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Burden of Proof

A Divided Congress

Aired January 3, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: A divided Congress. How the United States Senate will govern with a 50-50 split. And what legislative hurdles lie ahead for the 107th Congress?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We face more than a new president and a new administration and new leadership of honored institutions. Here in Washington, the House and Senate will more closely divided than at any time in the history that any of us can personally remember.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Look, somebody has to be in charge and whoever has 51 votes ought to be in charge.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: They want to control the Senate as if the election of last November 7th did not occur, that they're still in the majority. They own the House, the Senate and the presidency and they don't need the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

At this hour, the senators in the 107th Congress of the United States are being sworn into office. It's a historic moment on the brink of a historic session.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: For the first time in 120 years, the political make-up of the Senate is divided 50-50. For the next 17 days, Democrats will be in control, as Vice President Al Gore sits as president of the Senate. But once George W. Bush is inaugurated as the 43rd president, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney will take over that post, as Republicans take control once again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: When I first ran for Democratic leader six years ago, I thought that if I won I would be majority leader. I must confess that in six years as minority leader, I had a moment or two when I wondered if that day would ever arrive. But I assure you I intend to savor every one of the next 17 days.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: It is the first time I have ever been referred to as the minority leader, and while it beats certain alternatives, I like the other title better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Also making history this hour, Hillary Rodham Clinton was sworn-in as the first, first lady in the U.S. Senate. The junior senator is taking the seat once held by New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

COSSACK: Joining us from Capitol Hill is Republican Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado. Here in our studio, Larry France (ph), Andrew Taylor of "Congressional Quarterly," and Democratic Senator Tim Johnson from South Dakota.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in our back row, Katie Kaufman (ph) and Kevin Mindle (ph).

First to you, Senator Allard. What do you make of this 50/50 split in the next 17 days, the Democrats will be in control?

SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R), COLORADO: Well, good day. It is going to be a close one in the Senate. I think there will be some common areas Democrats and Republicans can work together on, has to do with taxes and paying down the debt, Social Security, and Medicare and drug -- prescription drugs and I predict that we may very well have a more congenial Senate than most people think may happen because of the closeness.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you this, you mean real congenial from your viewpoint for the next 17 days, how about when your party takes control on the 20th; are you going to be as congenial?

ALLARD: We are going to continue to be congenial no matter who is in power in the Senate. I'm looking forward to this session. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues. There are certain dynamics in the Senate that haven't changed; and that is that if someone wants to make a point of order or a filibuster, it still takes 60 votes to get something passed, under those special circumstances. It is a special rule. They get you as frequently whether you have a majority of one, or whether you have a majority of 8 or 9.

COSSACK: Sen. Johnson, we are hearing all of this congeniality, everybody is in such good experts this morning. Tell me, who is in charge over there in the Senate for the 50/50 vote?

SEN. TIM JOHNSON (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: Well, I think that clearly Vice President Cheney will break the tie, and that the Republican Party will be the party that will determine the agenda in large measure what comes to the floor. Their chairman will be chairs of the committee. But there's no minority party for the 107th Congress in the Senate and this is unprecedented. We are still in the process negotiating exactly what the rules will be about committee make-up, the process for bringing bills to the floor, and so on. So this is going to be an unusual time for us.

COSSACK: Senator Johnson, I understand what you are saying, and the notion that will have 51, the Republicans will have 51 votes, but that is not really the essence of how you lead, I would suspect. I would suspect that if the Republicans have to depend on that 51st vote every single time that not much is going to get done, and there is an issue of whether or not the people will lose confidence in the process. So eliminating that now who is in charge?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, for a practical matter it requires 60 votes for most contentious issues on the floor of the Senate. You've always got to reach over to the other side for a significant number of votes, and for that reason, I think there's going to be some forced bipartisanship during the process of this 107th Congress.

The danger is that nobody is in charge, of course. If that happens, we will flounder, we won't get the work done, we do need obviously to work together in a close manner. I don't think this is going to be all sweetness and light. I think there's a lot of pressure, both political and philosophical, that will push the parties apart. But I think there are some select areas, where there is some good potential for bipartisanship cooperation. And it is my hope that Daschle and Lott will be able to work together, and will be able to fill in behind those in the centrist part of the Republican and Democratic Party.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Allard, I want to talk a little bit about practicalities, for instance, at least as of an hour ago, someone like Senator Hatch was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now who is chairman, now that it is 50/50, and you have Vice President Al Gore as the president of the Senate? Who is in charge of that committee at the moment?

ALLARD: Well, the Democrat will be in charge of that committee until the 20th, and then it will revert back over to Republican with Dick Cheney, once the Republican team gets sworn in, and you will have a Republican chairman.

VAN SUSTEREN: So there will sort of be a switching of the chairs at least for the next 17 days, if my math is correct.

ALLARD: Well, at least informally, if not formally, or you want to put it formally or not informally, but there is basically a change of power for 17 days, and then it will switch back again after that to Republican control. From a practical standpoint, Republicans and Democrats are going to be working together during this interim period of 17 days, I understand that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans, getting the confirmation process moving forward so when Republican team gets sworn in on the 20th, the Republican president can move ahead.

VAN SUSTEREN: Andrew...

COSSACK: What about bipartisanship? What about the notion of bipartisanship -- we've heard both of these gentlemen speak about it. Is that something that it is going to last about a week? ANDREW TAYLOR, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Well, it is very easy to talk about bipartisanship, but you need to remember that, for virtually the entire Clinton term, it's been very, very partisan up on Capitol Hill, and there is whole generation of members of the Senate who have really known nothing but bitter partisan warfare. It is going to require people in both parties to sort of change their operating styles, and it is really an open question as to whether or not they can do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Andrew, you talk about both sides, both sides talking about how much everyone will work together, and that it has bitter before. What is the real story, what are you hearing now? Do they really plan to sort of work together, or is this just sort of the public face everybody is put up for us?

TAYLOR: A lot of it obviously depends on which the manner in which President-elect Bush is going to choose to try to get legislation through. I think they've got -- the first bill they are going to try to do -- or the first big bill is going to be an education bill that their members of both parties have already sort of worked out -- or they have worked together on, and they have similar ideas. But even that bill is going -- would almost certainly get into controversial issues, such as vouchers.

It really is going to be very, very difficult and a very dicey situation for people in both parties and...

VAN SUSTEREN: Perhaps more horse trading will be necessary.

COSSACK: Or Gridlock.

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe more...

TAYLOR: Gridlock is always an option.

VAN SUSTEREN: Or horse trading is an option, too. We will take a break. Up next, with a politically divided country, what mandate lies ahead for the 107th Congress? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Even though they managed to hold on by the narrowest of margins, what Republicans know is the worst of all possible worlds, maybe to have title of majority and the responsibilities of the majority, without having the power, the leverage, control of the agenda that goes along with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: For more than a month after the election, the historically close presidential race made headlines across the nation. But election results in Congress mirrored the 2000 race for the White House. Today marks the first day of the 107th Congress, where the Senate is divided 50-50, and Republicans hold a slim 10-seat majority in the House.

Senator, I want to talk to you about education bill that Andrew was raising, and then I will ask Senator Allard as well. But the issue of vouchers, very controversial. Republicans are for it, Democrats are against it. Will education, in your view, will that bill get passed with vouchers in it?

JOHNSON: I think there's a lot of common ground on the education front that we can do together, but I think vouchers is a non-starter. Vouchers is not going to go anywhere, I believe. We need to focus, instead, on how we are going to consolidate federal programs, and how much money we are going to spend, what the focus is going to be there.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is no to vouchers by the Democrats.

JOHNSON: I believe it is going to be no to vouchers largely by Democrats.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Allard, is vouchers, is it do or die for Republicans in the education bill?

ALLARD: I think the important thing in the education bill will be local control, whether Congress is willing to give the states and local school districts more say over how they run their educational system. Now, if that goes, and gets interpreted to mean flexibility, use vouchers, I don't know how the Democrats might respond to it. But I think the key thing is that Republicans want to see more local control, fewer mandates out of Washington.

COSSACK: All right, Senator Allard, no more easy questions like education. Let's talk about campaign finance. This is something that makes usually both Republicans and Democrats grimace a little bit. What are you going to do about campaign finance? Senator McCain says he's bringing that right up.

ALLARD: Well, it may be one of the first issues that we address in this Congress. I know that Senator McCain is persistent wanting to bring up campaign finance reform. We still have court decisions that are sort of out there that are being made. For example, Colorado's campaign finance reform law was just declared unconstitutional, and they are reviewing that. It took away a lot of the limits that the state of Colorado placed on independent expenditures, or what they refer to as soft money, and as being in violation of the First Amendment, first to speak...

VAN SUSTEREN: Wait a second. I've got a suggestion.

COSSACK: Go ahead.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, the Senate has been saying that the First Amendment is the problem with campaign finance reform and harkens back to Buckley v. Valeo (ph), the Supreme Court case, out of 1970. Why not a voluntary agreement on both sides of the aisle, forget the law, why don't you just agree to campaign finance reform and set agreement between you? ALLARD: Well, I think there are some areas that we can agree to. And obviously this session will be to search that. I personally believe that what we need to do is we need to have full disclosure. I think that's key, and I think that's key to Colorado's campaign finance reform, that they look at new legislation, having full disclosure, that is constitutional.

I do think that we need to look at what we could do to have that kind of accountability. Then let the voters themselves decide whether it is the candidate they want in office or not.

COSSACK: Senator Johnson, with all due respect to the Senate, it seems to me that voluntary agreement without any enforcement policies is putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

VAN SUSTEREN: Better than nothing.

COSSACK: It may not be better than nothing. What I'm suggesting to you is we've heard your colleague talk about campaign financial reform, but it is an issue that cuts both sides. What is the Democratic response going to be on campaign finance reform.

JOHNSON: I think there's large support for the McCain-Feingold effort, We had 53 votes in favor of this particular campaign finance reform approach last Congress, you need 60 to break a filibuster. The question is now, with incoming 10 or so new members to the Senate, Senator McCain's commitment that he is going to bring this up as a very early on agenda item, can we get to that 60? And what is the response of President Bush to this effort? Will he veto it? That would put it beyond the 67 vote possibility. If he would come out in favor of McCain's approach, it is entirely possible that we could at least approach and deal with this soft money issue this year.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, you can forget President-elect Bush, whether he vetoes something or not veto, if both sides would do a gentleman's agreement so to speak and decide...

JOHNSON: Greta, the problem with gentlemen's agreement is enforcement possibility. You come, someone drops $1 million into your campaign in the final week, and you are left saying he cheated, but there is no...

VAN SUSTEREN: But then you have people like Andrew...

COSSACK: Andrew, what is going to happen with bipartisanship once this campaign finance reform issue hits the floor right away?

TAYLOR: Well, I don't think you will see much bipartisanship on the McCain-Feingold bill. McCain says that he's closing in on the 60 votes he needs to break a filibuster, but there's all sorts of other questions. For example, will they do election process reform, as well, as part of this package. I think that is one of the ways that Republicans may try to affect that particular bill.

COSSACK: It seems to me, though, that if campaign finance reform is the initial issue that hits the Senate floor and sets the timber, if you will, for rancor, because this is one that cuts both sides that it is going to set the timber perhaps for the entire session.

TAYLOR: Well, no doubt, it would be a real challenge to President Bush's leadership. It would also -- really would divide Republican Party, it would put enormous pressure on senators who are up for reelection to perhaps change their votes. And it -- really going to be a real pickle for the Republicans. There is no question about it.

COSSACK: Let's take a break. Up next, some new faces on Capitol Hill, including one junior senator who travelled all the way from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Some political watchers have dubbed the 2000 congressional election "the year of the woman"; 13 women now hold seats in the U.S. Senate. Three women were re-elected: Maine's Olympia Snowe, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Dianne Feinstein from California. Four women will be arriving today for their first day on the job in the Senate. Among them is first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Senator, you are going to have Hillary Clinton, the first lady of the United States, in your midst today. It seems that most of her views are somewhat different than most of the traditional views of the Senate. If you were in charge of assigning her, what role would you give her?

ALLARD: I had a hard time hearing your question.

COSSACK: My question is: Where would you assign Senator Clinton if you had to make that decision?

ALLARD: Well, in the Senate, the member makes their own selection, we have a seniority system in the Senate, she fall within the parameters of that. She would pretty much guide the leadership as to where she wants to serve. And a lot of it depends on which would be vacant and available for her at the time she makes her decision.

The Senate respects the propriety that goes with each individual senator, and when it comes to committee assignments and whatnot, it is pretty well left up to the individual senators.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Johnson, she is going to be the junior senator, obviously, Senator Schumer, being the senior senator from here.

What does that mean? What doesn't she get that Senator Schumer gets?

JOHNSON: Well, not very much, I think the senior and the junior senator each have their own prerogatives, and they both are United States senators. And so I think that there may be a few courtesies that the senior senator gets, particularly relative to the selection of judicial appointments and so on, but by and large, they are two equals representing the state of New York. And keep in mind that the title of the United States senator is not New York senator or South Dakota senator, it is United States senator, and they have an obligation to represent the interests of the entire nation.

VAN SUSTEREN: What if it conflicts with your constituency, what if you've got a problem, someone wants to build some really big project in West Virginia, for instance, and you want to it built in New York, and it might be better in West Virginia. Now what do you do?

JOHNSON: Well, it is always a balancing act to try to accommodate the needs of your state, put the interest of the country as a whole, and I think most senators try to approach these issues from that perspective of what is good for their state, to try to do what is good for their state in a way that is not contrary to the good of the nation.

COSSACK: Andrew, Senator Clinton comes in as probably the most highly publicized senator we've had in many a year. How does that fit with the rest of the Senate?

TAYLOR: Well, it, obviously, is unchartered territory, and clearly she steps in and she is a national figure as a freshman senator. And the question for her is: What is she going to focus on? Is she going to focus on keeping her profile high and affecting issues in that way or is she going to dig into a lot of the grunt work in committee, and whether or not she is going to will really get into the legislative details. And that's an open question.

But remember, New York has tradition -- she's filling the seat that was once held by Bobby Kennedy and by Moynihan, and these folks were national figures. She obviously is as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Allard, look back in time a little bit for me when you were a freshman senator, what struck you as being the most unusual or most difficult or most fun part of the job?

ALLARD: Well, I was struck by the congeniality again of the Senate as opposed to the House. I came over from the House, and my background is that of a veterinarian, I never really tailored my education to be a professional politician. But the respect that members have, even though they disagree on issues and disagreeing with issues doesn't mean you have to be disagreeable to one another.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Johnson, you also came from the House. Why is the House a rougher place?

JOHNSON: It is a completely different dynamic in the Senate, the House tends to be far more partisan, much more in your face with the politics.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why?

JOHNSON: They come from Congressional districts which tend to be more Democrat, more Republican, they are driven by very bipartisan right and left wing interests in their districts. Senators represent entire states, and tend to be more centrist because of that. Because there are fewer senators, you tend to know each other. The House members don't even know who each other are. Because you know each other in the Senate, it is more collegial, you are more likely to find ways to build bridge, instead of trying to grab each other by the throat, as they do in the House.

VAN SUSTEREN: Obviously it will be very interesting in the U.S. Senate for the next six years to come.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Join me tonight on "THE POINT." Will Hillary Clinton's celebrity help or hurt her cause? We'll get to the point tonight at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

COSSACK: Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": Abstinence versus safe sex. What should schools teach? Send your e-mail to Bobbie Battista and tune-in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And tomorrow on BURDEN OF PROOF: the nomination of former Senator John Ashcroft as attorney general. Why is Bush's choice to head the Justice Department facing opposition? Join Greta and me tomorrow on another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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