HH: On this day after the State of the Union, it’s my pleasure to welcome back United States Senator John Thune from the great state of South Dakota. Senator, always a pleasure, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JT: Great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Before we turn to the State of the Union, I’ve got to ask you. Leader McConnell made some news the other day, telling Politico’s Mike Allen that you were his choice for president. Were you surprised by that?
JT: The Leader’s been very encouraging, and he’s been very generous in his comments. And obviously, it’s flattering. But we’ve had some discussions about it in the past. But you know, I mean, the Leader is very focused right now on the work in front of us in the Senate. And we all are. We’ve got some heavy lifting ahead. But hopefully, in a couple of years, we’ll have a Republican president to help us.
HH: Did you open an exploratory committee that I missed?
JT: (laughing) No, no I haven’t. And we haven’t made any final decisions, Hugh. We’re just, we’ve been kind of doing diligence, and having the discussions. But I have to decide something, I think, here pretty soon. I mean, it’s one of those issues where if you’re going to do this at some point, you’ve got to just get out there and get after it. So we’ll keep you posted.
HH: How soon is pretty soon, Senator Thune?
JT: Well, I think that, you know, I’ve told people I don’t have a definite timeline or deadline out there, but it strikes me, at least, for somebody like myself who’s not known, and would have to work a lot harder at getting known, that sometime in the next month or two, but for sure probably at the end of next month, we’d have to let folks know our intentions.
HH: Now NBC and Politico have asked the Republican potential nominees to be at the Reagan Library on May 2nd. Have you said yes to that?
JT: I have not confirmed to that, no. We still haven’t, having not confirmed out status yet, that’s something we haven’t responded to.
HH: Do you think that’s too early to have a presidential debate?
JT: Well, it seems like it is, but you know, I know that people are interested, and the political cycle starts right away. But I do think that in a lot of respects, people do weary of the long campaigns, get weary of the long campaigns. And in some ways, it seems like you could push those events back a little bit. It seems awfully early. And there are a number of events, frankly, that are really early in a lot of the states this year, that if you’re a candidate, you’re probably going to have to participate in. But it does force that calendar to begin much earlier. And I think that gets, sometimes, tiresome to the American people.
HH: Many conservatives are tired of NBC and other left-leaning media organizations controlling the Republican nomination process, and throwing down these invites, and manipulating it. Should the first debate come from left of center organizations like Politico, and way left organizations like NBC?
JT: Well, you would think that in a Republican nominating process, that you would have journalistic organizations that might be a little bit more objective in their hosting the first debates. But…so you know, but they throw them out there, and as long as candidates continue to respond to them, they’ll continue to have them, because that’s what they do, and I guess it generates, I guess, some amount of interest. But it seems awfully early, Hugh, and like I said, I think from the standpoint of the American people, it’s sort of troubling to have to deal with all these debates, and all these news organizations trying to hype this thing much earlier than has historically been the case.
HH: One more question on media, Senator Thune, then let’s get to substance. Chris Matthews of MSNBC and NBC has sort of gone around the bend on Michele Bachmann. I don’t know if you’ve seen that or not. But do you think Matthews, given this sort of explosion of rage, should be anywhere near a panel of GOP candidates?
JT: Well, it’s just, some of these guys that are clearly expressing opinions, strikes me at least that when it comes to doing things like debates, where you’re supposed to be a referee and be somewhat objective, is really a stretch of the credibility of the news organization. And you know, the things he said, not only critical about conservatives, but also the glowing things that he said about the President, it seems to me, at least, that they ought to be able to find people who have a little bit more objectivity when it comes to their records and their statements.
HH: Have you put out a reaction yet to the State of the Union last night, Senator Thune?
JT: We’ve done some, yeah, we’ve done some media in response to it, and various news outlets. And of course, I made a lot of statements today across the state of South Dakota. But it was a typical state of the union speech, and the President said a lot of the right things. And I think Jeb Hensarling from Texas maybe had the best line. He said I agreed with about 80% of what he said. But I disagree with 80% of what he does. And I think that’s the real disconnect, Hugh, with the American people. There’s a huge gap between what the President says and what he does, and the rhetoric and the action. And I think we have to judge people not by what they say, but by what they do. And this is a president who, although he talks about reducing spending, has created the most massive expansion of the government literally since the 1960s. So it’s really like closing the barn door after the horse is already out.
HH: Will you be voting to raise the debt limit?
JT: I don’t, I’m not going to vote for an increase in the debt limit unless I see some serious, meaningful spending reductions and budget reforms. It is, there is…we have to be able to use this opportunity to change the way that Washington does business, and to roll back and rein in runaway Washington spending. And if we can’t do that, then I don’t think we ought to be for the debt limit increase.
HH: What level of cuts are we talking about? $100 billion? $200 billion in order to get a debt limit raised?
JT: Oh, I think in that magnitude. I mean, I think that if you go back to 2008 levels, the number generates somewhere on the order of a $100 billion dollars. And that’s something that many of us have advocated. And I think, too, it’s not just a function of cuts in the discretionary part of the budget. I think we need to put some serious budget reforms in place that will put downward pressure on spending in the future. And this is a window of opportunity to do that. We ought to look at it that way. And if we want to have a serious discussion with the American people about spending and debt, there’s no greater opportunity than when this big debt limit comes up sometime in April.
HH: Let’s talk about some of the specific things the President referenced last night. He is extolling the virtues of high speed rail. It’s a boondoggle. We know that out here. John Thune, what do you think of the high speed rail proposal?
JT: I don’t know where he pulls some of that stuff. I think he’s trying to copy other countries around the world. But the fact of the matter is that right now, anything that calls for a massive new federal expenditures, I think is going to meet tremendous skepticism from the American people. What the American people spoke loudly and clearly about last November is getting spending in Washington under control, and reducing it and reining it in, not growing federal spending. And so the President, when he talks about investment, I think the people have figured out that’s code for new spending. And that’s something that has been rejected. And frankly, if we stay on this track, no matter how noble the purpose is, we are going to send this country into bankruptcy, and forever saddle our children and grandchildren with a lower standard of living, and a lower quality of life. We are at a tipping point, and just a few years away from a train wreck if we don’t get this thing reined in and under control. And believe me, there’s going to be no appetite around here on our side for new spending initiatives. We’re going to be looking at reducing federal spending, not increasing it.
HH: Your colleague, Senator DeMint, and I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t find the exact quote here, said something along the lines he just cannot believe President Obama anymore. Do you agree with Senator DeMint when it comes to the President’s credibility?
JT: I think there’s a huge disconnect between what he says and what he does. I mean, think about it. Last year, he proposed a three year spending freeze, and never pursued it. Last year, he talked about trade deals, never sent up, we’ve got three trade deals that are waiting to be acted on by Congress. But the President’s got to send them up here to Capitol Hill. All the things that he says are opposite of what he does. And that’s why I think, I tell…we need, the American people need to understand that you judge elected officials not by what they say, but by what they do. And this president has a very different record than what his rhetoric would suggest. And I think that’s how we have to evaluate his presidency. And it seems to me, at least based on the last couple of years, we’ve seen this huge run up in spending, massive new expansion of government and entitlement programs that we’re going to be paying for, for generations. This is a guy who’s governed from the far left. And I don’t expect that even though he might tack to the middle, rhetorically, that he’s going to change his stripes just because he thinks it’s a politically expedient reason to do that.
HH: About a minute left, Senator Thune. There’s upheaval in Egypt tonight, and many are worried that this a replay of 1979 with Egypt in the role of Iran this time. What do you expect the President to say publicly about this, and not just Egypt, but also Lebanon?
JT: Well, you know, what’s happening in Lebanon and Egypt are examples of, in Lebanon for sure, you’ve got Hezbollah now controlling the government. Very dangerous times in the Middle East. And I think it puts, it runs the risk of really destabilizing a region of the world that is just critically important to our national security interest. And so I’m, obviously, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support a democratic outcome. And Egypt is, depending on who you talk to, arguably some form of democracy, but certainly doesn’t operate and act like one in most cases. And I hope that whatever happens as a result of this, that we end up with a system of government, and a form of government in that country that respects human rights, and allows people freedom, and moves us in a direction that will bring stability, not instability to that region.
HH: Senator John Thune of South Dakota, we look forward to hearing from you after your announcement is made in the next few weeks. Thanks for joining us tonight.
End of interview.