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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on MSNBC w/Hugh

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The audio:


The transcript:

HH: Leader McConnell, thanks for sitting down with me today.

MM: Glad to be with you.

HH: You’ve said many times that Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed, and that your major power is controlling the calendar. So the question is when will he be confirmed?

MM: Before the end of September. He’ll be on board at the Supreme Court by the first Monday in October, which you and I both know is the beginning of the October term.

HH: Any doubt in your mind about that result?

MM: None whatsoever. I think any doubts anybody might have had have been dispelled by his virtuoso performance before the Judiciary Committee. I mean, it’s stunning. He’s just a stellar nomination in every respect.

HH: I’m going to come back to the specifics of his performance in a moment, but you’ve got 26 Appeals Court judges confirmed. This will be your second Supreme Court justice confirmed. There are 10 more in the queue who have already been nominated for the federal Appeals Court, Senator McConnell. Do you expect those 10 to be confirmed before the end of this session?

MM: Yeah. We’re going to clear the deck of all the circuit judges. As you have reported repeatedly, and I appreciate the attention you’ve given to it, I think among the most important things we’ve done, not just Supreme Court justices, but the Circuit judges. We’ve set a record for the first two years of any administration. If we can hold onto the Senate for two more years, we’re going to transform the federal judiciary with young men and women who believe in the fundamental notion that the job of a judge is to interpret the law as it’s written.

HH: Now Judge Kavanaugh frequently invoked the Ginsberg standard from 1993 when now-Justice Ginsberg said no hints, no previews. He’s done so very effectively. Do you approve of him doing so, and do you expect all future nominees to do so?

MM: Well, they all do it now. After what happened to Robert Bork, every nominee of every president since then has not speculated on what they might rule in the future.

HH; Now your colleague, Senator Schumer, said it’s the least transparent proceeding for a Supreme Court nominee in history. Do you agree with him? And what might be similar to this proceeding?

MM: Yeah, quite the contrary. A bit more paper produced surrounding this nominee than any other. We have 12 years of D.C. Circuit Court opinions. There’s no doubt what kind of judge Brett Kavanaugh would be. They’re just under intense pressure, Hugh, from the left leading one member last night to even break a Senate rule in response to a plea by a group from the left to step up the opposition, you know, act as outrageously as possible.

HH: I listened somewhat surprised when Senator Booker announced he was going to break the Senate rule fully aware that it could lead to his expulsion from the Senate after John Cornyn pointed out running for president, it is sometimes useful to break the rules of the Senate. Do you intend to help his campaign by bringing up a motion to expel Senator Booker from the Senate for breaking the rules?

MM: Well, let me just say this. When you break the Senate rules, it’s something the Ethics Committee could take a look at. And that would be up to them to decide. But it’s routinely looked at the Ethics Committee.

HH: Would you support that being done expeditiously?

MM: Well, I don’t order, the majority leader doesn’t order the Ethics Committee to take matters up. They do it on their own initiative. This is an evenly-balanced committee, even number of Republicans and Democrats. But they have an obligation to look into violations of the Senate rules, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

HH: Were you surprised that he did that?

MM: It was unusual behavior. Let’s put it that way.

HH: Now I want to go back to Judge Kavanaugh, the focus of this. He invoked yesterday among his many Federalist Papers in response to Senator Lee, number 69. That’s by Hamilton. In Federalist 69, Alexander Hamilton says a president may only be impeached, tried, and removed, and then subject to criminal process. You’re a lawyer, a good one, and the leader of this body. Do you believe a president can be indicted?

MM: I’m a lawyer, but not a good one. The Justice Department, I gather, has taken the position under a president of both parties that the appropriate remedy for presidential misbehavior is impeachment. I’m not an expert on this, but I hear that’s the case.

HH: Do you think he is subject to subpoena? Judge Kavanaugh delicately avoided answering that.

MM: Yeah, that’ll be up to the courts to decide. I have no idea what, how they would rule.

HH: The Judge gave a lot of conversation with Amy Klobuchar, Senator Klobuchar and Senator Feinstein about precedence of precedence. And a lot of pro-life people thought they heard him say he is going to uphold Planned Parenthood V. Casey, and thus, Roe V. Wade. Did you hear that?

MM: I don’t think there’s any way to predict how any of these people are going to rule in the future. They’re all very careful not to make that kind of commitment in advance. It is a lifetime appointment, own purpose, so that people will exercise independent judgment. I have no idea how Judge Kavanaugh would ultimately rule on anything.

HH: Now it was reported that President Trump was upset when then-Judge, now-Justice Gorsuch meet with you and other colleagues and may have been less than complimentary. Does a nominee owe loyalty to the president once both through this process and once on the bench?

MM: No, I think once the member is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he has an obligation to try to follow the law as written.

HH: And now I’ve got to read to you a tweet from a year ago, actually a few years ago, from 2013. Thanks to all of you who encouraged me to consider a filibuster reform. It had to be done. It’s from your old colleague, Harry Reid. What do you think your old colleague is thinking in Searchlight, Nevada now?

MM: Probably not very happy with where we are, but actually, Hugh, you and I have discussed this in the past. The Senate never filibustered judges anyway. Even though it was possible, never did it anyway until George Bush 43 was elected president. So the whole business of filibustering executive branch appointments, whether to the cabinet or to the courts, is a new invention. Who invented it? Chuck Schumer. And so we are now simply back to where we were as a matter of custom for 200 and some odd years down to the 2000 election, which is you don’t filibuster nominees on the executive calendar. So I’m comfortable with where we are. That’s the way we operated when I first got to the Senate before they started routines filibustering judges. I think a simple majority is entirely appropriate for the executive calendar, including judges.

HH: Now the antics we have watched this week, though, have led some to observe that perhaps the body is as polarized as it has ever been. Do you agree with that, because you’ve got a lot of years here, that relations between the two sides of the aisle are at their nadir?

MM: Well, I think there’s a difference between putting on an act in a committee hearing room and how you act on the Senate floor. I think there’s no lack of collegiality in the Senate. But what I think you see the Democrats doing is basically putting up a good front knowing they’re going to lose, and trying to convince their left-wing base, which is demanding of them something they can’t deliver. They’re demanding that they defeat this nominee. That’s not going to happen. So the next best thing they can do is put on a good show and put on a good fight, and I think Senator Booker went entirely too far last night.

HH: Penultimate question, is this your legacy, beginning with the decision to hold open the Scalia vacancy because of the death of Justice Scalia through the organization of the Appeals and Supreme Court nominees? Is this the most important part of Mitch McConnell’s legacy?

MM: I think so. I think it’s the most consequential series of things that I’ve done that have the longest impact on the country. You know, the legislative process, Hugh, there’s not much you can do all by yourself. The one thing the majority leader can do that no one else can do is the schedule, what you will do or what you will not do. I think the decision not to fill the Scalia vacancy was the most consequential decision of my career. And I think the follow up on that to not only fill these Supreme Court vacancies, but put in place men and women who believe that the job of a judge is to interpret the law into as many places as we can, particularly at the Circuit Court level, for as long as we’re in the majority, is the most important thing I will have been involved in, in my career.

HH: I have to agree with that, and I also want to conclude by asking you about the New York Times op-ed, the story of the day, that appeared in Wednesday afternoon by an anonymous senior official in the Trump White House. Were you surprised that someone would feel this way and act that way?

MM: Well, the New York Times is putting stories on the front page all the time based on anonymous sources, so I guess this is just the most recent example of it.

HH: But it means that someone near the President is actively working against him inside the White House. Are you surprised that someone would do that rather than, say, resign publicly?

MM: Yeah, I really don’t have any further observations to make about it. Our job here in the Senate is to accomplish as much as we can for the American people. These opportunities to be in this position don’t come very often. Only 20 of the last 100 years has my party had the White House, the House and the Senate at the same time. This has been the most productive Congress of my entire career here, and I want to keep it up.

HH: Last question. Democrats say that a blue wave is going to result. Energized by the Kavanaugh confirmation, the map’s pretty good for the Republican side. Do you think a blue wave will result from the Kavanaugh proceedings and confirmation?

MM: Well, we know it’s going to be a tricky year. And off-year elections two years into any administration have been challenging for the party of the president. We know the wind will be in our face. What we don’t know is whether it’ll be category 3, 4 or 5. In the Senate, we’re not all up. Unlike the House, we have a pretty good map, but they had a pretty good map two years ago. I think the elections are going to be close and hard-fought right until the end. I hope when all the votes are counted, that we’ll still be setting the agenda in the United States Senate for two more years and be able to complete this judicial project that we’re talking about, which I think has the longest positive impact on the country right of center.

HH: Leader McConnell, thanks for your time.

MM: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.


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