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CNN Late Edition - Transcript

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CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, May 15, 2005


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Joining us now to talk about the battle over John Bolton as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the war in Iraq, and much more, two guests: the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar; and in Delaware, the committee's top Democrat, Joe Biden.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

And, Senator Lugar, I'll begin with you.

You had a lively hearing this week on the John Bolton nomination. In the end, 10-8, you decided to send it on to the full Senate floor, but without a recommendation, an unusual procedure, largely the result of what Senator George Voinovich of Ohio did and said, a Republican of your party. Let's listen to one excerpt from his remarks.


SENATOR GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH): And to those who say a vote against John Bolton is against reform of the U.N., I say, nonsense, there are many other people who are qualified to go to the United Nations that can get the job done for our country.

Frankly, I'm concerned that Mr. Bolton would make it more difficult for us to achieve the badly needed reforms to this outdated institution. I believe that there could even be more obstacles to reform if Mr. Bolton is sent to the United Nations than if he were another candidate.


BLITZER: An unusual development, to put it mildly.

Do you believe that John Bolton will have enough votes on the Senate floor to get confirmed?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: I believe he'll be confirmed. I think whip checks indicate that a majority of senators are in favor of confirming John Bolton.

I think the scene-setter for this, however, is, we are having this debate because former Senator John Danforth, our colleague, resigned, and that was unexpected. He certainly had unanimous support.

So an opening has appeared, and in the meanwhile the oil-for-food scandal, situation has enveloped the U.N. This has brought a good bit of antipathy from many Americans, including many members of the House and Senate.

So it's a rough terrain there, in which reform is going to be required.

Now, I agree with my colleague George Voinovich, there were many who might serve, who might be good for reform.

The issue here is the president of the United States and the secretary of state have determined that John Bolton is the person that they want for the reform.

So, it comes down to...

BLITZER: So, basically, you're deferring to the president on this...

LUGAR: Yes, and I think that's not unusual. I think, in very strong foreign policy situations like this, there's as much a debate we had over Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, about four months ago. She was nominated, but there was quite a debate.

Now, this is in part because there hadn't been much debate perhaps since the campaign, the first opportunity to get into it.

The Bolton nomination's offered another big foreign policy debate.

BLITZER: Let's bring Senator Biden in.

Senator Biden, listen to what Condoleezza Rice said this past week on "Larry King Live."


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of people who've worked for John Bolton who are inspired by him and who are intensely loyal to him. And John is hard- charging. There's no doubt about that. But he has been very successful in managing people. He's been very successful in his diplomacy.


BLITZER: You disagree with her, I know, because you were one of the leaders in his opposition. But shouldn't the president and the secretary of state have the prerogative to pick who they want to represent their administration, the American people at the U.N.?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, generally, yes.

As you know, the Constitution says no one can go to the U.N. or to the court or any other appointment without the advice and consent of the United States Senate.

So the president's entitled to suggest. In most cases, when it's about his larger political family, which are his Cabinet and the U.N., he is given deference. He should be given deference.

But this isn't about John Bolton's political views. This is about John Bolton at the very time when there's still a lot of unease about the misuse of intelligence information by policy-makers, to send a man up there that seven major figures in a Republican administration said, in one form or another, either attempts to misuse intelligence data, stretches the envelope, and tries to get intelligence officers fired who disagree with him.

The head of the National Intelligence Council said, and I quote, "His constantly badgering"-and I quote-"installs a climate of intimidation and a culture of conformity"-the very thing we don't want. He shouldn't be the guy going.

BLITZER: Does that mean you would support what Barbara Boxer, your Democratic colleague from California, is now doing? She's put a hold on this nomination, in effect meaning that 60 votes are required to lift the hold, pending getting some documents, some conversations, some memoranda from the state department. Do you support Barbar Boxer on that hold?

BIDEN: Well, let me make it clear. Barbara Boxer, when she put that on, came back to me and told me the only reason she put the hold on was to make sure we weren't going to vote on Boxer by Monday. That's much as I know from Barbara Boxer.

BLITZER: On Bolton. On Bolton. BIDEN: I mean, I'm sorry, on Bolton by Monday, because there was a lot of talk not on the part of Dick. Dick wouldn't suggest this, but that once it was reported to the floor, that Frist might, the majority leader, might immediately put it on the docket.

And so I was told by Senator Boxer the reason she put a hold on was so there would be no vote as early as Monday.

It's premature to talk about extended debate on this. I think the president should listen to the Congress. The truth is there were not a majority of Republicans who supported Mr. Bolton.

And only nine people-and you need 10 -- supported Mr. Bolton, and even two of those were very uneasy about it. And if you had a secret ballot on the floor of the Senate I would think you would have an overwhelming "no" vote. The president should listen.

BLITZER: If you feel that strongly, Senator Biden, and then I'm going to bring Senator Lugar back in, why not filibuster and demand 60 affirmative votes to get Bolton confirmed?

BIDEN: Because I'd rather the president listen to the United States Senate on this and listen to members of his own party, and I'd rather have an opportunity for the president to come forward on the information we're entitled to that hasn't been delivered yet. As I said, it's much too premature to talk about filibustering Mr. Bolton, in my view.

BLITZER: If the Democrats, Senator Lugar, were to go ahead and use that filibuster rule to try to set back the Bolton nomination, would that be unprecedented? Would that be acceptable? Would that be something Republicans would do if the shoe was on the other foot?

LUGAR: Well, it wouldn't be unprecedented. And clearly this is a microcosm, a part of a bigger debate that's occurring with regard to appellate court judges that we're likely to be visiting this coming week.

It depends really upon your perspective. My perspective, and I think that of Senator Biden's, has been that the presidents of the United States, whoever they are, ought to have their Cabinet, ought have have their official officers. It would take very dire circumstances, it seems to me, to lead, really, to another conclusion.

BLITZER: Have you seen the atmosphere as politically charged as it is right now? Have you seen that in recent years in Washington? You've been around a long time.

LUGAR: No, but it's been building ever since the election of 2000, and the 50-50 Senate, the difficulty of working out some modus vivendi, even in committees. We've had a flip of 51-49, Democrats, then the other way, Republicans. We're in that kind of a situation.

However, it doesn't mean that life fails to go on elsewhere, and I think the point that Senator Biden and I have been trying to make is we also have out there somewhere North Korea and Iran, quite apart from active hostilities this week in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ubzekistan.

In other words, there are Americans at risk. There are people being killed.

Now, procedural issues are interesting, and they are important, but I'm hopeful that somehow we can get our perspective back onto the main goal.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we're going to pick that up, but we'll take a quick break. When we come back much more of our interview with Senators Lugar and Biden.

We'll also get into the looming showdown over President Bush's judicial nominees. Can anything be done to avoid what's being called the nuclear option? And we're not talking about North Korea or Iran.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with two influential members of the United States Senate: Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana and Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware.

Senator Biden, listen to what Senator Kennedy, your Democratic colleague from Massachusetts, said on "Face the Nation" just a little while ago here in Washington when it comes to the issue of whether or not this debate over judicial nominees can be avoided if the filibuster is continued to be used by Democrats. Listen to this.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Basically what I'm saying is that we should not accept a compromise that's going to silence and muzzle and gag a member of the United States Senate to express their conscience on an issue of a lifetime judge when the issues at stake are basic constitutional issues.


BLITZER: That was on CBS' "Face the Nation" just a little while ago.

Senator Biden, can a compromise be worked out over these judicial nominees to avoid what's being called the nuclear option: changing the rules of the Senate by eliminating the filibuster rule, meaning 60 votes would be required in order to get this situation resolved?

BIDEN: I think there could have been one. And I know that Senator Reid offered one.

I think the idea-look, the president has nominated 208 judges, 10 of whom have not been approved, three of whom have withdrew after that. We're talking about seven judges. The idea that we can't agree on a compromise of taking several of those judges and confirming them and withdrawing several others, seems to me to be one that has everybody baffled in my view.

And it seems as though Mr. Frist's political ambitions are resting on having to go forward with this, which is unfortunate. Everyone from George Will to Ken Starr, who prosecuted President Clinton, thinks this is a disaster to go. It's not just liberals.

And, look, this is not merely about whether or not there's a conservative bench. There is a conservative bench: 58 percent of all the judges that serve now are appointed by a Republican. This is about radical additions to the bench. And that's what this is. We should be able to compromise it, though.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, the new "Time" magazine poll out today asked whether or not Republicans should be able to eliminate the filibuster on these judges: 28 percent of the American public in this poll said yes; 59 percent don't want it eliminated. They want the Senate, apparently, to still retain this filibuster rule down the road.

You've been in the Senate for many, many years. Are you concerned if they change the rule right now that Senator Frist apparently wants, that this could backfire down the road for Republicans?

LUGAR: Well, Republicans have polls that indicate that 44 percent of the people believe that you have an up-or-down vote on a candidate as opposed to 43 percent who oppose. So it depends how you phrase the question.

But on the fundamental issue, I believe that we are skating over very thin ice here with regard to the continuity of life in the Senate as we've known it. I'm opposed to trying to eliminate filibusters simply because I think they protect minority rights, whether they're Republicans, Democrats or other people. Now, my hope is that...

BLITZER: So let me get this straight. So you'll vote against any change in the rules?

LUGAR: Not necessarily. I've indicated our leader, Mr. Frist, that I believe that he needs to try to work out a compromise. He needs to negotiate. And I believe he's been doing so.

And in fairness to Bill Frist, he's tried out several things for size. He will try out some more. It's essential that he and Senator Reid succeed.

In microsom, Senator Biden and I have the same sort of problem with regard to the John Bolton nomination we've been discussing. Senator Biden could have opted for a number of parliamentary strategies and strung the thing on indefinitely, or other Democrats could have objected in various ways that would have made that impossible. The fact is that we believe that we need to have some comity in the Foreign Relations Committee. And even more important, we need to have it in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: That doesn't seem to exist right now.

I'll give you the last word on this debate, Senator Biden. Is the nuclear option going to be used. And will the Democrats then retaliate by grinding the Senate to a halt?

BIDEN: I hope not and I hope not.

BLITZER: Well, that's a short answer. And I'll leave it right there.

Senator Biden, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Lugar, thanks to you, as well.


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