HH: Right now, I am so pleased to talk to the Republican Whip in the United States Senate, the great Jon Kyl, our favorite Senator. Senator Kyl, welcome back, and what a night last night, huh?
JK: Indeed it was. Thank you, Hugh, great to be with you and your listeners again. A little happier mood tonight.
HH: Yeah, I’ve got to ask you, in my lifetime, I can’t remember a more surprising result, maybe even not a more significant election that wasn’t a presidential election. How do you assess last night’s vote?
JK: I think it’s huge for us to realize how important this is, because first of all, it occurred in a state where you would never dream it would occur. And for that reason, I think it ought to dawn on folks that this is a nationwide, very deep expression of how the American people feel about things. So you know, if it happened in Nebraska or something, well, you’d pass it off. But this is Massachusetts, in effect, confirming what all the rest of us have been feeling and hearing from our constituents, but wondering well, maybe we’ve got a little more conservative group of constituents. It’s nationwide. And what is the message? You guys in Washington don’t get it, you’re a bunch of elitists, you’re not listening to us, you’re spending too much money, you’re trying to take over everything you can take over. And health care is the first manifestation of that. Incidentally, there was a pretty strong undercurrent of concern about the Obama administration terrorism policies as well, according to Scott Brown.
JK: But I think that was secondary. Primary is get your focus on what matters to us, which is jobs and getting the economy moving again, and quit trying to take over the world with a government that says well, you may not like what we’re trying to do now, but we know what’s best, and you’ll end up liking it.
HH: Now trying to decipher what the President and his party are taking away from this is like trying to figure out what the Navajo code talkers are saying, because they’re not simply speaking clearly. In the small confines of the Senate corridors today, what are you picking up? What do you think they’re going to do?
JK: At first, there were a lot of mixed messages, including coming out of the White House. But I just read an AP story that suggests to me that because it’s quoting Obama, obviously he sets the tone for the rest of those guys, and I mean, before that, Axelrod was talking, and Gibbs was talking and so on, it was a cacophony, really, of different points of view, especially how they’re going to proceed on health care. But when the President put his statement out, it’s pretty clear to me where they want to go, and I think you could summarize it, they realize that they have now got to have some Republican buy-in. And so what they’re going to try to do is to appeal to a few Republicans, try to pick them off, and I think they’re going to start with Scott Brown, by the way, as well as those with whom they’ve been making contact over the course of the last few months, and see if they can pick off one or two or three Republicans to support essentially the same health care bill that they’ve got right now, but with some minor modifications.
HH: Now take us into the tall grass. Do you expect they would try and do that, and then just put it into the House version, of the Senate version? Or would they send the bill back for a major overhaul, and another up or down vote?
JK: There are a variety of mechanisms. First, there’s been speculation today that they might try the nuclear option. This would be the final nail in the coffin, by the way, I think. If you think the people are mad now, this is the deal where they say well, let’s just pass in the House of Representatives, let’s take the Senate-passed bill, and pass it, but also pass another bill with only majority vote at the same time, the reconciliation or nuclear option here, that fixes all the problems that are in the Senate bill. Now I don’t know how you can do that. But that’s being thought of right now. I tend to think that won’t happen, because it’s too clever by half. I think what they’ll try to do instead is to pick off a couple, two, maybe three Republican votes if they think they can by fixing the bill, and then re-passing that in the Senate and in the House.
HH: Now as the Whip, you obviously are very close to Senators Snowe and Collins, Senator-to-be Brown. Do you think they’re going to be willing to suggest to themselves, or attempt to represent the entire volcano of emotion that is out there, and conduct those negotiations?
JK: Well, first, I don’t, as you can appreciate, don’t discuss individual Senators in this context.
JK: But what I am saying, and I read very carefully what the President said, it is clear to me that he has specific Senators in mind because of the way he phrased what he said. And it’s clear that they’re going to go try to pick these Senators off. Now obviously, to the extent he’s talking about some of my colleagues on the Republican side, I’m going to be working with them to say no, remember what the message from the people in Massachusetts was. The answer is no, we don’t want this thing. Tell them to stop it. So you can’t fix it at the margins, and say that you have done what the American people want. I think the approach that Senator Snowe took on the floor of the Senate before Christmas is correct. In effect, she said you can’t do something this big without broad bipartisan support, not just one or two members, which is why she said she would never be the 60th vote. And she also said that you can’t just untangle this ball of yarn, excuse me, you can’t just pick one or two things out, or add one or two things to it. You’d have to totally untangle it, and start from scratch. And I think that’s true. So it’s going to be hard for them, I think, to persuade a Republican to simply accept a little provision here, a little provision there, and then that they’d get their vote. That would pretty much, I think, run contrary to what the voters in Massachusetts said yesterday.
HH: Now Senator Kyl, I almost feel bad for Arlen Specter, because he was your colleague for so many years, and did a fine job during some of the nastiest confirmation hearings. I’m all for defeating him this time around, because he left the team that I root for and believe is in the best interest of the country. But have you seen him yet? Does he have any idea the cliff he walked off?
JK: (laughing) I think you got it right. Yes, I’ve seen him. He’s got a tough primary in Pennsylvania, first of all, and then I think he’d have a tough general. So I’m not exactly counting on him being back here after next November.
HH: Well, what I’m getting to is do they realize now that it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t the Arizona conservatives, or the California conservatives who were driving this anger. This was Massachusetts.
HH: He’s losing in…it’s these New England Republicans that are saying are you people crazy? This will destroy the American economy.
JK: That’s why I began by saying I don’t even think that we realize yet how big a deal this is, how broad and deep it is. And I think every incumbent, Democrat and Republican, need to really be careful now, because it’s independents, it’s Republicans, and it’s Democrats. And there’s not much loyalty to any political party here. What the people obviously are saying, at least this is the way I’m hearing them, and I heard it when I was in Arizona for the last two and a half weeks, is you guys have to start listening to us. We’re your boss. You think you know it all in Washington. You’re elitists, and you’re telling us what’s best for us, and then saying well, we think in a couple of years you’ll like this health care bill just fine, even if you don’t like it right now. And what they’re saying is we know enough about it to tell you right now we don’t want it, and so don’t pass it. And while you’re at it, stop spending money like crazy, and stop trying to take over the world with all these different takeover deals. I think that’s the message. And any politician that ignores that, ignores it at his or her peril.
HH: Senator Jon Kyl of the great state of Arizona, thank you, Senator, for joining us. Good luck in getting your colleagues to recognize the truth of what you just said.
End of interview.