HH: Senator John Cornyn of Texas has served in the United States Senate since 2002. He is the majority whip, the number two ranking member in the United States Senate. He’s also a former justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and I bring that up because it really will take the wisdom of Solomon to get through the next week. Senator Cornyn, welcome, good morning, how are you?
JC: Thanks, Hugh, I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on.
HH: This is such a challenging time, but I want to go in order of importance. Section 702, not a lot of Americans know about this, but if we do not listen to terrorists abroad, they will strike us at home. Will it get past the Senate?
JC: Yes, it will. We had a pivotal vote last night. We got to the 60 vote mark, and we’ll pass it in the next two days.
HH: That is great news. And it comes on the heels of awful news, which I want to bring up to you. I brought it up to Senator Portman as well. The CIA story on the front page of the New York Times, we have a traitor, and they have apparently done enormous damage to us. Have you been briefed on this, yet?
JC: Yes, I have. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I, this is very sad news. It should be for all Americans, and certainly it gives us an idea about what we’re up against in dealing with China. It’s a big challenge for the United States across the board.
HH: Do you think they’ve already done the reverse engineering of the amount of espionage that this traitor has done to us? Or is it a process underway?
JC: I don’t really know the answer to that, but I would assume, I think we have to assume the worst, that they got a lot of our secrets and learned a lot about our assets in China. And obviously, from the story, it looks like a lot of people lost their lives as a result of trying to help the United States inside China. But Hugh, I’m concerned that we are underestimating China across the board, which is one reason why I’m working on something called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. where China basically is not only stealing through cybertheft our intellectual property, but also circumventing the controls we have on foreign investment in the United States that threaten our national security and threaten to undermine our industrial base in this country. And we, I think, are underestimating China across the board.
HH: I’m going to have to get smart on that. I know that part of the reason we need to get a spending bill through is that we need to have our Pentagon on a rational basis to spend appropriate to the challenge in Asia and across the globe from China. What is the prospect before we move to the whip discussions on DACA for a resolution to the spending situation, Senator?
JC: Well, unfortunately, everything is being held hostage for DACA. And so, but I do believe that we will, the House will pass a short-term continuing resolution, which is a terrible way to do business. But unfortunately, it’s the only choice we have until about February the 16th so that we can negotiate those spending caps. And you mentioned our Defense spending, which is the most important priority we have, and is suffering greatly as a result of this holding everything hostage for DACA. But we also have disaster relief for out West and places like Texas where Hurricane Harvey devastated my state, and Florida, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And all of this is being held up together with the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, all for DACA.
HH: And now Senator, you’re in the whip group, the leader of the Democrats and the Republicans in the House and the Senate are working together – Kevin McCarthy and Steny Hoyer and you and Mr. Durbin…
HH: Is there progress being made in that which is the appropriate forum – four senior leadership people sitting down to deal with DACA. Is there progress being made?
JC: Unfortunately, not yet. I think Senator Durbin and Senator Graham and others had hoped that the President would embrace their work product, the product of a gang of 6, three Democrats, three Republicans. The President did not last Thursday, and as a result, we are back to square one. But I think everybody wants to find a solution for the, if we have 124,000 DACA recipients in Texas, but we’re going to have to get serious about border security. The President’s insisted we also need to deal with chain migration and the diversity lottery visa as part of this deal. And so far, the Democrats have been flirting with this other deal that enjoys the support of six senators, but that’s all.
HH: What frustrates me is that we’re making the easy things hard, and therefore the hard things don’t get touched at all. This is an easy deal. This is the DACA people say, they don’t get family migration rights, but border barriers go up and other security measures are taken. What is so hard about this for the Democrats?
JC: I share your point of view. I think they just thought that this was going to be easy, that they would not have to pay any price for a deal. And so they haven’t been forthcoming when it comes to these other things that I and others are going to insist upon as part of a deal for the DACA recipients that I support. I support finding a way for some path forward for them. We need to negotiate what that exactly is. But everybody understands this is a most sympathetic cohort of immigrants who came to the country as children with their parents and did no wrong themselves.
HH: Now Senator, this, I go back to your service in the court. Deterrence is critical in the law to making sure that people respect the rule of law.
HH: If the DACA recipients are regularized without any kind of messaging about the border, that which gets rewarded gets repeated. Do the Democrats not believe that, or do they not care?
JC: I think it’s the latter, Hugh. And they just, they view this as how much do we have to pay in border security and other things in order to get what we want on DACA. And they fail to look at this holistically in terms of what’s in the best interest of the country and what we need to do in order to make this the last time we provide for a group of immigrants like the DACA recipients and don’t just repeat our mistakes over and over again by not dealing with these other elements.
HH: This is a genuine question. I’m not just setting this up. I had Bill Bennett on yesterday talking about fentanyl coming into the country and heroin, a lot of it coming across the border of your state illegally hidden in trucks and other vehicles, some of it backpacked across, a lot of it in the U.S. mail, as Rob Portman told me earlier. But that killed 64,000 Americans. In addition to that, we had the Wal-Mart parking lot incident in Texas this year, I think it was Texas.
HH: …where ten immigrants illegally smuggled in died in the back of the…
HH: Do they not understand? Do they not care about these real human costs? It’s not just rhetoric. It’s real.
JC: I think the problem is they’re listening to the activists here in Washington, D.C. and people who raise money off of hot button issues like immigration. They’re not listening to the rank and file constituents across the country. I was just down in the Rio Grande Valley this last weekend talking to the Rio Grande Valley partnership about the wall, about DACA and these other issues. These are reasonable people who understand the importance of security. Sure, they want us to demonstrate our compassion to these immigrants who come here for a better life, and we can. But it’s going to have to be a complete package and not just something to appease the activists here in Washington, D.C.
HH: You see, I just don’t want to send a message to a mom or dad in an impoverished or a violent part of the world that if they put their kids in the hands of a trafficker, that they’ll end up a naturalized American citizen. And that messaging is very difficult to control if we are not very careful about it, Senator.
JC: Well, yesterday, you had Secretary Nielson, the secretary of Homeland Security. I asked her about a 17 year old unaccompanied male from Central America who was a member of MS-13, hypothetically. Under the current law, that individual, that young male, will be, cannot be excluded from the country, but will be placed by Health and Human Services with a sponsor here in the United States and told to show up for an asylum hearing sometime in the future. 90% of those people do not show up. And that’s obviously a glaring hole in our system, and one that needs to be fixed. And that’s why it’s so important we come up with a complete package here to deal with border security and situations like that as part of this DACA negotiation.
HH: Well, good luck in those negotiations, Senator. Let me ask you about the rules of the Senate. I talked to the Leader about this when I last had him on, and I know it’s on the minds of many people that the four corner defense that the Democrats are playing on our nominees has resulted in Justice Stras not getting a vote to the 8th Circuit as a result, in Rick Grenell not going to Germany. It’s resulted in a number of glaring deficiencies in our personnel. Are we going to change the rules of the Senate in order to expedite the hearings on critically-needed nominees?
JC: I think the Democrats have clearly abused the rules of the Senate. James Lankford has been working very hard to try to do a rules change through the regular rules change process, but has so far been shut down by Democrats. I think we’re approaching a time, Hugh, where we many have to invoke the nuclear option, so-called, when it comes to cutting down the time after the cloture vote rather than just see these people who do get confirmed nominated and confirmed 100-0, and just burn the time just in order to delay other nominations. I think we’re approaching a time where we’re going to see something done about that.
HH: Now in terms of that, when you move to a new rule via the Reid Rule, and change the rules of the Senate by a simple majority as opposed to 60 votes or 66 votes…
HH: I don’t what it is. What would be the allocation of time to debate, say, Rick Grenell to Germany under the Reid Rule option if we go to that?
JC: Well, I think, I could stand to be corrected, but I think what Senator Lankford’s talking about is a couple of hours in the subcabinet level nominees for debate time. And of course, that could be enlarged by agreement if people actually have something to talk about. But what we see now is nothing but crickets chirping on the Senate floor, nobody talking, just burning time to burn time and to keep the President from getting his team confirmed. And that’s just unacceptable.
HH: Last question for you, Senator Cornyn, again back to your justice of the Texas Supreme Court days. The United States Supreme Court has taken two redistricting cases, two. And this alarms me greatly, because I view it as a thicket from which the courts will never emerge if they get into second-guessing on other than racial gerrymandering, which is unconstitutional.
HH: What’s your opinion of these grants of cert in these two cases?
JC: Well, it’s hard to know what to make of it, but I do think that it’s, the trial judge in the Texas case, I’m familiar with, went beyond any normal sort of review of a redistricting case, described or ascribed racial animus as the cause of the redistricting. You point our correctly that the Voting Rights Act protects racial minorities in the redistricting process. But this is an inherently political decision, perhaps the most political decision legislative bodies make when they redistrict themselves. And so it becomes very slippery for the Supreme Court or any court to go in and look at what is inherently a political decision and to try to adjudicate it based on some objective standards. And I think that’s, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the Court does. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
HH: Can you imagine coming up with a rule that would actually operate? Gerrymandering has been part of the air we breathe in the United States since Eldridge Gerry, you know, in 1789.
HH: How in the world would we come up with a rule?
JC: I don’t know the answer to that. That’s a perfectly good question, and I think we’re going to have to rely on Justice Gorsuch and others to lead us out of this thicket, because I think it is, it’s, you’re exactly right.
HH: Senator Cornyn, good luck. I hope we don’t have a shutdown, and I hope we’re talking next week about a deal that has come out of the whip caucus, and nowhere else, and that a lot of people get behind. Put everything else behind us, get this done. Thank you so much for joining me.
End of interview.