Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on the new make-up of Congress.
HH: It’s an extraordinary series of events that we’ve had, and to discuss what happened yesterday, I’m joined by Arizona’s great Senator, Jon Kyl. Senator, congratulations on re-election.
JK: Thank you, Hugh. Great to be with you, and I accept those congratulations. It was kind of a tough win yesterday.
HH: Yes, it was, and you’re standing among the ruins of a majority that we’ve had for a long time, and lost, and gotten back, and now looks like a 51-49 Senate. Why did it go this way, Jon Kyl?
JK: Variety of circumstances. First of all, Republicans got too comfortable in their positions, both in the House and Senate. In the House, it manifested itself in some ethical behavior that wasn’t handled properly. And I would say some leadership decisions that weren’t particularly wise in the Senate. It was every man for himself. We didn’t work together in a cohesive way. And in some cases, although I want to be very careful about this, because there’s a tendency to overgeneralize, in some cases, some Republicans lost their moorings, and forgot the principles that gained our victory in 1994. But I think it’s a mistake to say that The Republican Party, or The Republicans in Congress, because remember, there are an awful lot of us who have stuck with our principles, and I don’t want to get tarnished with that brush. That is not a message that applies to me, for example.
HH: Senator Kyl, I agree with that 100%, and I happen to think that with the exception of Rick Santorum in a very blue state, those who are understood to have fought principled battles for things like judicial appointments survive and prosper, actually. I go back to last November, when the Warner-Frist resolution was offered as an alternative to the Levin Amendment, and I even go back to the Gang of 14, and I just think it was every man for himself in the Senate. Is there…as you talk to your colleagues today, is there any sense that my goodness, we really blew this?
JK: There’s…today was the day to lick the wounds. I think maybe tomorrow is the day for the introspection. But it has to occur, and it has to occur quickly. And as soon as we get back, that’s going to be the topic of the day. All right, guys, what do we have to do differently now? Now of course, we’re going to be in a totally different environment, if in fact, we’re in the minority. That will have a tendency to pull people together, and focus us more than when we were fat and happy with a 55 member majority. But some of us will draw different lessons than others, and it’ll be important for us to talk all this stuff through.
HH: How do you see the leadership in the Senate shaking out? Santorum and Frist are gone, and of course, Senator McConnell is there. Is he going to be the leader?
JK: I believe that he will be unchallenged as the majority (minority) leader. He really locked that up about a year ago. And I think the number two position, with Rick now not running, Lamar Alexander had worked very hard to get the votes for it, but there could well be a challenge to Lamar, and that could be a real interesting challenge to watch.
HH: There are a lot of people hoping you’ll do that, Senator.
JK: Well, actually, I don’t think I will, and I appreciate that, and I understand that. I think that I will be running for conference chairman, which is the position that Santorum has had, and so far, I’m not opposed for that, and I’m hoping that my colleagues will support me for that. And you know, sometimes when you field a team, you’ve got to take advantage of the very best talent that you have, and I think we’ve got some other talent that we’ll fill in. If Lamar Alexander does not win that position, then there’ll be some other talent there.
HH: Let me ask you about the Judiciary Committee, as I always do. I’m actually despairing we’ll get another Roberts or Alito through there, much less pass a filibuster. What’s your assessment of the two years ahead with Senator Leahy back as chairman?
JK: If there is a Supreme Court nominee, the President will have to handle it very, very delicately, in order to get somebody like Alito or Roberts through, for just a lot of different reasons. It’ll be the most hotly contested position. The Democrats will be in charge. Leahy is a take no prisoners kind of guy, and it’ll be very, very difficult. And frankly, that was one of the huge things that was at stake in this election.
HH: Is there any hope in the lame duck session you’ve got coming up in D.C. to move any more nominees through? Or is that simply wishful thinking?
JK: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’ve got to go take a look at what’s, who’s on the agenda. And Specter has, Senator Arlen Specter has been pretty good at working some things out with Leahy, and it’s possible that they could work some things out. Senator Leahy is a guy that you have to work with. I mean, he’s not going to give you anything. Maybe there’s some things he wants, so that’s the kind of thing that happens back there, as you well know.
HH: Will the Republicans play as tough as the Democrats have just finished playing for two years, Senator Kyl?
JK: If they want to be in charge in two years.
HH: Expand on that for the audience, because I agree 100%.
JK: You’ve got to want it as much as the other side. And we didn’t this time. They wanted it badly, and they fought and scrapped and scraped and gouged a few eyes when they had us on the ground. And we’ve got to want it as badly as they do, or they’re going to continue to take advantage of us. Now the good news is, at least, now we’re finally focused, and we recognize that we don’t work together unified, we’re going to stay in this minority position. And if we do, we have a good shot at getting it back. The problem is, we have 21 incumbents up for re-election next time. Next year is going to be just as tough a year for us as this year, in that sense, and some of them are some of our older members who I hope, or more senior, I should say, who I hope will continue to want to serve. But if they don’t, then that opens up some open seat possibilities, which are always tougher for the, well, tougher to hold than when you’ve got an incumbent in there.
HH: I do look across as the eleven or so Democrats, and they’ve got six running who are blue Senators in a red state sort of situation, where there’s some opportunity. But candidate recruitment matters a lot, and how hard’s it going to be to recruit in this environment?
JK: Well, with the presidential election, it’s fairly, it’s a little bit easier, because certainly the presidential election should bring out some opportunities for Republicans. But recruitment is everything. You can’t beat somebody with nobody. And it’s just, it makes all the difference in the world. And I think John Ensign is likely to be our campaign committee chairman, and he understands recruitment. He’s already focused on it. I talked to him today, and I’m not saying that he’s counting his chickens, because he hasn’t been elected yet, but he is already thinking seriously about what it’s going to take to win next time, and that’s the kind of approach that we need.
HH: Have your colleagues focused on communication, Senator Kyl? You’re always available to the media. You’ll talk, you’re candid, you’re blunt. So many of your colleagues aren’t. Is there any hope there?
JK: We’ve always been somewhat deficient in that area, but I’ll tell you. You mention Rick Santorum. Now Rick was tremendous.
JK: Rick really made an effort, and developed the whole conference into a communication organ, and I want to be able to continue to do that if I’m conference chairman. Kay Bailey Hutchison has been very interested in that. Jim DeMint has come on very recently as someone who is really able to put together a message and get it out there. We have very capable people, but we haven’t really worked at it as much as we’ve had to in the past, as much as we should have, and we’re going to have to if we expect to take the control back.
HH: Well Senator Kyl, again, congratulations in a rather dark night. Getting you back there was a great big candleburst of light, and we thank you for your efforts, and for you willing to serve. Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.