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Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on the Sotomayor hearings, and strategery to beat Obama’s health care plan

Thursday, July 23, 2009
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HH: We begin today with our favorite Senator, Senator Jon Kyl from the great state of Arizona. Senator Kyl, always a pleasure.

JK: Hugh, thank you, it’s great to be with you and your listeners again.

HH: I’ve got to tell you a little surreal thing, though. Last week, I was in Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel, and I was watching you have conversation with Judge Sotomayor in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep, and I think this is just bizarre. It was a fascinating conversation, though, on the firefighters’ case, and on the wise Latina. Did it leave you satisfied? Or do you feel like you were boxing with air?

JK: It did not leave me satisfied, and boxing with air is a pretty good way to put it. If I had been in her court, and she had asked me questions, and I had tried to answer them as she was responding to me in that hearing, I think she would have kicked me out of her court. She was not responsive, and you can answer the question yes or no. But don’t try to dissemble, run out the clock, and fool with the members of the Committee. I mean, that’s one thing I just don’t think you should do.

HH: Oh, it went round and round. It was actually kind of interesting. I know you’re an old trial lawyer, and you were trying to do it to her, but she was just not having any of it. It was air.

JK: No, and the problem, and one thing some of my constituents e-mailed me and said well, you really gave her a hard time. What they didn’t appreciate is the fact we have a time limit. We had ten minutes. So I had to get everything in ten minutes. Well, she knew that. And so she knew if she could just stall, I’d run out of time to find out what I needed to find out. And she did her best to stall, and as I said, I didn’t appreciate it.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, there are a handful of Americans who’ve gotten to ask questions of Judge Sotomayor, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Alito. You’re one of them. How do you compare and contrast the three?

JK: First of all, Chief Justice Roberts is not only a brilliant lawyer and judge, but extraordinarily personable and at ease in the way he discusses things. He’s just a remarkably capable interlocutor. Justice Alito is perhaps not quite as polished, but very cerebral. You can tell that in the way he expresses himself as well. They can discuss Supreme Court cases going back to 1789. And you have great confidence in what they say. Judge Sotomayor is intelligent, and when she wants to be very clear, she can speak clearly about what she believes. I also believe that she has the capacity, and she exhibited it during the hearing, to seek to confuse, and to, as I said before, run out the clock in such a way that we really can’t get at what we were trying to get at. And unfortunately, I think she exhibited that skill to excess.

HH: Have you decided in Committee whether or not to vote for her?

JK: I announced on the floor of the Senate today, I’ll have a lot more to say about all of these things next week when we have the debate, but I announced that because of the concerns that I had, I would not support her nomination. And while I always believe that a nominee should be voted on by the full Senate, that is to say that the Committee should not hold a nominee, knowing that she has the votes in Committee to ensure that she’ll be considered by the full Senate, I will vote against her in Committee as well.

HH: Do you expect her to be confirmed?

JK: I would imagine she will be, because I haven’t heard any Democrats yet who have indicated that they would oppose her nomination, and there are sixty Democrats in the Senate.

HH: Let me ask you as well, Senator Kyl. I didn’t get to watch all of this, because I was in Kosovo. Did anyone bring up with her McCain-Feingold and campaign finance reform, which the Supreme Court has set for a very unusual September argument?

JK: Yeah, not to my recollection, and I was there for most of the time.

HH: What do you make of that decision by the Court?

JK: Well, to take it up, they’re taking up an element of it. And I’m not sure, is the answer, but there are some judicial pundits who are predicting that little by little, this Court may chip away the McCain-Feingold bill until the essence of it doesn’t exist. But we’ll see. I mean, I do not know.

HH: All right, let’s get to the subject at hand. In a couple of hours, President Obama is going to take to the, I don’t know, I think it’s his 743rd press conference in the last year. I’m so tired of this. But you know, it’s a big day, it’s important, what’s your sense of what’s…why has he gone to the barricades here on health care? Is it that desperate for him?

JK: In a sense, it is. And I mean, I admire the fact he knows he’s in trouble. I mean, his numbers are plummeting. The support for health care has dropped below 50%, and in some polls, a majority of Americans does not want what’s being proposed here. He knows that this is the centerpiece of his agenda right now, and that he’s got to try to hold the fort here and get this thing through. He also, I think, believes that he’s the only one that can go out there and do it, because the members of Congress who are pushing this right now are losing, not winning. So it’s a bit of a risk on his part to lay his reputation on the line. It’s pretty clear that after tonight, he’s going to own it. And the success or failure of it is going to be put at his doorstep. So in one sense, you’ve got to give him credit. He’s willing to get out there and lay it on the line. But after all, that’s what you get elected to do. So it’ll be very interesting to see whether the numbers increase as a result of his sales job tonight.

HH: Now last hour, I was able to tape a conversation with your colleague James Inhofe of Oklahoma, which I’ll play in the next hour, and Senator Inhofe was adamant that reconciliation will not be used to jam down health care. Do you share that opinion with him, Senator Kyl?

JK: Well, it’s impossible to know right now. Even the Democrats who might use it, I’m sure, don’t have a sure idea right now. For your listeners, it kind of goes like this. There is a shortcut procedure by which they could try to ram this through. But it’s never been used for a major piece of substantive legislation before. And so there’s a risk to it as well. The advantage is it only takes 51 votes. Otherwise, they’d have to have 60. The disadvantage is that under the rule, you can only do it to raise revenue or save spending. And that means that all of the parts of it that don’t have to do with raising revenue or saving money could not be considered under reconciliation. That takes out about 80% of the legislation. So they really couldn’t do the kind of bill that they want to in reconciliation. Now there are some other things they could do. They could pass the revenue piece of it in reconciliation, and then pass, or try to pass with 60 votes, the remainder of it outside reconciliation. They may try to do that. But there’s a lot of procedure between now and when that would ever be done. There’s going to be a massive amount of to-ing and fro-ing in committees, perhaps on the Senate floor, debate in the living rooms and coffee shops around America as this thing is considered by the American people. We’re just a long way from that decision at this point.

HH: And let me ask you one more tall grass question. If reconciliation was resorted to by the Democrats, could they jam the government option/public plan into that? Or does that have to go 60 votes or no go?

JK: The question would be whether or not it would be, by the parliamentarian, considered to be a revenue or saving measure. And I think it would be very difficult because of all the complex features of it to shoehorn it into that category, so I don’t think that they could.

HH: All right, let’s talk politics. We’ve been helping the National Center for Policy Analysis get their petition up to a million. Right now, we’re about 667,000 signatures.

JK: That’s incredible. It’s great.

HH: Does that matter? As a Senator…

JK: Absolutely!

HH: Does that matter?

JK: It matters. You bet it matters. In fact, it’s the whole ballgame here. You know, inside baseball, oh, the Obama health care deal is a done deal. And they bludgeoned all kinds of the doctors and the hospitals and the drug companies and the insurances companies, this is going to be a done deal, so you might as well come to the table and get the scraps that we’re willing to give you in exchange for going along with what we’re going to do here. And a lot of folks thought that that was the case. But little by little, as soon as it has seen the light of day, folks have realized what’s in these bills, and have said no way. We do not want our, first of all, a huge, probably at least $2 trillion dollar spending bill on top of what we’ve done already, we don’t want to go into that much debt, and especially if it’s going to effect our own insurance coverage. On Medicare, by the way, you know, Medicare is unsustainable. The administration has said that. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to do is we’re going to try to save some money in Medicare, meaning provide fewer services to seniors, and are we going to then make Medicare healthy? No. We’re going to take that “savings” and use it to cover more Americans. So there are a lot of features here that the American people don’t like, and they’re very anxious about. And the longer it hangs out, the more they see that. That then has an impact on members of Congress, whereas I think members thought at one point this was a done deal, now you see Democrats and Republicans saying not so fast, we don’t think so, because of what their constituents are telling them. So petitions, e-mails, telephone calls, letters, visits with members of Congress over the August recess, all of these things are critical to folks expressing their point of view. You have a right to do it, you need to do it, and if you do it right, I think we can stop this legislation, and reform health care in a sensible way.

HH: Senator Jon Kyl, always a pleasure, good luck in that effort.

End of interview.

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