Both Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were my guests tonight. The audio and transcripts are posted below, which include the reactions of both to the president’s astonishing disingenuity today. As the National Journal’s Ron Fornier wrote today “[t]he president is now misleading the public about his deception.”
Audio of McConnell interview:
Audio of Gaham interview:
Trnscript of McConnell inteview:
HH: A year from now will be an even more important election, the election for the United States Senate. So I thought we’d begin this election season by my doing something I don’t often do. I want to endorse my guest who’s about to appear, United States Senator Mitch McConnell is running for reelection. And Senator, for what it’s worth, my audience in Louisville and Lexington, I sure endorse and hope that you win reelection. And I guess it’s sort of the one year mark to the race now.
MM: It really is, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support, Hugh. It’s an opportunity in ’14 to flip the majority in the Senate, to finally be in a position to have a guy from Kentucky set the agenda in the Senate right of center, as opposed to Harry Reid, who always pulls us to the left.
HH: It’s a year away, but already, they’re coming after you from the DNC. And they’ve already got a very left wing Democrat raising money in Hollywood to come after you. So they’re going to try and pull a Daschle on you like the Republicans did to your counterpart years ago. Defense up, phasers on, shields up, Senator?
MM: Yeah, you know, that’s kind of the new paradigm. They came after me in ’08, and we went after Reid in 2010. In ’08, for example, Bill Clinton came in, Hillary Clinton came in twice. If you get to be the leader of one of the parties in the Senate these days, you’re a national target. I understand that, and I’m ready for it. And it’s important to remember that Barack Obama only carried four out of 120 counties in Kentucky. He’s declared a war on the coal industry. We have a depression in the Appalachian coal fields in Eastern Kentucky. Barack Obama is toxic in Kentucky, not to mention Obamacare. He said if you have your plan and you like it, you can keep it. Obviously, that’s not true. He said health insurance premiums are going to go down. Obviously, that’s not true. They’re going up. There are people losing their jobs, and the administration has been a train wreck for the whole country, but it’s been particularly bad in Kentucky. And my opponent supports Barack Obama and everything he’s done. And we’re going to have a referendum on Barack Obama a year from today.
HH: Now I want to talk a little bit about Obamacare, but I do have to put out there that there’s a codicil on my endorsement, which is to the extent possible, you’ve got to get Teddy Bridgewater to come to Cleveland and play for the Browns, Senator.
MM: (laughing) Well, are they going to have the first pick? Or do you think it’ll go to the Bucks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or somebody else having a worse season?
HH: Well, someone will have a worse season, but we’re stockpiling. And I’ve been watching him. I know you’re a Louisville Cardinal fan, and he’s a pretty special talent. Now let’s listen to the President today, because he’s a pretty special talent, too. It’s a talent for avoiding what he said in the past. Here’s what the President said this morning, Senator McConnell.
BO: If you have or had one of these plans, before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really like that plan, what we said was you could keep it, if it hasn’t changed since the law’s passed.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, Ron Fournier of the National Journal, who may be among the most respected journalists of both sides of the aisle, wrote today, “The President is now misleading the public about his deception.” Agree or disagree?
MM: Absolutely. It’s perfectly clear what the President’s been saying for over three years. And now he’s trying to redefine what he’s been saying, not once, not twice, but on virtually a daily basis for the last three years? He misled the American people, he got caught, and now he’s trying to wiggle out of it.
HH: He went on to say this morning, again, cut number two of the President today:
BO: We wrote into the Affordable Care Act you’re grandfathered in on that plan. But if the insurance company changes it, then what we’re saying is they’ve got to change it to a higher standard. They’ve got to make it better. They’ve got to improve the quality of the plan that they’re selling. And that’s part of the promise that we made, too. That’s why we went out of our way to make sure that the law allowed for grandfathering, but if we had allowed these old plans to be downgraded or sold to new enrollees once the law had already passed, then we would have broken an even more important promise.
HH: Senator McConnell, this is just, this is outright duplicitous. This isn’t political gamesmanship. It’s just duplicitous.
MM: Well, this is Barack Obama on full display. It’s always somebody else’s fault. What he is best at is dividing the country and blaming others. So if you listen carefully, it’s not his fault. It’s the insurance company’s fault. That’s not true. The federal government now is in charge of the national insurance market. And they’re making people buy policies they don’t need. And people are opting out in large numbers, choosing not to participate. The website, by the way, is just the beginning of the problem. And sooner or later, they’re going to fix the website. But then you’ll get on and you’ll find out you have fewer choices, and it’s going to cost you more. They’ve talked a little bit about Kentucky, assuming Kentucky was a bit of a success. You know, 85% of the people that have signed up in Kentucky have signed up for Medicaid. In other words, they’ve signed up for free health care. I think we can stipulate that if somebody’s giving away free health care, people are going to take it.
MM: So that’s most of the people that are signing up. And about 270,000 people in Kentucky have lost the policies that they like and expected to be able to keep based on the President’s promise.
HH: I don’t know if you’ve seen the website, www.mycancellation.com, yet, but the letters are stacking up that are faxed there to show people losing their policies. About a year from now, Obamacare is going to crash into the small employer market, the 2-50 employee market. Do you expect the President to come to you between now and then, Senator McConnell, and try and save his Democratic allies in the Senate, like Mary Landrieu, who voted for this nightmare, and Kay Hagan, who voted for this nightmare, and Jeanne Shaheen, who voted for this nightmare. Are they going to try and persuade you to bail them out?
MM: Well, you know, I think what these people you’re talking about were still defending this law just three weeks ago when we had some votes on things like defunding it and delaying it. They were all in lockstep voting against doing anything to it. And then as soon as the full attention of the nation turned to the implementation of Obamacare, now they’re running for the hills. I think the only way, Hugh, that this changes in the short term is if so many Democrats in the Senate, now run by Democrats, there are 55 of them and only 45 of us, start defecting. The only way the President would swallow changes would be if he lost so many Democrats he couldn’t sustain his position any longer. So we’ll see. I think it’s good to keep an eye on red state Democrats who three weeks ago were ballyhooing what a wonderful law this was, and now are running for the hills.
HH: I’m talking with United States Senator Mitch McConnell. His website is www.teammitch.com if you want to get involved either in Kentucky or across the country in keeping a conservative in charge of the Republican caucus. Now Senator, the BCA is on the table, and I don’t know how those talks are going, but the Budget Control Act is a thing you’ve fought to save throughout the shutdown, and you did. Are they trying to reopen those caps? And within those caps, is there anything you can do for DOD?
MM: Look I mean, here’s the situation. The Budget Control Act, which the President reluctantly signed, has actually reduced government spending for two years in a row for the first time since right after the [Korean] War. If Republicans really mean what they said, that they wanted to go to Washington and reduce government spending, this law is a success improbably achieved while the Democrats controlled the Senate and controlled the White House. Now obviously, the President immediately had serious regrets about having signed it, and now he wants to bust the caps. And he’s hoping to use the impact on the Defense Department to get Republicans to bust the caps as well. My view is this law is succeeding. We don’t want to bust the caps. We are willing to give the administration flexibility which they do not want, Hugh. They do not want flexibility to implement these reductions across the board. Look, the federal government spending over three trillion dollars a year can surely reduce spending a couple percent. And we’re happy to give them the discretion to do that in a more sensible way than the sequester. But speaking for myself, I am not in favor of busting the caps or getting rid of the sequester unless we keep the caps in place, because these caps, if we don’t walk away from them, are going to work.
HH: Last question. We’ve got a minute, Senator McConnell. Between now and the deadlines in January and February, do you expect anything significant to happen legislatively? Is there a grand bargain out there? Or is this a trudge along until we get to November, ’14, and turn the majority gavel over to you?
MM: Well, we had the benefit, we being Republicans in Congress, have the benefit of 99% of the Bush tax cuts are permanent law, and the Budget Control act is reducing government spending. At the very least, Hugh, I do not want to see us bust the caps on spending reductions that are working, or allow this administration to raise taxes. Current law for the first time in anybody’s memory actually advantages Republican beliefs, and I don’t want to crack those caps or raise taxes.
HH: Senator McConnell, great to have you, proud to endorse you. Don’t forget, Bridgewater to Cleveland.
End of interview.
Transcript of Graham interview:
HH: Joined now by United States Senator Lindsey Graham of the great state of South Carolina. All my friends listening down upstate on 94.5, Conservative Talk, or in Myrtle Beach or throughout the state, I’m sure, are glad you’re joining us, Senator. Welcome, good to have you.
LG: Thanks for having me on. Thanks for caring about Benghazi.
HH: How many witnesses, Senator Graham, must you speak with before you lift your hold on Obama administration nominees?
LG: Well, I’ve been told there were six to eight State Department personnel at the consulate, and I don’t know how many CIA folks, but probably total, between the CIA and the State Department, less than 40. And all I’m asking, Hugh, is the administration, the Obama administration, spoke to the survivors when it did the Accountability Review Board, kind of a self, internal, you know, audit here. And the Congress has only spoken to one survivor from the State Department. They’re refusing to allow us access to these witnesses. And why do I want to talk to the people on the ground? Did you ever see a protest? Did you tell anybody about a protest? Or did you claim this was an attack, a terrorist attack from the very beginning? And if the survivors, Hugh, never said there was a protest, where the hell did this protest story come from?
HH: Well, if there are between six and eight State Department there…
HH: And up to three dozen CIA contractors…
LG: Or less…
HH: …or less, how many do you need to actually speak with before you lift your hold?
LG: Well, what I want to do is I want to talk to the State Department people who were at the consulate about two things. They were interviewed 48 hours after the attack in Germany by the FBI. I want to look at those FBI interviews. I’m not trying to solve a crime, but remember the story told by Susan Rice five days after the attack, that there’s no evidence of a preplanned al Qaeda attack, we think this was a spontaneous protest caused by a hateful video, and there’s no evidence of a terrorist attack? Well, where did that come from? If, in fact, the survivors in real time reported a terrorist attack, and if they told the FBI two days after the attack, three days before she went on television about a terrorist attack, who in the heck created this protest story? So that’s what I want to find out. I want to talk to the survivors.
HH: Oh, I think it’s a great inquiry. It’s a great inquiry. I just want to make sure we know where the goalposts are, because if they…
LG: The goalposts, yeah, yeah….
HH: If they cherry pick one of them and they only send you one, is that enough for you to get the hold…
LG: No. I mean, come on, reverse this. Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, George W. Bush personally for two weeks talked about a protest and a video, and there’s no evidence that the president of the United States, George W. Bush, never talked to his secretary of Defense. His U.N. Ambassador told a story about no al Qaeda involvement when clearly the information coming from Libya, August 16th memo, cable from Chris Stevens to the State Department in Washington, we can’t defend the consulate against an al Qaeda-coordinated attack, the al Qaeda flag is flying all over Benghazi. Can you imagine what would happen if the Bush administration refused to let the Congress talk to the witnesses?
HH: Sure, and that’s why I think your hold ought to stay in place until you’ve talked to each of those State Department people.
LG: Yes, I’m not going to get onesies and twosies. I want to talk to the six, and not to impede a criminal…this theory that we can’t talk to them because you may prosecute somebody one day, it becomes a precedent. That means after 9/11, Bush could have said to the 9/11 Commission, you know, we may prosecute bin Laden or KSM one day, so you can’t have access to any of the eyewitnesses to 9/11. That’s absurd. Oversight is about checks and balances. I’m not trying to find out who to prosecute. I’m trying to find out did our government, did the Obama administration mislead us about the true nature of the attack eight weeks before an election. I’m trying to find out who turned down numerous security requests to enhance the consulate security, and why. And the only way you’ll ever know the answers to these questions is talk to the people who were there.
HH: So to be clear, your hold is going to stay in place on all Obama administration nominees until you’ve talked to at least six members of the State Department who were there?
LG: Yeah, and to the people, to the survivors, to the people who were on the ground the FBI interviewed. And there’s some encouraging news. The CIA is beginning to break with the State Department. The CIA is beginning to provide some of the contractors to the House Intelligence Committee so they can talk to them. There’s been one survivor interviewed by the House on the State Department side. They had to subpoena that person. So what I am saying to the administration is that you are impeding Congressional oversight fourteen months after the attack. You’re not going to get away with telling the Congress we have no right to talk to these witnesses to try to figure out what happened in Benghazi. And you know what I want to hear the most from these folks? Did you believe that your government was going to come to help you, that did you expect your government to come help you once you were under attack? And when you heard they weren’t coming, how did you feel, so every American will remember what they say.
HH: Are you surprised, Senator Graham, that then-Secretary of State Clinton talked to Mr. Hicks at 2:00 in the morning and then never called back?
LG: I am surprised that the president of the United States only talked to his secretary of Defense one time at 5:00, never called that night. I am shocked that Secretary Clinton did not know about the numerous security requests long before the attack. On the August 16th cable that laid out how dangerous the consulate was, it was a death trap, and we need reinforcements because al Qaeda’s all over the place, the secretary of Defense was aware of the threat level in Libya. How could the secretary of State, who claimed she had no knowledge of this information, how could she be unaware of what her ambassador was telling her about Libya, and the secretary of Defense know about the threat level? And the big story is how could Clinton and Obama miss the rise of al Qaeda in Libya?
HH: But the big story is really that she talked to Hicks that night and didn’t call back. Was that a terrible dereliction of duty?
LG: Well, what would you do? What would you do if you had your number two guy, you talked to him once, the ambassador’s reported missing, you don’t know where the ambassador is at. You know, we stumble upon his body in the hospital. I can’t get over the fact that nobody was moving toward Libya to help these people, that the secretary of State never inquired as to what is going on, one phone call and that’s it. But I can’t believe that she didn’t know about the rise of al Qaeda, and the threat level from al Qaeda in Libya before the attack. What was the 60 Minutes story all about?
HH: Now Senator, this raises a very important question, and I want to put it very bluntly.
HH: Is this disqualifying of her ambitions to be president?
LG: This is something she needs to answer for that she hasn’t had to answer for yet. And I don’t want to become political over this. She’s going to say I’ve done the following things in my life that you should consider to elect me president. I want to know on her watch, how did you miss the rise of al Qaeda in Libya? How did you not know what your ambassador and others were telling you about the threat level? How could you not know that their security requests were repeatedly denied? And what did you do before, during and after this attack? How could you tell Ty Woods’ father, Mr. Charles Woods, when the body was coming back from Libya two days after the attack, we’re going to get the guy who did that video when all of the evidence suggested it was a terrorist attack? And that’s why the 60 Minutes story is so damning.
HH: Now Senator, I do want to talk politics for a moment.
HH: I want to talk about the shutdown. On the night of the shutdown, before the House voted, I was on the air talking with a lot of your constituents, and you were on CNN with, I think, Anderson Cooper. What you said that night was perceived as an attack on Ted Cruz. Did you intend it as such?
LG: No. What I said that night and the days before is this is not working and we need to end it. You know, Ted has every right to pursue what he thinks best for the country, and how to defeat Obamacare. I’ve got every right to speak my mind. We have a common goal, and that is trying to replace Obamacare with something that will work and won’t ruin the economy. I never believed, and people may not like hearing this, but I’ve never believed that defunding the government would be the strategy to defunding Obamacare. That never made sense to me. But here’s the good news. The shutdown is behind us. We’re becoming a team again. And now that we’re focused on Obamacare and not the government being shut down, it has become a debacle. And what will happen in 2014, Hugh, is that Democrats are going to break, because this is an albatross around their neck.
HH: Are you prepared, yet, to admit at least the possibility that the shutdown worked to brand the Republicans as absolutely opposed to Obamacare in a way they had not yet previously been branded?
LG: Well, I’ll be honest with you. Not one Republican has ever voted for Obamacare from its inception. I voted against it from day one. I introduced a delay it for a year amendment. That wasn’t the problem. There was nobody really confused about who owned Obamacare. Not one Republican from day one ever supported this. It was a Democratic initiative, they ran over us in the Senate, they used reconciliation, they got 60 votes on Christmas Eve. So it really was never a doubt as to whether or not Republicans supported Obamacare. What did happen through the shutdown is that we got blamed for it disproportionate to the Democrats. But here’s the good news for the Republican Party. Ted Cruz is a smart guy with a bright future. We share a common view of what we should be doing going forward. We should be exposing Obamacare for the debacle it is, and we should eventually come up with a plan to replace it. But we’re all on the same sheet of music now. We’re all talking about how this bill is not working for the American people. And I’m, quite frankly, optimistic, Hugh, that if we’re smart, we’re going to win back the Senate in 2014. We’ll pick up six Senate seats, and Obamacare will be the main reason we pick up the six Senate seats. And here’s the difference between being in a minority and a majority. If we had control of the Senate today, I would have subpoena power to get to the bottom of what happened to Benghazi.
HH: Here’s what the President said this morning, Senator Graham, cut number one:
BO: If you have, or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really liked that plan, what we said was you could keep it, if it hasn’t changed since the law’s passed.
HH: Ron Fournier of the National Journal…
LG: Oh, don’t get me started, Hugh.
HH: …wrote today, the President is now misleading the public about his deception. That’s a quote from Ron Fournier. Do you believe he’s just out and out lying, Senator?
LG: Yeah, there’s one of two stories here. Here’s, this is where Benghazi and Obamacare have a sort of, join together. The policy people apparently sometimes earlier in the year told the White House when the President says that if you like your policy, you can keep it, that’s not right. He’s not, you know, that’s not going to happen. People are going to lose their policies that they like and they can’t keep. So they warned the White House political shop what the President’s saying is not right. And the political guy told the policy guy this is the best way to sell this plan. So the President is either very disconnected from the law that he has embraced and bears his name, completely misunderstands how it works, or actively playing a political game to sell it in a misleading fashion.
HH: Senator, you’re a lawyer and a prosecutor. Do you think he’s deceiving us?
LG: He’s either detached or deceiving. He’s either the most disconnected president in history about his own law, or deceiving us. When he said there was a protest, that was the politically best outcome eight weeks before an election. It wasn’t an al Qaeda attack, it was a protest. The probability for not being prepared for a protest caused by a video is a lot less than not being prepared for an al Qaeda attack you could see coming. So the similarities are very unnerving to me. They have the propensity to tell a story that is politically advantageous, but doesn’t meet reality. Was the President so disconnected from what happened in Benghazi that he really believed there was a protest when there’s no evidence of a protest? Or was he trying to sell a story that was politically beneficial eight weeks before an election? That’s why we need to hear from the survivors.
HH: Two quick exit questions. One, why is Chris Christie cruising and Ken Cuccinelli struggling tonight?
LG: I think Chris Christie is cruising, because people perceived him to be a competent, capable governor who deserved reelection. You’ve got an open seat in Virginia, and I don’t know how to explain the Virginia race. I’m no expert on Virginia politics. But you’ve got an incumbent governor who had a pretty good record of accomplishment who I think deserves reelection. You’ve got an open seat, and I just don’t know why we can’t beat Terry McAuliffe with all his baggage. But time will tell. What do you think?
HH: I think it’s got a lot to do with Chris Christie being as candid and as direct in responding…
LG: Yeah, and a good governor.
HH: …to everything. Now last question, candid and direct, is immigration reform dead for this Congress?
LG: I don’t know what the House will do. I can’t tell you if the House is going to do a piecemeal approach, and there will be a conference with the Senate. I really don’t know. I hope immigration reform is addressed before 2016 and we can get this issue resolved for the good of the nation and for the good of the party. But I really don’t know. I can’t tell you where the House is going.
HH: Senator Lindsey Graham, great to talk to you, come back early and often.
End of interview.