HH: We begin on a note of both mixed admiration and sadness as our favorite Senator, Jon Kyl of the great state of Arizona announced today that he will not be seeking a fourth term as Senator from Arizona. Pleased to welcome back Jon Kyl. Senator, welcome, I’m sorry to hear this, but tell people why you’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.
JK: Well Hugh, thank you very much, and to your listeners also, I kind of broke my word. I said you’d be the second to know. But I did have to call a few other people first. And the reason is that it’s time. And I know that seems like there has to be more to it than that, but when you stop and think about how you make your decisions in life, there’s a gut or something in your heart that says now it’s time for me to do this. And I will have been in public service in the United States Congress for 26 years at the end of the next two years, at the end of my term in the U.S. Senate. That’s a lot of time for public service. I’d like to have a little time left in the productive part of my life to get back into the private sector, have a little more flexible schedule, give others an opportunity. And you just have a sense of when it is time, and I am fortunate that I’m able to go out sort of on a high note as opposed to some of my colleagues who I think are almost being hounded out of office.
HH: Let me ask you, Senator Kyl, there’s so much to unpack about this, and it’s really an admirable decision to decide on your own timetable when to go out. And a lot of people have said that about sports, but it’s true about politics as well. Let me ask you about your plans after that, though. Immediately when I blogged this morning, I said I hope he helps 2012, the Republican candidate, and is available for service. You are an expert on foreign affairs, you know the Department of Justice, whatever that might be. Are you open to continued public service outside of the legislative bodies?
JK: No, I’m not. I mean my decision here is to end the public service part of…first of all, Hugh, there is no better job than, at least for somebody that has the particular group of skills that I have, than the United States Senate. It is enormously rewarding, and there isn’t anything else in government that I would rather do, or that I will do. I simply don’t want to do anything like a cabinet position or something like that. But yes, I will remain very active politically. I’m going to be able to help my Senate colleagues and challengers to Democrats running for the U.S. Senate this next two years more productively than I otherwise would if I were running my own campaign. I intend to do that. Obviously, I’ll make myself available to anybody that may want my help or advice, or anything else I can do. And it will free me up to use this last 22 months or so to be pretty active in the United States Senate. I’ll just put it that way.
HH: I’m going to come to that, because I think it does liberate in many respects. But let me ask before we go there, in terms of the presidential race, and the race to succeed you. It will be a highly contested, I think, seat on both the Democrat side and on the Republican side. Have you talked to anyone? Do you have any preference for who might seek your seat?
JK: I don’t have any preference yet. I’ve talked to a couple of the people who have expressed an interest. And I think the Republicans have a good bench, as it were. I think the Democrats a little thin on that. And that was not the reason for my decision, but it was a little, teeny factor that I think this is a year, or next year is a year in which Republicans should do okay, and that we have a good chance of keeping an open seat in the state of Arizona in the Republican column. That certainly wasn’t the case the last time I ran in 2006.
HH: I wish more people would factor that in. Let me ask you as well the question that immediately sprang to mind. You were very friendly with Representative Giffords, and you still are, and I know you’re wishing her well, and I’m so encouraged, as I know you are by the news of that. Did that tragedy have any impact on your decision making, Jon Kyl?
JK: No, it certainly didn’t. Hugh, the truth is, and I think I said this, this morning, I had pretty well made up my mind just a few months after the last time I was reelected in 2006 that absent some extraordinary circumstance, I would not run again. As result of which, I’ve had no Arizona fundraising events for my campaign. I’ve not asked for a penny from anybody in the state of Arizona for my campaign. I do raise money for my political action committee. But I’ve felt that since the chances were very great that I wouldn’t run, that I didn’t want to ask people for money that then later I’d probably want to give back to them. So I mean, as tragic as these recent events are with Representative Giffords, they had nothing to do with my decision.
HH: Now there are, obviously, you are now liberated. No one can question whatever you say as having a political motive now, because you’re not running for anything, and you’re not looking for anybody’s approval, and you’re not asking anyone for money. And so there are, there’s an entire set of intractable issues which plague the United States. I talked with your colleague, Tom Coburn, yesterday, who’s in these deep talks with the administration and other Senators about a fiscal grand deal. I saw immigration mentioned in one of your exit interviews with the media. What’s on Jon Kyl’s agenda as a powerful but not politically minded Senator for the next 22 months?
JK: Well, the thing that I think I am most liberated to potentially take a look at are some entitlement reforms. And I don’t want to discuss anything more about that, if you’d permit me, right? You’ll be the first to know.
JK: How about that? But entitlement reforms are seen so difficult that there’s an Alphonese and Gaston routine where the Democrats say to the Republicans, well, you take the first step. And then as soon as the Republicans do, Democrats saw off the limb behind them. And, potentially, vice versa. So there’s potential there that if I could get together with some of my other similarly liberated colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we could actually propose some things on entitlement reform that could get the ball rolling so that then others who do have a political future would feel comfortable joining us on. That’s one possibility. There are two other things that I want to devote attention to, but I don’t think necessarily that my new position lends anything particularly to it. One is we have got to secure the borders. And there is going to be no, I think, opportunity to do anything else with respect to any kind of immigration reform until we secure the borders, and until it is clear that people cannot hire illegal immigrants through some form of e-verify system or something else. And I do want to try to use my last two years to get those things in place. I do not believe that there will be an opportunity to do anything comprehensive, probably even in that time frame, but certainly not if we don’t get the border secure and get a workplace enforcement in place. And that, those are the two things I want to focus on there. The second thing is a pro-growth tax code. The tax rates that were extended last December are only extended for two years, so we have an opportunity now to create a more business-friendly, or more job creation-friendly, more pro-growth policy in our tax code. And I intend to try to use my position on the Finance Committee to achieve that.
HH: That’s very interesting. I want to ask you about Judiciary Committee as well, Senator Kyl. I gave a speech a couple of weeks ago at the Federalist Society convention on the West Coast, arguing that given the election of 2010, Senate Republicans might feel empowered to embrace filibusters as sort of a ‘let’s wait to change the course of the Supreme Court until after the President has stood for reelection’. I’m wondering if you’re going to take a lead on deciding what that policy’s going to be, defending it, whatever it is, because it’s a close call. It’s a difficult issue. Is this something that’s on Jon Kyl’s agenda?
JK: I frankly haven’t thought about it. I would rather doubt that there will be another opportunity during this administration for a Supreme Court, to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, though there are one or two possibilities. But I hadn’t really thought about that. My general attitude toward the Court is not to be political, but rather to be philosophical about it. And that means, and as in the case of the last two nominees, I voted against them both, because I thought that they would use their liberal philosophy in deciding cases, and I think we’ve seen some indication of that. And that’s the kind of thing I’ll fight against. But it’s hard to say in advance that you will filibuster an Obama nominee no matter what, just so that you might have a shot at it a year or two later.
HH: Will you resume your law practice? You were a Constitutional lawyer, you’ve argued in cases of great importance before you entered the legislative branch. Do you think you’ll resume your lawyering?
JK: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what opportunities might be available to me when I step down in January of 2013. I’m forbidden by the rules of ethics to seek a position with anyone. People are free to contact me, but I can’t negotiate any kind of an agreement. So I have no idea what might come along, but I want to get back into the private sector, although retaining as much of an interest as I possibly can in political affairs.
HH: Senator Kyl, in the second segment coming up, I’m going to ask you to look backwards at some of the giants of the Senate you’ve served with. But with a minute before that, I want to go back to that entitlement reform, respect your request not to talk about specifics, but ask you are you working with Tom Coburn in that effort?
JK: No, not yet. I mean, Tom and I work, Tom is the greatest, as you know. And I will work with him on anything. But what I’m thinking, and what you’d asked about was does my being a sort of lame duck give me a freedom to work in areas that people who are still potentially going to run for office don’t have. Now Tom has talked about not running again, but I think for those who have already indicated that they are going to retire after, or rather in January of 2013, there might be a special opportunity for some of us. And I speak specifically of people like Senator Hutchinson and Senator Lieberman, and potentially Senator Conrad. I haven’t talked to all of those people, but there might be a way that we could get together and do some good.
HH: That would be very interesting.
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HH: I’m talking with Arizona’s great Senator, Jon Kyl, who announced he will not stand for reelection, which means January of 2013 will be his last time in the Congress of the United States where he has served since 1987, which means you have served under President Reagan, President Bush, President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama. I’ve just got to ask you about memorable moments with those, and what you think is the most important quality in a president, Jon Kyl, having seen five very different chief executives.
JK: That’s a great question. By the way, I would take issue with serving under.
HH: You’re right. I’m sorry.
JK: Those of us in the Congress view ourselves as an equal branch and serving with. But nonetheless, I would have to say that when I went into the White House, I’ve forgotten which meeting room it was with President Reagan, I truly felt that I was in the presence of a great president, and I was just a freshman member of Congress, but on the Armed Services Committee. And I very much remember a meeting we had about the defense authorization bill. It had never been vetoed by a president. We were urging him to veto it, because there was some bad, I think it was missile defense, but I could be wrong, provisions. But in any event, there’s much said about Ronald Reagan this last week because of the celebration of his, what would have been 100th birthday, and a lot of revisionist history with respect to Reagan. I believe, that he had a lot of the qualities that make a great president. He had a sunny optimism about the United States because of its people, a great belief in its institutions and its ability to succeed if we remain true to our basic values as a people and as a country. He was genial, and willing to self-deprecating and friendly to people with whom he had strong political disagreements. Talk about civil discourse, he was the epitome of that. But he had deeply held views that he never sacrificed. There were compromises that he made, to be sure. But most of them were compromises that at the end of the day permitted him to take two steps forward, maybe one step back. And probably the best example of not compromising was at Reykjavik, Iceland, when he and Gorbachev met, and Gorbachev basically said we’ll do away with all nuclear weapons if you’ll do away with missile defense, SDI. Reagan thought about it overnight, came back and said no, Mr. Gorbachev, the United States has a moral way to defend itself, and we’re going to pursue it. Thanks, but no thanks. That took a lot of guts, because I think there were only one or two people in the room on the American side who even agreed with his position on that. So I kind of hold him up as the gold standard for presidents, not to take anything away from any of the others that you mentioned.
HH: Now I want to ask you about a gold standard. You’ve participated in so many confirmation hearings for both Supreme Court justices and circuit justices. Of all of those who’ve come before that, who stands out as having an intellect that just dazzled you, whether you agreed with them or not?
JK: Probably John Roberts, because it wasn’t just intellectual. I mean, Sam Alito, I should say Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, obviously both just brilliant minds, but…and incidentally, I think Elena Kagan, the most recently confirmed justice, is a very smart person as well. But Chief Justice Roberts has a quality in addition to just raw intelligence, and that is a congeniality about him that not only represents the Court well, but probably enables him to be a great leader on the Court with his colleagues.
HH: Now I want to turn to the Senate. You’ve been there for, you’ve already been there 16 years, and you will have finished 18 when you retire in 2013. And you’ve served alongside people like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, and some amazing Republicans as well. Who’s the most memorable colleague, whether on your side of the aisle or the other side?
JK: Oh, boy, well memorable would include a multitude of sins. There are some that are memorable that didn’t, you won’t necessarily make the hall of fame for best. But let me just say that probably a colleague that I respected more for his raw intelligence and ability to be persuasive and work on particularly the financial issues of the day was Phil Gramm from Texas. Phil may not have been the most lovable guy, but he’s probably the person that I miss the most in terms of a driving intellectual force as the U.S. Senate is concerned. One of the nicest people who was also quite effective simply because he was just a really fine person, and still is, is Don Nichols from Oklahoma, with whom I served. There a lot who are memorable. I mean, Jack Kemp, for example, serving with him in the House of Representatives was a real treat. What a leader Jack Kemp was for supply side economics, with which I agree. And people like Dick Cheney, who was in the House, and that shows you how old I am, I served with Dick Cheney in the House, he was the Republican Policy chairman, and briefly whip. There are others who are very effective at what they did in different ways, like my old friend, Trent Lott, for example, in both the House and Senate. So there are a lot of very memorable people, but each one of them have different attributes, and I appreciate for different reasons.
HH: Now I want to ask you a question. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Carol Kyl, and I have met your wife, and I know what a wonderful person she is. She served alongside of you, as so many political spouses do. I’m blessed with a great spouse. You’re blessed with a great spouse. But I wonder, did she reluctantly come to this decision? Or is she happy to get you back, and a little bit about that role which is not often in front of the public, that of the political spouse who goes along for the ride.
JK: I appreciate your asking. My wife, Carol, and I met in Sunday school as freshmen in college, and this coming June, we’ll be married 47 years. So we’ve been through a lot together. And for her, it was getting out of a comfortable place when I had been in the practice of law for almost twenty years to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. And starting out, it was just the two of us, and then gradually, we incorporated some of our friends into our campaign and so on. And my toughest race was my first primary. I had to defeat an old incumbent, and I’d never run for political office before, so she was a huge part of that, and she has remained kind of the brains of the outfit in terms of our campaign office. She’s always been our office manager. She’s very good with the computers and copiers, and doing those kinds of things. And so she’s been involved in all of my campaigns, but not in a out in front of the public way. She doesn’t particularly like public speaking, kind of like Laura Bush. But I kept my promise to her that she wouldn’t have to do it. So she got out of a comfort zone to run for office that first time. But as she and I have discussed many times, being in public service, and meeting the thousands of new people that we have, has opened up huge opportunities for her. We have been able to travel to states and even countries that we would never have probably gone to, and met people that we wouldn’t have. And so she has appreciated the fact that it’s opened up a whole new horizon for her. And the one, I think, question she has now is what next? And since we don’t know what’s next, that’s a little scary. But she stuck with me the first time. I got out of the comfort zone, and she’s going to do it the next time as well.
HH: Less than a minute, Jon Kyl, so it’s not a fair question. But how important has your faith in God been in this march..
JK: It’s very important. At the end of the day, whenever the really tough things happen, you’ve just got to call on God, and in my case, Jesus Christ for the word of is this the right decision. And I must say, I certainly prayed about this last decision, have no qualms about it whatsoever, and I will say that my faith has been a great comfort to me over these many years.
HH: A great honor to talk to you today, Senator Kyl. We look forward to talking to you lots over the next two years, and far beyond that. Thank you for your service to the United States, thanks for the interview today on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JK: Thank you, Hugh.
End of interview.