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Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on the new reality in the Senate

Friday, November 17, 2006
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HH: Joined now by Senator Tom Coburn of the great state of Oklahoma. Senator, welcome. It’s good to talk to you.

TC: Thank you. Good to be with you.

HH: Why did we lose Tuesday last?

TC: Because if you tell the American people you believe in something, and then act different than that, they don’t trust you.

HH: That’s pretty simple. Is that what happened? It wasn’t Iraq in your opinion? It was trust?

TC: Oh, I’m sure Iraq had a lot of people…look, Iraq is a deal that makes us all feel uncomfortable, makes us feel unsteady. It erodes our confidence, generally, in us, causes us worry. When you start that, then you start looking at everything else as well. And we created the perfect opportunity to say look, here’s what we say we believed in, but by dingy, we didn’t really mean it. And so we’re going to act a different way, and we did. And…not all of us did, for sure, but enough did that created in the mind of the American people is if they don’t really believe what they say, then I don’t think we can trust them. Let’s try somebody else.

HH: Senator Coburn, now that the shock has been absorbed, and you’re down to 49, and you’re losing a bunch of your staff, do you see the Republicans in the Senate coming back to first principles?

TC: Well, you know, it’s like I tell people. I was a minority in the majority, and now I’m definitely in the majority in the minority. And so, it’s changed. Look, the American people are smarter than the people in Washington. That’s number one. Number two, we have a great form of government. One flip-flop on who’s in control, 90% of the issues most Americans agree on. It’s that other 10%, and the country is better off when we listen to the American people. And I believe you’re going to see some big change, and not all. You know, some people are just so self-centered, and interested in their political career, that they’ll destroy their own political career by not doing what the American people want.

HH: Now Senator Coburn, I’m most concerned about judges, because I watched Senator Leahy during the interregnum there, after Jim Jeffords jumped, and I know it’s coming back. I know you have a great deal of interest in this. A) Who’s going to lose their seat on Judiciary for the Republicans?

TC: Nobody. Nobody on the Republicans will lose a seat. Mike DeWine lost his election, so therefore, he’ll be off, and we will be decreased to one.

HH: That’s very good.

TC: So we’ll have the same group of fighters on there. Look, if they want to block good judges, then they can do that, and that’ll be a great debate for the ’08 election. That’s one of the key issues that I believe the Republicans didn’t talk about. The way we get our country back from a overreaching government, and an overreaching judiciary, is to put people who understand that their job is to interpret the Constitution, not to make the law and set cultural standards. And that’s a debate I’m willing to fight Leahy on, and Schumer, every day. If they want to have judges that want to think that we can use European law and postmodern thought that says there are no principles that guide us, there’s no truth, then let’s have that debate in America, because we’re going to win that debate. So I relish the chance for them to try to obstruct the judges.

HH: Now this gets to the heart of what my argument was about the do-nothing Senate, is that there are two vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. There’s a debate about whether one of those ought to be filled ever because of workload. But that’s the law, and Peter Keisler didn’t get out of the Judiciary Committee. It’s probably the most important appointment that did not get acted on, and we had promise after promise that he would get acted on.

TC: Well…

HH: In the lame duck session, does he get a hearing? A vote? And a vote on the floor?

TC: No, he will not. They will not allow it. And I’m not as worried about that as I am making sure that we make a division in the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit has 87% of their rulings overturned. California deserves to have their own circuit. Let’s separate it out, not put everybody in Montana and Idaho and everybody else that’s with them. And we have the workload there, so we need to take both those positions from the D.C. Circuit, and go. With the 6th Circuit, we need to fill, but they’re not going to let us fill it. So that’s of consequence, and it markedly increases the workload.

HH: Let me understand what you’re saying. You want to trade the two D.C. Circuit seats to the 9th Circuit and split it? Is that…

TC: Yeah, I want to create a new circuit, so that we have a circuit for the other states out there, and let California have its circuit court.

HH: You know, I wish I could spend hours convincing you as a professor of Constitutional law why that is a terrible idea, Senator, because the D.C. Circuit matters so much in the control of the federal regulatory state.

TC: Well, but the D.C. Circuit isn’t overloaded right now.

HH: But, but…

TC: And we’ve got good votes on the D.C. Circuit.

HH: We don’t have enough good votes, and it’s aging good votes. But I can understand that. Did you…is that why Keisler didn’t get out, because of the Republican decision that they want…

TC: No, it’s because…Dianne Feinstein held up Keisler.

HH: Okay. Now going forward, are we going to have transparency on such stuff like that, Senator, because it’s awfully hard to get anything out of the Judiciary Committee as to schedule, and as to who’s up and who’s got holds. How about some transparency there?

TC: Well, there’s no problem. I don’t have any problem…you know, every hold I put on Senate bills, I call the Senator and tell them I’m holding your bill, and here’s why. And I don’t have any problem with transparency on holds. Remember, it’s important, Hugh, for everybody to understand what a hold is.

HH: Go ahead.

TC: A hold is a rejection of a request by the majority leader to pass a bill without you objecting to it. So if you object to the bill, you say no, I don’t agree to that bill, I think we ought to debate it, rather than all 100 of us say yeah, it’s okay to let it go, if you say I disagree with the bill, then the implication is you have a hold. Well, all you’re saying is if you want to bring the bill to the floor, I’m happy to have you bring the bill to the floor, but let’s debate it, rather than just pass it by not anybody ever knowing what’s going on, having a debate on how we’re doing things, or why we’re doing things. So we ought to do that. And the reason is, is because there’s too much government, and too much to do, that they can’t debate everything on the Senate floor.

HH: But now on nominees in the Judiciary Committee, holds are a different…

TC: Well, there’s what’s called a blue slip, that every member gets, that says I am going to hold or not hold. And I don’t have any problem with those being public.

HH: And now going back to Keisler again, is that dead? Are you telling me that that nomination is just simply never going to get through the Judiciary Committee?

TC: No, I didn’t say that. I just said they’re not going to do it in the lame duck.

HH: Okay, so it’s possible that…

TC: Oh, you bet.

HH: …that seat will get filled?

TC: You bet.

HH: All right. Now when the Supreme Court nomination comes around, Chuck Schumer said yesterday there’s not going to be another Alito, and I guess that means another superb justice will draw his ire. How big of a battle will that be? Because there has never been a Supreme Court nominee who’s been denied a debate on the floor of the Senate, and at least a vote on cloture on the floor of the Senate.

TC: Well, I think a couple of things will happen. Number one is that Senator Schumer’s wrong. The President has the Constitutional authority to nominate, not Senator Schumer. So the President will nominate, there’ll be a hearing on Supreme Court nominees, and if they don’t let the President’s nominees have a vote, or if they get voted down, which that may be…is more likely the case, is that any nominee has…will get voted down, 10-9. Then it can go to the floor, but without the recommendation…but the majority leader won’t bring it to the floor. So they’ll attempt to kill all of them in the Judiciary Committee. The key is, and this is a democracy that we work under, and so the wonderful thing will be is we get to talk about voting against somebody that is qualified to be a Supreme Court nominee.

HH: I couldn’t agree with you more. Senator Tom Coburn, look forward to many more conversations in the two years ahead. Thanks for being on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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