Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas joined me this morning:
HH: So pleased to welcome back United States Senator John Cornyn from the great state of Texas. He is the GOP whip, the number two ranking member of the current Senate delegation, and he’s up for reelection in 2020 as well. Senator Cornyn, I assume you are running for reelection, are you not?
JC: I am, Hugh. I still have some things I want to do in the Senate, and I’m looking forward to running in 2020.
HH: Now you know, I thought for a long time that Beto O’Rourke, Congressman O’Rourke, would just pick himself up and dust himself off and run against you. But he sounds like he’s running for president now. Did you get that signal as well?
JC: I did. I did. You know, he’s a national Democrat, which is the main reason why he lost in Texas. Texas is still a conservative state. And even though it is trending more purple than red, and that’s something we have to pay attention to, and I intend to in 2020, but I think Beto’s got stars in his eyes, and he’s going to go for the big one.
HH: Go for, it is going to be an interesting, they have a wild ride ahead of them. Senator, let’s focus on some more mundane things. First, the lame duck session of the expiring Congress, is there going to be a government shutdown, and are we going to get any nominees through with Jeff Flake’s concerns on the table?
JC: Well, we’ve got some judges on the calendar now that we can pass even if we don’t have Senator Flake’s support. But we can’t get them out of the Judiciary Committee, so we’re going to be working with Senator Flake to see what he needs in order to lift his hold. There is a possibility we will have a vote on the Mueller, so-called Mueller protection bill, but I think there really is some serious Constitutional issues on that, and I certainly don’t support it. I don’t think the president’s going to fire Bob Mueller, but we have a farm bill to take care of. There’s a lot of interest in a criminal justice reform bill. We have a Yemen war powers resolution that’s privileged and needs to be voted on this week, probably. So we’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.
HH: Now you also have a new bunch of senators coming in from Mitt Romney to Mike Braun to Rick Scott. I mean, you’ve got a lot of talent coming in.
JC: We really do.
HH: You’re stepping down because of term limits, but they’re going to look to you, because you were elected in an off-year of a Republican president the first time, 2002.
HH: So the incoming class is just like you, right? And so they’re going to look to you for, I would assume, some guidance on how they ought to run themselves as a first freshman senator.
JC: Well, I don’t know. I hope I’d be helpful to them and helpful to the whole conference. You’re right. Even though I’m term limited as whip, I’m not going away. And the good thing about being around this place for a while is you actually learn how to make things happen and get things done, and that’s what I intend to continue to do.
HH: I hope you stay on Judiciary. Is that the present plan, Senator Cornyn?
JC: I will. It’s part of my DNA, Hugh. I couldn’t quit if I wanted to, so, and I’ll be second in seniority to Lindsey Graham, who will ascend to the chairmanship as Chuck Grassley moves over to Finance Committee.
HH: Oh, that is terrific. One of the things I hope you folks do is hold some hearings into the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church working with the state AG’s, I think including the AG in Texas to examine whether or not there is a national cover up. Has anyone talked about doing that, yet?
JC: Well, I’ve certainly read a lot about the issue, and I haven’t talked to Senator Graham about that, but I certainly will. I think that’s an issue that bears more scrutiny, and certainly would talk to him about that and see what his intentions are.
HH: And again, back to the judicial confirmation flow, there are some Appeals Court judges, but we’ve got 9 vacancies for which there is no nominee, yet, much less the 11 for which there are nominees. Do you think that’s because the president lacks a White House Counsel right now?
JC: Well, Don McGahn did a fantastic job as White House Counsel, and I think that we need some stability there, because they’re an essential partner in moving, as you know, the nominees through the Senate and vetting them appropriately. But thank goodness we’ve got another two years of this administration, and we’ve got, we’ll have 53 senators after today, so we’ve got a little extra cushion. We can continue to confirm federal judges in the 116th Congress starting in January.
HH: And so you, I believe Cindy Hyde-Smith is going to win going away.
JC: I do, too.
HH: I don’t think it’s close. But the media is invested in making it close, so we have to put up with that for one more day. With 53, does that change the distribution of seats on Judiciary? Do we get a little buffer there after this?
JC: Yeah, that’ll be subject to negotiation between Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell, but my guess is it’s going to change the ratios. And I’m reading that Kamala Harris and some of her friends are worried that she might actually lose her seat on Judiciary Committee since she’s the most junior member. But I suspect Senator Schumer and the Democrats will want to protect her since she’s going to be a presidential candidate. We’ll see how that works out, but it will change the ratios on a number of the committees.
HH: Now let’s talk, I just talked with your colleague, Tom Cotton, about the justice reform bill. I have deep concerns about this law, and your colleague, Mike Lee, was on Morning Joe this morning pressing it. I just don’t like drug dealers getting out of prison early, because we’ve got 73,000 people die from fentanyl last year and other narcotic overdoses. What’s John Cornyn think about this, because having been on the Texas Supreme Court, and having been a district court judge, you’ve dealt with criminals. I mean, you know what this is about, both the good and the bad side of it.
JC: Well, the main part of the bill that I like is the prison reform part. And I think Tom and David Perdue and others who previously have expressed some concerns to the sentencing reform issues, they also support the prison reform, because people are going to get out of prison, and we need to help them, those that are willing, to be better prepared to lead a life of, turn from a life of crime if they will, and to be productive people in society. The part that’s controversial is the sentencing reform part that was added to it, because frankly, because the proponents saw it, the prison bill is sponsored by Senator Whitehouse and me moving, and they thought this was an opportunity to do some things they wanted to do. We’re still talking about it. There is, the Sheriff’s Association has pointed out five issues where they believe there should be some exclusions to the early release portions based on good time earned. And we’re still talking about it. I don’t know if we have enough time to get this thing done. It’s going to take unanimous consent, and as I said at the outset, we don’t have much time.
HH: Now let’s go back to Senator Flake, becusae I do worry about the actual nominee. I think it’s cruel to leave nominees who are going to be confirmed to the next session twisting in the wind.
HH: It destroys their ability to make a living, it destroys their family life. It doesn’t, a lot of bad stuff.
HH: So Senator Flake wants the vote on the Mueller law. I think it’s an unconstitutional law, but why not give it to him?
JC: Well, we are checking with our members now to see exactly where, you know, how it would come out. It may be that he does get that opportunity. If we can have a relatively expedited up or down vote, and my preference is that it fail, but at least he will have had his shot. And my hope is that he then will agree to let us confirm the judges that are on the calendar, because I agree it’s, they’ve been through a long, arduous process, many of them putting their practice and their families on hold while they’re waiting for confirmation. So it’s unfair to them to simply tell them to start over again next year, which is what would have to happen. So I’m hopeful we can work it out, and we’re working hard at it.
HH: All right, now Senator, let’s turn to the Attorney General vacancy. I think this is a big deal. The president clearly doesn’t agree with me. I don’t think the acting attorney general is Constitutionally firm. Angus King and I talked about this yesterday, because Mr. Whittaker has not gone through advice and consent. And it’s pretty doggone explicit to me. You can get away with that for a couple of weeks, but you’ve got to put an AG in who goes through the Senate process. Have you talked to the president about the urgency here to get someone on the 5th floor at DOJ who has the credibility of advice and consent behind him or her?
JC: I certainly have been, have spoken out on it. I can’t recall a specific conversation with the president, but I think that would be a quick solution to the current questions over Mr. Whittaker’s status, is to tee up a new nominee. But I have to tell you, Hugh, it’s not going to be easy after the Sessions tenure there. And you know, I know Jeff Sessions well. He did the honorable and correct thing in recusing. The president simply disagreed with that, and they had a conflict which could never be resolved. So Attorney General Sessions did the honorable thing and turned in his resignation. But it’s not going to be easy to confirm another attorney general. And it’s really going to have to be an extraordinary pick in order to navigate this closely-divided Senate.
HH: Now I think that extraordinary pick is evident in Mike Luttig, the general counsel of Boeing, the former 4th Circuit federal judge, and as tough a Constitutionalist who has first-hand experience, unfortunately, with his father having been murdered, of the criminal justice system and who knows the Constitution backwards and forwards. Now I don’t know if that’s going to be the nominee, but if it is, can you imagine Democrats trying to stop Mike Luttig from becoming the attorney general?
JC: Sadly, I can. We saw what happened to Brett Kavanaugh. And I just think the gloves are off, and it’s going to be a presidential election, run up to the presidential election, and you’re going to have a lot of senators on the other side off the aisle auditioning for that, and as we saw in the Kavanaugh hearings. So I think it’s going to be pretty bumpy, and I can, I hope for better than we saw in Kavanaugh, but I’m not particularly optimistic.
HH: Are you familiar with Judge Luttig?
JC: I’m certainly familiar with his reputation, and I agree with you that as you described him, he would, he sounds like a very solid, solid pick, and somebody that certainly isn’t viewed as partisan, and might be exactly the kind of person that could get confirmed.
HH: Okay, that’s what I believe. Now I want to go over to, very quickly, to your reelect. I’ve been over to www.johncornyn.com. I see you wearing the Team Rubicon shirt working in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I love that you’ve got the Team Rubicon shirt on. What’s the reelect look like for you? I mean, some people just assume John Cornyn is going to win, but you’re going to have to work pretty hard.
JC: Well, I believe that you have to work as hard as you can, and then if you win and you’ve gotten a little extra cushion, then so be it. But anybody who takes an election for granted is likely to lose the election, and I’m not taking it for granted. I actually enjoy campaigns, because it gives me another opportunity to get around the state and to talk to my constituents, and figure out what’s on their mind and what I can do on their behalf. So I actually look forward to it. The amount of money that was spent in the Cruz-Beto race is pretty daunting. Beto in particular raised about $80 million dollars in small donations online, and Ted did a heroic job, but raised about half of what Beto did. Money isn’t everything, but you need enough to get your message out, and to register voters and get them to the polls. So we’ve got our work cut out for us. Texas is no longer, I believe, a reliably red state. We are on the precipice of turning purple, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to keep it red, because we lost, we got blown out in the urban areas. We got beat in the suburbs, which used to be our traditional strongholds. And if it wasn’t for the rural areas of the state where Senator Cruz won handily, it might not have turned out the way it did.
HH: Well, I want everyone who’s listening, not just in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas and my other markets in Texas, but across the United States to write down www.JohnCornyn.com. Go over there and get involved, because this is one we’ve got to win. We’ve got to keep it going. Who’s running the NRSC in the next Senate?
JC: Todd Young, the senator from Indiana.
JC: …who as you recall beat Evan Bayh, and just from an incredible come from behind win. He’s a hard worker. He’s a Marine. He’s a good man for that job.
HH: That’s terrific. You’ll have an ally in the reelect, and of course, you’re welcome here always. www.JohnCornyn.com, Senator Cornyn, have a great start to the Christmas season. I hope you get Senator Flake to lift that hold and let’s get some more judges going, and we’ll talk to you soon in the new year.
JC: Thank you, Hugh.
End of interview.