HH: Guy Benson is my co-host from the Venetian Hotel. We are joined from Washington, D.C. by the third-ranking member of the Republican leadership in the United States Senate, Senator John Thune of the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, always good to talk to you, welcome.
JT: Nice to be with you, Hugh, and congratulations on a great debate last night, man. You’re crushing it all over the place.
HH: It was a lot of fun last night, but let’s get to what was done yesterday. While we were debating, you guys passed an omni. What’s in that bill?
JT: Well, it’s, we’re pouring over it, reading through it. It’s the typical sort of yearend scrambling to pass a bill to fund the government that we seem to go through every year. We have a budget and an appropriations process, and Congress ought to be held to it. Unfortunately, this year, the Democrats filibustered all the appropriations bills when we brought them to the floor. This was the first time in six years that the Appropriations Committee reported them all out, but every time we tried to call one up, they blocked it. So you know, and something’s going to have to give, and we’re going to have to come up with a way this next year, whether it’s a rules change or something, that allows us to get on these bills so we can force the Democrats’ hands.
HH: So tell me about the Defense spending, at least, in the omni. Did you plus up the Overseas Contingency Fund? Is there enough money for the Pentagon to get out from underneath the ruinous effect of the sequester?
JT: There’s, it’s an improvement, Hugh. I mean, it’s probably not going to make everybody entirely happy, but they get some significant relief. And we’ve got to do that. We can’t continue on the trajectory that we’re on right now where we’re really going to put our national security interests at risk. So it’s, that’s the good thing that’s in this. If there’s anything in here that’s a, as I say, a real priority for the country, that we were able to plus up Defense spending.
GB: Senator Thune, it’s Guy Benson. Now something you said is very intriguing to me, because I have written extensively at Townhall.com about these relentless filibusters from the Democrats blocking even debate or consideration of Appropriations bills, including for the VA, including for Defense, for quite some time. You mentioned the possibility of a rules change in the Senate to force them next year to consider Appropriations bills put forward by the Republican majority. What exactly are you talking about when you’re mentioning rules change?
JT: Well, we’ve got some folks, Guy, and I appreciate you were writing about it, because not many people did.
JT: It’s been very, very frustrating this entire year. And if we don’t do something to get these bills on the floor, we’re just going to run the government by continuing resolution, which is a terrible way to do it. We need to pass Appropriations bills, and we need to pass them individually so that we don’t end up with a huge, you know, pile up like we’ve got this year, and seems to happen every year. And we’ve got a group that’s looking at this, and one of the things I think that is being considered is at least on the motion to proceed to get on a bill, to try and move that back to 51 votes instead of 60, because the Democrats blocked even consideration of any of these Appropriations bills this year, and if we can’t get on the bills at all, we are never going to have an opportunity to discuss federal spending and everything else that goes with it, which is, you know, has got to be a priority for our country. And there’s just no way right now with only having 54 Republican votes in the Senate, to stop a filibuster if the Democrats decide to do it.
GB: All right, so that sounds to me like a version, or at least a tailored version, of a nuclear option. The Democrats did it on judges and appointments, they blew up a lot of precedence over many decades to help President Obama railroad his people through. And is this now the Republicans saying all right, we are going to take our step forward here to weaken the filibuster? Is that something you’re comfortable with doing?
JT: Well, I, you know, there’s a reason the filibuster protects minority rights. We’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority, as you know, over the last half century. And I think you know, if you’re somebody who is a conservative, and you want to slow the growth of government, the filibuster has served a very useful purpose. But that being said, I think there are limited circumstances, and again, if you do this the right way through regular order to change rules, it takes 67 votes. What I’m hoping is that this ends up being a proposal that gets advanced by this group that we will have Democrats who will join us, because it’s in their best interest. I mean, when you can’t get an amendment voted on, on an Appropriations bill, that not only cuts Republicans out, but it cuts Democrats out. And so I’m hoping there’s going to be bipartisan support for taking a look at these rules, and as I say, I don’t know exactly what form this proposal might take, but we do have a task force that’s looking at it, and is going to make recommendations. And one of the things, I think, at least that is being batted around right now, is on a motion to proceed to an Appropriations bill, instead of having a supermajority, 60 vote threshold, going to 51. And so it would be in a limited way, if we did just some limited tweaks, that’s something I think I could probably get behind.
GB: Okay, Senator Thune, that’s the only question I had, was your preference. If I’m hearing you correctly, just so that we’re landing the plane here, if I’m hearing you correctly, your preference would be to get Democratic votes with you, because it can be in their long term best interest to change the rules with the 67 votes. But should they be recalcitrant and refuse to go along, you might be willing to pull a nuclear option on this narrow area?
JT: Let’s see what happens before I’ll…
JT: We’re trying to do this the way the convention way…
GB: Fair enough.
JT: …and without trying to prejudice what that outcome might be. I mean, I still think that hopefully, there’s enough goodwill here in the Senate, and people recognize that the way this works today, it doesn’t work. It’s not, it doesn’t function for either side.
GB: Oh, and Harry Reid will be gone next year, too.
JT: So before we proceed to that, yeah…
GB: So a big impediment to any sort of progress in the Senate, Harry Reid will be gone next year. So that’s a positive development, in my view.
HH: Now Senator Thune, I want to ask you about the debate last night. You saw two of your colleagues in Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz go mano y mano, and Guy has written at great length about this at Townhall.com as well. They’re bright, rising stars, both 44 years old, both sons of immigrants, both incredibly eloquent arguing about immigration. What did you think of the debate? Is it the debate the Republican Party wants to have at the Christmas Dinner debate, which is what I called this, because everyone’s going to be talking about this debate at Christmas dinner?
JT: Well, I think it’s, this year, as you know, Hugh, and of course, I know this is something that’s a very big priority for you. We are, terrorism and national security are very much top of mind for the American people. And so I think this debate is a very relevant one. And the elections are always about differences. And there are some fundamental differences between our candidates. And on that issue that got litigated last night between two of my colleagues, that’s the substance of what these elections are about. And I think they have different records. They have different voting records. The have different views when it comes to the issue of intelligence gathering and tools and strategy in Syria and Iraq. I think this is a debate that at least Republican voters around the country are paying very careful attention to, because it strikes at the very heart of what is on Americans’ minds right now, and that is the issue of keeping this country safe from the threat of terrorism and radical Islamic extremism.
HH: Spoiler alert, for those who haven’t seen Creed, in the new movie Creed, that the young Apollo Creed goes at the English boxer like Cruz went at Rubio and Rubio went at Cruz, meanwhile, Rocky’s in the corner winning, and that’s Chris Christie, because he wasn’t involved in the tit-tat, because it was a blow by blow. Do you have to, is it better to be out of that debate as a governor, Senator Thune, or in that debate as a participant, but deep in the weeds?
JT: Well, I think that any time you can show grasp of these issues and a clear understanding, a clear strategy about what you would do if you were the commander-in-chief, it’s to your advantage in the long run. Now yes, there’s a lot of give and take and back and forth last night between a couple of the candidates, but if you’re somebody who is sitting on the sidelines of this debate, I think you’d kind of want to be, I mean, at least this is my view for what it’s worth, but I think you really want to be engaged on this issue. Maye you don’t want to get into the tit for tat on the voting record, the two Senate candidates, or the two people from the Senate that are running for president, but I certainly think that as a candidate for the highest office in the land, you want to be out there and you want to be very effectively forcefully making an argument for what you would do.
HH: Always great to talk to you, Senator John Thune from the state of South Dakota.
End of interview.