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Arizona Senator Jon Kyl post-immigration analysis, plus hinting that a showdown is coming in the Senate over judicial nomination blocking going on.

Saturday, July 7, 2007
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HH: Joined now by our favorite Senator, Senator Jon Kyl of the great state of Arizona. Senator Kyl, good to talk with you again.

JK: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you and your listeners.

HH: You know, I want to talk immigration, I want to talk the war, but before I begin, given your perch on the Judiciary Committee, in the Washington Post today, on page A-13, it shows that the White House has nominated only 25 people to fill 47 vacancies, and that it looks as though George Bush is not going to come close to getting the same number of appointments that Bill Clinton got. Is that reversible, Senator Kyl?

JK: Well, we have been on them for a long time to speed up their nominations process. I think that they believe that they will still get the same number, roughly, of nominees to both the district and circuit court that the last two presidents have. But they’re going to have to hustle in order to do that. And as we get deeper into the last two years of the last term of the president, things slow down. And as you know, the last six or eight months, almost nothing happens. So we’ve really got to step up the pace.

HH: Now there’s a showdown over a 5th Circuit judge, I believe.

JK: Right.

HH: What’s happening with…is it Judge Southwick?

JK: Yeah, that’s right, Judge Southwick, a fine jurist, from everything that I’ve been able to learn. And yet the left, People For The American Way, and outfits like that, have decided to, out of I’ve forgotten how many opinions, several hundred, maybe a couple of thousand opinions that he’s been a part of, they’ve taken a couple. I don’t even know that he was the author of the decisions, and they’ve tried to make something of some aspect of the decision, totally made of whole cloth. And as a result, the nomination is stuck in the Judiciary Committee, where on party line votes, Democrats refuse to put the nominee out. We have asked them to put it out on a no recommended basis, or some other basis, but they won’t do it. And I think that the effort of the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to try to be cooperative with Harry Reid has pretty much come to an end here if Reid won’t put the pressure on the Democrats on Judiciary Committee to get Southwick out. I think from now on, Reid’s going to have a hard time getting consent to do anything if he can’t start getting some judges moved.

HH: And when does that begin to evidence itself, Senator Jon Kyl?

JK: I think when we go back into session next week, if things don’t break loose pretty quick, I think you’ll see that starting to happen.

HH: And one more…

JK: And…and if I could just explain to your listeners what we mean by that…

HH: Please.

JK: …is in the Senate, it takes unanimous consent to do most things to move bills along. And so when the majority leader needs to move something along, to take up a bill, to finish debate on a bill, to debate an amendment and have a vote on it, or whatever it might be, he’ll ask unanimous consent. And at a certain point, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, will simply refuse to continue to consent, which will make it very difficult for the Democrats to move any part of their agenda until they get more realistic on the judges.

HH: One more judge question. Peter Keisler of the D.C. Circuit, are they slow rolling him?

JK: OH, yeah.

HH: Is he going to get through? Or is that one that just give up, it’s not going to happen?

JK: Well, they are slow rolling him. We don’t want to give up, because he’s a fine jurist, Supreme Court material, and we’d like to get him through. But he is stuck in the same rut that the others are stuck in, and the Democrats know that he is the kind of person who could make it all the way to the Supreme Court. And as a result, they are going to try to prevent him from getting on the Circuit Court of Appeals.

HH: Now that leads me…you know, obviously, we’ve got to get the Senate back, so that judges can get through, and the Supreme Court vacancies of the future, if we have another Republican president, can be filled by good nominees. But your colleague, Pete Domenici, came out against the war yesterday. I’m afraid that’s going to doom his reelection, Jon Kyl. What’s going on in the upper chamber with Senators Warner and Domenici and Voinovich and Lugar?

JK: Well, you’ve just named four of the not-so-conservative Senators. I know that a couple of them have had concerns about the war for quite a long time. I don’t understand why Senator Lugar announced that the surge was not working just after the last battalion got into the zone. You know, I would have at least thought that folks would wait until September when this interim report is going to be given by General David Petraeus. But Pete Domenici’s latest announcement is a little surprising. He’s been talking this way for some time, but he hadn’t spoken publicly about it. I think he’s worried about his reelection, and he sees it the other way around. But I agree with you that it didn’t hurt me to be supportive of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I don’t think it would hurt the electoral prospects of any Republican to take that position.

HH: Is there an ongoing conversation within the caucus, you’re in the leadership, do they come together and talk about just the obvious…we confirmed General Petraeus, let’s give him a chance?

JK: We have had those conversations. Obviously not in the last week or so, but what I think what’s going to happen now is there will be several…we take up the Defense Authorization bill as soon as we get back. That’s where Reid is going to put probably three different Iraq proposals, withdrawal proposals, on the table. And we will have to have a response to that. My guess is that our leadership will put together some kind of a Republican response. And if it’s a good enough response, then I’ll be able to support it, and I hope my colleagues will, too. What I fear is that it’ll be one of these sort of mushy, in the middle kind of responses, and thereby giving some of my more moderate colleagues an opportunity to support that, but not exactly support what the President’s trying to accomplish.

HH: Now Senator Jon Kyl, we’ve seen in the last couple of days obviously the attacks in Britain, and the foiled attacks in Britain, and this radical mosque under fire, or attempting to bring down Musharraf, as well as the continuing attempts by al Qaeda to inflame Iraq. Do the legislative branch, especially the Republicans, connect all those dots as being one thing? Or are they looking at these as incidents which are separate and unfortunate in each instance, but not connected?

JK: I don’t know what my colleagues are thinking, frankly. It seems…you and I see this as fairly obvious. We are under assault worldwide, it is a fairly specific group of folks, these radical Islamists, they are not going to sit down and bargain with you. You’ve either got to defeat them, or they will bend you to their will. That’s the way they look at it. That’s their words. And I don’t understand why people aren’t more concerned about it. I think frankly, people tire of an effort like the Iraq war. They get pressure from their constituents to pull out, and that’s the path of least resistance. And so it’s not a very courageous position, but that’s what I think some of my colleagues have chosen to do.

HH: Now let’s talk immigration, Senator Kyl. I did not, I was gone last week, so I didn’t talk to you after the bill imploded. First of all, just practical, is it dead for this session of the Congress?

JK: I think that the bill that we had on the Senate floor is dead, yes. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be some effort to continue to work on the problem. In fact, I intend to…the problem still exists, and I’m not sure whether the political will is there to do anything, and I’m not sure what we could get done. But folks want to focus on enforcement, clearly, and what I’m going to try to do is to find some things on enforcement that might aid our ability to control both the border and the so-called interior of the country, and see if my colleagues are willing to at least pass something along those lines.

HH: Do you expect the Bush administration to continue to focus on getting the part of the fence already authorized actually built?

JK: Yes. I don’t think it’s enough, and I don’t think it’s quickly enough, but they plan to finish within the next 17 or 18 months a total of 371 miles. And this is significant fence. I mean, this is serious double fence with…

HH: Right.

JK: …a road in between and so on. And so that effort is, will be, in fact, completed.

– – – –

HH: Jon Kyl, I want to ask you, why do you think the immigration bill effort failed?

JK: It was a variety of things, but on the right, it failed because of the significant media attention from conservative talk radio and television, and the reaction of many members of Congress who were obviously influenced by that. And then on the left, the business community and a lot of people on the left were never excited about it, because it was, in their view, too conservative. And as a result, they never really pushed it. So it had neither wind behind it from the left, nor any wind from the right. And in fact, it had a big headwind on the right.

HH: Now have you ever seen anything like it from the blogs and talk radio?

JK: No. Of course, blogs and talk radio are relatively new, but nothing even close to that in my political career.

HH: Now if…does that suggest a change in the world of politics? Or is that just the immigration issue?

JK: It’s both. I mean, I think there have been conservative reactions to issues in the past. Nothing quite like that, but there’s no question that blogs and conservative talk radio and television have enhanced the ability of conservatives to get their message out.

HH: Now your political career may well have begun about the time of the Sagebrush Revolution, if you recall the early 80’s with Ronald Reagan.

JK: Uh-huh.

HH: And that was a grass root activism, and I sense the same sort of thing, and it endured. Do you think that the immigration debate…because I think it went way beyond the people who are perennially upset about immigration, to encompass a whole bunch of different groups. Do you see that turning into a network? Or was that a moment in time that’s now dissipated?

JK: It’s probably too soon to tell. There’s an undercurrent, though, that could well have a lasting effect. It doesn’t necessarily bode well, but one could make lemonade out of the lemons. It’s a feeling that the government can’t do anything right. David Frum said it’s the attitude that we can’t control the border, we can’t win the war, you know, the government literally cannot function very well, and therefore, people are loathe to give it any additional authority, or to put any particular trust in it. Now in one sense, as a conservative, you and I can say ah, if that idea catches on, it’s not bad. On the other hand, when you get to something like war, and controlling of the border, those are two things that only the federal government can well do, and therefore, it does need to do them well, and it has to have a lot of support behind it. So it’s a bad sign when the people know that they don’t like the status quo, they know the government isn’t adequately enforcing the law, and yet they don’t want to give the government any more authority, because they don’t trust that it would work. It’s kind of a catch-22.

HH: It is. Now let’s narrow down to one specific issue that’s connected with this, which is you know, we saw the doctors’ plot in Great Britain. We know that almost a quarter of America’s three quarters of a million physicians got their medical training outside the United States. We know there are about a hundred medical schools in the Middle East. Do we have a good check, Jon Kyl, on the doctors who come to the United States, in your opinion, or on any of the other professions which jihadists have been known to infiltrate?

JK: I don’t know. This has come about just in the last few days, and I haven’t been back in Washington to get briefed on what our intelligence folks do to vet immigrants with respect to their medical background and so on. Obviously, we’re going to find out. But to the extent that they do come from countries that spawn terrorists, theoretically, before somebody’s given a visa here, they’re interviewed, and the State Department interviewer is satisfied that they don’t have malicious intent. However, obviously, people can slip through.

HH: Last question, you’ve been back in Arizona for a few days now. How much are you hearing about the Libby commutation? You know, the left has got this like a dog that has a bone that it loves, and I just don’t frankly think it’s that interesting. What do you think?

JK: It’s not at all interesting. I mean, the only thing interesting about it is that the Clintons would weigh into the fight.

HH: Right.

JK: I mean, you’d think they would have run as far away from that as they could, and hope that nobody mentioned it, and remembered Bill Clinton’s pardons. Pretty amazing, but no, I think that the President, under the circumstances, did exactly the right thing for now, and then let’s see what happens later on.

HH: And so do we have like two different political worlds functioning, Jon Kyl, because it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

JK: You know, if you see politics back in Washington, which is a full time sport, and it’s like rugby, I mean, there are no time outs, you see on the left just this voracious desire to attack the President, the Vice President, and anybody associated with the administration. And of course, on the right, we do our share of let’s say critically examining some of the folks on the left.

HH: Jon Kyl, always a pleasure, Senator. Enjoy your break, look forward to talking to you again soon, and looking forward to working you again soon on something we agree.

JK: Thank you, Hugh.

HH: Take care.

End of interview.

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