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CNN Inside Politics - Transcript

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CNN Inside Politics - Transcript


WOODRUFF: With me now to talk about a range of topics making headlines here in the nation's Capitol, two senators just begins their first terms in the upper chamber, Republican John Thune, he's from South Dakota, Democrat Barack Obama is from Illinois. Gentlemen, good to have you with us. We appreciate it.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: Good to be with you, Judy. WOODRUFF: Senator Obama, to you first, on this dispute over the president's judicial nominees. Yesterday, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader indicated he's willing to compromise, but the Republican leader, Senator Frist made it very clear that he wants an up or down vote on every single one of these. Have the Democrats waited too long to show a willingness to compromise here?

OBAMA: No, I don't think the Democrats have waited too long. We've been willing to compromise all along. Look, you've got a situation here where the president has gotten 90 to 95 percent of his appointees, and he basically wants 100 percent. We understand that he wants 100 percent, but when you look at the judges that he is seeking to reappoint, they aren't the kinds of judges that are well in the mainstream of American legal thinking. And so We've said that we're willing to give on a couple of these judges, but it doesn't make sense for us to simply give away our prerogatives to advise and consent. That's the job of the Senate. It always has been.

WOODRUFF: Senator Thune, if the Democrats are prepared to compromise, why shouldn't your party?

THUNE: Well, it's probably-wouldn't come as any surprise to you, Judy, that Barack and I disagree issue. But, when it comes to appellate court nominees, this president has the worst confirmation rate of any president in recent history, and, in fact, the 10 that he submitted in the last Congress, he's resubmitted seven of those names. These are people who are extremely well-qualified for the bench. They're people who have gotten wide support from their states. Priscilla Owen (ph) got an 84 percent rating in Texas. Janice Rogers- Brown (ph), 76 percent vote in California. These are people who deserve an up and down vote in the United States Senate.

I think people across the country see this as an issue of fairness. These people put their good name forward for public service. They deserve to be voted on, and they're being held up in the Senate. We think that's wrong.

WOODRUFF: If it's that clear, Senator Obama, what-why can't this get straightened out?

OBAMA: You know, I think this actually can get straightened out, if there's a little give on the other side. Look, the-everybody thinks that we should have a judicial confirmation process that is more civil than the one that exists right now. I mean, keep in mind, President Clinton had 60 of his judges bottled up under some of the same leadership that is now complaining about fairness in up and down votes.

Historically, there has been an effort on the part of the president to come to the Senate, of both-and come to the senators from both parties, and say, let's put together a list of people who, admittedly, are going to be conservative because we have a conservative president, but who also fit within the mainstream of judicial thinking. And that, I think, is the kind of approach we should take this time out. If we do, I think that we can put some of these bitter judicial nomination issues aside and get to the business of healthcare and education and some of the things that both John's constituents and my constituents sent us here to work on.

WOODRUFF: All right.

Senator Thune, I want to turn you both to the subject of Social Security. President Bush has been talking about private accounts, personal accounts, for many days now, many weeks, and, apparently, right now there's not even agreement among your own party, among Republicans. What does this mean for the president's initiative, for his proposal for reform?

THUNE: Well, first of all, right now they are holding hearings up here in the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Grassley has convened hearings on the subject. Frankly, I think what he's saying is the correct approach, and that is that everything ought to be on the table. The president has come forward with some concepts, some proposals that he's put forward, and right now, what we're waiting for, is for the Democrats to come up with some alternatives.

I think it's fair to say that we have a problem. Everybody acknowledges that. The question is, how are we-what are we going to do to solve it? And, as of right now, the only people who are leading with any solutions or any suggestions about how to address the long-term solvency of Social Security, are folks on our side. And I think, frankly, that if we're going to have a spirited debate on this issue, and I think we should, it has to be a two-way debate. And, just suggesting not-doing-anything is not a solution. It's a choice, but it's a bad choice.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed. If we don't address it now, we pile mountains and mountains and mountains and trillions of dollars of debt on future generations, on our children and grandchildren. That's why I think people in this country expect the Congress to lead on that. It is going to require some bipartisan cooperation if we're going to get this done.

WOODRUFF: Well, Senator Obama, is that-is Senator Thune right, that Democrats are just saying no and not bearing their own responsibility in all this?

OBAMA: You know, actually, it's not the Democrats who are saying no, it's the American people who are saying no. I mean, the president's been trying to sell this thing for 60 days now, and the support for it gets worse and worse. The reason is that the American people understand Social Security is that bedrock social insurance that makes sure we don't have seniors in poverty, that people in disabilities are not going to be impoverished, that people who survive the loss of a spouse are not going to be impoverished.

And, by the Republicans own admission, the president's plan doesn't solve the problem-the solvency problem. The president's own officials have stated that privatization doesn't shore up the system. It, in fact, adds an extra $2 to $5 trillion worth of debt. John and I are both concerned about debt. I'm assuming John doesn't want to compound that debt with a privatization plan as has been put forward. So, what we've said is very clear, Judy. What we've said is, let's take privatization, which is not going to solve solvency, off the table, then let's come together in the spirit of bipartisanship, the same way that Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan came together in 1983 and solved the problem.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you both about something my colleague Bill Schneider just raised, and that is, the American people right now are looking at issue after issue in Washington, from the judges to Social Security to John Bolton, you name it, and they're seeing disagreement. They're seeing gridlock. They're not seeing a lot of work getting done.

Senator Thune, are you worried that both parties, and I mean, including the leadership Republican party, are going to be hurt by this lack of progress in Washington?

THUNE: I think that what we're doing-and I think the American people realize this, whether or not they agree with the direction-is that we are providing leadership. We're providing solutions. And as Barak mentioned, we're both very interested in moving an agenda that includes a highway bill, a energy bill, solutions to Social Security, but right now, inasmuch as the Democrats are not in favor of what we put forward, they're not offering alternatives. I think the American people want to see us work constructively in a bipartisan way to solve the issue.

But I will say this, Judy: I do think this issue on judges is important. If we do away with 214 years of precedent in American history, and now say that we are going to require a 60-vote majority to approve any Supreme Court or any appellate court nominee, that will be breaking with 214 years of precedent. That's wrong.

OBAMA: Judy, I don't want to squabble on this, but I just want to make sure we get the history right on this. Every president has not had up or down votes on judges; that's the 200 years of history that we're talking about. And, the Republicans are essentially saying they are going to change the rules midstream in a way that is unprecedented. Even the advocates of the so-called nuclear option has said, this will be an unprecedented step where we're going to change the rules in midstream. But going back to your earlier point-which I think is right-let me give you an example of something that we're not talking about.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly.

OBAMA: Healthcare is an issue that, every town hall meeting in South Dakota or Illinois, people are talking about. We don't have a proposal on the table for that right now. I'd love to work with John Thune on that, but we're going to need leadership on both sides that actually will work on it.



THUNE: We put a proposal out there. We're waiting for the Democrats to come out with something. We've got solutions out there.

WOODRUFF: I would love to ask you both if this is what you came to Washington to do, to fight with the other guys, but we're going to have to...

OBAMA: John and I...

THUNE: We came here to debate.

OBAMA: We're going to pass some bills together, no doubt about it.

THUNE: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: All right. We hear you. Senator Thune, Senator Obama, very good to see both of you. We appreciate it.

THUNE: Thanks, Judy.

OBAMA: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.


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