HH: Joined now from Washington, D.C. by one of our favorite gentlemen in D.C., Senator John Thune of the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, welcome, always a pleasure.
JT: Always a pleasure, Hugh. How are you?
HH: Good. Update us, if you will, on what’s going on in the Senate concerning whether or not we stand behind the troops, and the effort to make Iraq stable.
JT: Well, I’ll tell you what happened. The Democrats who desperately wanted to debate a resolution of disapproval that would have sent a signal to our troops and to our enemies that we 1) we don’t support the troops, 2) we don’t have the resolve to finish what we started over there. When they were faced with an alternative resolution that we were going to put on the floor that addressed the issue of funding, all of a sudden, they objected to it, and don’t want to have the debate. So it’s remarkable to watch what has happened here just in the last 24 hours. I think it points out what a charade it was in the first place, and that their whole, this whole debate in the minds of the Democrats, in trying to put this on the Senate floor, really was about making a political statement trying to embarrass the President, rather than addressing the substance of what is happening on the ground in Iraq.
HH: Now this audience has followed closely, Senator Thune, the three resolutions. There’s Levin-Warner, there’s McCain-Lieberman-Cornyn, and there’s Judd Gregg’s. What’s happened to each of those?
JT: Well, I think…I would like to have a vote on all of them, Hugh, but what is happened is, remarkably, there was a Biden resolution which was farther left, and then all of a sudden, they realized that to get Republicans, they were going to have to change. And so they took the Warner resolution, and that became the base resolution the Democrats were going to offer on the floor, which was a little bit, I think, toned down, modified, more moderate version than what Biden had out there. And so that became their base resolution. Well, we’ve been working on the McCain resolution, which talked a little bit about some of the benchmarks, but expressed support for General Petraeus and for the troops, and told them basically, the resolution stated we will give them what they need to succeed.
HH: And for the mission in Baghdad, correct?
JT: And for the mission in Baghdad.
HH: Because they added that paragraph on Friday.
JT: Absolutely, yeah. That was important language to have in there. Well that, obviously, gets a lot of resistance from the Democrats. But what was interesting about this, and then of course, we…the Gregg resolution deals strictly with the issue of funding the troops, and making sure they have the support they need to do this job. But what was amazing about it is the Warner resolution, which initially they had put some funding language on there in order to lure Republicans to vote for it, they started hemorrhaging on the left. They started losing Feingold and Dodd, and some of the others on their left over the funding question. And I think, frankly, they just wanted to pull this whole issue off the floor, because they’re worried now that it’s going to become very divisive on their side, and furthermore, that the Gregg resolution that is about funding and supporting the troops would generate 70-75 votes on the floor, and obscure the political statement that they were trying to make about the President.
HH: Now Senator, you’re familiar with the NRSCPledge.com, and the 33,000 people who said they were not going to give money to the NRSC, or any person who voted for Levin-Warner. In fact, is it not correct that no vote occurred on Levin-Warner?
JT: No vote occurred on Levin-Warner. No vote has occurred as yet on anything, and they’re blaming us, because we stood together when Reid tried to shove down our throats this arrangement where we would only get one alternative, and we thought we ought to debate all these different resolutions. And frankly, it was misreported in my view. The Republican view on this all along has been we welcome the debate, but it ought to be a full debate, and we ought to put these resolutions on the floor, give members of the Senate an opportunity to vote on them, and the Democrats decided yesterday, Reid objected. He objected to essentially his own proposal from the day before, because we decided to put…make the Gregg resolution the base Republican resolution, and they just don’t want that vote. And so they’re running away from the issue as fast as they can.
HH: Now Senator Thune, I’m more amused than outraged by the Democrats and the media cover for them, suggesting that the 60 vote limit on legislation is new or novel. But you folks must be amazed, given the alacrity and the degree of ease with which Democrats begin denouncing the 60 vote rule.
JT: Well, it is. It’s amazing to watch this…and sometimes, you have to, you just stand back and completely…sometimes astonished (laughing) at the hypocrisy of what gets said around here.
JT: …and the whole charade this ended up being in the end. It really was, it was clearly a hoax. And so I couldn’t believe how quickly they were running for cover when we actually challenged them on having a vote on the Gregg resolution on funding. And they clearly don’t want that vote.
HH: Now my hat is off to Senator McConnell, the Republican leader. He held the caucus together. How has the caucus changed over the last two weeks, Senator Thune? Has the recognition dawned that on this issue, the center-right is expecting the Republican caucus to be very strong in favor of victory?
JT: I think it is, and I think, Hugh, it’s good when they get reinforced by your listeners, and people around the country who are paying attention who care deeply about this country, and about our future, and about our freedom, because sometimes, when the backbones get a little bit weak here in the Senate, they need to be fortified. And I think this was a good exercise, and many of us have argued all along that we can’t afford, we’ve got to stay on offense, we can’t afford to let them continue to define the terms of these debates. They were completely trying to run roughshod over Republicans in the Senate with this process, and we stood strong, and ultimately, they were the ones that turned tail and ran.
HH: Now what about the class of 2002, 2004? It seems to me that the younger Senators, in terms of years served, really had an impact here that goes far beyond their accumulated expertise and seniority in the Senate.
JT: I think that my class, which is the class of 2004, and 2002, have been instrumental in bringing some resolve, and not challenging our leadership, but at least reinforcing our leadership on some of these issues, and recognizing that we’ve got to fight back. And it’s been my argument all along in the course of this debate that we need to force the Democrats, if they’re going to put this charade out there, this resolution of disapproval, let’s make them vote on the one issue that Congress really does have control over, and that’s the issue of funding. And it was clear that they didn’t want to do that. So…but I think that some of the class of 2002, 2004, has been heard very much around here in the last few weeks, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to have some impact on how things go on in the Senate in the future.
HH: And are there hard feelings within the caucus…I think of Senator Warner, for example, whose resolution he thought would be a good thing. It turned out that he may have misjudged what was going on. What’s the emotional sort of coalescing of the Republican caucus at this point?
JT: I think it’s…you know, there’s a little bit of, you know, somewhat of a tension, because there are folks who…there have been some pretty heated discussion behind closed doors, as you would expect, about this. But in the end, we have to put it behind us, and the one thing I think we can stand together on, and I’ll give Senator Warner credit for this, even though I disagreed with him profoundly on the content of his resolution, at least on Monday when we had the vote, he voted with us, and pretty much sent the signal out that he insists on a fair process, and that Republicans don’t get run over, and that was helpful. So you know…but I think that things have gotten a little bit frayed, but we’ll put that back together, and we’ll live to fight another day. And we need to make sure that we’re prepared for that next fight.
HH: Congratulations, Senator Thune, and to the Republican caucus on demanding that this not be a show trial on the surge. I appreciate it very much. Great news from Washington, D.C.
End of interview.