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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: Debt Limit


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, one of the Republican senators inside that meeting with the president today, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: So, what's your assessment following that nearly two-hour meeting with the president? Deal or no deal?

CORKER: Well, look, I mean, certainly, it wasn't the kind of forum for a deal to be had, but it was a good conversation. I have to say I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. I do think there is areas of commonality, and my sense is over the next few days or week, there will be something that's worked out. There is no reason that I can see that that wouldn't be the case.

BLITZER: Give us an example of what made you pleased. What did you hear from the president that you liked?

CORKER: Well, I think, again, most of our conversation was not about the tactics of how short term, how long term, those kind of things, but more about the bigger policy issues. I think, you know, the thing that's interesting, Wolf, is finally, after weeks and weeks, we're on the right subject, right? I mean, and that is fiscal issues.

That's typically what you talk about around a debt ceiling and a C.R. So, I think there was a little (INAUDIBLE) by the president as to, you know, the kinds of things he'd be open to looking at relative to, you know, the strength of our country fiscally. And I think that was heartening to people who, like me, candidly who've been involved in discussions around these issues for so long.

And my guess is, I had dinner with some of the House members last night that were part of the meeting yesterday. I just think there's too much commonality here to keep an agreement from happening. And look, I do think that in fairness, a C.R. and a debt ceiling ought to be worked out simultaneously. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to have them done separately and I think that's the general feeling on our side of the building, on the Senate Republican side.

BLITZER: So, what will it take, senator, for you to pass simultaneously a clean bill as it's called in the house that will end the government shutdown, and at the same time, extend the debt ceiling? What do you want from the president as part of that? I take it Obamacare is off the table, right?

CORKER: Well, I still think there are some elements that, you know, are being discussed that are not what I would call central issues to the health care bill. I do think those may be there. They're not things that again are central to its operating. There are things that candidly might make it a little better. So, I do think there'll be some conversations around that.

As far as what it would take for me, look, I want to make sure, Wolf, that we're setting a precedent or setting the stage, if you will, to do something that's good for our country. I mean, after all that's occurred, I think those of us who, you know, fiscally care about our nation want to see an outcome here.

And I think that setting this up in such a way that you reopen government, you do some things along the way that are good in this initial step, and that you have the opportunity in another two or three months to do something that again, you get another bite at the apple from the standpoint of looking at mandatory spending, doing those things again that will put our country on a sounder path.

And again, I think the president, without getting into any specifics, you know, showed a little lag on what he'd be willing to look at. To me, that was a good thing. We still have to get the house, as you know, which has sometimes a different point of view from Senate Republicans. We've got to synch up these things.

And my guess is over the next two or three days, we're going to have the opportunity to do that. At some point soon, move ahead and begin focusing even more deeply on those things that matter most and that is strengthening our country fiscally.

BLITZER: This latest "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll shows, I will put it up on the screen, who's more to blame for the shutdown, 31 percent said the president, 53 percent, the Republicans in Congress. Both equally, 13 percent.

You predicted this weeks ago when you said it was a real blunder on the part of Senator Ted Cruz and others to demand defunding or delay even of Obamacare in exchange for allowing -- avoiding a government shutdown. So, you're not surprised by these numbers.

CORKER: No, I didn't say it exactly that way. The point I actually tried to focus on the strategy or the tactic and I did say that look, this defunding effort is a box canyon and, look, that's where we've ended up. You know, what we should have been focused on and we wouldn't be where we are today are the things we normally focus on at this time. And gain, that's spending and getting those kind of things under control. The fact that we've been on a three or four-week major rabbit trail that took us no place but into this box canyon certainly has hurt the country and it's hurt this process, but again, the good thing, Wolf, is we're finally on the right subject matter and everybody is talking about the same subject matter, which is tremendous progress when you think about it.

And I think again, just figuring out the format, how long the debt ceiling is, how long the C.R. is and what are some of the initial gains that can be had. Those will be worked out i think pretty soon.

BLITZER: The exact quote, I'll read it to you, we've got to go, just want to make sure that it was precise. "I didn't go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count the defunding box canyon as a tactic that will fail and weaken our position." I know you didn't go to Harvard or Princeton, but Senator Ted Cruz did go to Princeton and then Harvard law school. So, that was -- caused a little buzz at the time, as you well remember.

CORKER: Well, Wolf, I don't know. Maybe you went to Harvard --

BLITZER: I didn't.

CORKER: I'm just kidding you, but look, you know, I was obviously trying to make a point. I think it's a point, I don't want to be one of those "I told you sos," but we are where we are.


CORKER: It's been something that certainly has not been a good thing for our nation. That's what comes first. It certainly hasn't been good for Republicans, especially those that want to see good policies put in place. But again, we're back on the right page, Wolf. and that's progress and I think we'll do something good over the next several days.

BLITZER: Where did you go to college?

CORKER: What's that?

BLITZER: where did you go to college?

CORKER: I went to the great University of Tennessee. I went to public schools all my life.

BLITZER: All right. Well, I went to the University of Buffalo. So, you and I -- we learned how to count when we were in college, I suppose, at the same time. Thanks very much.

CORKER: Thank you, Wolf. Have a good day.

BLITZER: You, too. Thank you very much, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.


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