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Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on civil discourse, the future of Obamacare repeal, and retirements in the Senate

Thursday, January 20, 2011
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HH: Joined for the first time this year by our favorite Senator, Jon Kyl, the minority Whip, soon to the be the majority Whip, we hope. Senator Kyl, Happy New Year to you.

JK: Happy New Year, Hugh, and to all of your great listeners. Thank you.

HH: I know, I was out of the country when the terrible events unfolded in Tucson. And I watched as they were immediately politicized. When media pundits now, Senator Kyl, demand an end to the so-called violent imagery out there, are they selling a narrative? Is it something that we need to object to or endure, or somehow agree with?

JK: Well, that is probably the best question about all of this that I’ve heard asked. Basically, how should we be reacting to it. And the answer’s probably a couple of different ways. First of all, everyone acknowledges, including the President now, that neither violent images on television, nor uncivil discourse, had anything whatsoever to do with this murderous rampage, which is why I find it uncomfortable to even connect the two in discussing about things like why we need a civil discourse. Of course we need a civil discourse. Of course any excuse to talk about how it would be better if we could have a better debate about political issues, and not personalize it, not engage in ad hominem attacks and a lot of vivid imagery and all that, of course that would be better. But I still feel uncomfortable about discussing that subject in the context of what happened in Tucson, since the two are absolutely, totally disconnected. And therefore, I suspect the main reason that people want to have the discussion is because they want to criticize those on the right for engaging in what they believe is inappropriate criticism of their wonderful ideas.

HH: Oh, I agree with that. That’s why I’m mocking the attempt to censor people. But it’s dangerous, because I don’t want people to think in any way that I’m mocking the tragedy.

JK: That’s right. It’s a hard question. And who isn’t for civil discourse? Of course, we’re all for civil discourse. It would be nice if those who are most in favor of it these days had thought about that back in those days.

HH: Let me play for you a clip from last night on the House floor, Senator Kyl, Congressman Steven Cohen from Tennessee.

SC: They say it’s a government takeover of health care. A big lie, just like Goebbles. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel, that’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews, and the people believed it, and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. And we’ve heard on this floor, government takeover of health care. Politifact, non-partisan, Pulitzer prize winning, 2009, St. Petersburg Times, said the biggest lie of 2010 was government takeover of health care, because there is no government takeover.

HH: So Senator Kyl, the equation of the debate about Obamacare with Goebbles and Nazi propaganda concerning Jews, how do you rank that on the civil discourse spectrum?

JK: Well again, to me, it’s a little complicated. First of all, I’ve never minded really critical debate. I will confess to you that there are a couple of things that really bother me. One is reference to the Holocaust and killing of Jews. Another are racial equations. Those kind of things, I think we need to be especially sensitive to. But to the reference of Goebbles and his big lie propaganda, I don’t have any problem with that per se, but I guarantee you if it had been a conservative Republican talking about it, the news media would have been full of it. There is a total double standard about that. So I wish people would be a little less sensitive, and a little less politically correct these days. But unfortunately, they’re not going to apply that standard on an even basis. And so…but Hugh, I’ll tell you one more thing, I’m not being very coherent here. But I knew that the first fault would be on the other side on this whole thing. We’re going to all love together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I just knew that the first fault would be committed on the other side. I told my staff, I said I can’t wait until it occurs, because we’ll have some fun with it. But I don’t take any joy in having fun about this.

HH: Yeah, it was predictable. It was very easy. Now let’s talk about, before we get to civil debate, I wonder if one of the reasons that debate sometimes becomes uncivil around your body is that the majority leader of your body does not allow the debate to occur on the floor, on such things as the vote on Obamacare. He won’t even allow there to be a vote on that.

JK: Well, he won’t, but that doesn’t inhibit us. We will find ways to discuss this issue. And frankly, we will find a way to bring it up in the Senate. I guarantee you that. When the House, have they had the vote yet? I know it was going to…

HH: Yes, it repealed by, 245-189.

JK: Great. I just had traveled, and I wasn’t quite sure they’d had it yet. Now that is going to be brought up in the Senate. As much as Harry Reid doesn’t want it to happen, it will happen. If he doesn’t bring it up, we will. And yes, they’ll probably vote it down. But there will be some Democrats who vote with Republicans for repeal. And it will create an opportunity for debate. So no, we will not be stifled in our ability to debate this issue. There are plenty of ways in the Senate that you can actually talk all you want to about particular issues, and we’ll be certainly talking about repeal of Obamacare. And then, because the Senate will not vote for that, we will begin picking it apart piece by piece. At least I hope.

HH: Now I want to ask you about some of your colleagues. I know that among your colleagues, there is a great deal of civility. And two of them have announced their retirements – Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad. What’s the body lose when Democrats of that long standing leave, for what will almost certainly be great Republicans if it’s Republicans elected, but more liberal Democrats if they’re replaced by Democrats?

JK: Well, I have a special place in my heart for Joe Lieberman. Notwithstanding the fact that we disagree on some domestic issues, he has been just a lion when it comes to national security issues. And I talked to him this morning. He called me to say I know you’ve heard the news, but yes, I’m going to make it official. And I really look forward to working with you for the next almost two years on the issues on which we agree. And they will be considerable. He and Senator McCain, my colleague from Arizona, are leading a trip to Munich, Germany, to visit with NATO ministers and other people of like minds on national security issues here in a couple of weeks. And Joe and I talked about the myriad of really critical national issues. He will be sorely missed, because he is a person of incredible goodwill, easy temperament, good humor, and good heart. And Kent Conrad has made some good cases for fiscal responsibility. I wish he could have carried them out a little bit more under Democratic leadership. But nonetheless, he’s a very civil person, and both of those are nice people who I will miss.

HH: Have you made a decision whether or not you will seek reelection yet, Senator Kyl?

JK: I will…how about if I tell you that you’ll be the third person to know when I do?

HH: Well, just so long as number two isn’t…I hope Mrs. Kyl is number one.

JK (laughing) Mrs. Kyl and our two kids. How’s that?

HH: All right. Now it’s number four, so I beat a kid. Okay, that would be great. We look forward to that. Let me urge you…

JK: I’d be happy to talk to you about that. Sure, but a little later on.

HH: Let me urge you on behalf of my audience to run again. Do you have a timetable?

JK: Yes, I do, and I’ll be discussing that within the next several weeks. And certainly, I’d be very happy to talk to you about it.

HH: Great. I had a chance to interview Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker yesterday about his New Yorker profile of Darrell Issa. Have you had a chance to read that, Senator Kyl?

JK: Have not. I’m sorry.

HH: All right. I’m just curious as to whether or not you think oversight in the House is going to be as big an issue as the left fears?

JK: It is huge, Hugh. It is absolutely huge. The big thing that we have going for us with control of the House after the fact that we can definitely stop anything that the Democrats want to pursue as an agenda item that isn’t good for the country, I mean, that’s number one, obviously. But the next big thing is the oversight. And I can’t stress enough how important it is. And not just Darrell Issa with his committee, but every authorizing committee has the ability. I’ve talked to Lamar Smith, great representative from Texas, who is the ranking, or the chairman, rather, of the Judiciary Committee. He will be conducting oversight of the Justice Department, and on and on with the various authorizing committees. So that is an opportunity to shed light on what’s going, what’s wrong. Let me just give you an example. I met this morning with a bunch of growers, lettuce and vegetable and grape and citrus growers here in Arizona. They desperately need relief from the Obama administration Department of Labor regulations on migrant labor, that is to say the H2A program, where employers can legally employ people who are citizens of Mexico, for example. The Bush administration had created regulations which made that possible. And that’s a big disincentive, then, for people to cross the border illegally, because they can get a permit to work in this country legally. Well, the Obama administration promptly reversed all of that. In fact, it even more than reversed it. It made it virtually impossible to use this H2A program. So I suggested to these folks this morning that we, and they had a lot of very specific complaints about how the Obama administration was applying the rules. I said great, let’s talk to Darrell Issa, let’s talk to Lamar Smith, let’s talk to the others. We’ll get the hot spotlight of public attention focused on what the administration’s doing wrong here, and either cause them to back off, or hopefully even to modify the regulations, or if necessary, create the foundation for legislative correction that just might be able to pass both houses.

HH: Very quickly, Senator Kyl, I also interviewed John Harris this week about Politico. 15 seconds, do you think Politico’s going left on us?

JK: I don’t know.

HH: Okay, we’ll follow up on that. We look forward and encourage you again, Senator Kyl, to go for another six years. We need that. We need that. Jon Kyl from Arizona, great friend of the program, and of the country.

End of interview.

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