Senator John Cornyn from Texas is the GOP’s #2 in the Senate, the Whip, and he joined me Wednesday to discuss the GOP Congressional retreat just concluded:
HH: Welcome, it’s a beautiful 65 degrees sunny [day] in Santa Barbara and I’m sure that’s just making Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who is the GOP’s number two in the United States Senate, the Senate Republican whip, unhappy as a blizzard bears down on DC this afternoon. Senator Cornyn, are you home for the weekend or are you in DC?
JC: Unfortunately, I’m in DC. I wish I was where you are, but we’ll make it somehow.
HH: Yeah, dig out of that. Senator, I want to talk to you about the retreat that the GOP Congressional delegation had, but I begin with the announcement by the United States Supreme court yesterday that they have accepted review of President’s Obama’s executive orders which have been joined by the 5th Circuit and I wanted to ask you because many of my listeners will not know you are a former Justice of the Texas Supreme Court before Twittering arrived and Justice Don Will had started tweeting all the time, people didn’t even know there was a Texas Supreme Court, now they do. But as a (chuckles) former justice of the Texas Supreme Court, what do you make of the United States Supreme Court taking a case and then asking the lawyers to brief the question about whether is taking care that the laws are faithfully executed?
JC: Well, it’s hard to know what’s in the minds of the Justices, but the last time I checked it only takes of them to to grant cert so that’s no real indication what the outcome of this case will be, but I think they realize the national significance and significance of this case beyond just this president. If the president can do what President Obama has claims he has the authority to do under an executive order and basically overturn and circumvent Congress and overturn long, existing laws then there is no separation of powers and I think they recognize the significance of this and that’s why they’re going to hear it and why they are going to decide it.
HH: Now I told my law school Con Law class this week that this the biggest presidential power case since the Steel Seizure case and it will have an impact not just on the immigration executive orders but the Iran deal and many other thing and I don’t really know how people will react to it because it’s not just about immigration, it’s about the presidential powers, so you’re a member of the Article 1 branch I know you’re talking about Article 1 at your retreat. What do you want the court to do?
JC: Well, we talked about the Youngstown Steel case and Justice Jackson’s, I think it was, concurring opinion and where the president acts with greatest authority and I think this may bjsut be a repeat of that, but I think that what we need to do is restore the separation of powers and the fact that the presidents need to recognize that they need to work with and not try to work around Congress in order to make durable policy and to uphold the constitutional requirements.
HH: A lot of the reasons the president has gotten away with so much, Senator Cornyn, is because so little has been sent to his desk that he has been obliged to veto, the Affordable Healthcare repeal was one of those things, but that’s because of your rules in the senate regarding the filibuster. Now Senator Sasse wrote a rousing defense, I am becoming pretty adamant opponent of the filibuster, even on legislative matters. What do you think about it?
JC: Well as you know, the Democrats have removed the filibuster when it comes to nominations and by the nuclear option and I think there’s no appetite to change that, but on Legislation, we’ve seen a lot of bad legislation during the time I’ve been in the senate that we’ve been unable to stop even in the minority, so while I know there is a lot of frustration not being able to get things to the president’s desk, thankfully we were able to use the budgets process, which requires only 51 vote to get the defund-Planned-Parenthood and repeal-Obamacare vote to his desk, but there’s so much we need to do, but I think we were able to show what we could do with a new president because we got that to his desk.
HH: Now Senator Cornyn, let me understand you though. You just said there’s no appetite to change that, so you believe if there’s a Republican president that president will be able to appoint judges and they’re members of their administration with a simple 51-vote majority?
JC: I do. Of course, that does not, according to what the Democrats did, apply to Supreme Court justices but it does circuit court and district court and I don’t see any appetite to change it.
HH: Well, that’s terrific news because if there’s a Republican president then and we hold the senate, they can repopulate the bench with originalists.
JC: That’s right, which goes to show that when you make a power play in the senate and you change the rules, it can have unintended consequences while the Democrats have temporarily benefitted from it, we can to and when we have a Republican president.
HH: Now Senator Cornyn, talk to me a little about the retreat and the themes of it. What was the takeaway from this gathering because it was sort of unprecedented and you have the House and the Senate together charting a course ahead for 2016 with a new speaker and a majority leader who’s only finishing his first year and a very successful first year at passing a couple of needed bills and getting one vetoed that we expect to be vetoed but was necessary to get it passed.
JC: Well, I think that this was great opportunity for Paul Ryan as the new Speaker to speak to a bicameral group of legislators and I’m a big Paul Ryan fan, I think he’s exacty the breath of fresh air that we needed and I think he is leading the House in a much more inclusive sort of way, but not just as an opposition party as he likes to say, but as a proposition party as well and to lay their groundwork for the next president to demonstrate the sort of policies that if we get a new Republican president, that we can actually pass and sign into law, so I think it was very helpful and I think it laid a lot of great groundwork.
HH: Is there any sense of panic among the Republican congressional delegation. They look over at the Washington Post this hour at their headlines and one by Ruth Marcus, “What makes Ted Cruz truly dangerous?” Another by Jennifer Rubin, “Trump and Pain: just deserts for the right-wing racket.” I can go through every website and find woe and rumors about war among Republicans, did you feel that at the retreat?
JC: I think there is some concern because you realize the power of president candidate on down-ballot races and in the Senate, as you know, we’ve got some challenging races because we picked up seven seats, but we picked up seats in 2010 that is during a non-president election year where people like Ron Johnson and Mark Kirk won races not exactly places where Republican presidential candidates necessary do all that well, but it also goes down into New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and then of course vacant seats in Nevada and Florida and so we need a presidential nominee that can not only win but one that won’t become a drag on down-ballot races and I think there is some concern on that.
HH: So tell me about your role as a Texas politician, you have the Super Tuesday SCC primary State of Texas voting. Your colleague Ted Cruz is on the ballot. Are you going to be endorsing?
JC: I’m not, you know it was my job as a whip, I’m the primary vote counter for our caucus and I have to work with all of my colleagues who are running for president and I just don’t see any particular advantage or to me to do that, but I’m a great fan of the process and letting it work its way out and there are a lot of people that look like the inevitable nominee in previous Novembers and Decembers that didn’t quite make it through and I’m confident that the process will work its way out.
HH: And do you think there will be significant fluctuation between now and voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond?
JC: Well, I’m no expert of Iowa or New Hampshire, but the process looks to pretty tough and I think who the two people who are leading in Iowa now, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, that’s not the same match-up in New Hampshire and obviously there’s going to be cluster of people that either win or place in New Hampshire that then will be able to claim some momentum going into South Carolina and I guess Nevada after that. So I think all this is going to be how well funded people are, how the moment changes the dynamics of the race and actually who shows up to vote. I think a lot of the people being polled now particularly in national polls aren’t necessarily going to be voting in those primaries and deciding those races.
HH: Senator Cornyn, always good to talk to you. One last question, Bob Dole came out and threw a hammer at Ted Cruz and I always wonder if the alleged antipathy towards your colleague from Texas isn’t overstated by the national news media because it’s such a good story. What do you think?
JC: I would respectfully decline to be evocative at all in the Republican primary for president because I got a job to do here, but I think that we need to say and actually support the eventual nominee. I think we have to respect the process, obviously the voting public in these primary races don’t care what current incumbent senators think about these races. It’s not going to influence the outcome or move the dial, I think we have to respect the process and say that as a member of the Republican party, we’re going to support the nominee.
HH: That is to me is pretty simple, but are you amazed by how many people don’t say that?
JC: I am and I worry that people are taking their eye off the prize. The goal here is to win because if we don’t win then we default to Hillary Clinton and a third Obama term which would be a disaster for the country. We need a Republican nominee and a Republican president who will help us clean up this mess from the last seven years.
HH: Thirty seconds, I misjudged the time, Senator. Do you think, Senator, that former Senator, former Secretary of State Clinton is in danger of being indicted?
JC: Well, if it were you or me, Hugh, she would be, but as you know the Clintons have always seemed to get by with not having the rules apply to them. As you know, the attorney general is a political appointee, serves at the pleasure of the president, I find it hard that she would indict that this Secretary Clinton during this time, but it’s clear the FBI views this as very serious matter as they should.
HH: Well, if James Comey quits, it will be the equivalent of indictment if they refuse to indict any recommended. Senator Cornyn, the whip of the GOP, always a pleasure to talk to you, Senator.
End of Interview