Senator John Thune, the chair of the Senate GOP Conference and thus #3 in the GOP Senate Conference:
HH: Welcome, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt broadcasting from beautiful, sunny Santa Barbara today where it’s 65 degrees and the surfs are 12 feet and it’s just wonderful and John Thune from South Dakota, senator and leader of the Republican conference, number three ranking Republican in the United States senate is trapped in almost blizzard-like conditions in DC. Good evening, Senator Thune, welcome to the program.
JT: Good evening, Hugh, nice to be with you as always.
HH: (Laughs) It’s good to have you. Are you huddled in your basement yet or you still over at the senate?
JT: (Laughs) I’m still in the Senate but yeah, it won’t take long for people here to be in a fetal position.
JT: The slightest forecast of snow.
HH: I always remember that from Bob the Weatherman on Channel 4. They used to do the snow panic, it always amused me from Ohio that four inches of snow – as a South Dakotan you probably [understand]. So Senator Thune, as I was just talking to your colleague John Cornyn from Texas about the retreat and he made a little news. He said there is no appetite in the senate Republican conference to change the rule back on filibuster of appointments. Do you agree with that?
JT: I think that’s probably where the consensus is right now. We have had some folks looking at this and they made a report about what some of the options could be. I think there’s a general feeling after we went through last year with the Democrats blocking every single appropriation bill that perhaps on the motion to proceed to the bill, to at least get us get on it in a limited circumstance would apply only to approps that we can going to 51 on that, that’s something that’s been batted around, but I don’t there’s not a lot of appetite for messing with the rules on our side and of course for anything to happened you’d have to get some Democrat support because it takes 67 votes to change the rules.
HH: But you agree with them that a Republican president could push his judicial nominees and his executive branch nominees through with 51?
JT: That’s correct because that’s the current state of play and everything below that court.
HH: That keeps our eye on the ball in the middle of all this madness because there could be dozens of appellate court vacancies, up to four Supreme Court vacancies and of course, the UN would’ve had John Bolton for his entire tenure for that rule. Do you think that’s enough to bring some order out of the chaos of the GOP primary to keep our eye on the ball?
JT: Well, that would be really nice because the stakes are really high in the courts and as you pointed out, you are talking about huge vacancies on the high court and a lot of appellate vacancies which our guys I hope keep the public focused on and as they were talking about in the course of the campaigns realized that is an issue that connects with a lot of people because everybody realizes how out-of-control one, the executive branch but then the executive branch has had tremendous latitude this last year. The president’s been able to pack the court with a lot of his appointees and the opportunity to do that with the White House and the 51-vote threshold now in the senate is a huge opportunity for Republicans.
HH: But it requires that the White House be won. SO I’m wondering what the mood at the Congressional retreat was. I just asked Whip Cornyn about that, as you look out at the Republican field and you see Donald Trump in first place in New Hampshire, Ted Cruz and him neck-and-neck in Iowa, John Kasich surging but bricks flying in every window because everybody’s getting hammered.
JT: And I hope that, at the retreat last week, I think for the most part, the message we tried to convey to our members and I think that Speaker Ryan did a great job of laying out sort of what the House agenda they were going to do and Leader McConnell came up and talked about how we’re going to, in the senate, sync up with what the House is doing, realize that we can’t control what happens above us in the ballot. We have to be positioned as well as we can to draw contrast with our opponents for the American people, present a positive vision, a positive alternative, and so that our candidates are well-positioned to win irrespective what happened. But I do hope that all the (laughs) missiles that are flying at each other in the presidential race, that when this is all said and done, that we can unify because the stakes are just that high and so it’s testy right now, but I’m hoping that when the dust settles and the smoke clears that our team will come back together.
HH: I’m quoting your colleague John Cornyn, “We have to support the eventual nominee.” Do you agree with that, John Thune?
JT: Sure. We’re going to have to rally behind the nominee. The people will have spoken and they will have ample opportunity to do that starting a week from Monday.
HH: And so when you see Bob Dole, a former colleague of yours, actually you didn’t overlap with Dole, but a former senate member, a former majority leader throw a hammer at your colleague Ted Cruz and suggest that he’s unsuited for the presidency. What’s your advice to Republicans attempting to do that right now?
JT: Well, if you can just, irrespective of what you think, just be measured, be temperate (laughs) because we have to win when this is all said and done, pull it back together and if we want to be a governing majority of this country, if want to change the direction of this country which I think we desperately need to after these last seven years of the Obama administration, we got to win the White House, and in order to win the White House, we have to have a united team. So I know there are people who are tempted to say things because they don’t like some candidates and like others better but right now, I think the best thing is to be cautious in terms of the rhetoric and remember that when this is all done, we got to put it back together.
HH: Now I think there is great “disturbance in the Force” if the “Force” is the Republican party, so I don’t know what’s going to happen in Iowa and New Hampshire and I am not a prophet or son of a prophet, but there is certainly energy in the Trump campaign. Where does that come from, John Thune?
JT: I think that he’s really touched a chord with people. I think that what he’s saying is resonating with a lot of people out there and I think that the idea, the authenticity, the doing away with political correctness and calling a spade of spade and talking in very straightforward ways about the problems the country faces and what you’re going to do to fix them is always going to be something that attracts a lot of people. Now he’s running as an outsider, he’s attacking “the Establishment” and that’s a very popular thing to do right now, but I think that the message that he is carrying is something that has been felt a lot people by this country which explains how he’s doing in the polls.
HH: Do you think the race will remain a two-person race or will a third and a fourth and maybe even a fifth viable candidate emerge post-March 1?
JT: I think there’s a track there for another candidate. Right now, it looks like if you at the polling, and you’re right, and you do this a lot and I think you do it really well. I’ve given up trying to predict any of this stuff, I think it’s very unpredictable. I think many things can change a lot in a hurry. I think it’s still very fluid. But yes, I see a track out there for somebody to emerge that could be an alternate either a Trump or a Cruz. And I think there’s room for that. I think the race is long enough but if Trump does well in Iowa and New Hampshire he is going to be well-positioned down the stretch, but there are others that can emerge.
HH: And you would support Donald Trump if he’s the nominee?
JT: Sure, I’m not going to agree with everything that he’s done and certainly not everything he says, but I think any nominee that comes out of our nominating process is going to hopefully a limited government right-of-center conservative who believes in personal freedom coupled with individual responsibility. Believes in peace through strength and America’s place in the world and I think those things are things that unite our candidates even though there might be some differences with individual issues today.
HH: Thirty seconds, Senator Thune. I’d never thought I’d see an open convention where the delegates were free on the second ballot to go after whomever they want. What do you put the odds of that at?
JT: I’ve always said, and every time they talk about this, when the media talks about it every four years, they say, no way that it will ever happen, and if it could ever happen, this could be the year (laughs).
HH: So that was a probability of what, ten-percent, 15?
JT: Yeah. Maybe better.
HH: Maybe better. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, always a pleasure. Go get your snowshoes because a whole inch of snow is coming to DC, the city will be paralyzed.
End of Interview