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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript: George Zimmerman and the Nuclear Option


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STEPHANOPOULOS: The Senate leaders went at it this week over what's being called the "nuclear option." More on that ahead as we bring in our congressional panel, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch; Democrat Amy Klobuchar of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and from the House, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee; and Congressman Tom Cole from GOP leadership team.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Welcome to all of you. And I do want to talk about the debates in the Congress this week. But first, this breaking news overnight, the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman. Karen Bass, your reaction?

BASS: Well, it was a devastating verdict, and I just am very concerned about what message this sends to the community, the fear that people must have now. But, you know, I just think that it was very sad.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sad, Senator Hatch, but was justice served?

HATCH: Well, it looked to me like it was, because if the rule is that you've got to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there were plenty of reasonable doubts there. So -- but you know, it's still a very serious set of problems that exist, and I agree with some of the commentators before, that we need to look at these matters a lot more carefully.

But yes, I think the verdict was, at least from all that I watched, it seemed to me it was an accurate verdict.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Klobuchar, you're a former prosecutor, also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Does the attorney general now have grounds to bring a civil rights case? Or should he pass?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I know that investigations is going. As a former prosecutor, I know you wait until you see all the evidence. They're going to have to make that decision. It'll be a tough one, but I think going through with the investigation is incredibly important.

And my thoughts are with the family right now. I've seen this before, it is such a hard thing to take. And I hope they take some solace in the support they have across the country. A little 16-year-old boy going out to get some snacks at a convenience store shouldn't end up dead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Congressman Cole, we just talked about these two debates going on right now, the legal debate and I guess the moral debate.

How do we handle it?

COLE: Well, it's very hard to keep them separated. I mean, this is a tragedy that should have never happened. I mean, clearly Zimmerman should never have gotten in that car, shouldn't have had a gun, shouldn't have been out. The police advised him to stay home.

But what we don't know is what happened in the actual encounter. And I think that's what the jury struggled with. I think they were trying to determine what happened. There's a reasonable doubt here, which is a pretty high standard.

So, you know, we'll be talking about this case for a long time to come, because they have to decide on the facts of the case, but there are moral dimensions beyond the case that obviously we have to come to grips with--


STEPHANOPOULOS: And that conversation will continue. Thank you for more on that.

Now we're going to move to this immigration debate in the Senate and the House this week.

Congressman Cole in the House, your leadership decided to go forward with single bills on various aspects of the immigration problem. It sure seemed, Senator Hatch, like the bipartisan Senate comprehensive Senate bill that you supported is pretty much dead in the House right now.

Any way to get it back on track?

HATCH: Well, I don't think it's dead. I do think that our House members are going to take this as a very serious challenge, and frankly, I'm counting on them. Our bill isn't perfect in the Senate. There are a lot of things I think need to be perfected, and the House can do a very good job if they will, and then hopefully we could go to conference and come up with a bill that will solve this festering sore that exists in our country today with 11 million people who don't know where to go, don't know what to do, and we don't know what to do with them other than most of them are pretty good people and they would like to be Americans or at least they'd like a job here. And we can work these problems out. And I think the Senate bill goes a long way in trying to do that. I got to give people like Marco Rubio a lot of credit, because he took -- he had guts to do everything that he did on that particular bill, and he was a formidable force on that bill.

And all the other gang of eight people were very good, too. But let me tell you something, I'm counting on the House. I'm counting on the House getting it even better, I'm counting on the House realizing that we can't just continue on with this de facto amnesty, which is what Marco Rubio calls it. And I think that's an accurate description.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So Congressman Cole, he's counting on the House. But he raised a couple of big sticking points right there.

Number one, it sure seemed like there's not a lot of appetite in your conference to deal with the legalization of the undocumented immigrants in the country right now.

Also this whole idea of going to conference with the Senate bill, a big comprehensive bill rather than a piecemeal approach.

Can you do that? Can you go to conference with the Senate bill?


STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) include a path to legalization?

COLE: Well, I think you can. I mean, I'm not surprised that the Senate bill can't make it in the House. I mean, two out of every three Republican Senators voted no. So, the Republican House was unlikely to ever see that as the main vehicle.

But I do think the eight senators that started the effort produced a decent product, and I think it got better. That's why it picked up Republican support along the way. Now on our side, we have opted for the individual approach, but there's also negotiations going on between our own individual gang of seven for a larger, more comprehensive bill. We'll see that at some point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And are you open to having a path to legalization?

COLE: A lot depends on -- yes, I am, legalization, as long as other things are done first. I think what you can't have is legalization on the promise of future enforcement. That was the formula in '86. That didn't work. I think people have very low faith right now in the federal government. So they're going to have to see some of these other things first.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Can that work, Congresswoman? Or does it have to come all at once?

BASS: Well, I think that it should be a comprehensive bill. You know, sitting on the Judiciary Committee and hearing the individual bills that have been proposed, I'm very concerned. And I'll give you an example.

On the guest worker program, for example, the proposal said that an individual should be paid 90 percent of their salary, and then 10 percent of their salary would be sent to their home country, and they have to go home and pick it up. So I'm very concerned.

But you know, there is a part that's optimistic in the sense that we felt, different than my colleague, I know, that if we put the Senate bill up, that there actually would be enough House Republicans that would vote for it if the speaker will break the Hastert rule in saying that it has to be the majority.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not going to happen, is it?

COLE: No, it's not, and it shouldn't. And frankly, I don't think there are enough people who would vote for it.

And second, you know, we never seem to get anything out of the Senate that a majority of the Republicans voted for and only a minority of the Democrats. So this idea that we're going to constantly -- we've done it three times. I think we've been more than fair in this.

In this case, the House Republicans have to produce a bill. And it's got to command a majority of the majority.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Klobuchar, it seems like everyone is putting a fairly -- trying to put an optimistic face on this, but if you take a step back and say, boy, this is getting late here in 2013. If this doesn't move quickly, it's not going to happen.

KLOBUCHAR: I agree with that. And that's why we put such an effort in the Senate to get a strong bipartisan bill, 68 votes in the Senate. And if you're looking for a conservative bill -- David Brooks made this argument recently -- look at this bill, $197 billion in debt reduction in just 10 years. That's something Republicans should support, $700 billion in debt reduction in 20 years.

The economic growth, 90 of our Fortune 500 companies were formed by immigrants, 200 by immigrants or kids of immigrants. That's why Senator Hatch and worked together to make sure the green card and the H-1B provisions were included, that makes it easier to bring over scientists and engineers that are going to start companies.

And third, the border security, the overstays on visas, all of that has been improved. And so when you look at it from a conservative standpoint, you understand why Karl Rove and Grover Norquist are supporting this bill. And I think it's time for the House Republicans to look at this from the position of economic growth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which (ph) you and Senator Hatch are working together on this.


STEPHANOPOULOS: When (ph) you're not working together on -- we saw Senators Reid and McConnell going at it -- and this wholly -- of the nuclear option. Let me try and explain it. It's basically the idea that you would do away with the filibuster. Senator Reid is proposing to do away on presidential appointees for Cabinet positions.

Senator Hatch, you seem to have changed your mind on this. Several years ago, when the Republicans were in the majority, you wanted to do away with the filibuster on judicial nominations. Now you're hitting the Democrats for taking exactly the same route.

Why the change?

HATCH: I don't know how you could say that I felt that way years ago because nobody knows what I was thinking at the time. All I can say is I was concerned about ever exercising a nuclear option. And so was Harry Reid, so was Chuck Schumer, so was --


STEPHANOPOULOS: But you did come out for changing the rules at that time. A compromise was eventually reached. But you were willing to change the rules.

HATCH: No, I don't think I ever really did come out for that. And matter of fact, I continue to vote against filibusters with regard to judicial nominations because I think it's a principled position. I actually think the president, whoever the president may be ought to have the full choice of who they put on the bench.

And unless there's just some overwhelming reason why somebody should never be on the bench.

But let's be honest about it, the Democrats all at that time said that it would be a disaster for the Senate, that it would destroy the Senate. Harry Reid in particular made all kinds of notable statements like that, and now they're using that when we put through an immigration bill, a big major bill, we put through a farm bill, a big major bill. We put through a water bill, big major bill.

The Senate -- we put through 1,564 nominations, and only four were defeated. Where's the -- where's the problem here?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Senator --


HATCH: They're driven by the unions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the "National Review" in 2005, where you justified the change in rules even though the compromise was eventually reached.

But Senator Klobuchar, the -- trying to have it both ways goes on both sides. We also saw President Obama, now supporting Senator Harry Reid in changing the rules. But here he was when he was a senator.


OBAMA: What they don't expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.


STEPHANOPOULOS: A much younger looking President Obama there.



STEPHANOPOULOS: I think this is the kind of thing that gets a lot of people out in the country really upset. They say, listen, there's no principle, it all depends on which side you're on and whether you have the power or not.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well, I'm telling you right now, George, if I'm on this show and ever we have a Republican president, I'll say the same thing. I think a president should have the right to put their team out there. They're going to put up a few nominees that may fail in committee or may have a scandal and then their own party won't want to vote for them.

But for the most part, I don't understand why for these nominees, I'm not talking about judges here, I'm talking about the president's team, of which there are currently over 180 people that are just pending right now before the Senate for the Executive Office nominations. Why we can't just do 51 votes is beyond me.

You know, it's not like we can amend a person, right? We have to vote if they're in or they're out. And I don't think we should necessarily change the right of the minority to have their views aired on legislation. But when it comes to these, to the president's team, we have so much to work on, the economy, we're just talking about the immigration bill, workforce training, bringing down our debt in a reasonable way. We're on the precipice right now.

Our country is in such a good position to gain in the international stage. But if we're just fighting over an EPA director who was, by the way, used to work for Mitt Romney and they're going to stop her from getting confirmed? I think it's ridiculous. And so I'm hoping Monday night we're going to have a joint caucus meeting, something I wish they did more of in the House.


KLOBUCHAR: The Senate, Democrats and Republicans are getting together and I hope we can work this out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know that's one step. We only have a minute left. I wanted you to each to weigh in quickly on this. Congresses approval ratings are as low as they have ever been. You're on track to pass few bills than any Congress in history. Any way to fix it?

COLE: Yeah I think there are. We have a lot of opportunities. We have a Student Loan Bill, we have a Farm Bill that needs to get done. We've got the end of the fiscal year, we've got the debt ceiling and immigration. You know, you deal with those things successfully between now and the end of the year, you will actually have had a terrific Congress. If you don't, it's going to be pretty bad.


BASS: Well I think the way to fix it is we really shouldn't be ruled by a small minority within our, within Congress. Within the Republican Party you have 60 or so people who are to the extreme right and that who leads the day and that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm afraid you've probably started another debate.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much. Up next our powerhouse roundtable with the author of the D.C. tell-all that has official Washington scrambling.


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