CNN "State Of The Union With John King" - Transcript
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KING: A champion for those who had none. A man who never stopped trying to right wrongs, and someone who wasn't perfect, but believed in redemption. Just a few of the sentiments expressed at the funeral of Senator Edward Kennedy in Boston yesterday.
President Obama led the nation in saying goodbye to the 77-year- old senator, who was laid to rest near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery.
Here with their reflections on the senator's life and his work, two of his closest colleagues, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who joins us by telephone.
And Senator Dodd, let me begin with you. You and Senator Hatch had the great privilege, the honor you called it, of eulogizing your friend at the memorial service Friday night. You waved as you pulled up. I saw you were still scribbling notes, edits on your speech. Talk about the moment. You've given so many speeches in your life. What made this one unique?
DODD: Well, John, first of all, thanks for doing this. But what makes it difficult is that it's so personal. I mean, these are -- how do you express in eight or 10 minutes -- I tried to keep it brief -- and how do you capture 30 years of friendship in eight minutes? And particularly someone who the relationship goes far beyond just the personal. Obviously, I sat next to him for almost 25 years in that Health Education Labor Committee. We were partners in policy, great friends personally. Got to know his children, his family, (inaudible). And so, trying to capture all of that, in a sense, is one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do.
KING: And so, Senator Hatch, as you put this together, what did you have to leave out that you wanted to say about your friend?
HATCH: Well, there were a lot of things that I left out because you only had so much time. But it was a privilege to be able to be there and be with Vicki and the family.
I was there when, you know, he called me out in California to tell me that he was going to marry Vicki. And the only reason he called me then, I asked him, why are you doing this? Because I was in a middle of a great big speech. And he said, well, her young daughter was in grade school and was bragging to the teacher that her mother was going to marry Ted Kennedy, and he said the teacher was married to a Washington Post reporter, so he wanted to tell me before it appeared in the Post. And we had that kind of a friendship.
We were called the odd couple. I'm conservative, and he was the leading liberal champion in the Senate. And we used to get into some tremendous rows, but in the end, we were able to put together some of the most important health care bills and other bills in history.
KING: And Senator Dodd, if you read the op-ed pages and have conversations with people involved in politics, who cover politics, the word soul comes up a lot. People saying the Democratic Party has lost its soul. Do you agree with that assessment? And if that is the case, sir, how does one replace its soul?
DODD: Well, no, you don't lose your soul, and Teddy would be the first to say so. As he said in his -- when he gave that incredible eulogy of his brother Bobby, you know, you don't enlarge someone in death more than he was in life.
Teddy was pragmatic and practical. He believed in the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party, he did so passionately. He also had a strong pragmatic sense, you move forward. And obviously, we've lost a great champion in all of this. But he would take umbrage, he'd be annoyed if he thought Democrats were somehow going to retreat here as the party of his choice back because he was no longer with us. He'd expect us to get up this morning, to get battling, decide what we needed to do, sit down with our friends on the other side, like Orrin and I have over the years on many issues together, and try to work things out, respecting each other. That's what the Senate is all about, and get the job done. We don't have a luxury here of sitting back and sort of engaging and wallowing in our own grief. We've got to get up and get moving.
One of the great attributes of Teddy was, one, his likability. People liked him. But also his ability to overcome adversity. You heard President Obama yesterday talk about it. What he'd been through -- 16 by the time he'd lost two siblings. Two of his brothers taken from him with great violence. Been through his own personal difficulties, with physical problems and the like. But he got up after every single one of those challenges and went back to work, and decided we've given so much time in this life, do the very best you can. And that's what we're supposed to do.
So we haven't lost our soul at all. In fact, it's been enhanced by his presence, and by invoking his memory these days, we'll do a better job. And I think Orrin and I will get back next week in the Senate, and we've got to roll up our sleeves and go to work and do what Teddy would've done, and get this health care matter behind us.
KING: And as we look to see what comes next, when I was up there seeing old friends in Massachusetts politics, Senator Hatch, they say it is increasingly likely the legislature will change the law and allow the governor to make an interim appointment before the special election.
If there is that opportunity for an interim appointment, three or four months, the opportunity for a temporary senator to cast Teddy's last votes -- she has said no, Vicki has said no, she is not interested -- but if that moment opened, would you call her up and say, maybe you should consider this?
HATCH: Sure, I think Vicki ought to be considered. She's a very brilliant lawyer. She's a very solid individual. She certainly made a difference in Ted's life, let me tell you. And I have nothing but great respect for her.
You know, it's interesting to be on with Senator Dodd, who was I think Senator Kennedy's greatest Democrat friend. I consider myself his best Republican friend. And Chris and I -- we have been able to work together, as Teddy and I used to work together.
But it's going to take a lot of work, because, you know, many of the so-called progressives in the Democratic Party are insisting on this public or Washington, government-run plan. And the vast majority of people out there in the public, they don't want that. They're scared to death knowing that Medicare is $38 trillion in unfunded liability as we sit here, and that in order to get that public plan and pay for it, they're going to take $400 million to $500 million out of Medicare. I mean, that's crazy. And so a lot of people are very concerned with what's going on in Washington right now, especially in health care. And you can see there are people from all walks of life. It isn't just people that don't like Democrats, from all walks of life.
KING: Senator Dodd, we're going to talk more about the policy of health care as we move on, but on the question of Vicki Kennedy, you know her very well, you had dinner with them up there. You were one of the few people who saw the senator in the final weeks. If the interim appointment becomes a reality, that possibility, would you call her up and say reconsider? You could come and cast your husband's final votes?
DODD: Well, we talk frequently, and you know, whatever Vicki wants to do, I'm in her corner. She knows that. And she's expressed to me her own sort of reluctance to do that, but she could change her mind. If she did, I'm for it. I think she'd be great. I think Orrin is right. She brings talent and ability to it, and to fill that spot I think is something the people of Massachusetts would welcome. We could certainly use her in the Senate. But I leave that up to her. She's got a lot on her mind right now, and frankly, I'll leave it up to her decision-making process. I know talking with her children and talking with Teddy and Kara and Patrick and others, they'll come to the right decision. Whatever she thinks is best, I'm for.
KING: Senator Dodd, you are on the ballot next year, and at this point -- it is still early -- it looks like you may have a tough race on your hand. And among your allies is now your late friend, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He produced -- he was part of an ad for your campaign, and we want to share it now with our viewers.
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KENNEDY: Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life. And Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight. Today more than ever, we have a real opportunity to bring health care reform to Connecticut and all across America. And I believe that with Chris Dodd's leadership, our families will finally have accessible, affordable health care.
DODD: I'm Chris Dodd and I approve this message.
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KING: It's striking to watch that in the context of the events of the past few days, Senator, but it's a powerful appeal from your friend, Senator Kennedy. Will you continue to run that ad as you seek reelection in Connecticut?
DODD: I don't know, John. But thanks for running it, I haven't heard it in a while. I don't know. We're not talking about that today. This is a time to talk about Teddy, remember him and his contribution. And what we need to do to get back on track again. I'll leave politics to next year.
KING: We're going to lose you, Senator, and Senator Hatch is staying with us. To his point that despite the death of Senator Kennedy, that doesn't change the math, and all these concerns about the public option. Do you agree with him at this point, that you'll come back to work and you will try to work on this in a bipartisan basis, but there's no difference in terms of for or against on that divisive issue of the public option, is there?
DODD: Is that for me, John?
KING: Yes, sir.
DODD: Yeah, no, look, we need to sit down and work it out and go through this, and I didn't -- that's what we do in the Senate. That's how things move forward. That's what Orrin Hatch and I did years ago on child care legislation, what we did on the Family Medical Leave Act. Every bill I can think of, of any major significance, people sit down and work it out. This idea of negotiating this through a series of town hall meetings in August is not exactly how I was raised to understand the point of how the Senate functions. We'll get back next week with the leadership of the president, and people who want to sit down and move forward.
The country cannot afford this any longer. We need to have a health care plan in this country that's accessible, affordable, and quality. And how we get there is the challenge before us. And we must meet that challenge. That's what Ted cared so deeply about. Introduced that first health care universal bill 40 years ago. And he would be terribly disappointed if we allowed partisan politics to dominate this debate. He expected more of us, and I think we ought to meet that expectation of his, and I'm confident we can.
KING: Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, thanks for being with us this morning as we're discussing the health care issue. Senator Kennedy called it the cause of his life. So will this acrimonious debate over health care reform give way to his spirit of bipartisanship? When the Congress returns, we'll talk it over. Senator Orrin Hatch is staying with us, and we'll be joined by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state, next.
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HATCH: Orrin, he said, what else did I agree to last night?
I start telling these things, my eyes start to water, my nose starts to run, it's just a mess, I tell you.
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KING: We're back with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, whom you just saw right there, and joining us is Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state.
Senator Hatch, that was part of your tribute to Senator Kennedy, and you were talking about a deal you cut with him late one night after perhaps he had had an extra drink or two, and you came in the next day wanting to check his notes against your notes.
You came to Washington, you talked about it in your speech, you ran a campaign saying "send me to Washington to fight Teddy Kennedy." When was it, what was the moment where you said, you know, this guy isn't exactly what I thought?
HATCH: Well, we both lived up to it. We fought each other all the time. But he was willing to compromise, he was willing to come to the center. In many times, like in the CHIP bill, it was center right. And I found it very -- but you know, there were certain things he wouldn't compromise on no matter what you did, and we just fought knock-down, drag-out battles.
But you know, it was a privilege to serve with him. He was a great senator. He was a leading Democrat, leading liberal in the Congress, and probably over the last 50 years, the leading liberal in the Congress, and I had to take that into consideration. You had to take into consideration my conservative politics, as well.
KING: If you look, Senator Cantwell, you're a more junior member of the Senate, but if you look at your entry in the "Almanac of American Politics," it says this. "As a child, Cantwell observed politics firsthand as her father dispensed advice to the union members, laborers and politicians who stopped by to talk politics. During her father's stint as an aide to Congressman Andrew Jacobs, she woke one morning to the laughter of Ted Kennedy downstairs." Take us back.
CANTWELL: That's right. During his brother's presidential campaign, Ted Kennedy came to my house, as a young girl, to thank everybody who had been participating and campaigning on behalf of his brother. And literally, I didn't believe that he was in our house, and you know, went to school the next day and everybody at the Catholic school that I went to was talking about how Ted Kennedy had come to the Cantwell home. So it was a great honor.
KING: And when you come to the United States Senate, and someone has a reputation like him as a legislator, is he a mentor? Does he say, prove it, young lady? What's he like?
CANTWELL: He's absolutely a mentor. And he was so skilled. He knew every vote. If you had an amendment on the floor, he would say to you, well, you got 48 votes. Next time you're going to get 52. So keep at it. So he knew exactly what you were doing.
And I remember once he told me, we were working on unemployment insurance, and our state, Washington, had high unemployment at that time. He said, go over there and talk to Arlen Specter, and here's what he'll do, and he'll keep that in conference. Go ahead and cut that deal. So always a mentor, always looking out for how to get legislation passed, and that was the great story of Ted Kennedy, among other things, was that he was a fantastic legislator.
KING: And so his voice has been missing this past year and especially these past few months from the issue he cared most about, the debate about health care reform. And we've all heard in the eulogies and in the reflections on, well, could it be different now that he's passed? Will there be a new mood of bipartisanship? The president's point person on this issue is the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. She put it this way.
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SEBELIUS: The best possible legacy is to pass health reform this year and have a bill that President Obama could sign. And hopefully at every step along the way, they'll ask themselves, what would Teddy do?
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KING: So let's pose the question. What would Teddy do? And I want to start with you, Senator Cantwell, because you're the Democrat, and this right now is largely a disagreement among the Democrats. In the House, you have a more liberal bill with the public option, it costs $1 trillion over 10 years, maybe a little more than that. The speaker has said the public option has to be there. A public, government-run competition, essentially, plan to compete with the private insurance. In the Senate, the votes simply aren't there. And if Senator Kennedy did anything, as you just noted, he knew how to count the votes. What would Teddy do? Would Teddy go to the Byron Dorgans, the Kent Conrads, the Ben Nelsons, the conservative Democrats and say, look, get in line, be a good Democrat, vote for the public option? Or would he walk across to the speaker and Chairman Waxman and say, I'm with you, but the votes aren't there. It's your turn to compromise. Where is the compromise within the Democrats?
CANTWELL: Well, that was the magic of Senator Kennedy, because he had the faith of the party loyalists, and they knew that he would always fight for them. And so when he went across the aisle to cut a deal with Orrin Hatch, as he did on the children's health care initiative, or other policy, people knew that that was the best deal that could be cut.
But I think right now, we still need to have this debate about the high cost of health care. And what everybody in America wants to know is what are we going to do to control the cost? We can talk about the uninsured, but those who have insurance want to know about what both Democrats and Republicans are going to do to keep health care costs down, because premiums going up 120 percent again in the next 10 years is just unsustainable.
KING: But do you think a public option has to be in a bill to control costs, or can that wait?
CANTWELL: Well, I would say to my Republican colleagues that when you think about how you control costs and you think about what a public option can do in controlling costs, it's a very key component to it.
Right now, there's insurance across the country where in a couple of states you only have one or two insurance providers, or they might have as much as 50 percent of the market. So if you want to get costs down and reform the system, then deliver health care at what it takes to deliver that health care cost. And both Senator Hatch and I come from states that are very efficient health care states. We provide good health care delivery with good outcomes at very low costs, and that's what I'd like to see the rest of the country move to. KING: Is there any chance, despite the passing of your friend, is there any chance that a bill with a public option is going to pass the United States Senate?
HATCH: I really don't think so. But let me tell you, you know, you're talking about one-sixths of the American economy. And a lot of people don't seem to realize that. And you're talking about having the federal government take control of health care when Medicare's $38 trillion in unfunded liability, and going higher. When you're going to triple -- you're going to triple the budget deficit in 10 years, double it in five years or even less. And you know, when they talk about $1 trillion, they don't even -- most of this doesn't even trigger in under the Democrats' plan until after the next election in 2013. The only fair way to do it is take it 10 years from there and it's always $2 to $2.5 trillion on top of $2.5 trillion -- $2 trillion national budget for health care now, and that's what they don't tell you.
HATCH: And then you add the public plan on to that, or what I call the Washington-controlled government plan, that's what's got people all over this country concerned. Because they know, once they do that, you're going to get into all kinds of other problems, including rationing, that Democrats hate to talk about. But that's what's going to happen.
And -- and our senior citizens are scared to death. Plus, any taxpayer's got to be tremendously concerned because, like I say, we're going to triple the national debt. Even without health care reform, we're going to triple it within 10 years under current budgetary approaches of this administration.
KING: Independent Joe Lieberman, who's a -- you know, caucuses with the Democrats, was here last week and he said that's not the way he would prefer it, but he believes, given the political climate, given the deficit numbers, that everyone should call a time-out and do this incrementally, pass a bill first that deals with the biggest problems in the system, and prove that -- the Democratic Party should prove we are bending the health care cost curve; now you can trust us when we come back to do the other things like universal coverage and a public option.
Is that the way to go, maybe, in this political environment?
CANTWELL: Well, you're not going to get an argument about bending the cost curve from me, because my state almost subsidizes the rest of the health care system because we're so efficient and the rest of the country delivers more inefficient care.
But the bottom line is that health care costs, which, right now, are about one-third of our federal budget, are going to double if we do nothing.
So doing nothing and thinking that we're going to get out of this expense is not really an option. So coming to the table and saying, how can we deliver lower-cost health care is critical to the equation. And so I think getting true competition into the system and giving consumers choice is what the Democrats and Republicans should be joining ranks on.
HATCH: Well, Senator Cantwell and I have done -- we've worked on very important legislation together, and I intend to work with her a lot further in the future. But the best way to get the costs down, it seems to me -- and you made the point that you have a pretty darn good state, as far as health care is concerned. Utah is one of the exemplary states.
I believe we ought to have 50 state laboratories testing all of these various health care things, and then we can pick and choose from the 50 states.
Now, we'll always have some states that, no matter what you do, they're not going to do well. California is a good illustration. New York, New Jersey may be good illustrations.
Sometimes even Texas, on child -- on the CHIP bill didn't do as good a job as they could. But let me tell you this. Having 50 state laboratories laboratories -- which is what our founding fathers envisioned -- we can then pick and choose what really works and what doesn't work.
And I think we've always been able to get together, just like Teddy and I were always able to get together. Because Teddy would come all the way to the center, and in the case of the CHIP bill, came to center-right.
In fact, he was pretty mad at me when we passed the CHIP bill...
... in the Finance Committee, and then, the next day, came down and said that's going to be one of the most important bills in history. And he started to -- I started to laugh at him, and then he realized (inaudible)
KING: Let's call a quick time-out here. Let me call a quick time-out here. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Senators Hatch and Cantwell, including discussing the attorney general's controversial decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Bush era CIA interrogations.
But first, another reflection on the life and legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy from a voice we rarely hear. Stephen Breyer once worked for Senator Kennedy up on Capitol Hill. Now he's an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I talked to him exclusively at the memorial service in Boston.
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STEPHEN G. BREYER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I'm grateful because he helped me give something good that I have to give, maybe. He found that in me and let me help him help other people.
But there are millions and millions of people all over the country whom he tried to help and whom he did help. And when they see the ceremony, that will remind them that they're grateful too. And that's why you're seeing these thousands of people.
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TEDDY KENNEDY JR., SON OF EDWARD M. KENNEDY: He lived to be a grandfather. And knowing what my cousins have been through, I feel grateful that I have had my father as long as I did.
He even taught me some of life's harder lessons, such as how to like Republicans.
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KING: We're back with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell.
That was Teddy Kennedy Jr. speaking at the funeral mass in Boston yesterday, a remarkable speech by the son of Senator Kennedy.
One last point before we move on, on this health care issue. And I want to just show our viewers some of the Sunday papers.
This is the Boston Herald here: "He's Gone Home Now," a touching farewell to Senator Kennedy back home in Boston.
We've all talked about what he might have done, what would he do now, how he would negotiate. Many say that, if this is to be done, it is going to take the president to step up and do more.
Senator Kennedy talked at your convention last year about the torch being passed to Barack Obama.
Has the president failed the leadership test? Or, at least, does he need to lead better now?
CANTWELL: No, I think the president timed it perfectly. And coming in, in a new administration, he wanted to show that he was going to work with Congress. And he said this is a priority.
And the president, I think, has basically held the discussion for members to come together to discuss what they'd like to see in legislation. And I know that he's been on the phone a lot. And I'm sure, when we return in session, he's going to play a very key role in all of this discussion.
KING: You've been around for many presidents. He allowed the House to write the stimulus bill, essentially to start. He's allowing Congress to write the health care bill. Is that a mistake, in your view, if he wants it done?
HATCH: Well, I don't think it's a mistake, but I think, sooner or later, the president has to weigh in, and he has to carry the ball. Frankly, I think he's left too much up to Rahm Emanuel and Axelrod and the others, who are brilliant people. I mean, I have a lot of regard for them. But he's going to have to weigh in.
But let me tell you, he's going to have to realize that you're not going to get this big broad Democrat big spending bill. You're not going to get Republican support for it.
And if you do get Republican support, you can do some really, really important things that -- that will go down in history as a legacy for him.
That's why Senator Kennedy was so important. Because Senator Kennedy, as Senator Cantwell has indicated, really almost controlled the base of the Democratic Party.
They knew he was the leading liberal, and if he said this is what we have to do to do it, they'd cough and sputter and then say, well, I guess, if he wants to do it this way, we've got to do it. And I don't know of another Democrat that has that kind of (inaudible) in the whole Congress.
KING: Let's move on to other issues. Last week, although the president had said, back in January, he didn't want to look back, the attorney general decided to appoint a special -- an independent investigation to look into the Bush era CIA interrogations and the tactics, to see if anyone broke the law.
Senator Hatch, you were among eight Republicans who signed on to a letter to the attorney general saying that you were deeply concerned that this investigation could come.
KING: And you said such an investigation could have a number of serious consequences not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans."
Does this decision put Americans more at risk?
HATCH: I sure think so. I'm the longest serving person on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I've been through an awful lot on that committee and I know one thing, they're making it so that people at the CIA are afraid to do anything, and we don't want that situation because when we get into another potential 9/11 and they're happening all the time, that's as much as I'm going to say about it.
We want the toughest people we can have to handle the situation and don't want them thinking twice that they're going to get indicted or they're going to have to go through unpleasant experiences in Congress or that they're going to be mistreated and especially those who give legal opinions. Legal opinions differ. Sometimes, you know, conservatives will give stronger legal opinions than the most liberals. Liberals sometimes give stronger ones from the liberal standpoint than most conservatives.
And you know what? You want them always tested, you want them always checked. But you also don't want to say, well, these people were rotten in writing this opinion just because they were conservative or it was a conservative opinion. And frankly, it's gone way too far. I'm not a big fan of special accounts or special prosecutors. They spend a lot of money, they take a lot of time, they get a lot of publicity, and in the end, we have less efficient government and less efficient, especially in the CIA, less efficient people who really aren't going to take any risks we need to have them take.
KING: Let me let the Democrat into the conversation. Do you agree with that, that it would make CIA agents who have very important work to do, to keep the country safe? Will it make them more timid?
CANTWELL: I look at this differently. I look at the threat that we face from terrorism and I look at it as an asymmetrical threat, and it means we have to have the cooperation of the entire world community to help us.
KING: That means this investigation's necessary? CANTWELL: I'm saying this investigation is very appropriate. No one is above the law. And this is not a political process. This is a legal process. It's a legal process to find out whether the law was broken. And what we want to communicate to all our partners in the war on terror is that the United States is going to be for the rule of law. But in following that rule of law, we also want their help in fighting terrorism and finding terrorist suspects and working in a cooperative fashion.
KING: The former vice president of the United States in an interview that's airing this morning, Dick Cheney, says Senator Hatch that this is playing politics. Do you think it's a bad decision that they made? Or do you agree and go as far as saying that they're deliberately playing politics with national security?
HATCH: I think it's both. It's both a bad decision and I think some politics are involved. I hate to think of that of the attorney general, I strongly supported him. But let me tell you something, I've traveled all over the world and let me just use France.
France will say things publicly that look like they're against us, but behind the scenes, they're intelligence people. They work very closely with us. They know what we're doing. They know how important it is. And if our people are too timid to get out there and do the things that have to be done because we have -- and I believe in oversight. That's what the intelligence committee should be all about.
But if we're too timid, we're not going to be able to protect this country. And I've got to tell you, talk to the head of the CIA, he's a liberal Democrat who I know and trust and believe in. And I've got to tell you, he's very upset about what's going on here. And he knows it's going to be detrimental to the work that the CIA has to do every day, day in and day out.
KING: We're out of time, but I want to give you the last word on this issue.
CANTWELL: This is not about being timid, this is about being effective, and if we want to be effective in the war on terrorism, we have to communicate to everyone that we are going to follow the law and we want their help in bringing about justice for the American people and to make them secure. So this is a legal process. And I applaud the attorney general because I'm sure it's a tenuous issue to be the chief law enforcement officer of this country.
KING: It's a feisty debate that will continue. We'll continue to check in. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, thanks so much for your time this morning.
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