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Senator John Cornyn of Texas On A Border Security/Immigration Reform Deal, Judicial Nominees in the Ninth Circuit, and Changing the Rules of the Senate

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Senator John Cornyn of Texas joined me this morning:




HH: So pleased to welcome back on this cold morning across a lot of the polar vortex-impacted America Senator John Cornyn of the great state of Texas. Senator Cornyn, good to have you, Welcome.

JC: Thank you, Hugh. Good to be back.

HH: I’ve got to begin with a Wall Street Journal story this morning entitled A Bad Judges Deal. It’s actually on the op-ed page, and it reports that the three 9th Circuit nominees from last year, Daniel Collins, Kenneth Lee and Patrick Bumatay have not been re-nominated, because the President’s White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, is dealing with Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. The Democrats want to pick a new judge from the White House list, one from their own list, and a third consensus nominee. That would be a disaster, John Cornyn. You’re on the Judiciary Committee. What do you know about this?

JC: Well, I’m not familiar with these particular judges off the top of my head. I do know that the President re-nominated 51 judges that had been sent back after the end of the 115th Congress in December, which is the rule. But I’ll certainly look into this. Of course, the home state senators are not irrelevant, but as you know, that Chairman Grassley, and I think Chairman Graham now, will not give home state senators a veto via the blue slip over the nominees. So that’s something I’ll need to look into.

HH: Yeah, Chairman Grassley told me last year when he was chairman that they had tried everything to get a deal done with Dianne Feinstein, and they couldn’t get one done, and so the President nominated three great originalists. And I’m here to tell you they are three great…one of them, by the way, is a gay man. And so it would be the first gay conservative nominated on the 9th Circuit. But it’s what the 9th Circuit needs…

JC: Right.

HH: Three hard core originalists. And so when I read this, I said this is a key part of the McConnell-Cornyn legacy. You guys changed the face of the federal courts. And the 9th Circuit is the last bastion, well, the 4th Circuit and the D.C. Circuit are out to lunch, too, but the 9th Circuit is the one that needs saving the most. Why in the world do we owe anything to Dianne Feinstein? She tried to take out Kavanaugh illegitimately.

JC: Well, you’ve got my attention, and I certainly am going to look into it. And now, Senator Harris is running for president. She’s running hard left. She’s not going to do anything to upset her base. And so I suspect that may be a factor in all of this. But you’ve got my attention. I’m going to look into it, and I agree with you. We shouldn’t cave to those who want to get the President to veer off his path of nominating and us confirming originalists.

HH: You know, I don’t do this very often, but I got David Perdue to commit to call the President on this. Will you do the same thing, John Cornyn?

JC: I’m happy to. I’m happy to.

HH: Yeah, thank you, because I don’t think he knows. Honestly, 9th Circuit nominees, that’s way below what he’s focused on. Right now, we’re focused on Venezuela where I’m about to change my attention to, and so I don’t misunderstand it. And Pat Cipollone may not know what this means to the base. He’s a D.C. lawyer. I don’t know him, evidently a good guy. Do you know him, Senator Cornyn?

JC: I met him the other day at the White House, but I hear good things about him, so I look forward to working with him. I’ll certainly talk to him and the President as well.

HH: Yeah, this is like the third rail of the base. This is the 9th Circuit on the Circuit Courts is the third rail. And I can’t believe, and by the way, I think it’s fair to state, those three would have been confirmed but for Jeff Flake, am I right?

JC: That’s right. Yeah, Jeff, Jeff held up voting on any of these on the floor, and as you know, our margin was so thin, we couldn’t do it without him. So yeah, you’re exactly right.

HH: All right, Jeff Flake owns the disruption in these people’s lives. And people should remember that. He is not a representative of the center-right conservative judicial philosophy. Senator Cornyn, let’s turn to Venezuela. The Washington Post reports this morning that Maduro has unleashed the death squads. 35 people murdered in their homes and in the streets of the slums of Caracas, 850 gone missing. If we don’t move quickly, more will die, scores more will die, and hundreds more will be imprisoned and disappeared. Do you support military intervention along with Brazil and Colombia now?

JC: Well, we had the worldwide threats hearing, both open and classified, yesterday where we got to talk to our intelligence community leaders about Venezuela, among other things. I am concerned that we are late to the game. And although I am proud of the fact that President Trump and the Vice President sided with the opposition against Maduro, who’s been a disaster for Venezuela, this is an ominous development. And certainly, we need to protect those people who in reliance upon our support for the opposition, have stuck their neck out and now endanger their lives. So I certainly think we need all hands on deck. I’m not ready to declare war or military intervention, but we need to protect these people who have relied on us in good faith.

HH: When Ambassador Bolton walked out with a yellow pad that had on it 5,000 troops to Colombia…

JC: Colombia, yeah.

HH: That’s an Army combat brigade. That doesn’t mean a ground invasion. That means helping the Brazilians and the Colombians secure the legitimate leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido’s authority, bring back the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and then get the hell out of the country, because they can run it, right?

JC: Right. Right. No you’re exactly right. This isn’t going to be an invasion of Venezuela, but we do need to protect these people who have relied on us in good faith and protect the rights of Venezuelans to elect their own leader in a free and fair election.

HH: Now Senator Cornyn, let’s turn to the conference committee which meets today. I am an advocate of going big. I know Senator Graham is. I would put border security, regularization for 10 million, not just DACA and TPS, E-Verify mandated, you know, the end of family migration rights for those who are regularized, and now Senator Graham wants to have the debt limit and repeal the sequester. I actually think there’s no reason that big deals can’t get done in three weeks. We saw the government move after 9/11 pretty rapidly. What do you hope happens? Or if they get very close, they can extend it a week, do one week CR’s sort of thing. What do you think should happen?

JC: Well, we need a solution here, and I don’t think it’s all that complicated. I’m happy to go big. We tried to do that in February right after the President was elected with his very generous offer to offer a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients in exchange for eliminating the diversity lottery visa and chain migration. Democrats turned that down. But we need to solve the immediate problem. But if it takes us going big to do it, and we can get some other things that we want to get done along with it, I’m fine with that. I’ll support that.

HH: Now my friend, Mark Levin, was railing against Leader McConnell, who I think has saved the Constitution. I think he is probably the greatest leader of the Senate that the Republicans have had in my lifetime. And so I disagree with Mark on this. But he’s afraid of people going big, and I don’t think the base is there. I think Mark is an outlier on this, though the smartest outlier there is. I just don’t think the base demands deportation. They want border barriers, and they don’t much care about regularization with a long path to citizenship for non-violent people. I just don’t think that’s a deal breaker if they can get other things that they want like E-Verify. Are you, do you sense that with me, Senator?

JC: I’m much closer to your position on that, Hugh. You know, I do think the President has been extraordinarily generous. He does want border security. We must insist on that. One of the complications of this process is this is a conference committee of the Appropriations Committee. So they don’t have the authority to go to immigration reform writ large. But that may take us there if we can’t get this immediate problem fixed here by February 15th. I’m certainly open to it.

HH: Now that’s interesting, because you’re very close with the Leader, obviously. You were the whip until this year, and now you’ve got to run for reelection, which you will win handily, and we will tell everyone in Texas. By the way, what’s the website for the campaign, Senator?

JC: It’s Thank you.

HH: And so everyone listening in Houston and Dallas right now, and San Antonion and all my smaller markets, go to, what is it,


HH: That’s not, and it’s John, friends. It’s not Jon. Got to say that for the Steelers fans. Get involved, get in the game, because the Democrats want to flip your state, Senator. Are they making progress in that?

JC: Well, they came within 220,000 votes out of 8.3 million. They got very close, Beto O’Rourke did, to Ted Cruz. So we’re taking it very seriously. We’re already getting started, getting organized, and we’re prepared to win up and down the ticket from the White House to the courthouse.

HH: You know, your friend, Mitch, says in his book, The Long Game, you can start too late, but you can never start too early. I’m sure you’re following that sage advice.

JC: I’m very familiar with that aphorism of Mitch’s, and it’s absolutely correct.

HH: So is there any opponent on the horizon for you in Texas? I mean, Beto is off running after the presidency now, and showing us how to get his teeth drilled.

JC: Well, I think it’s, you know, I think certainly the Democrats are emboldened by their successes in the 2018 midterms and this incredibly large turnout that really was unprecedented. But there’s a number of people, let’s say, Julian Castro, who are running for president. There’s a cast of thousands running for president in the Democratic primary. It would be easy for one of them who are not doing very well in the presidential primary to flip to the Senate race, and they could do that late in the game. So we’re getting prepared now for anybody and everybody.

HH: Well, that’s great. So I want to close with you’re a border state. You know the border as well as anyone. It doesn’t need to be a 2,000 mile barrier.

JC: Correct.

HH: It’s more like 700-800 miles of double-layered fencing that’s tall and strong. Am I right about that? Is that what border state people think? It’s not every mile of the border. And we’re talking Arizona and California as well, and New Mexico.

JC: Right.

HH: It’s about 700-800 miles.

JC: Right. It’s, the Border Patrol says you need some combination of physical barriers, technology and personnel, and it’s a little bit different depending on the geography. For example, out in Big Ben, where you have 3,000 foot cliffs, it doesn’t make much sense to put a fence there. In some places, the ground sensors and radar and drones would make sense to supplement the physical barriers and the Border Patrol. So some combination of those three, but obviously, as you know, Nancy Pelosi was interested in more scoring political points than solving the problem when she called the wall immoral, even though Democrats have voted for the Secure Fence Act as recently as 2006.

HH: Well, I hope that reason breaks out, and that I’m happy to hear you’re going to go big. And I appreciate very much if you call the President and say the 9th Circuit, do not let Pat screw this up. That’s a deal breaker. That will smash the base.

JC: I’ll make the call. Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Thank you, Senator Cornyn.

End of interview.


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