEN. ISAKSON: I would. And that's how I got to the U.S. House of Representatives.

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator Stabenow, do you think that would be a better way, a more democratic way, of picking U.S. senators to have them elected rather than appointed by governors?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, you really have a combination. In the House, they only serve for two years, and so it makes sense doing it differently. But in the Senate, with a six-year term, I think the fact that a lot of states that have constitutions that set up the governors to make those appointments makes sense, as long as they have to run within two years. I think it's a good combination.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, thank you.


MR. MATTHEWS: Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, thanks for joining us.

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