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Senator Chris Coons On The Spending Deal And Unanimous Consent Resolution

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HH: One of my favorite Democrats is with me on the radio this morning, Senator Chris Coons of the great state of Delaware joins me. Good morning, Senator, great to have you.

CC: Good morning, Hugh, thank you.

HH: Let me begin with what I asked Angus King and Lindsey Graham two days ago. If the President fires Robert Mueller, do you believe that to be an impeachable offense?

CC: I think the President would be crossing a major red line, because if we’re committed to the rule of law, that means that no one is above the law, including the President. Ultimately, whether that’s an impeachable offense would be in the hands of the House. That is, you know, the definition in the Constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors, is really as much a political question for the Congress as it is a tightly defined legal question. I think it would call for some prompt, very strong and decisive act by the House and the Senate. That’s why I am trying this week to move ahead on the Special Counsel bill that I drafted and introduced with a Republican colleague several months ago, and I’m encouraging both Republican and Democratic colleagues to make clearer, firmer public statements to discourage President Trump from what seems to be the temptation to threaten to fire Robert Mueller.

HH: And so if a member of the House delegation from Delaware approached you, who would be a trier of fact in such a case about whether or not they ought to indict, which is an impeachment? It’s not a conviction, it’s an indictment.

CC: Right.

HH: Would you advise them that firing Mueller would in fact be an indictable or an impeachable offense that ought to be referred to the Senate?

CC: Yeah, I would tell our Congresswoman that in my view, anything that the President did to impede an investigation into obstruction of justice and possibly collusion with a foreign power in the course of his campaign would meet the test of high crimes and misdemeanors.

HH: Now as, let’s talk about the second stream that is flowing, the firing of Andrew McCabe. Christopher Wray defended it yesterday, but last night, I just, I just put my chin down on the table, because I didn’t want it to hit too hard. I found out that McCabe had opened a criminal investigation into Jeff Sessions, but no one had told the Attorney General. Technically, I think that would have recused him from making the firing decision if he had known it, but no one told him. I think the FBI at the highest level through 2016 needs a second special counsel – the FISA work, this kind of stuff. What do you think? You’re a level-headed Democrat. It’s just crazy.

CC: I do think there’s been a whole series of pretty striking developments, admissions, a fact pattern. We have to make sure the FISA process is being followed clearly. I’m not yet persuaded that the inspector general can’t look into all of this. The inspector general did look into some of the matters around the handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which led to his recommendation that Andrew McCabe be fired. I haven’t had a chance to review that IG report, yet. I don’t believe anyone on Judiciary has, and I’m not yet persuaded that a second special counsel is called for. But I do think there’s a number of facts like that which were not made public or disclosed appropriately, or were not known in a timely fashion that raises some real questions.

HH: Now, and let’s move to the big area, big tech. I have interviewed Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Leader McConnell. I’ve asked them each, we need to get a special commission on big tech, because we don’t understand the problem. I don’t know that Judiciary Committee can actually do it. What do we do about this, because Franklin Foer is right – World Without Mind is upon us, and I don’t, Mark Zuckerberg saying he’s going to look into the apps does absolutely nothing for my level of confidence.

CC: It does nothing for me.

HH: Yeah, it does nothing for you, too?

CC: I’d like to have Zuckerberg in front of us testifying on committee. I was very annoyed when we had a hearing about the misuse of social media in the last election and how Russia manipulated social media to try and influence American voters, and none of the three CEO’s of the companies we asked came. They spent their, they sent their inside counsel, and you know, predictably, they got pretty aggressive questioning from both parties. I think we ought to have Zuckerberg in front of us, and one of the things I’ve done with Cory Gardner, Republican senator of Colorado, to propose a new committee of the Senate which would be a cybersecurity committee.

HH: Bravo.

CC: And it would be made up of the chair and ranking of the seven committees that have some jurisdiction over cyber. Our problem, Hugh, is that we have such diverse jurisdiction, which committee handles cyber? Is it Armed Services? Yes. Is it Banking? Yes. Is it Judiciary? Yes. Is it Foreign Relations? Yes. Is it Intel? We don’t have the ability to make well thought out, focused decisions about the impact on our national security, on our privacy and our civil liberties, on our economy that these dramatic advances in the accumulation of data, and then the manipulation of that data in an economic or in a national security way. And I think we should have one committee focused on doing that.

HH: Now you see, that makes an extraordinary amount of sense to me as a conservative Republican, but we get back to the dysfunction of the body, and that brings me to next week’s unanimous consent resolution to bring forward a number of nominees across many different branches. Among them will be Rick Grenell, my friend, who has been nominated for Germany. Will you go to your leader and urge that Rick Grenell get a vote?

CC: Yes.

HH: Do you think he will?

CC: I don’t know. The last time we had this conversation, I went and checked with the ranking member of Foreign Relations, and he said that he did not know any longer who was holding Grenell up, that there were two senators who’d been holding him up and who’d released their hold. This one’s dragged on far too long. I think we have a significant problem, Hugh, in that we have more than 25 critical nations – South Korea, for example, South Africa, Germany, obviously, where we do not have an ambassador. And when I’ve traveled to countries where we don’t have an ambassador, it makes a real difference in terms of the level of our relationship and their ability to effectively represent us. Senator Graham and I recently led a bipartisan CODEL. We went to the United Kingdom, to Jordan, to Israel and to Greece. And in the country where we lacked an ambassador, although he’s wonderful and very capable, Henry Wooster is our Chargé in Amman. It just, it’s not quite the same. And the world of diplomacy is one that really follows sort of rank order, chain of command. And in the absence of an ambassador, some places in the world, we really can’t have the impact we need to. In South Korea, for us to not have an ambassador, given the importance of the negotiations with North Korea, I think, is a big mistake. So I’ve been pressing. The Foreign Relations Committee just cleared four more ambassadors this week. I do think that Senator Corker and Senator Menendez work well together. The, I don’t think the Foreign Relations Committee is the holdup. But the vacancy in Germany has gone on just far too long. And I’ll be glad to press for Grenell to get a vote, because we shouldn’t have a country as significant as Germany, we shouldn’t have any country without an ambassador, but that’s a major European power.

HH: And we really need the Senate to, yeah, I’m glad to hear that, and I thank you for it. We really need the Senate to actually do some common sense working together, because the country can’t become functional if the Senate can’t function. And the Senate has protections of the minority which are legitimate, long-standing and indeed efficacious to protecting liberty. But sometimes, I just shake my head. Let’s go to this, first of all, will you be voting for Mike Pompeo? Do you expect to vote for Mike Pompeo? You haven’t had hearings, yet. Things can change. But if things don’t change, do you expect to support him as Secretary of State?

CC: I don’t know, yet. I’ve only met Pompeo twice, fairly briefly. I haven’t had a chance to review his record. There are some things about his record in leadership that strike me as a little more aggressive, a little less measured than Secretary Tillerson. I met with Secretary Tillerson twice for over an hour before his confirmation hearings. I hope I’ll get a chance to meet with Director Pompeo before his confirmation hearings. But I recognize that not having a Secretary of State for a long period would be a very bad thing. The State Department, frankly, Hugh, facing really aggressive budget cuts and a reorganization, and under a lot of pressure, because we’ve got, I think, more challenges, urgent issues around the world than at any time in my adult life, we need a strong Secretary of State. So I look forward to the hearings.

HH: Now I also know you’re a Yale Law guy. He’s a Harvard Law guy. He’s number one in his class at West Point. You’re two smart guys. I think you’ll get along, and you’ll get along fine. But I also turn to Judiciary. You’re a member of Judiciary.

CC: Yeah.

HH: Do you expect a vacancy in the Supreme Court at the end of this term?

CC: I don’t know. That’s been widely rumored. You know, there’s certainly several members of the Court who could step down given their age and seniority. I don’t know. I’ve not heard any credible rumor to that effect. I’ve just seen some coverage from the press. And that would be another watershed moment for the Trump presidency, and I expect that the Judiciary Committee would take its time and act thoroughly. But you know, the direction of the Supreme Court, from my political perspective, concerns me. And I would hope that we’d get, you know, a very capable, seasoned nominee, someone who could command some bipartisan support.

HH: I would hope it would also be not a circus. And I think you’re going to be one of the people to ensure that it is not a circus on the left, and there are some on the right who also have to make sure that it’s not a circus. If the nominee is another Gorsuch, it will be a more conservative Court than when Justice Kennedy, if he is that, the man who is rumored does step down, but not a seismic shift. I hope you’ll come on and talk a lot during that process.

CC: Yeah.

HH: Now let’s talk about Fix NICS and the march. I’m coming back to D.C. to participate in the march, because I don’t think 21 year olds should be able to buy rifles. That’s just, that’s just my view. I think dads and buy and moms can buy them and teach them. They can learn in the family, but I don’t think they ought to be able to buy an AR-15. I’m kind of a radical within my group, so I’m going to go march with these kids, and I’m glad. Did you fix NICS?

CC: That’s great.

HH: …in this bill?

CC: That’s my understanding. I haven’t seen a summary of the bill, yet. I’ll be getting that as soon as I get in. My understanding from news reports and from what some colleagues told me is that we did put the Fix NICS, which makes a minor, but important improvement to background checks in the omnibus. Senator Toomey and I have a bill that we introduced a few weeks ago that I think is a similar, basic common sense improvement in the enforcement of the law. It says that if you’re a person prohibited, so you’re a felon, you’re adjudicated mentally ill, you’ve been convicted of domestic violence, you’re someone by law cannot buy a gun. If you go into a gun store and you lie on your form and you try to buy a gun, that in and of itself is a felony. For more than 30 states, that information is not shared with state and local law enforcement.

HH: What?

CC: Yeah. In the state of Virginia, in the state of Pennsylvania, it’s state law enforcement that runs the NICS background check, so they know immediately. And in Pennsylvania, they arrested and prosecuted over 300 people in Virginia, about 500 people in 2016. There were about 120,000 NICS denials in 2016. My home state of Delaware, the NICS process is done directly, not through the State Police. And I thought it was great working with Pat Toomey, Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania, on this. This is a simple way to strengthen enforcement of existing law. I recently met with all the chiefs of police from the smaller towns in southern Delaware. Every one of them agreed if they got notice that a convicted felon from their town was at a gun store trying to buy a gun, they’d go have a conversation, because that is a terrific predictor.

HH: Well, that makes perfect sense, perfect sense. We’re short on time.

CC: Yeah.

HH: I’ve got to ask you very quickly, this Austin bomber is another crazed child.

CC: Yeah.

HH: He’s 22 years old and he’s off the grid mentally. What is wrong? You can’t answer this, but how do you go about figuring out what is wrong with our culture that we are a conveyor belt of monsters?

CC: That is something that has to deeply trouble, you know, every parent, every adult in our country. What is it about our culture, our entertainment, our schools, our communities that leads a very small number, but an important number of our young people to become so isolated, so engaged with violence that they move from watching it or fantasizing about it or reading about it to actually doing it, and trying to, you know, murder or massacre young people in schools or churches.

HH: Those would be some great hearings at Judiciary.

CC: They would.

HH: I would watch those hearings. Senator Coons, always a pleasure. I will see you perhaps on the Mall on Saturday, and sometime soon when I’m back in D.C. Thank you so much, Senator.

End of interview.


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