MSNBC Hardball Special Edition - Transcript

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: May 23, 2005
Location: Unknown

MSNBC Hardball - Transcript
Monday, May 23, 2005

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, high drama as Senator McCain leads a big bipartisan deal to avoid a nuclear clash over the judicial filibuster. Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews. I'm here with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the leaders of the dramatic events tonight.

Senator, what happened tonight in the United States Senate?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, the closer we got to the vote of pulling the nuclear trigger, the more we thought about the consequences. And the consequences were unknown.

I was a yes vote. I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it's unconstitutional. But sometimes in life, you can do things that you don't have to do. I didn't have to change my vote, but I decided to, because senators of good faith on both sides approached me saying, "There's a better way."

What we do tonight-what we've done tonight is a chance to start over. We got a chance to learn from our mistakes on both sides of the aisle. The White House has a chance to learn from their mistakes. And we can move forward, hopefully, with a traditional process in place, rather than blowing up the Senate.

MATTHEWS: OK. Instead of blowing up the Senate, what's the deal?

GRAHAM: The deal is that five nominees who have been filibustered will get an up-or-down vote and some will be confirmed and some won't. The dirty little secret is that there have been some of these nominees that will not get Republican votes. But we got so wrapped around the axle, we could never get to that bottom line.

So five people who have been treated pretty poorly are going to be treated better. And we making a commitment, the 14 of us, to go forward, trying to avoid filibusters.

Our Democratic friends have retained the right to filibuster under extraordinary circumstances. The Republicans have retained the right to change the rules and vote the constitutional/nuclear option if we need to.

It's a chance to start over. How many times in life do you get to start over? It's a do-over. We get a chance to have a cease-fire, calm down, chill out, get back to doing business about important things. And hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we can walk back from the ledge.

Kids are dying as I speak in Iraq. Social Security is falling apart. The reason I changed where I was at to where I am now is I think the Senate could do better if we started over.

MATTHEWS: If I were President Bush, I'd say, "I have got seven nominees up there on the Hill. Two of them are dead now. You're only going to consider five. I also am not sure you're going to actually vote on my Supreme Court nominees down the road because Democrats might say 'extraordinary circumstances.' So I could get hurt here."

GRAHAM: Well, President Bush's nominees, most of them are going to go through. There will be at least one in the group that probably will fail in a bipartisan fashion. But every president faces that.

President Bush, I think, has submitted very good people. And now and then, we'll disagree. What's happened to President Bush has been historically bad. It will happen to the next Democratic president. You will have a minority of senators blocking your agenda when it comes to judges without up-or-down votes.

To the president, I think that's going to stop. But when you send a Supreme Court nominee over, talk to us first. I believe he will. And if we all talk, we can do better.

But if there's a filibuster in the future, Lindsey Graham has the right to change the rules if he believes that filibuster is bad for the country. I don't think we're going down that road again because the Senate has looked terrible in the eyes of the American people.

MATTHEWS: Right, you've noticed the polling on this, right?

GRAHAM: Yes, let me tell you. If you have got a kid in Iraq, the last thing you want to hear about is a bunch of adults in the Senate arguing like third-graders. The Senate will either learn from this and live up to the traditions of the Senate or we'll sink into the swamp.

I hope, if we start over and have a change to reengage, we can do better with the president, he can do better with us, and we can treat our judicial nominees better, because if you institutionalize a filibuster, if every nominee is subject to having their life treated like these people have been treated, good men and women will not want to be judges. And that'd be a great loss for this country.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the president. We know that Chief Justice Rehnquist is in bad shape.

GRAHAM: Right.

MATTHEWS: He's undergoing a lot of medical help right now, and he may have to resign at some point.

GRAHAM: Right.

MATTHEWS: When the president gets to fill that chief justiceship right now, are you confident that the Democrats will not foot drag with the filibuster?

GRAHAM: I'm confident that Democrats expect a conservative to be nominated by this president. And if Hillary Clinton or someone like her ever gets to be president, and I'm in the Senate, I would expect her to have somebody more philosophical in line with her than me.

My job at that point in time is determine, are they qualified, are they ethically and intellectually qualified, and give them a vote. I believe, when the Supreme Court opening comes, if it does, if the president would sit down with the leaders of the Senate, we can pick a conservative that the country can be proud of.

MATTHEWS: Let me run by you what a lot of people think might happen, at least I think might happen. President may have to fill the chief justiceship by the end of the year.

GRAHAM: Right.

MATTHEWS: Antonin Scalia's an associate justice of the Supreme Court, an extreme intellectual. A lot of who disagree with him respect him. If the president were to put him up for chief justice and put up his attorney general, Gonzales, for associate justice to replace him, would that be in line with the "not extraordinary" definition you guys have put together, and therefore would avoid a filibuster?

GRAHAM: The 14 of us asked, "What would Chris Matthews ask you?"


GRAHAM: And he would ask you about all kind of hypotheticals from Gonzales to Brown...

MATTHEWS: But these are pretty good hypotheticals.

GRAHAM: Well, these are very good. We expected Chris Matthews to do this. And here's what we've said. We're not going prejudge anybody. We're going to talk to each other. And if a Democrat believes they have to filibuster in the future, they will call a group together. We'll talk about it.

Then each Republican will decide, based on what's best for the country, is that an extraordinary circumstance? All we've done tonight is to give the Senate a chance to start over, to give the president a chance to start over. And if we're smart, and if we've been listening to the American people, and we haven't gone totally brain dead, we'll figure out this is not helping anybody.

MATTHEWS: You weren't kidding about-you deciding whether Chris Matthews would ask or not?

GRAHAM: We were not kidding. You were one of the examples we used.


MATTHEWS: Well, I'm glad to know that you were betting-you accounted your decision based what I might ask you. Let's go through this from a number of points of view.

Bill Frist, as you know, very deliberate, contentious leader of your country.

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He thought through a lot of options as he put together what he called a nuclear option, the constitutional option. Is he going to be frustrated by this decision by your bipartisan group to avoid this vote?

GRAHAM: I think, number one, he'll be grateful for the fact that we're going to get votes on people that have been treated pretty poorly. So that's good for him.

MATTHEWS: For the judgeship nominees?

GRAHAM: For the judges. The bottom line is, from Senator Frist's perspective, is that he understood pulling the nuclear trigger would have consequences. And I think we all appreciate the opportunity to start over. So does he. And the idea that the future is unknown is a reality. But now you've got a bipartisan opportunity to kind of reshape the Senate to make a better future.

Without Senator Frist insisting on a vote tomorrow morning, there would have been no deal. He went a year-and-a-half talking, and begging, and pleading, and he finally had to bring this to closure. And without a vote tomorrow-and you've been around this town longer than I have-nobody would have been in that room. In that regard, Senator Frist has done a great service for the Senate.

MATTHEWS: So he sobered everybody up?

GRAHAM: He sobered everybody up by saying, "We have got to knock this off. You're going to destroy the judiciary." Who in the world would submit their name if they're going to be treated like this...


GRAHAM: ... on any side of the aisle? And how can the Senate continue to operate this way where you've got money being poured into ads against all of us? We just can't function this way.

And he said, "Either we're going to reach a deal, or we're going to have a vote." And I'm glad we got a deal. There will be some people very mad at me until they understand that the best thing for the Senate, for this country, is to be able to do business. Social Security is now possible. If we blow up the Senate, it was not possible.

MATTHEWS: That's what I want to talk to you about now. We talked about Senator Frist, the Republican. The Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has been very tough.


MATTHEWS: That's putting it lightly. Is he now going to put away his plans for bitter retreat or bitter retaliation? Is he going to accept this deal?

GRAHAM: If Harry is as smart as think he is, he'll understand that the filibuster was hurting everybody who touched it. It weakened the Senate. It weakened the judiciary. It hurt the president. And it put us all in bad standing with the American people.

There's going to be a lot of talking tonight. There's going to be a lot of spinning. But the truth is, most senators are going to bed tonight saying, "Thank god."

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the interest groups-I like to call them pressure groups. It's an old-time word, and I love it.
Let's talk about the pressure groups on the right and on the left.

James Dobson, Focus on the Family...


MATTHEWS: ... you have got that group and other groups like it.

GRAHAM: All right.

MATTHEWS: You have got Ralph Neas and People for the American Way. These are people who know how to get letters written. A senator gets up tomorrow morning, you'll have 5,000 e-mails blasting you for this deal.

GRAHAM: That would be a reduction.

MATTHEWS: Well, in your case, probably from the right.

In the cases of the Democrats who have joined with you, probably from the left, saying, "You've sold out our people. A woman's right to choose is now in jeopardy." In your case, "We'll never have a conservative Supreme Court." And you're a conservative.

GRAHAM: Well, I've been getting pounded, because I was a yes vote. Most of the people in that room wanted to preserve the filibuster for the future. I don't want to preserve it for the future because I think it will destroy the judiciary. I'm a conservative, not a centrist.

MATTHEWS: You didn't want to preserve it for the judicial fights?

GRAHAM: Yes, for the reason-I wanted to get back to the traditional way of doing business. If you don't like them, vote against them, because we're going to destroy the quality of people that come through the Senate to be judges.

But I've been pounded. I've gotten thousands of phone calls. People don't understand what I'm doing because they expect me not to do this because I am a conservative.

And here's what I'm telling my friends on the right. The Senate, in terms of confirming judges, is very important to the quality of people you will get to want to offer themselves to be a judge.

The Supreme Court nominees of the future, I expect to be conservative. I do believe there are Democrats you can work with to put a conservative nominee in place. But if we blew up the Senate, your hopes and dreams for an energy bill, to deal with Social Security, other conservative issues, are lost. And kids are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing we want to do as a nation is to distract the Senate from doing the big things that have been neglected.

To my conservative friends, I think nominees are going to be better treated in the future. The Supreme Court fight may come, but it's going to come on better grounds than the current environment led to. And we've got a chance to start over.

I chose to do something I didn't have to do because I thought it was best for us all.

MATTHEWS: So instead of not knowing what the future is, you now think that the United States is going to have a better shot-let's go through your party's agenda.

GRAHAM: Yes, sure.

MATTHEWS: Do you think you have a better shot at getting John Bolton approved now for U.N. ambassador?


GRAHAM: I think he's going to be the ambassador of the U.N. And before, if we blew up the Senate...

MATTHEWS: Maybe one or two objections on your part at the most?

GRAHAM: That's exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Social Security, do you think the president's plans for some kind of personal accounts has a better shot now?

GRAHAM: It has a shot versus no shot. And watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security.


GRAHAM: Just keep watching.

MATTHEWS: So you think this bipartisan approach may have legs?

GRAHAM: I think this bipartisan approach will be embraced by the American people, will eventually be understood by the conservative and liberal world, and we're creating an environment for problem solving. And if we had pulled the trigger, the environment would have been to break everything apart.

MATTHEWS: Will the leaders of this group, which is about 14 and it seems to be growing-it's almost like a movement-will the leadership continue to believe John McCain-and I know you backed him in the presidential back the first time around in 2000, now you're loyal to the president-and you've got Ben Nelson, a conservative, relatively conservative Democrat from Nebraska-are these going to be the leaders, these centrists-well, John McCain's not a centrist; he's a maverick.

GRAHAM: I think what happened tonight in the Senate, that we all have a chance to reengage each other, and that the leadership model for the future will be less partisan than it has been in the past, because now we have got a chance to start and learn from our mistakes. If you're a Republican, and you want to keep control of this body, you can't have 60 percent of the American people thinking you can't run the place.

MATTHEWS: Well, well done. Any way, thank you very much, Senator Lindsey Graham. Thank you for coming on short notice.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell is going to be with us. This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the Reagan building, on MSNBC.


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