Texas Senator John Cornyn on the Clinton outburst, and the Senate’s schedule this week.
HH: To respond to Bill Clinton’s interview last night on Fox News, as well as update us on the last week of the Senate’s session is United States Senator from Texas, John Cornyn. Senator Cornyn, always a pleasure to have you.
JC: Hi, Hugh.
HH: Did you happen to watch live, or was it Memorex when you heard the Bill Clinton meltdown yesterday?
JC: Well, the truth is, I watched it over and over again, both in the promos, and actually in the morning, and then in the evening again. I guess I had a hard time believing what I was seeing.
HH: What is the most striking bit of sophistry that you heard come in issue from the former president?
JC: Well, that this is all a right-wing conservative hit job, orchestrated by Fox News. He just can’t believe that anyone would have a legitimate question to ask of his failure to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.
HH: Senator Cornyn, what do you make of Dick Clarke? His entire case is now built on the Dick Clarke book.
JC: Well, Dick Clarke has pointed out that Clinton had no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from Clinton to Bush, when the Bush administration started. His testimony’s hardly glowing when it comes to President Clinton, notwithstanding his comments about the book in his interview.
HH: What about the argument…he believes that if you hold meetings, that equals a policy. And he blasted the Bush administration for their eight months of non-meeting holding. Is that a serious critique, Senator Cornyn?
JC: Well, it’s not. It’s not about holding meetings. It’s actually taking action that counts, and that was one area that President Clinton notably was deficient. He took no action, gave no orders, and simply did not do the job.
HH: Now Senator Cornyn, the Looming Tower, which we never got around to figuring out whether or not the president had read, is in fact a magnificent book. I had Lawrence Wright, its author, on for a couple of hours last week. It’s a damning indictment, but not just of Bill Clinton and his administration, but really of the whole U.S. government, both before, and even in some ways, after 9/11. Are these debates useful when clearly, the Clinton administration failed, but clearly, as well, the Bush administration was not aware of the threat in the first eight months, either.
JC: Well, I think a lot of America is just now waking up to the fact that America had been attacked long before September 11th, 2001, and that identifying the enemy as radical Islam, and people who believe that you can kill innocent civilians in order to achieve your agenda. It’s clear, at least to me, that Bill Clinton didn’t recognize that, even though America had been under attack for many years during his administration. And I guess is really took ’til September 11th for the rest of America to wake up to the fact that we were under siege.
HH: Senator Cornyn, let’s move to some other stories. The New York Times has hit the hat trick. They’ve published their third national security secret in less than a year. This one’s a little bit foolish, not so much dangerous as foolish and misrepresenting. But what’s your reaction to the idea that Iraq had made international terrorism worse?
JC: Well, I think it’s an erroneous impression. It’s caused by cherry-picking a classified report, the National Intelligence Estimate, in order to advance your point of view. But it’s not responsible journalism, and I’m really…I just continue to be…well, I was going to say, I continue to be amazed, but I guess I continue to be disgusted by their lack of responsibility.
HH: Now let’s move to the Senate. The Judiciary Committee, of which you are a member, has got its work to do tomorrow. Will any other nominees make it out of that committee, and if so, which ones will get a vote, Senator Cornyn?
JC: I hope so, Hugh, but as you know, it’s getting late, and Democrats have been using every trick in the book, including denying the chairman a quorum. But I’m hopeful that people like Peter Keisler, and other highly qualified nominees, can get out of the Judiciary Committee, get to the floor, and get confirmed before we leave at the end of the week.
HH: Can Democrats somehow block Keisler tomorrow by failing to show up?
JC: Yes, I’m afraid they can, because the committee can’t act without a quorum, although I’m sure that the chairman has worked hard to sort of structure the agenda in a way that gives them some things that they want on the agenda, to attract them there. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but we need to get more of these judges out on the floor, and get them confirmed.
HH: If there is a quorum tomorrow, do you expect a vote on Judge Boyle, and general counsel Haynes?
JC: I do expect a vote on Boyle. There seems to be an inexplicable lack of interest and support for Mr. Haynes’ nomination. I think he’s an outstanding nominee, he’s been unfairly saddled with criticism that really is more directed toward the policy makers, rather than the general counsel for the Department of Defense. But I’m afraid…I’m not optimistic about his chances to be voted out of committee.
HH: Now Senator Graham said on this program last week, actually, eight days ago, that he would vote to get him out of committee. Is there someone else who is holding him up besides Senator Graham?
JC: Well, I don’t know if that means he will get a positive vote out of committee. There’s actually three ways they could get vote out, one, with no recommendation, one with a positive recommendation, and one with a negative recommendation. And I’m not sure exactly what Senator Graham has pledged to do. But I know that the Democrats will fight tooth and toenail. I’m not sure where all the votes are on Jim Haynes. I’d hate to see a good man and an outstanding nominee get tainted by a negative vote, or a neutral vote out of committee, and not be able to make it to the floor.
HH: I sure would love for the country to see who votes up and down on such a thing. Let’s get to the two major pieces of legislation. The Judiciary Committee voted NSA legislation out, confirming the President’s Article II authority. Senator Frist said on this program last week it’s bottled up in the Intelligence Committee. Will it get a vote before you folks leave on Friday?
JC: Well, ultimately, I think that’s up to the majority leader. He can bypass the Intelligence Committee if he wants, to bring it directly to the floor, and I would hope that he would choose to do so in the NSA terrorist surveillance program. You’re right, at long last, it finally acknowledges the President’s inherent power under Article II to protect the country by surveilling international intelligence sources. Then, of course, there’s a terrorist tribunal legislation. The big fight at this point appears to be over providing an alternative remedy to habeus corpus, which has the threat of flooding courts with terrorist lawsuits challenging the conditions of their detention, and literally, one of which includes the internet speed of their lawyer’s internet access.
HH: Is that coming from our side? Or is that a Democrat objection?
JC: Well, this seems to be…Senator Levin seems to be leading the charge on the Democrat side on this. This is one where Senator Graham is back, I think, with the majority of Republicans. The challenge here is that Senator Specter has taken the position that we cannot, and should not, provide this alternative remedy, but must leave habeus corpus access to the courts. So we’re…I think the majority of Republicans are there. I think we’ll get six or eight Democrats, and I think we have enough votes to pass it.
HH: And that will come out of committee again tomorrow?
JC: That bill, it could indeed come directly to the floor. Again, the…
HH: Okay, just bypass Intelligence, since it came out.
HH: Last question, Senator Cornyn. The House has passed 700 miles of fencing. It’s urgently necessary. Will the Senate allow a vote on it?
JC: I hope so. I do believe that we need to have operational control of our borders. This is going to be the real test to see whether the Democrats are willing to work with us to try to pass border security legislation. I’m concerned, because I think they may well try to block it by denying us 60 votes to proceed.
HH: Senator Cornyn, should the Senate stay if the work is not done?
JC: I certainly believe we should. On the other hand, Hugh, given the elections that are coming up, the Democrats would love to make this election, all these Senatorial races around the country, a referendum on the President and the Iraq War, rather than a choice between a conservative and a liberal nominee or candidate. So I can see some sympathy, have some sympathy for getting us out of town, letting them run those kind of races.
JC: I hope you stick around until we get the war straightened away. Thank you very much, Senator Cornyn. Always a pleasure.
End of interview.