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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on President Trump’s Nominees

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The transcript:

HH: I am so pleased to welcome United States Senator Charles Grassley. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s great to have you on, Senator, good morning.

CG: Call me Chuck, please.

HH: Okay, well, that’s an old habit of mine. What did you make of this morning? You’ve seen a lot of things come and go, Senator, in the years of D.C. What did you make of the return of the hostages this morning at Andrews?

CG: Well, it’s ideal for the family, but even more importantly, this is something that a year ago, you’d say President Trump is going to get Kim Jung Un to the table and maybe have denuclearization there and then bring home these prisoners when we’ve had both Republican and Democrats before him? I think it’s a tribute to the fact that for the first time in the history of the country, we’ve never had a, when we’ve always had politicians or generals to be president of the United States, here we’ve got a businessman with a new way of approaching things, and this is a perfect example. And hopefully, some agreement with North Korea on denuclearization, it’s just a shock to everybody. Who would have ever thought that we’re making progress of renegotiating NAFTA? And we’ve got President Xi already saying he’s going to allow cars in at 2.5% tariff instead of 25% tariff. And we’ve got Korea’s going to let more tariffs in. We’ve got all of Europe committed to spending more money on their national defense through NATO, and just things like that. And the biggest tax [decrease] in the 30 year, in 30 years. And just phenomenal things happening, and it’s because we have a guy coming to town that doesn’t care how Washington used to work, and he’s going to try to get the things done he can get done. And the only thing that’s really an impediment is the Democrats in the Congress.

HH: How do you grade President Trump’s, I think you meant tax decrease, not increase, tax cut. How do you grade President Trump’s first…

CG: The biggest tax cut in the history of the country.

HH: I knew what you meant. But what do you, how do you grade President Trump’s first 15 months, Chuck Grassley?

CG: Well, for instance, on the Supreme Court nominee, on circuit court strict constructionists being on circuit courts, an A. On foreign policy, I think he’ll get, he should have at least a B now, and if he’s successful in some of these things he’s in the process of doing, he’ll get an A. On repealing Obamacare, which isn’t really his fault, but obviously he’s not going to get very good grades on that. Maybe if I gave him a bad grade instead of Congress taking all the fault, it would be because maybe he wasn’t actively engaged early on. But here we have, again, a person coming to Washington not being in the way Washington always works, not caring how Washington always works, coming in to drain the swamp, and there’s still a lot of muddy water in the swamp, but he’s in the process of draining it, and not issuing a new regulation every day, not having new taxes talked about every day, and not more spending every day. And every day, that’s what Obama was doing. And so people lost confidence in the economy. People that were going to put in risk capital to create jobs would not do it, because they knew tomorrow, the federal government’s going to screw them. So we got a whole new environment here in Washington, D.C, and the President is responsible for it.

HH: You are also responsible for it, you and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are the hardest-working senators there. And I want to go through the Judiciary Committee record. Congratulations on it. I am genuinely impressed. Are you prepping for a Supreme Court vacancy this summer, Chairman Grassley?

CG: Hugh, it doesn’t do any good to prep for that stuff. I just hope that if there is going to be a nominee, I hope it’s now or within two or three weeks, because we’ve got to get this done before the election, and there’s generally about 50, 60, 70 days between the time a president nominates somebody and we get a hearing in committee, and then another two weeks before it gets to the floor. And this has to be done before the November election. So my message to any one of the 9 Supreme Court justices, if you’re thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday.

HH: Okay, received. Let me talk about the record for my audience. 1 Supreme Court justice nominated and confirmed, 16 Appeals Court judges have been confirmed by your committee and the whole Senate. An additional 14 have been nominated. 12 are awaiting nominees. 17 district court judges have been confirmed. 63 are nominated. Lots more vacancies there. Now to compare that overall, in two terms, Bill Clinton had 62 Appeals Court judges. You’ve already done 16. President Obama had 49 over two terms. W. had 61. You’ve already done 16. Of those 14 that have been nominated, how many of those 14 do you expect will get votes by the election?

CG: Oh, I think all of them if they’re circuit court nominees. I’m, what I’m afraid of, we don’t get the district court people done. There’s about 30 district court people on the agenda right now, and I have pleaded with McConnell to work nights, to work Saturdays and weekends, and put the pressure on the Democrats. And we’ve got to have every Republican around and even cancel a recess so we can clear the calendar of these important nominees. Otherwise, all the hard work I’m doing in committee is for naught.

HH: I agree. I want them, I would go round the clock, too, on this. Now there an additional 12 vacancies on the circuits. This is what concerns me the most – Supreme Court first, then the circuits. Do you expect that you will get a nominee for every vacancy in the circuit soon?

CG: We, Hugh, listen. I have conversation fairly regularly with Don McGahn. And my staff has conversations with his staff on a regular basis. So we’re telling people that we’re going to process them just as fast as they get them up here. During January and February, we didn’t have enough to process. And I’ll give you our goal. Our goal is five district judges and at least one circuit judge and possibly two every other Wednesday between now and Christmas.

HH: That is terrific.

CG: And just as soon as they get, just as soon as they get them up here, we’ll process them.

HH: You had a hearing yesterday for Ryan Bounds, nominated to the 9th Circuit. He is from Oregon. Neither of the Oregon senators returned the so-called blue slip. This is up the chairman to decide. Why did you decide to let Mr. Bounds go forward? And will you allow the President’s nominees to California to go forward if neither of the senators from the Golden State return their blue slips?

CG: Well, I’m going to make that decision based on their otherwise qualifications, because there’s no sense in my worrying about a blue slip if there’s something in the FBI report…

HH: True.

CG: …or if there’s something about them they don’t want. But I can tell you this. Don McGahn is doing an excellent job. And I hope the President tells him every day that he appreciates the work that Don’s doing, because Don ought to be complimented every day for the hard work he and his staff is doing. So when we can’t process them until they get up here, but as long as I’ve got a full complement of five district judges and at least one circuit judge every other year, I mean, every other Wednesday for a hearing, we’re going to go ahead. We don’t have to worry about whether they come from Timbuktu or California. I mean, we’ve got to push them out wherever they are. And I can’t do it until the White House gets them up here. So if they get a bunch of California people up here, then we’ll deal with them at that particular time based upon who they are and whether or not there’s been consultation. Now the blue sip is not meant to be a veto. The blue slip is meant to be nothing more than a process of making sure the White House consults with the senators from those states, because advice and consent. It seems to me the Constitution requires the White House to listen to Congress’ advice. They don’t have to take the advice, but they have to listen to them. So I make Don McGahn give me a record, an index of almost minute by minute consultation with every senator. And if the consultation is proper, then particularly for circuit judges, that’s all that’s required. And there was such consultation with the Oregon senators, but they wanted to find an excuse on ideological or political grounds for not returning the blue slip. And that’s not a legitimate reason for not returning the blue slip.

HH: So if Senators Feinstein and Harris are consulted by the White House, the President and Mr. McGahn and his team, you will consider them on their merits whether or not the blue slips are returned for the circuit?

CG: Absolutely. In fact, I proved that yesterday.

HH: Yes, you did.

CG: In the case of Bounds.

HH: Now let me ask you about the district court. This is almost a theological question, Chairman Grassley, an important one. If we maintain the blue slip tradition for district courts, my old state of California will never get another district court judge except under a Democratic president. Is that fair? I mean, we have 10 vacancies on the district court level in California.

CG: Yeah.

HH: Is there not some way to split them between Republicans and Democrats so we can at least fill up…the litigants are being mishandled because of vacancies.

CG: Yeah, well, that is up to the White House and what they can work out. I surely suggest those sorts of things. And it works in other states. We have seen that accommodation in Indiana, Pennsylvania, I don’t know what other states, Illinois, Hawaii. A 9th Circuit judge in Hawaii, the two senators returned the blue slip.

HH: Yes, they did.

CG: The nominee is satisfactory to the senators from, and also satisfactory to the White House.

HH: How important is it, Senator Grassley, that the Republican majority remain in place vis-à-vis the courts, and the Supreme Court especially, and this goes to every election in every state in November? How important is it that you keep the gavel next year?

CG: Well, it’s this important. If we have a Democrat Senate, if we have a Democrat Senate you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists that Don McGahn’s getting up to us. And you’re going to have people in not like, we’ll say, a little more like Kennedy, if you wanted to pick somebody out of the Supreme Court. That’s the kind of people we’re going to have on the Circuit Court.

HH: So I want to go back and conclude by what we talked about the Supreme Court. You need them to declare their intent to resign, not to actually resign, correct? Is that what you were saying? If a Supreme Court member is going to step down, you need them to declare their intent to resign yesterday, I think you say…

CG: Okay.

HH: …in order to be ready to go?

CG: Yeah, particularly if they were one of the five that we call conservative.

HH: I…

CG: Well…

HH: I get that. So overall, I just think it’s amazing what you’ve done, and my compliments, my hat is off to you. If you do keep the Senate majority, do you expect every vacancy open to the President will be filled by the end of his first term?

CG: Absolutely.

HH: Even the district courts where there are two blue state senators?

CG: But…well, I always, when we got blue slip problems, they go down to the bottom of the list. And like Bounds, he wouldn’t have been brought up now, necessarily, if the slips hadn’t been returned. But we needed to get a circuit court person on the hearing for yesterday. We got him on the hearing. And that’s why we move ahead. I’ve got to look at my job like a production assembly line. I’ve got five and one every other Wednesday, and we’ve got to fill it up. Otherwise, maybe Bounds, if there’d been somebody from some other state where we had two blue slips returned, then he would have been on there. But I’ve got to keep my commitment that I made that we’re going to make sure that we have an efficient operation in this Judiciary Committee.

HH: And you do, and I hope you stay all summer at it. And I hope you get two circuit court nominees a week. Chuck Grassley, thank you for joining me. I appreciate the candor, and I appreciate the productivity of the Judiciary Committee.

CG: Okay, thank you very much, Hugh. Goodbye.

HH: Bye.

End of interview.


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